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Today, TPG Contributor Mitch Berman examines the lack of award availability in the new Wyndham Rewards program, and offers a new avenue of redress for TPG readers.
When Wyndham revamped its loyalty program this spring, we were excited. The massive chain opened the doors to flat-rate award nights at more than 7,500 properties in over 70 countries, along with a cash + points program that offers attractive rates. With so many valuable options, the outlook for Wyndham Rewards was good. However, many of those options have turned out to be inaccessible.
In this post, I’ll look at whether Wyndham Rewards is failing to live up to its promises, and what recourse travelers have when award space is unavailable.
The New Wyndham Rewards
Wyndham’s new program offers two types of awards: go free rates allow members to redeem 15,000 points for standard rooms at any Wyndham hotel, while go fast rates offer rooms for a small number of points in addition to a cash co-pay. These new options appeared to add immense value to the program, as discussed in Nick Ewen’s look at 9 Wyndham Properties that Make for Awesome Awards and Richard Kerr’s look at the top Wyndham beach properties.
Accordingly, Wyndham Rewards was added to TPG’s June valuations at a favorable 1.2 cents per point — higher than most other hotel points. Even the co-branded Wyndham Rewards Visa card, which had previously been an afterthought, started receiving attention as a high-value hotel card. The long string of praises was capped this month when US News released its annual rankings of hotel rewards programs, vaulting Wyndham to number two from its previous spot among the unranked.
It’s rare that a rewards program experiences such a rapid ascent, so it’s no surprise that Wyndham created so much buzz in the award travel community. Unfortunately, some of that buzz was undeserved.
Mixed Reviews from Rewards Members
We received considerable feedback from readers who were having difficulty booking both go free and go fast nights at many top properties. It seemed that Wyndham had overstated the flexibility of its rewards, or that technical difficulties were impeding users from redeeming points as intended.
To get a sense of how prevalent these issues are, I conducted an availability study of 17 Wyndham properties around the world — chosen from a combination of reader comments and our own recommendations in the articles mentioned above. I used various dates to test each property for cash, go free and go fast availability. Then I spoke to top executives at Wyndham to get clarification.
I checked the following properties for availability on February 26, 2016 (and in some cases other dates as well):
|Property||Cash||go free||go fast|
|Ramada Plaza Waikiki||✓||✓|
|Shelbourne Wyndham Grand South Beach||✓||✓|
|Wyndham Boston Chelsea||✓||✓||✓|
|Wyndham Garden San Diego near SeaWorld||✓||✓||✓|
|Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek||✓||✓|
|Wyndham Grand Rio Mar||✓||✓|
|Wyndham Koloa Landing (Kauai)||✓|
|Wyndham San Diego Bayside||✓|
|Wyndham Santa Monica at the Pier||✓||✓|
|Ramada Manila Central||✓||✓|
|Wyndham Grand Xian South||✓||✓|
|Ramada Couran Cove††||✓|
|Ramada Encore Dandedong Melbourne||✓||✓|
|Wyndham Hotel Melbourne†††|
|Days Hotel London — Hyde Park||✓||✓|
|Days Hotel London — Waterloo||✓||✓|
|Wyndham Grand Istanbul Levent||✓||✓|
Of the 17 properties above, only 3 showed go fast availability, and only 13 showed go free availability for the date(s) I searched. For a Friday night six months in the future, that leaves a lot to be desired.
Some of these results are caused by computer glitches. For example, all rooms at the Garden San Diego list for $999! The Grand Orlando’s website displays mixed messages, indicating that the property is available for go free awards, but also that “There are currently no rooms available.” However, if you then click to see rooms, you can apparently redeem points anyway.
The Grand Xian was curiously available for award stays, but not for cash bookings. When selected from a drop-down menu on Wyndham’s website, The Couran Cove simply disappears. When checked from the property’s outside website, however, rooms are available only for cash. Finally, the Hotel Melbourne shows no availability, period.
Rob Myers, head of publicity for Wyndham, assured me that issues like these are being addressed. While that’s little consolation to anyone struggling to book an award, it’s good to know that availability may improve once any glitches are resolved. However, the question remains as to whether Wyndham Rewards is living up to its end of the bargain.
Is there a problem with go free awards?
Computer issues are important, but they tend to get ironed out over time. I’m more concerned with whether award availability is willfully and systematically being closed off at particular properties.
Wyndham’s policy for go free awards is that you can book any standard room for 15,000 points per night, without blackouts, provided a standard room is available. The “standard room” proviso is critical here. To determine whether a lack of go free availability abides by the rules, you have to determine whether a standard room is available. That can be tricky because rooms have different names at different properties — the average Wyndham Rewards member shouldn’t be expected to know that at the Rio Del Mar in Puerto Rico, a “Rainforest Room” is actually a standard room.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to check. Just search availability for a sampling of off-peak dates in the future — it only takes a minute to try well into next year. If a room with the same name keeps popping up as the lowest-priced option at a particular property, you can be reasonably sure that it’s a “standard room.”
I used this method to determine that several of the properties above have standard rooms available for the dates I checked, but no go free awards. Thus, Wyndham’s booking engine is not properly displaying award availability. If, like me, you find standard rooms available for cash, but go free rooms aren’t offered, there is a solution.
What to Do When go free Awards Aren’t Showing Up
If there’s no go free availability, but you’ve determined that a standard room is available for cash, the first step is to call Wyndham Rewards at 866-996-7937 (making sure to mention if you’re a Gold member). Wyndham is required to let you have that available standard room for 15,000 points under the go free program.
If you’re still having trouble, I’m pleased to be able to offer a direct avenue of appeal. I spoke with Noah Brodsky, Wyndham’s Executive Vice President for Worldwide Loyalty and Engagement, who is in charge of the entire Rewards program. He invites you to write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org with “TPG” in the subject line. “If there’s a problem of this type,” says Brodsky, “we want to find it and to make it right every single time.” Those are the kind of words I like to hear.
If you follow these steps, please let us know the outcome (good or bad) in the comments below. If widespread problems persist, we’ll follow up with Wyndham, but I’m hopeful that this kind of direct accountability bodes well for go free awards in the future.
Is there a problem with go fast awards?
Only 3 of the 17 properties I surveyed had go fast availability; 14 of 17 did not. From an award traveler’s standpoint, that’s a huge problem. From Wyndham’s standpoint, however, it’s hardly a problem at all. Brodsky feels the system is working very well aside from about 100 (mainly prime) Wyndham properties that haven’t shown availability due to computer issues, which are scheduled to be fixed on September 10.
That’s good news, but it doesn’t address the wider problem. Unlike go free awards, which are mandatory for every property chain-wide, participation in go fast is entirely voluntary. Individual hotels can decide whether they wish to participate, and can change their minds on a day-to-day basis.
Overall, Wyndham is quite proud of its go fast program. Brodsky called the program a “win-win-win,” citing the 135,000 redemptions that have taken place at 80% of Wyndham’s hotels. “We’ve created a huge economic incentive for [members] to engage in the go fast program,” he said.
When I shared my availability study, he pointed out (accurately) that the properties on my list are not a random sampling, and countered by citing the huge number of go fast redemptions that have taken place elsewhere — like at properties near amusement parks and national parks, which he says are very appealing to the average American traveler. But I’m sticking to my guns: My sampling of properties may not be random, but it is relevant to TPG readers.
I followed up with Rob Myers, Wyndham’s Director of Public Relations, to ask whether Wyndham plans to further incentivize participation in the go fast program. His response was discouraging:
“We’ve made Go Fast a great option for [properties] to use at their discretion, and that’s why more than 80 percent of our hotels have Go Fast rates available. We know this number will increase once we implement the tech fix in early September. The bottom line is we want properties participating in Go Fast.”
In essence, beyond resolving the computer issues, Wyndham appears perfectly content with how go fast is working, and is fine with marketing it as a core part of Wyndham Rewards despite its unpredictability. That’s not ideal for those of us interested in high-level award redemptions, but unfortunately, there’s no clear avenue of redress in this case.
While I wish go fast rates were available on a chain-wide basis, Wyndham has other plans. In fairness, that’s consistent with the rest of the hotel industry, as anyone who’s tried to use cash + points options with Hilton, Starwood and others knows that they’re limited in much the same way.
The go free program is an entirely different story, with an ending that shows every sign of becoming a happy one. Bearing in mind that a standard room must be available, I’m confident that Wyndham sincerely wants to smooth out the kinks. Most significantly, Brodsky and his team appear to be creating a real avenue of accountability, and we intend to see that they stick to it. Several of the computer issues I brought up were fixed just during the course of writing this article, and I look forward to seeing how many more are resolved by the technical updates on September 10, which is right around the corner.
Along those lines, again, if you see standard room availability but no go free rate, and you follow the steps above, please tell us what happens in the comments section below!
What experiences have you had booking go free and go fast awards with Wyndham?
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