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Prisoners of Our Own Hotel Devices
Thursday, May 3, 2018 -- The oft-quoted, all-too-apt line from Hotel California--You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!--obscures an even better quip from the song: We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.

Don't click away. I promise we won't talk about The Eagles. We're talking frequent stay programs and hotels and, to be honest, both of those quotes are better than anything I can muster about our current conundrum.

Hate the games Marriott is playing with the combined Marriott and Starwood programs? Hate how Hyatt eviscerated its plan? Despise the almost weekly devaluations at Hilton? I will have to quote Hotel California to you: We are prisoners of our own device. And we can never leave.

Unless, you know, we want to. And, really, we should want to.

Marriott and Hilton are vast, global enterprises now and there's cold comfort in knowing you'll find a hotel to honor your status (such as it is) virtually anywhere you travel. And Hyatt, well, Hyatt once really worked to overcome its absurdly limited footprint and treated us like traveling kings if we went out of our way to stay with them.

But the love is gone now. These chains have made it clear their loyalty to us is transactional and, frankly, barely worth the dollars we stuff in their corporate pockets. After the love is gone, yesterday was all we had. (That was Earth, Wind and Fire, a much better band.)

What are our choices if we want to check out and leave and stop being prisoners of our own devices? Herewith thoughts about some places to put your head on a bed if you're done with Marriott, Starwood, Hilton and Hyatt.

ACCOR HOTELS
      The Size: 4,300 hotels and 25 brands.
      The Good: Several brands you might know and respect for their past accomplishments, including Swissotel, Raffles, Fairmont and Sofitel. Accor added another bolt-on chain, Movenpick, last week. It's expanding in the homestay arena, too.
      The Bad: Inconsistent, especially in the brands that were part of the original France-based Accor. Not surprising for a hotel group that has grown primarily by acquisition, there's no synergy or corporate identity or purpose among the brands.
      The Program: LeClub doesn't even guarantee top-level elites (Platinum) early check-in or late checkout, so status is functionally meaningless. But Club access for Platinums is available at a handful of hotels, most notably the Sofitel attached to T5 at London/Heathrow. The Fairmont President's Club is being folded into Le Club this summer.

BEST WESTERN
      The Size: 4,200 hotels across 11 brands.
      The Good: Global coverage and many international properties are much better than you may expect from the name. The BW Premier properties in the United States are usually solid value for money.
      The Bad: Brand standards are fungible since most properties are run by owner-operators. Quirks are unavoidable at the basic Best Western properties.
      The Program: Best Western Rewards will match your status in any other hotel frequency plan. But BW elite status isn't particularly impactful. Diamond (30) and Diamond Select (50) nights elites do get guaranteed award night availability at U.S. and Canadian properties if the hotel has rooms to sell.

CHOICE HOTELS
      The Size: 6,800 hotels across eight brands.
      The Good: It's global. There are a few gems in the Ascend collection of independents and the new builds in the Cambia chain aren't bad.
      The Bad: Everything else? You might find a decent Quality or Comfort property, but it's a crapshoot.
      The Program: Choice Privileges will match your status with other hotel chains. But why bother?

GLOBAL HOTEL ALLIANCE
      The Size: 550 hotels across GHO's loose alliance of 35 independent hotel brands.
      The Good: Omni Hotels is the best-known brand and has some excellent U.S. hotels. Also involved in the GHA: Lungarno, the Italian chain controlled by the Ferragamo family; Marco Polo, Pan Pacific, Anantara, Leela Palace of Asia; and Kempinski.
      The Bad: Exactly what you'd expect in a collection of 35 independent brands. Although properties skew upward to deluxe, some hotels are tired, others are supercilious and still others may not care much about your GHO status.
      The Program: The Discovery program is useful. Platinum members (10 nights) get late check-out and room upgrades at most properties. Black members (30 nights) get double upgrades, early check-in and even more generous late checkout. Discovery will also status match after your first stay. There are no free-night awards, but interesting "local experiences" (dining, touring) instead.

INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS
      The Size: 5,300 IHC hotels and 13 brands.
      The Good: Holiday Inn Express hotels are well-regarded in its category. Hotel Indigo, formerly a conversion brand, has some interesting outlets. IHG picked up the Regent luxury brand in March and today cut a deal to manage and rebrand the Principal chain, which has more than a dozen iconic properties in Britain.
      The Bad: About a third of the IHG portfolio is awful Crowne Plaza hotels and indifferent Holiday Inn properties. Many InterContinental Hotels are tired and bad value for money.
      The Program: IHG Rewards Club has good benefits for Spire Elite members (75 nights a year), but little at lower status tiers. Free-night awards are no longer a bargain after recent devaluations. Ambassador, a recognition program for InterContinental Hotels guests, offers upgrades, late checkout and food-and-beverage perks, but costs $200 a year.

LANGHAM HOTELS
      The Size: 30 hotels across two brands.
      The Good: Elegant, deluxe properties in New York, Chicago, Boston, Pasadena, Hong Kong, London, Australia, China and the Middle East. You'll get more and pay less than most other luxury competitors in Langham's markets.
      The Bad: A niche play unless you're frequently in the cities Langham has established itself.
      The Program: The 1865 loyalty plan (named after the year the Langham in London opened) has nice perks at all levels. Voyager elite (5 stays or 15 nights) earns an annual suite upgrade.

NH HOTELS
      The Size: 375 hotels across five brands.
      The Good: Stylish and well-done properties under the NH brand in large European cities and in Latin America. The chain offers frequent sales that require pre-payment, but include substantial discounts.
      The Bad: No hotels in the United States, Canada, Asia or Australia. Some older properties in Europe need upgrades.
      The Program: NH Rewards won't even let you accrue credits until the second stay. No status matches. Free award nights are pricy, but points can be used for room-rate discounts.

RADISSON HOTELS
      The Size: 1,400 hotels across eight brands.
      The Good: Long bifurcated, the now-unified Radisson has several fine properties in Europe under the Blu rubric. It is especially strong in Scandinavia and Britain.
      The Bad: Pretty much everything else after decades of Radisson and Country Inns taking the dregs of other chains' properties and converting them.
      The Program: Radisson Rewards (fka Club Carlson) offers elites (starting at nine nights) some late check-out/early check-in privileges and food and beverage discounts at hotel outlets. Excess nights roll over to next year's elite status. Only Platinum Elites (60 nights) receive free breakfast. Free-night awards are cheap enough at the low end, but overpriced at the best properties.

WYNDHAM HOTELS
      The Size: 7,100 hotels across 19 brands although the Knights Inn chain is being sold off and the purchase of LaQuinta has not been finalized.
      The Good: Surprisingly strong reviews for Microtel properties at the low end. Some nice hotels and resorts carry the Wyndham or Tryp name.
      The Bad: Where to start? Howard Johnson? Ramada? Travelodge? Days Inn? The portfolio is mostly bad hotels and motels, many of them conversions from other brands when the owners didn't want to pay to upgrade their properties.
      The Program: Wyndham Rewards has some advantages: You can claim at Wyndham timeshare properties as well as hotels, motels and resorts. The one-price redemption scheme--15,000 points per hotel room or per bedroom at timeshares--is simple. If you want to stay at bad hotels on business in hopes of scoring a decent property for a holiday, Wyndham Rewards is for you. Elite levels are meaningless.

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