A Different Kind of Hotel Loyalty Program – and I Like It


How many hotel loyalty programs do you belong to?  Probably lots. Personally I have no idea because I take none of them very seriously.  I join because I usually get free (bad) WiFi and maybe a complimentary drink (which I just about never drink).  It takes a couple minutes to sign up and, once I’ve done that, I usually forget I’ve joined. I know I do belong because I get many emails from Hilton, Hyatt, et. al. and although I don’t open them, they do serve as reminders that I belong.

Maybe I am so casual about hotel loyalty because, at least in recent years, the majority of my hotel stays have been booked by clients who are using their preferred provider deals to score the best prices.  Or I am attending big meetings where the organizer made its deal. I don’t usually have much choice and, frankly, I haven’t much cared either. Hotel rooms are fungible in my calculus. The upshot is that I stay at lots of places and have no real loyalty points cache anywhere.

And I haven’t cared.

But the new Fans of M. O. – via Mandarin Oriental – has won my favorable interest.  And its rewards do not include free hotel rooms.

Repeat: no free stays.

That’s fine by me.  When I am traveling enough to win free stays in a loyalty program usually the last thing I want is another hotel stay – and, yeah, I know most conventional programs let members swap points for stuff like fitness trackers, tablet computers, and phones but I already have the gear I want.

What else you don’t get in the M.O. program is status. At least for now, there are no silver, gold, platinum type levels. At least not in the program. But you can bet that Mandarin’s data system tracks its best spenders and already knows who has the status that matters even if there’s no formal declaration. That’s obvious. Talk to any GM in a large group and he will tell you he gets regular updates of arrivals of heavy hitters and he is expected to act accordingly.

Mandarin, I’d bet, does likewise.

What do certified Mandarin fans get? It starts with free WiFi and an “amenity.” Nothing to applaud there. Nothing unusual. Table stakes really.

What is fun about Fans of M.O. is that members get to pick two amenities from a list of 8: Early check in (as early as noon); Late check out (as late as 4 p.m.); daily breakfast; dining or spa credit; room upgrade; streaming WiFi; celebratory treat; or pressing services.

Knowing me, I’d just about always go for the fast WFi and the free breakfast – but if my packing had failed, the free pressing definitely could be a winner and of course, depending upon circumstances, late checkout or early check in might thrill me.  That is, I like the idea of tailoring my choices to the particular trip.  You don’t have to pick two and live by them forever.

Your trousers got soaked in a storm and now you want to swap out a free breakfast for pressing? Maybe you in fact can: “To change your benefits after booking, please contact the hotel to confirm availability,” advised Mandarin.

The only hitch: bookings have to be online.  But that’s no big deal for most of us. I can’t remember the last time I booked a hotel room anywhere except online.

Mandarin also notes there may be some variation in available amenities depending upon the specific property and dates: “Benefits vary according to hotel and date, but we assure you will always have a selection of benefits to choose from.”

Of course bookings also have to be via Mandarin, not third parties, which is a plus for Mandarin – it may actually have figured out with this program how to thwart the rise of OTAs – but again no big deal for me and probably not for you.  I sometimes have used OTAs to book hotel rooms but am not wedded to doing it that way. Directly with the hotel is fine by me, especially if there’s a perk (and a vague promise about “the lowest rates” really doesn’t do it – sorry Marriott, Hilton, et. al.). Mandarin actually is offering things I want.

Press coverage of the Fans of M.O. so far is largely positive.

Want to sign up? Go here.  It took me about two minutes to sign up. It’s fast and unintrusive.

If nothing else, I hope this program triggers a reinvention of the big hotel groups’ programs – which have always seemed plain vanilla, bland and thoughtless to me.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.


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