If anyone thought things were getting better in the hotel industry, just take a look at the latest salvos the chain hotel loyalty programs are offering for stays this summer.
Starwood started the bonanza by offering 1 free night for every two stays until July 31st - a very rich offer - especially because the awards can be redeemed at some of Starwood's most exclusive hotels. Like all the chains, Starwood segments hotels into specific categories based on average room rate. Starwood starts at Category 1 (e.g. Four Points by Sheraton Saginaw) all the way up to a few uber-luxury hotels in Category 7 such as the W Resort Maldives. The free nights promo allows redemptions (with no blackout dates or capacity controls) as high as Category 6. The nights may be earned at any category of hotel. So, stay a couple of times at a Four Points and then you could redeem for a free night at the St. Regis Rome, the Westin Paris or the St Regis San Francisco. The only catch is that you can only redeem on Fri/Sat/Sun nights and you have to use them by the end of September.
Not to be outdone, Intercontinental Hotels has made a similar offer which offers a free night after two stays as well between now and July 3rd. However, IHG limits guests to earning four free nights (after eight stays) but they do allow redemption until December 26th. IHG allows redemption at all hotels worldwide (except a few in Japan) which makes this a great promotion as well.
Marriott jumped on board this morning with a similar stay and play offer which offers a free night after 3 stays between now and August 31st. The free nights can be used until the end of the year. Alas, Marriott is not allowing redemptions at their most elegant (and expensive!) hotels - only Categories 1-4 (out of a total of 8) are allowed for redemption. So, don't plan on earning your free nights in Cleveland and burning them in Paris.
Hilton has an offer of 1000 bonus HHonors points per night running until the end of June but we expect that they'll have something more exciting soon.
In the current environment, the chains are particularly concerned about losing even a tiny bit of revenue share from the road warriors who participate heavily in these loyalty programs. Hence, the chains are in a "me-too " battle - and the winners are clearly consumers who are still hitting the road.