Corporate Eye

Intercontinental Hotels vs. Starwood Hotels Rewards Promotion Battle Begins

intercontinental_hotelWhen the economy is weak, keeping loyal customers happy becomes more important than ever.  For hotel brands, it’s the perfect time to launch a rewards program promotion, so I was particularly interested when I came across an article on where writer Tim Winship compared current rewards program promotions from Intercontinental Hotels and Starwood Hotels side-by-side in order to determine a winner.  In the end, he gave the win to Intercontinental Hotels, but not by much.

Tim looked at both the Intercontinental Hotels and Starwood Hotels reward programs from the consumer’s perspective (as you’d expect for a travel site).  He looked at the type of rewards given, the flexibility in redeeming those rewards, the amount of time given to earn and use those rewards, and the alternative reward options.  Intercontinental Hotels took the win primarily because of its flexible alternative reward options.  However, those flexible alternatives are only included in the fine print of the promotion details.  In my opinion, that’s a missed opportunity.  Consumers don’t like to be tied down to a single choice.  They inherently like options.  It gives them a sense of control over their buying decisions.  A sense of control is even more important when the economy is weak and people feel uncertain and in a state of flux. 

With that said, simply giving away a free night at an Intercontinental or Starwood hotel could have been enhanced to offer options and put the consumer in the driver’s seat.  Of course, another goal of the promotions is certainly to increase membership in the rewards program, but I often wonder with these short term promotions, particularly when offered during an economic downturn, how many customers who sign up for them actually become loyal customers.  It’s one thing to sign up more customers, but it’s quite another to offer the experience during a hotel stay that makes customers want to come back again and again, choosing that brand over all others regardless of price and location.

What do you think of hotel rewards programs in terms of developing devout brand loyalty?

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.