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With all the recent massive industry-wide hotel points devaluations and overall lack of lucrative hotel promotions, I thought I’d take a closer look at one of the non-traditional hotel loyalty programs: The Leading Hotels of the World’s Leaders Club.
The Leaders Club is the membership program offered by The Leading Hotels of the World, a collection of more than 430 luxury hotels and resorts around the world. While the collection does include a few chain hotel properties, it is comprised largely of independent high-end hotels that have banded together under the Leading Hotels umbrella to help bolster their reservations, marketing/PR, financial services and other muscle. The consortium has offices in 24 cities across the globe, and is headquartered in New York City.
Unlike the other hotel membership programs I usually talk about, Leaders Club is not based on a points system, and you actually have to pay an annual fee to be a member of either of their two tiers. Benefits are awarded based on membership level – more on that shortly – and number of qualified stays at participating properties.
The two Leaders Club membership levels offered include Leaders Club Access ($150 annually) and Leaders Club Unlimited ($1,200 annually). Specifics on the two membership levels as follows (or online here):
As you can see, members at both levels receive:
-Complimentary continental breakfast
-Complimentary internet access
-Early check-in (based on availability)
-A welcome gift upon arrival and a variety of exclusive invitations and special offers throughout their membership period.
Where the two differ is:
-The number of stays needed to earn a free night- you get 1 free night for every 5 stays as an Access member, and 1 free night for every 4 stays as an Unlimited member.
-The availability of room upgrades
-Golf Society membership (at participating properties)
-Priority Pass VIP lounge access
-Complimentary family memberships
-Airport transfers in Barcelona, Berlin, London, Milan, Munich, New York, Paris, Rome, Vienna and Zurich
Rewards are based on number of stays as opposed to the number of nights, and in order for your stays to qualify towards a free award night, at least two properties must be included in your 4 or 5 stays (depending on membership level) to earn that free night – so they want you to spread the love. There is no limit to the number of nights you can earn during your membership year. Reservations must be made through a LHW booking channel – either over the phone at 800-745-8883, the local reservations office or through a travel agent.
While the Unlimited membership tier is significantly pricier, the value can add up quickly for frequent travelers, those with family members who are frequent travelers, and golf aficionados. Taking advantage of the 3 Access memberships for family ($450), Golf Society membership ($250) and airport transfers (easily $100+ roundtrip each visit) alone nearly makes up for the cost difference, and this doesn’t even take into account the free nights that can be earned at a faster rate as an Unlimited member.
Not only that, but in terms of redemption, the fact that you get a free night after every 4-5 stays depending on your membership level, means you can be earning a return of between 20-25% depending on the length of your stays and the cost of the hotel at which you redeem your benefit free night – a potentially huge value if you strategize smartly.
However, the biggest downside to the free nights is that you can only use one award night per stay. So if you rack up 7 free nights, you can’t redeem them for a week’s vacation, like you can with most hotel points. You might be able to stagger them and pay for some nights, but technically you might have to switch rooms or make reservations in someone else’s name- which could be a big hassle.
Since the program based the free nights on the number of stays, it behooves you to hotel hop (do one night stays) as much as possible. You can get a free night in as little as four one-night stays, yes three week-long stays wouldn’t be enough for a free night. Not all properties are overly expensive, either. The goal is to pay for more affordable properties like the Hotel Le Saint-James in Montreal at a rate of $289 CAD ($280 USD), Bellagio Towers in Las Vegas ($230ish room rates) or even the Mr. C Beverly Hills for $272 for a night.
Then use your free night at a more expensive property – for instance the Faena Hotel + Universe or the Alvear Palace Hotel if you have a trip coming up in Buenos Aires or the exclusive Sandy Lane in Barbados.
So to break it down, let’s say you’re an Access member and spend 3 separate one-night stays at the Hotel Le Saint-James and 2 at Mr. C Beverly Hills then redeemed for a night at the Faeno Hotel + Universe, you’d be spending a total of $1,384 and redeeming for a value of $579, getting a return of 42%! That’s pretty lucrative in my book.
Beyond either of these loyalty programs, LHW also has partnerships with airlines including Delta, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, JAL and Jet Airways – giving additional point and reward opportunities for members of those frequent flyer programs who can earn bonus miles for LHW stays (for instance right now, Delta is offering 3,000 bonus miles per stay).
Although it doesn’t offer a quantifiable points system, upon initial investigation, the Leaders Club seems like it could hold great value in terms of hotel loyalty programs. Though its footprint is small at just 430 hotels, they are in all kinds of places and spread across the globe. One downside for budget travelers is that many of these are deluxe hotels that demand high rates, but if that’s within your operating budget, you can also reap extraordinary value from the program by redeeming your benefit award nights at top-dollar properties.