Friday, May 30, 2014

What Business Travelers Want Most From Loyalty Programs: Stealthy Luxury

I guess I sounded like a dick in my last post, torching “manufactured spend” and other stupidity while offering a rich white-guy toast. But I’m not going to backpedal. I’ve tasted the cocktail and I like it.

We’ve already established that airlines, hotels and the like really want people like me to expense our way through their wares. But they’ve had mixed success doing it, since they continue to pander to the wrong clientele with signing bonuses and airport terminal credit card hawkers.

So let’s talk about what paying business travelers like me really want.

More than anything else, we want stealthy luxury. The real 1% spends their own money and relishes luxury brands, but consultants like us still have expense accounts and client oversight. We need options that look mainstream but give secret benefits.

That’s why we like Uber, after all. It’s a first-class experience that fits our expense accounts!

Here are some examples of what I mean:
  • National Car Rental’s Emerald Club Executive level lets you choose virtually any car on the lot after reserving a midsize Corolla. This is what I’m talking about! I can request a National reservation from any admin or travel department yet roll in a real car. Don’t see what you want on the Executive Aisle? National has always let me pick anything within sight!
  • United offers Premier 1K and Global Services fliers instant upgrades on M-Class economy tickets at booking. These aren’t cheap and it’s just about impossible to finagle one from a wary travel agent, but if the client lets me book my own reservation online I always go this route. 
  • Most airlines allow ranking frequent fliers to upgrade using certificates (once literal “stickers”) to get out of the coach seat your company’s rules require.
  • TSA Pre-Check was fantastic when it was just us high-status frequent fliers, but it’s been diluted by that damn iPad app the TSA uses now.
  • Most hotels offer status-based floors and lounges, but they rarely keep the riffraff out in practice.
  • Credit cards like the American Express Platinum offer airport lounge access regardless of ticket class. But this benefit is rapidly evaporating.
There are many more stealth upgrades, but all share a common theme: Book a mainstream thing and get a nicer thing.

I’d love to see this practice spread throughout the business economy. Here are some ideas:
  • Hotels should offer programs to “walk” elite guests to nicer properties. My company could book me into the Courtyard but the chain could let me stay at the Marriott instead, just like a first class upgrade on a flight.
  • Car rental companies should offer post-reservation but pre-arrival upgrades and should pick me up and drop me off at the terminal like Silvercar or Enterprise (but without the smarminess).
  • Hotel elite floors should offer real upgrades and amenities, and they should be guaranteed. I rarely get a room the elite floor and even more rarely see any difference. Seriously, what's the point?
  • Ritzy hotel chains should add some business-friendly booking options. Let me “upgrade” even if I have to partially pay out of pocket. I’d love to switch to the Hyatt or Fairmont but my clients would balk. But they wouldn’t object to a market-rate room expense.
  • Airport lounges should have good food and real booze and should offer a ride to the gate. Otherwise it's pointless for people like me to go to the lounge. I’m sneering at you, United!
  • Give me a credit card with real benefits. Everyone knows the concierge service is worthless and “Priority Pass Select” is bogus. Throw in some of these perks and I’ll gladly pay a $500 annual fee and shift tens of thousands in expenses your way.
What do you think? What stealth luxuries could hotel chains offer you?

7 comments:

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Think they would want 5% - 10% back on every hotel booking?

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