It’s no secret that people become highly irrational in the pursuit of loyalty programs, points and benefits. Though it’s not always easy, I try my very best never to be one of those people. I look at each travel opportunity, booking and journey with fresh eyes. If anything, having loyalty gives a hotel chain the benefit of being my first glance, but little more. If I like what I see – I’ll do a quick comparison and just book.

But when I don’t like what I see, loyalty goes out the window. In the case of a recent stay in Milan, I’m so glad it did – because not booking with Marriott at a Marriott Bonvoy property saved me a fortune, and earned me better benefits too. Here’s how that happened, and why it may be a big problem as major chains add on boutique properties.

This Stay

For this stay, I was prepared to pay up to $300 per night for a great Milan hotel. I’d seen rave reviews of a hotel with a rooftop pool, great food and quirky modern rooms. It sounded like my kind of place. Unfortunately, when I went to check, the rate was €340 per night, which clocks in at $385. Based on that, I would’ve lowered my price and gone for a more logical option.

But then I checked two of my new go to’s: an app in beta called Wayfarer Points, and a booking site on the rise known as Tablet Hotels.

Wayfarer had the hotel for under $300USD with tax included, as did Tablet Hotels. At the same time, Tablet was offering a 30 day free trial of Tablet Plus, their version of Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, or Chase Luxury Hotels, which earns booking benefits.

In this instance, it was a room upgrade, bottle of wine and snacks on arrival. I booked with Tablet for under $300 all in, which was a savings of over $90 versus booking with Marriott. As you can see, I effectively got the best benefits any elite Marriott Bonvoy member would’ve received anyway.

But what about the points, right?

For this level of savings, who cares about the points. It’s generally accepted logic that the points from most hotel loyalty programs represent a 7-8% rebate for low tier members, and up to 18% for high tier members. I’ll happily forgo a 10% rebate for 24% savings or better – and better benefits.

Does this mean loyalty is dead? No. It’s just not as black and white as many people treat it to be.

The Major Problem For Chains

If guests can effectively achieve loyalty-esque benefits and pay less for a hotel, why would they ever bother with a loyalty program booking channel? If I save $90 per night, that’s going to add up to a “free stay” a lot faster than collecting points will. If I’m taken care of benefits wise, by a program like Virtuoso, Amex FHR or Tablet Plus, the perks argument goes out the window too.

Many travellers fail to realise that being a part of Marriott Bonvoy, or any other major loyalty program, doesn’t mean that Marriott owns the hotel. It can be something as simple as a management contract, and ultimately independent minds or hoteliers are behind the ownership, style and existence. View From The Wing has highlighted the issues of certain properties attempting to bend loyalty program perk rules many times, not wishing to honour frequent guest benefits.

Rather than receive a piece of the stay and let Marriott, or any other major chain take their massive cut, these hotels will always incentivise guests to book directly with the property website, or through a stream which brings a more attractive commission structure to them.

The property is much happier to ply me, or any other guest with a bottle of wine and some snacks, than lose out on significant cash on the booking, especially when they’d have to doll out benefits to elite members too. For better and worse, many hotel managers see that as a “cost” of doing business, rather than a positive.

The sheer fact that I payed less than anyone booking through the Marriott would’ve paid, and enjoyed top tier level benefits without any meaningful Marriott status says everything about this massive rising conundrum.

More and more, we’re seeing hotels undercut their own management or loyalty program contracts in favour of generating more direct revenue for the hotel. Whether that’s through agreements with some online travel agencies, or preferred booking channels with travel agents – it’s happening. If lower hotel prices exist elsewhere, loyalty will never be a smoking gun in the hotel business.

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