In early June, the economic research firm e-forecasting.com declared that May was the "19th month of decline" for the hotel industry. While that's grim news for the hotels, it's been a boon to their customers. To maintain their shares of the shrinking travel pie, hotels have had no choice but to pile on the bonuses. (Unlike the airlines, which can adjust their capacity according to changes in consumer demand by pulling aircraft out of rotation, hotels are stuck with a pretty constant supply of rooms no matter which way the economy turns.)
Today, with no end in sight to the recession and a fresh round of hotel promotions on offer for travel through the summer months and into the fall, travelers have it pretty good: Never before have so many hotels offered so many incentives over such a long period.
Here's what summer travelers can look forward to:
Members of Best Western's Rewards program will earn a voucher for a free night's stay after two qualifying paid stays between June 21 and August 16. Stays booked on Best Western's website also earn a 250-point bonus. Both bonuses may be earned twice during the promotion period.
Separately, and combinable with the free night, travelers can earn one Southwest Rapid Rewards credit after stays, plus bonus miles in several airline programs when purchasing Best Western Travel cards, which can be used to pay for stays.
Through August 31, members of Carlson hotels' goldpoints plus program can earn bonus points for the third and subsequent nights at Regent, Radisson, Park Plaza, Country Inns, and Park Inn hotels, as follows: 3,000 bonus points for three nights; 4,000 bonus points for four nights; 10,000 bonus points for five nights; 15,000 bonus points for 10 nights; and 25,000 bonus points for 20 nights.
(Hint: The bonus is keyed to the number of nights, so there's a much higher ratio of bonus points per dollar spent at the less expensive hotels.)
Through August 13, members of the Choice Privileges program can earn a $50 cash card or double points, depending on which of the chain's hotel brands are used.
The cash card is awarded after every third qualifying stay at any Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Cambria Suites, or Ascend Collection property included in the Choice Privileges program.
And for stays at economy and extended-stay brands, program members will earn double Choice Privileges points at MainStay Suites, Suburban Extended Stay, Econo Lodge, and Rodeway Inn hotels in the U.S. and Canada.
Rather than a single promotion covering all its brands, Hilton has a patchwork of offers in place, including the following:
- Through June 30, Hilton is offering 1,000 bonus points per night at more than 2,800 participating Hilton, Conrad, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, and Homewood Suites hotels.
- Also through June 30, Hilton HHonors members can earn double United miles for stays at participating Hilton family hotels.
- Through September 30, HHonors members will earn 10,000 bonus points for stays of three or more nights at any Conrad hotel.
- And finally, travelers staying at any of 46 participating Hilton family hotels in the Asia-Pacific region will receive one free night for every paid night on eligible bookings of two consecutive nights or more made through July 31. Valid for stays through August 31.
Through August 31, Hyatt Gold Passport members can earn 3,000 US Airways miles for stays of two or more consecutive nights at any Hyatt, Hyatt Place, Summerfield Suites, or Andaz hotel. That's six times the normal 500-mile earning rate.
Between August 1 and January 31, program members who stay at any of 19 participating Hyatt resorts will earn 5,000 bonus points, plus a $150 food and beverage credit for lunch or dinner in participating hotel restaurants. Use offer code DEL5K.
Members of InterContinental's Priority Club Rewards can earn one free night after staying two paid nights at InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Express by Holiday Inn, Staybridge Suites, or Candlewood Suites hotels, up to a maximum of four free nights, through July 3.
Alternatively, members can choose to earn double points or miles for the second and subsequent stays at InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, and Holiday Inn, and for every stay at Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites hotels.
Through August 30, members of the Loews Hotels YouFirst program will be awarded Gold elite status after a single weeknight stay, rather than the five stays normally required.
Marriott is offering Rewards members one free night at a Category 1 through 4 hotel after three qualifying paid stays at Marriott, JW Marriott, Renaissance, Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn, or TownePlace Suites hotels. The promotion is in effect through August 31.
Through September 15, travelers can stay Friday night for free when staying two or more consecutive nights, including a Thursday or Saturday night, at participating Radisson hotels in North, Central, and South America; Asia Pacific; and at Radisson Edwardian Hotels in London. Additionally, through August 31, members of the goldpoints plus program will earn 1,000 bonus points per night, including the free Friday night.
Airline miles are also in play. Through July 31, Radisson customers can earn 500 American or United miles per night, instead of the normal 500 miles per stay, up to a maximum of 2,000 miles for stays of four or more nights, through July 31.
Members of Starwood's Preferred Guest program can earn one free weekend night (Friday, Saturday, or Sunday) after every two paid Starwood hotel stays through the end of September.
Through September 10, members of the Wyndham Rewards program who stay at three different Wyndham Group brands (Baymont Inn & Suites, Days Inn, Hawthorn Suites, Howard Johnson, Knights Inn, Microtel Inn & Suites, Ramada, Super 8, Travelodge, Wingate, Wyndham) will earn 10,000 bonus airline miles from participating air providers such as American, Continental, Delta, and United, among others.
The Post-Summer Outlook
Is this the last installment we're likely to see in this unprecedented succession of generous offers from the major hotel chains? Probably not. The fall will almost certainly be less robust than the summer, even if the economy is on the upswing by then. And the beginning of every new year is a predictably soft period for travel demand, no matter how the broader economy fares.
So it's a pretty safe bet that the torrent of incentives will continue through March or April of 2010. After that, the promotional intensity will reflect the prevailing state of the economy. If the recession is subsiding and travel is on the rebound, systemwide incentives won't be needed. If the economy is still weak and travel demand remains sluggish, travelers could be in for yet another round of bonuses.
In either case, it'll be a good news/bad news story for consumers, with travelers' fortunes varying inversely to the hotels'.