Loyalty Programs Can’t Figure Out Social. Free Points for Us!

Programs used to be generous giving out points or other rewards on Facebook. The idea is it was worth it to them, they’d get access to your Facebook feed and could advertise to you forever.

But it’s almost always a mistake to invest in someone else’s plaform, they change the algorithm and your ads no longer appear as frequently. The investment you made in building ‘friends’ is no longer worth as much. If commercial pages want to advertise, and have the reach they used to, they need to pay Facebook.

United used to give out points for follows on Twitter, other programs incentivized twitter follows as well. United also used to offer deep discount short-term twitter deals (“Twares”) but those ran afoul of agreements not to undercut pricing they loaded into computer reservation systems.

The travel industry has been investing for awhile in social, in part based on fads, and still hasn’t figured it out.

A piece in USA Today yesterday — timed with the relaunch of Kimpton’s programtalks about trends in social and customization by hotel programs.

Here’s the conclusion I offered for the piece:

Gary Leff, co-founder of Milepoint.com, a frequent-flier community, says hotels are still at the experimental stages with this new concept, as evidenced by Marriott already decreasing the number of points awarded for Twitter and Facebook follows.

“The challenge each brand faces is how to authentically connect with members, and indeed with large numbers of members, leveraging technology,” he says. “That’s not something they’ve really figured out how to do yet – but each is trying different things.”

Although we think of airlines and hotels as both being a part of “travel” (same industry) they’re fundamentally different. Airlines (in the US at least) are in the transportation business, getting you from point A to point B. Hotels are in the hospitality business and each chain has their own program to try to build engagement and thus – they hope – loyalty.

Starwood, among the major hotel programs, has been the most about customization for their frequent guests. Elites choose the benefits important to them (points or breakfast, when they want an upgrade the most, what time they check in and out).

Marriott’s attempt to engage guests socially is about connecting with them outside the room experience, and trying to turn guests into brand ambassadors as well.

But it’s hardly new. TopGuest, owned by Switchfly, was a program that let members earn points or miles for social check-ins. Hilton’s Doubletree brand, Wyndham, IHG, and Best Western all participated award points for social checkins. That didn’t turn out to work well enough and one by one each partner withdrew from the program.

Incidentally, though it’s been only two months since Marriott’s new social beta was launched, they’ve already devalued the program!

  • They stopped giving points for liking properties on Facebook
  • They reduced the reward for following a property on twitter from 250 points down to 25
  • They now cap earning at 4 transactions per day

At the same time though they’ve increased the number of participating properties.

As programs figure all of this stuff out (and mostly fail) you can earn a few points along the way. These efforts won’t be sending members off on major free trips. They aren’t a huge payoff for the time invested. But Marriott is clearly making an investment here, which will benefit member account balances in the process.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Marriott has a potential disaster if they’re changing the rules mid-stream.

    I received a series of emails from Marriott last week that told me I’ll be earning 250 points if I still “like” the certain hotels I chose on Facebook.

    So far this week, I’ve received a series of 25-pt credits from them for these places. Their rules change came via email on 7/14.

    I’ll give it a few more days to see where this heads.

    You can change the rules, but not to alter previous commitments that are in-proess.

  2. I was wondering what I was missing and why I was getting 25 instead of 250 all of a sudden. Not sure why they would do this, but switching the pay out in the middle of the promo too is just bad business practice and unethical.

  3. @colleen. Marriott can do as they wish, did you read the agreement when you signed up for the Marriott Points Plus program? They can change the program at any time they wish… it’s not like they have some evil agenda to trick you, they just figured out they were giving out too many points for too little effort.

  4. I already contacted Marriott (Gold here) as I also had been confirmed by Marriott Rewards emails for 250 point bonuses for 8 properties I’d already followed on Twitter as per their rules at the time. They pulled a bait and switch in changing their rules–but not honoring those confirmations that were made BEFORE their rule change for this promotion. It is illegal to do that as per Califiornia state law (and for most states, I’d guess). They either need to award the guaranteed bonuses already confirmed or face accusations of fraud.

    This has totally soured me on Marriott. You don’t change your rules and pull an ex post facto reversal on commitments made prior to the change. Bad PR, bad business, and totally illegal. Marriott may have lost my business completely over this. After all, if they think this is appropriate, what other bait and switch tactics might they try in the future? I don’t want to be one to learn.

  5. +1 to Bill. Went from 2 year plat to gold, now I won’t book a stay the rest of the year.

  6. +1@TAB. @Bill – What “laws” were broken? You would need to have paid consideration (money, not liking something on Facebook) for it to be considered illegal.

  7. @TAB, @Karen, I agree with you only partially. Is it legal to “change the rules” and do you have to pay consideration? I’m not a lawyer, but I’d probably say yes. Is it a good idea? Absolutely not. It’s a PR nightmare. They might be entitled to bait and switch, but people don’t have to stay with them either. It’s what separates good companies from bad ones. If you make a mistake, own up to it and honor it. It goes a long way when it comes to goodwill.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *