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Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen looks at a new app designed to boost your rewards and improve your experience during hotel stays.
I’m a big fan of technology and the various apps that make my travels easier. It seems like new releases are always popping up, from hotel apps to airline apps to ones that let you rent boats on demand! This month saw the release of another new offering called HotelUpgrade, which promises bonus points, upgrades and other on-property benefits, all in addition to the loyalty points you’d normally earn — similar to the perks you’d receive by booking through programs like Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts available to Amex Platinum cardholders. In today’s post I’ll take a closer look at this new app to see if it’s worth downloading.
Here’s how HotelUpgrade works:
- Book a hotel through an official channel.
- Enter your confirmation number in the app.
- Enjoy bonus points and perks for your stay.
The app itself is free, though it’s currently only available for Apple devices (CEO Pranav Patel says that an Android version is being developed). It’s a quick download and has a very simple interface. Once it loads, you’ll see a list of cities:
Simply tap on your desired city to see which properties in (or around) that city partner with the app:
The default stay length is 5 nights, mainly because stays of 5 nights or longer offer travelers significantly more rewards. For example, as you can see above, there are two properties in the Los Angeles area: the DoubleTree Suites Santa Monica and The Westin Long Beach. As indicated above, stays of 5 nights at the DoubleTree would earn you 2,500 additional Hilton HHonors points plus free internet access (the latter of which isn’t too exciting, given that Hilton HHonors now gives all members complimentary Wi-Fi). The Westin, meanwhile, gives you 2,500 additional Starpoints (worth $60 alone, given TPG’s most recent valuations) plus a suite upgrade if there’s space available.
Those perks get even better when you hit 10 nights (which actually maxes out the additional rewards offered through HotelUpgrade). Your bonus Hilton points are boosted to 5,000, but the Westin takes the cake, offering guests 8,000 additional Starpoints for stays lasting 10 or more nights. That’s like getting almost $200 back on your stay.
Unfortunately, the perks drop off significantly when you stay fewer than 5 nights. Sticking with the two properties in Los Angeles, here are the benefits you’ll get when you stay 1-4 nights:
- DoubleTree Suites Santa Monica — 1,000 Hilton HHonors bonus points.
- Westin Long Beach — 500 Starpoints plus a complimentary manager’s reception on Tuesday evening.
Despite being significantly less lucrative than 5+ night stays, these bonuses are still a nice add-on. In fact, both of them are the same bonuses offered to top-tier elite members of each chain, and these earnings are in addition to the regular points you’ll earn for the stay. That’s not a bad way to boost your account with just a few clicks!
To test HotelUpgrade, I booked a stay for this weekend at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare using a AAA rate. I fired up the app, clicked on Chicago, changed the number of nights to one, and then tapped on the hotel name. The next screen had a summary of the benefits and a spot at the bottom to enter my confirmation number. Once I entered it and hit Submit, I immediately received a confirmation that I would receive an additional 1,000 Hilton HHonors bonus points:
I also received an e-mail confirmation to the address I used on my HotelUpgrade profile.
I then wanted to see if the app would differentiate between a paid stay and an award stay, so I booked both a paid and award stay at the following locations:
- Hyatt Place Jacksonville Airport
- The Westin DFW Airport
- Courtyard Times Square
- Hilton Chicago/Magnificent Mile Suites
The app immediately recognized both the paid and award stay confirmation numbers for the Westin and Hilton, leading me to think that the perks still apply when you redeem points for the room. Unfortunately, just a few hours later, I received the following e-mail:
It’s also worth noting that the app never recognized my confirmation numbers for the Hyatt Place and Courtyard. I kept getting the following error messages for both reservations:
It’s nice that you also have the option to email the confirmation directly just like DreamCheaper (which I profiled earlier this year). When I forwarded the email confirmation I received for my Hyatt award reservation, I got an auto-response indicating that the HotelUpgrade team was working on it.
The biggest issue with the app is its relatively limited reach. At the time of writing, the app currently has properties in just 27 US cities, with only 73 properties total, though Patel claims that the program will expand to 500 properties in 30 US cities by the end of 2015. The press release surrounding HotelUpgrade’s launch claims that these are “top travel markets,” but the actual list is quite eclectic. There are many large cities that are also popular destinations (such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago) plus several that are much smaller (like Erie, PA and Durham, NC).
The majority of the included properties come from the budget brands of the major hotel chains (like Fairfield and Hampton Inns), and many of them (17 to be exact) are actually airport properties. Certain loyalty programs are more widely represented than others:
- Marriott Rewards — 29 hotels
- Hilton HHonors — 17 hotels
- IHG Rewards — 14 hotels
- Starwood Preferred Guest — 7 hotels
- Wyndham Rewards — 3 hotels
- Hyatt Gold Passport — 2 hotels
- Non-affiliated — 1 hotel
However, there are some decent properties included on the list. The Westin Long Beach is probably the best one, but you’ll also see the Hilton Suites on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, the Hilton Garden Inn Dallas Market Center (which made my list of best spots to redeem the $100 credit on the Citi Hilton Reserve Card), the Hyatt Place Las Vegas, the InterContinental at the Plaza in Kansas City and the Courtyard Manhattan/Times Square.
I would definitely recommend downloading the app and checking it out to see if any of the properties fit with your upcoming travel plans. There may not be any aspirational locations (as of yet), but if you have an upcoming stay at one of the participating hotels, you’ll be able to earn some bonus points and maybe score a complimentary upgrade for longer stays, even if you don’t hold elite status.
The other big benefit of this app is that you don’t need to book your stay through it — in fact, that’s not even an option. Since you book directly through the hotel’s site, the reservation should count toward elite status (re)qualification, and should earn you bonus points through any promotions (like those currently being offered by Hyatt and SPG). You’ll also be able to earn bonus points for using a co-branded credit card like the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card or the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express.
Does this app have a future?
This is the big question. In the press release, HotelUpgrade claims to be a win-win for travelers and hotel management. Since the reservations are made through a hotel or chain’s direct website, you won’t have to fight for your points or elite status benefits (like you would with a third-party booking channel). The individual hotels come out ahead (in theory) because they encourage travelers to go directly to their website and drive future stays by partnering with HotelUpgrade to offer additional perks.
Only time will tell if this model is sustainable. In its current form, there simply aren’t enough properties and destinations to appeal to a large number of travelers. Since the best perks come with stays of 5 nights or longer, the app was clearly designed with leisure travelers in mind, yet there are glaring holes in the portfolio’s coverage (Orlando immediately comes to mind).
I would also love to see the program expand to more non-affiliated properties like the Phoenix Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. For many travelers, earning points in a loyalty program is only part of the equation when choosing where to stay. Independent or boutique hotels tend to offer more personalized service and unique amenities, so throwing in a few perks through HotelUpgrade could swing some business away from the major chains.
The final big drawback is the app’s current focus on US properties (and relatively unexciting ones at that). Expanding internationally would make this app much more useful to business travelers as well as points and miles enthusiasts. Patel indicates that the company will “absolutely” be expanding to international markets at some point, which would make it much more appealing.
I love to see technological innovations in this industry, and this app promises to do nothing but improve your hotel experience by offering additional points and/or perks without sacrificing anything in return. Whether it catches on really depends on how quickly it can expand its footprint.
Have you used HotelUpgrade? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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