by Danielle Yong | June 23, 2016
Loyalty programmes may be steering personal travel decisions, but navigating the pros and cons of each can be headache inducing. This month, Meetings & Conventions Asia rounds up eight of Asia's most popular points programmes and see how they meet the requirements of meeting planners.

Stretching the buck

But first, a caveat: not all programmes are created equally. Last year, travel commerce site Switchfly conducted a study of four of the world's largest frequent guest programmes and found Marriott Rewards® offer the highest returns from room night spending (or 'reward stay value') at an average of US$9.40 for every $100 spent. 

ParkRoyal on Pickering Singapore.
The next highest is the Hilton Honors programme, which gives its members $8.90 for every $100 spent. IHG Rewards members get an average reward value of $8.60, while Starwood SPG trails behind, rewarding its members $6.10 for every $100 spent. The difference between the lowest and highest value programme is a jarring 54 percent.

Beyond the dollar

Comparing loyalty programmes solely by reward stay value, however, may be limiting for event planners. 

Some programmes offer greater flexibility on where and how points are spent; others prioritise accumulating points. 

"For me, no programme really stands out better than any other," said Matthew Smith, Director (Performance Improvement), MCI Group Asia Pacific.

"Traditionally Starwood has always had a strong programme but I think others have added to their existing programmes and the gap has closed."

What matters most?

Generally speaking, larger hotel chains have both the clout and scale to provide a broader choice of rewards: from redeeming nights on core inventory to charitable donations, members typically enjoy greater flexibility on how and where to spend their points, though smaller hotels are upping their game with innovative offerings.

Ultimately, the decision to select a programme depends on both yours and your travellers' style of travel, and which benefits you deem most valuable. How rapidly points accumulate is but one of many considerations event planners need to consider.

Smith believes that what makes a hotel attractive to an event professional varies depends more on the nature of the event held, on client expectations, guest demographics and, most importantly, the event objectives. 

A loot at loyalty programmes

+ Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group 


The trump card
With 1.35 million members in APAC with 15 million globally as at March 2016, Carlson describes its loyalty scheme as the "fastest way to a free night's stay in the industry."

How are points earned?
In practice, this means for every five nights at the hotel, Gold Points® members can earn a free night. 20 Gold Points® are awarded for every dollar spent in Carlson hotels, including food and beverage and accommodation. 

For planners
Planners earn points for eligible meetings and events globally, across all brands under the Carlson family. For smaller scale events (less than US$5,000), planners earn three points per dollar spent. Events that cost over US$5,000 earn planners an additional two points per dollar spent.

What's the catch?
Achievements must be re-established annually by the number of nights stayed in any of the 1,400 Carlson hotels worldwide.

+ Hilton Worldwide

The trump card
Currently, 50 million members are signed up to Hilton Worldwide's loyalty programme - Hilton HHonors.  It claims "no other guest loyalty program offers more ways to use points". In addition to reward stays, members can redeem their points for merchandise or make charitable donations. Its 13 brands span more than 4,600 properties in 100 countries and territories. 

How are points earned?
10 HHonors points are awarded for every eligible US dollar spent on accommodation, but the hotel group also offers a range of options to earn points including its co-branded credit cards and travel on more than 65 airlines and railway companies.

For planners
HHonors members who hold qualifying events at participating Hilton Worldwide hotels can earn one point or airline mile for every dollar spent. Depending on the event contract, the cap on points earned can be as high as 100,000 points.

The catch
Members need to remain active in the programme by staying at one of Hilton Worldwide's hotels, or earn or redeem their HHonors Points within 12 months.

+ Hyatt Hotel & Resorts

The trump card
A points-to-miles scheme means Hyatt Gold Passport® members can earn 500 miles per stay with 28 participating airlines including Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways.

Meeting room at Radisson Blu Plaza Bangkok.
How are points earned? 

Five Hyatt Gold Passport are awarded points for every dollar spent at Hyatt locations worldwide. This can be on accommodation, its spas or restaurants.

For meeting planners
For every dollar spent on accommodations, meeting room rental, banquets or catering at a qualifying meeting or event, planners receive one Hyatt Gold Passport point under its Gold Passport Planner Rewards programme. 

The maximum number of points earned is capped at 50,000 points, which can be split up to three ways.

The catch
None identified.

+ Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG)

The trump card
With more than 92 million members globally, IHG® Rewards Club, formerly Priority Club® Rewards, is the "first, largest and fastest-growing guest loyalty programme in the hotel industry." 

How are points earned?
IHG Reward Club members earn points at every one of IHG's hotels, restaurant & bars and for everyday spending with its preferred partners. 

For meeting planners
IHG Business Rewards enables planners to earn 3 points for every dollar spent on travel bookings or meetings. Points earned through IHG Business Rewards bookings can count towards achieving IHG® Rewards Club Gold, Platinum or Spire Elite tier status. There's also the option of booking and managing reservations while on the go with the IHG app - rated the#1 mobile app in the travel industry on iTunes.

The catch

None identified.

+ Marriott International 

The trump card

Marriott Rewards® offer over 250 ways to use your points, including free vacations worldwide, meeting eGiftCards toward your next meeting and even car rentals. Earnings can be split with a colleague who also holds membership.

Ballroom at Sheraton Grand Macao.
How are points earned?

Points can be earned at any of the 4,000+ Marriott® brand hotels and at participating Ritz-Carlton locations throughout the world. 10 Marriott Rewards points or up to 2 air miles are awarded per dollar spent, and free nights depend on the category of hotel, its location and brand. 

For planners
Rewards points are capped at 50,000 (3 points per $1 USD) or 15,000 miles (1 mile per $1 USD) with one qualifying event. Points are also awarded for each room night, when you book 10+ guest rooms for at least one night.

What's the catch?
None - though it requires navigating Marriott's various reward tiers and categories.

+ Pan Pacific Hotels & Resorts

The trump card
Pan Pacific has taken a 'boutique' approach to its rewards scheme. DISCOVERY, its loyalty programme, is recognised across 32 independent luxury hotel brands with more than 500 hotels in 76 countries across the globe. 

DISCOVERY rewards its members with "authentic, memorable experiences" - a scheme the Global Hotel Alliance (GHA) describes as "more valuable than collecting points." 

How are points earned?

DISCOVERY comes in three membership levels: Gold, Platinum and Black. Travellers move up the levels by staying at any of the GHA brands. Points are also accrued through dining at hotel's restaurants and bar, guided tours to tourist attractions and spa credits. 

For planners
No specific programme exists for meeting planners. Perks are run-of-the-mill: room upgrades and choice of daily newspapers, complimentary Internet access and bottled water as well as early check in or late check out. 

+ Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts 

The trump card
Launched only in April 2016, Shangri-La describes its GC (Golden Circle) Event Planner Rewards scheme as the "only programme that allows members to earn double points for any subsequent meetings or events booked in the same calendar year." 

Ballroom conference at Shangri La tower.
How are points earned?

GC Award Points are given when a member stays at qualifying room rate or spends on food and beverages, laundry and CHI, The Spa. One GC Award Point is earned for every US dollar spent. 

For planners
Points are capped at 40,000 - the equivalent of 40 complimentary room nights. The hotel group has more than 300,000 square metres of dedicated event space globally.

The catch
Surplus qualifying nights can be used for status renewal or membership upgrade - but it only applies to Jade and Diamond tier members.

+ Starwood Hotels & Resorts 

The trump card
Starwood claims to have the "best redemption options in the industry." One year after its October 2014 launch, its meeting planner reward programme - SPG Pro - rewarded enough points to book more than 150,000 room nights.

How are points earned?
The basic membership tier awards two Starpoints® for each dollar spent on eligible stays; the next tier up awards its members 50% more points. 

For meeting planners
SPG Pro members earn one Starpoint® for every $3 spent on travel arranged for others and professionally planned meetings. The scheme focuses on the fringe benefits of membership too: single account management for business and personal travel, as well as training modules to help planners learn about Starwood branded hotels and resorts worldwide.

The catch
None identified.