JD Power’s New Best Hotel Loyalty Program Survey is Garbage In, Garbage Out

JD Power released their survey of hotel loyalty programs earlier in the week.

Here are their results:

The problem, though, is that their methodology doesn’t come close to supporting anything close to meaningful results. And their purported ‘takeaways’ completely miss the point.

Here’s what they say they measure:

The study measures customer satisfaction by examining four factors (in order of importance): ease of earning and redeeming rewards (35%); program benefits (27%); account management (22%); and member communication (16%).

Last year by the way account management was the number one factor in their rankings. That’s things like website appearance and ease of navigating the program’s mobile app. Go figure.

To be clear this survey doesn’t factor elite benefits into the rankings at all. And respondents aren’t generally elite members.

Deanna Ting of Skift covers the survey and quotes their head of travel and hospitality as acknowledging “it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison between this year and last year” in their results. That’s good, because:

  • Hyatt went from near the bottom last year to second place by changing nothing whatsoever in its earn and redemption program. The only things that changed with World of Hyatt were elite benefits, changes that on net elites haven’t favored.

    The head of travel for JD Power doesn’t know why World of Hyatt did so well.

    J.D. Power didn’t cite any reasons why the program ranked so highly. “I think it’s one of the more unique programs that I see in the industry today. I think it has really resonated with the members of the program,” Garlick said,

    Grand Hyatt San Francisco

  • Starwood went from second to last to 5th really changing nothing at all.

    Spa at the Andaman

That should make you skeptical. Along with La Quinta Returns being judged a better program than Wyndham Rewards and Club Carlson.

For this discussion I’m not super interested in whether or not Marriott is actually best. They offer a good redemption value for your spend at their properties, hotels everywhere (though not many aspirational ones where you’d dream of staying), and modest but improving elite benefits like 4 p.m. late check-out and breakfast as long as you’re not going on vacation at a resort or staying at a Courtyard property or a supposedly-luxury Ritz-Carlton.

Battle House Renaissance, Mobile, Alabama

JD Power offers several takeaways from its garbage in-garbage out work.

  • “Frequent travelers want more than hotel stays” leaving aside that they’re not actually surveying frequent travelers, as I told Skift:

    In a vacuum, [more redemption choices] always poll well: Would you like a hotel or a hotel and a pony? People will say, ‘Give me a hotel and a pony.’ But when it comes to actual consumer behavior, you have to take into account price and value, and you always get a better deal for redeeming for a hotel stay than having to use those points to buy other things.

    ..[W]hen you look at how they actually behave and what drives loyalty… those non-travel redemptions don’t work nearly as well as they do in generic polling.

  • “Many customers do not understand how to redeem rewards” JD Power thinks programs need to “Provide more education to your customer base to teach them how to earn and redeem rewards, and you’ll drive up your share of wallet.”

    However I suggest emailing how to’s to members isn’t going to help. You can offer quizzes with rewards, and that helps a little, but on the whole expecting members to understand earning and redemption at any time other than when they’re thinking about earning and redemption is wishful thinking.

    Leff said it’s not just about providing education but meeting customers where they are. “Is it true that people don’t understand these programs? Sure, especially among the least- engaged members. You want them to be more engaged but you don’t get them more engaged by trying to teach them more about your program. You need to meet them where they are. I wouldn’t have too much consternation about less-engaged members not having program details top of mind.”

  • “Loyalty program satisfaction boosts brand loyalty” and I have a belly button.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Agree, Gary. Don’t know how JD Powers could have arrived at their valuation of Hyatt above SPG or Hilton, for that matter. World of Hyatt is a disaster that Hyatt has been trying to walk back from, since it was rolled out. Hyatt advertising is trying to convince the members and the public that the product is new and something special. It fails on both levels.

  2. SPG is Garbage
    Hilton is watered down. Points are worthless and benefits are very watered down
    Marriott is best, Hyatt is 2nd best. Makes sense since Hyatt barely has any full service properties.

  3. They never even considered Fairmont, which for those who are lucky to travel to those properties and enjoy the benefits of their program would be amazed at the experiences I have enjoyed. It’s not just a collecting points program, but one which tailors every stay to your preferences. There are free nights and upgrades which are stackable. So, that enabled me to stay at the Grand del Mar near San Diego for two nights in a magnificent suite for $0.00 all guaranteed in advance. Retail value: $ 1700.00

    I cannot see many of the lower end programs delivering that, with service with a smile.

  4. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the final rankings, the way that they get to those rankings holds no meaning whatsoever. The inputs don’t correlate at all with a quality program.

    The actual final results are 100% beside the point.

  5. I’m assuming that the results are valid for the people who participated in the survey, and that the methodology was put together to reflect what they believe most people state to be the most important factors. Most of the people who read this blog are probably extreme outliers in terms of the usage and expectations for hotel loyalty programs. I would not expect Gary’s experiences and wants, for example, to match well with those of the typical traveler. They shouldn’t. Probably there should be two surveys – one for the average member of the traveling public, and one for the frequent traveler. The results would likely be quite different, and also quite a bit more useful to the two groups.

    One obvious problem in comparison across programs is that most people do not have any familiarity with most programs.

  6. @Benji – SPG has the winning combo of the best benefits + the best array of interesting / luxury / resort properties. Not getting the highest rebate you want on spend? Go to Hilton where 99% of the properties are crappy HGIs / Hampton Inns / mediocre Hiltons and the written benefits are the lightest possibly written you can imagine.

  7. @DaveS – great assumptions, but they’re emphasizing subjective website design over value of rewards. It’s fair to have an idiosyncratic view of best, but they certainly do not portray the results that way.

  8. Clarification … and this is somewhat subjective!

    Around 75 nights in hotels per year and I agree with this based on what I paid, what I’m getting at a hotel, plus what I am getting back from my stays in the form of rewards or rebates.

  9. Ironic Marriott did so well too as I see no shortage of complaints about all their web and mobile missteps over the past year

  10. If you’ve ever gotten one of their survey booklets after buying a new car, you’d know why the rankings of anything are crap. I’m not exaggerating when i say it would have taken me many hours to fill out the survey.
    They sent me $1. Twice.
    That was enough for me to send back their survey with my scrawl, “The Hyundai Equus is a plastic piece of junk that damages easily and falls apart easily.”

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