From our perspective – the points collectors – redeeming for a free night in a hotel sounds like nothing but fun. Rather than forking over cold hard cash, we get to convert this almost fictional currency from a loyalty program, into real life enjoyment.
It’s not “free by pedantic definitions, but it’s pretty close for dreamers.
But, if everyone staying at a hotel was paying with points, would the hotel be able to afford cleaners, breakfast buffets and staff? In case you’ve ever wondered about this bit of behinds the scenes magic, here’s how it works for hotels, when you pay with points…
First: Hotels Don’t Take Your Points
First and foremost, individual hotels don’t have actual bank accounts, and then points bank accounts, stuffed with billions of hotel points from all the people who redeemed at their hotel.
Loyalty programs pay a hotel a certain rate in actual cash, when they accept a reservation with points.
The amount a loyalty program compensates a hotel can vary from as much or more than most people are paying in the hotel using cash, to a mere fraction, which is why some conflicts flare up every once in a while.
A perfect example, this article from View From The Wing, where a hotel claimed that it was being paid 1/3 of what it previously received under the days before the SPG – aka Starwood merger with Marriott into Marriott Bonvoy.
So How Much Do Hotels Get When You Redeem Points?
The short answer is that it varies by each loyalty program, and also by how busy the hotel is. What may be surprising to many, is that the busier the hotel, the more it typically gets paid for allowing a points redemption. As a ballpark: if a hotel is 95% full, it receives the average daily rate people are paying in cash, when you pay in points.
Basically, it costs the loyalty program more when you redeem for these nights, but the hotels mind you using points less, because they get more for making a room available for redemption at these highly sought after times.
When a hotel isn’t remotely full, it typically gets much less when you use points than what a cash paying guest is giving the hotel. This is traditionally based on a percentage of the average rate.
Sometimes, this can be as low as 1/4 of what the average rate paid by a cash customer is, and is often around 1/3 – hence why hotels aren’t always thrilled to have so many points wizards in residence.
And Then You’ve Got Elites
Of course, things get trickier for hotels when someone flashes their loyalty card at check in on a points stay too. The loyalty program guarantees certain benefits, such as daily breakfast, and the hotel must then fork out on these service elements. Depending on the status, that can get expensive.
If a hotel was far from full occupancy and only had an average daily rate of $125, the hotel may be getting $40 for the stay, but then need to send a welcome amenity, room upgrade and breakfast, all of which doesn’t cost what we pay retail – but does cost something.
If You’re Really Interested…
View From The Wing has gone down the rabbit hole on these things, and more than once. If you’re interested in more precise mathematical breakdowns and caveats, check out Gary’s article on this compensation concept for Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott.
Another interesting tidbit? The hotel doesn’t necessarily receive better compensation if you pay Marriott’s peak, off peak or standard rates, so don’t feel like you’re doing them any favours by saying “I paid peak pricing for this”.
They don’t care, unless the hotel is nearly full.