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Red Lion Promotion Offers Less Than Meets the Eye

The headline is as compelling as it is straightforward: "Earn a Free Airline Ticket With Red Lion Hotels!" For the whole story—the real story—you'll have to wade through the offer's terms and conditions, and make a few test bookings.

First, let's consider the qualification phase of the promotion.

Between October 22, 2009, and January 31, 2010, members of Red Lion's R&R Club will earn 2,000 bonus miles for every night booked at the so-called Super Mega Miles rate, plus an additional 15,000 bonus miles for the sixth night, bringing the total to 25,000 miles.

So that free ticket is only awarded after six nights. Which means the ad headline, to be accurate, should read as follows: Earn a Free Airline Ticket After Staying Six Nights With Red Lion Hotels!

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But the qualifiers aren't limited to the number of required nights. There's also the matter of that Super Mega Miles room rate. Turns out it's significantly more expensive than the rates most travelers would expect to pay.

Looking at rates at the Anaheim Red Lion, for example, checking in on November 2 for two nights, the Super Mega Miles rate was $177 per night, $354 for the stay.

But the same two nights were also available for $89 (prepaid, non-refundable) or $109 (unrestricted) per night. Even at the higher unrestricted rate, the Super Mega Miles commands a premium of $68 per night. So to earn that "free" ticket, a traveler would pay an additional $408, if all six nights were consumed at the property in question.

Which suggests this headline: You Could Buy a Ticket for Less Than That!

Let's put that aside, however, and modify Red Lion's own headline to fit the facts. It would now read as follows: Earn a Free Airline Ticket After Staying Six Nights With Red Lion Hotels at a Premium Room Rate!

Next, there's the reward side of the promotional equation. For every night at the inflated rate, R&R Club members earn 2,000 miles in the programs of "Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, or Northwest," and 15,000 miles for the sixth night. Setting aside the fact that it's no longer possible to earn miles in Northwest's program, which was folded into Delta's, there's the implicit claim that the 25,000 miles earned for six nights translate into a free airline ticket.

But as any airline frequent flyer program participant knows, 25,000 miles are only redeemable for a restricted award—significant capacity controls limit the number of seats available, and there may be no seats at all on the most popular flights.

So, after a final edit, Red Lion's tag line would look like this: Earn 25,000 Frequent Flyer Miles (Which Might or Might Not Be Enough for a Free Ticket) After Staying Six Nights With Red Lion Hotels at a Premium Room Rate!

While it's neither compelling nor straightforward, it trumps the original in one key respect: It's accurate.

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