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One year ago when U.S. News & World Report released its 2015-16 list of top Hotel Rewards loyalty programs, Wyndham Rewards garnered the runnerup spot behind Marriott Rewards. At the time, officials at U.S. News & World Report labeled the program a “game-changer”, due in large part to the massive overhaul of the program in May 2015.
Fast forward one year and Wyndham Rewards knocked Marriott Rewards from the top perch and snared the No. 1 ranking among Hotel Rewards programs in U.S. News & World Report’s 2016-17 Best Travel Rewards.
The revamped Wyndham Rewards loyalty program relaunched 15 months ago with the tagline, “You’ve Earned This.” A key component and overarching theme of the program is simplicity.
At it its core, Wyndham Rewards lets members earn points toward free nights. An easy to attain threshold of 15,000 points is needed to earn a free night at any Wyndham property anywhere in the world. This includes the brand’s most upper-tiered luxury resorts to its economy hotels, and with no blackout dates to boot.
Loyalty360 caught up Erin Shields, Travel Editor at U.S. News & World Report, to learn more about the report.
Can you talk a bit about why Wyndham received the No. 1 ranking and what attributes does its loyalty program have that resonate so well with travelers?
Shields: The top-ranked loyalty programs offer travelers perks they care about, such as room upgrades, late checkout, and easy ways to accumulate points. The biggest perk with Wyndham’s program is its low point threshold to book a free night – across the board, it is only 15,000 points to redeem a free night at its network of more than 7,800 hotels. This year, Wyndham Rewards also added additional membership tiers, giving travelers within the program more perks including late checkout, preferred room types, and free room upgrades.
What is Wyndham doing better now than last year?
Shields: Wyndham has made several major changes to its program over the past year, including introducing different elite tiers with member perks. Previously, member discounts were one of the few benefits offered. Now, in addition to member discounts, the program offers late checkout and early check-in, point bonuses, and free upgrades. At the same time, the program has kept the number of points to redeem a free night at a low 15,000 points per night across the board at any of its hotels. In comparison, there are programs we evaluated where it could cost over 100,000 points to book a single night.
What are travel/hospitality loyalty programs doing well?
Shields: Hotel rewards programs have been improving by offering members-only discounts and amenities. There are several hotel brands that grant discounts on room rates if you book directly with the hotel, including Marriott, IHG, Hilton, Hyatt, Choice Hotels, and Wyndham. Another big perk is free Wi-Fi access, which Omni Select Guest, Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards, Kimpton Karma Rewards, Hilton HHonors, and IHG Rewards all offer to members who book directly.
Programs that allow you to earn points or miles via co-branded credit cards and shopping portals also make it easy for everyday travelers to quickly accumulate points and redeem free nights, free flights, and other perks.
Where do the challenges lie?
Shields: The right rewards program can vary for travelers depending on their home base, travel habits, and interests. We have seen over the past few years the trend of airlines switching to revenue-based programs – rewarding fliers based on the amount they paid for a ticket rather than distance flown. This makes it more difficult for the everyday traveler to accumulate enough points to attain higher membership levels or redeem free flights. The three legacy carriers have also made their programs more complicated and their added stipulations and requirements have made them nearly identical to one another.
What was your biggest surprise (positive or negative) from this study?
Shields: It’s somewhat surprising to see how well some of the smaller carriers do in the rankings. For example, JetBlue TrueBlue and Southwest Rapid Rewards perform well in the rankings because earning points and redeeming benefits on these airlines is straightforward and easy for fliers. Travelers are able to rack up points with co-branded credit cards, through shopping portals, via flying and with hotel partners, and can use those points to redeem free flights. These programs also do well this year because the three legacy carriers (American, Delta and United) have changed their programs so drastically in ways that do not benefit the everyday traveler.
U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings named Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan No. 1 for the Best Airline Rewards Programs. JetBlue TrueBlue came in second.
2016-17 U.S. News Best Travel Rewards Programs
Hotel Rewards Programs
1. Wyndham Rewards
2. Choice Privileges (Tie)
2. Marriott Rewards (Tie)
4. Best Western Rewards
5. La Quinta Returns
Airline Rewards Programs
1. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
2. JetBlue TrueBlue
3. Southwest Rapid Rewards
4. Delta SkyMiles
5. Virgin America Elevate
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