Even I Can Get Lured Onto The Loyalty Hamster Wheel

loyal

adjective  loy·al  \ ˈlȯi(-ə)l \

Faithful to a cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product

That’s the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition of loyal. I think it’s important to remember this when we talk about loyalty programs. Whether it’s airlines, hotels, rental cars, restaurants, gas stations or Amazon.com, the goal of these programs is to make you loyal to their product. Even more, they’re designed to increase how loyal you are and they’re really good at it.

It used to be that you were loyal to a company because of the product they offered. That might be due to any of these reasons:

  • Price
  • Quality
  • Service

Companies decided that instead of competing only on those areas, they wanted to add another variable and the loyalty programs were created. Over the years, the programs have added many reasons for you to be “loyal” to them. Some can be viewed as rewards but others can often look more like punishments for not being loyal.

  • Discounts for members of programs
  • Special treatment on the phone and in person with dedicated staff for members
  • Upgrades to the product received
  • Free perks for members (when buying directly from the company)
  • Rewards (when buying directly from the company)

I can see the last two as being extras for members but they can also be seen as punishments for those who look for a lower price elsewhere. You might pay more by booking directly but that’s what you need to do to prove loyalty. But wait, I thought I was getting rewarded for loyalty, not having to prove that I’m loyal by paying extra. That’s not how it’s supposed to work?!?!?!

I’m writing this because I’m staunchly dis-loyal and am proud I don’t make decisions based solely on loyalty to any company. However, I’m loyal to several companies. It would be silly for me not to take advantage of perks they give to those who like their products. I’m sure that subconsciously I make more decisions based on loyalty than I’d like to admit. Way more. I shop at Amazon.com but it’s not because I have Prime and get free shipping. Well maybe it is because isn’t the free shipping what makes their products cheaper for me to buy? What if I just paid for my shipping and saved the $129 a year?? That way I could find the cheapest price on everything by shopping around. I hadn’t thought about it that way until now. They’re winning.

Another example is that I’m a Starbucks Rewards member and I stop by my local store several days a week for breakfast and coffee. Starbucks sends me offers for bonus stars if I buy something specific or go at a certain time. Some things I’m not going to do (like stopping by after 2PM) but other times I get offers for things I get anyway. Recently I was sent an offer for 50 bonus stars if I purchased an iced coffee, breakfast sandwich and lunch box in the next five days. I figure was going to do that anyway, so I signed up. What if after four days, I still hadn’t purchased a lunch?. Am I more likely to do so because of the bonus stars? Maybe, or at least they’ve snuck that idea into my head. They’re winning again. I told you they’re good.

Eventually, you can start making irrational decisions solely based on loyalty. Did you ever pick a hotel just to earn loyalty points? What about staying at a hotel that isn’t as nice, is in a worse location or is more expensive? That’s when they’ve won. You’re doing things you wouldn’t normally do only because of the loyalty program, even when you know it’s not the best choice. Eventually those choices will get you to the point where the reason that you’re being loyal is so you can retain your loyalty status for the following year, and then the following year, and then the following year. Over and over and over.

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That brings me to a recent decision I had to make. One that goes right to the heart of my travel mantra.

I Don’t Chase Status

I’m not going to make decisions that will either make me pay more or get less value for my money just so I can achieve a certain level in a loyalty program. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take status if you’re going to give it to me. Like when American Airlines offered Platinum Pro status to Sharon for no reason at all or when Hilton upgraded her to Diamond status (which might have helped us get a fantastic room at the Waldorf=Astoria). Same goes for the Platinum Status I have with Sixt Car Rental just for having a Mastercard. None of these were hard to get and I didn’t do anything I wouldn’t have done anyway. So then why did I just do something specifically to get status? I’m not sure.

So what did I do?

If you follow travel, you’ve most likely heard that Marriott and Starwood hotels have merged. While the deal was completed in September 2016, the companies are still operating as separate companies. More importantly, the loyalty programs of each have remained intact, until this August. On August 1, 2018, your current amount of Starpoints will be converted into “points” (real creative name, there). Each old Starpoint will be worth three “points” and these will be combined with any points you have in the Marriott Rewards program, giving you a single balance. Your elite status and your number of hotel nights stayed during 2018 will also be combined towards qualifying for status in 2019. That’s what intrigued me.

Starwood and Marriott each have credit cards that provide a certain number of room night credits to help you reach status for the following year. The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Cards from American Express (business and personal versions) each offer 5 nights of credit towards next year. The Marriott Rewards Premier Visa (business and personal) cards from Chase Business card and the Marriott Rewards Premier offer 15 nights credit towards earning status.

For this year ONLY, the night credits from each account will count towards reaching status for 2019. While reading an article by Greg on Frequent Miler, I did some quick math of what we’ll have:

  • SPG Personal AMEX – 5 nights
  • SPG Business AMEX – 5 nights
  • Marriott Business Visa – 15 nights
  • SPG hotel nights – 5 nights
  • Marriott hotel nights – 1 night
  • Marriott 2017 rollover – 7 nights

38 nights. Only twelve short of getting to the new combined Platinum level for 2018 and all of 2019. In August, here’s what being a Platinum will get you:

  • 50% Bonus Points on Stays
  • 4 p.m. Late Checkout
  • Enhanced Room Upgrade, Including Select Suites (Based on Availability)
  • Annual Gift Choice (5 Suite Night Awards or Gift Option)
  • Lounge Access (with Breakfast — at JW Marriott®, Marriott Hotels, Delta Hotels by MarriottTM, Autograph Collection® Hotels, Renaissance®Hotels, Sheraton®, Westin®, Le Meridien®); Excludes Resorts
  • Platinum Welcome Gift (Choice of 500/1,000 Points, Breakfast Offering or Amenity, Varies by Brand)

We’d get back lounge access, which is going away as a benefit of the Starwood Business AMEX card, and we’d also get late checkout, enhanced room upgrades to suites, free breakfasts and five night suite upgrade certificates.

SPG-Breakfast-Packages

There would be one easy way to get an extra twelve nights of stay credits: the Marriott Premier Visa personal card. Sharon’s never had the card and it’s going away very soon, in favor of the new Marriott Premier Plus card. The plain Premier card also offers 75,000 Marriott Rewards points and has no annual fee for the first year.

Marriott Premier

So I went ahead and did it. I had Sharon apply for the card and she was instantly approved. That will give us an extra 75,000 miles and her an additional 15 nights credit, putting her at 53 nights. More than enough for Platinum status when the plans are combined in August.

I’ve convinced myself I didn’t do this just to get status. We have a Marriott reward stay coming up that will cost 160,000 points and we needed some extra points to finish the booking. That’s why we got the Marriott card, not for Platinum status because I don’t chase status.

I just need to figure out which hotels we need to stay at next year to take advantage of the suite upgrades and free breakfasts. I told you that companies were REALLY GOOD at getting us to be loyal, even when we don’t want to be.

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