Membership card

Most of the big hotel brands offer membership cards. We’re not talking about free loyalty cards here, which allow you to collect points to earn future rewards, but instead the kind of card you pay for – and in return you get a whole raft of discounts and freebies. For customers, the question is whether the card’s benefits outweigh the cost, and for the hotel, whether sufficient additional revenue can be generated from the customer’s spending to justify the discount. talked to three former member card holders to find out what they had to say about why they joined – and why they ultimately didn’t renew.

First up was Stuart, a professional sportsman from the UK, who bought a member package at The Landmark in Bangkok. For Stuart, the decision to join was a no-brainer.

I’d been to Bangkok a few times and always stayed at The Landmark. When I bought the card I think I got a couple of free nights and a free buffet, and then 50% off the room rate for the rest of the year. It paid for itself immediately, and as I stayed at The Landmark anyway two or three times a year for a week or two each time, I got a massive saving. The only reason I don’t have one now is because I’ve got an apartment just round the corner and I’m not that bothered about the food.

Thomas, an expat teacher, also had very specific reasons for shelling out on a member card.

I bought a Marriott card solely because it offered 50% off at the steakhouse. It’s so hard to get really good beef in Bangkok and when you have to pay top dollar, that discount makes a real difference. The card pays for itself if you go three or four times.

However, Thomas was less keen on the other benefits attached to the card.

There were vouchers for room discounts but you could normally find the room just as cheap online, and you couldn’t use the card outside Thailand if you went travelling – which is when you’d need it most. Then there were other discounts on food and beverage, especially if you came with friends, but eventually we just got bored going to the same places – there are so many other options in Bangkok. I had the card for three years, but in the end they kept putting the price up to the point where it wasn’t worth it just for the steakhouse, and I didn’t care about all the other things.

Thomas and Stuart were both satisfied customers, but when their needs and habits changed, the cards no longer made sense. For Helmer, our third ex-card holder, the situation was different. Helmer still uses the restaurants and accommodation of Accor, but after many years as a member, he no longer bothers with the card. Everything was fine for Helmer until he realized that the benefits he paid for as a member were also available to non-members through other promotions. Visiting the buffet on a ‘come 4 pay 2’ deal with a particular credit card gave the same discount as a member card. As Helmer pointed out, “Shouldn’t a member be treated better than the regular customers? If not, why pay for a card?

In fact, members were entitled to an additional 10% discount, but all too often the hotel staff were unfamiliar with their own terms and conditions, and obtaining the discount could become a stressful experience. The last straw came when Helmer asked the company to honor their promise to members to beat the cheapest available price on their rooms by 10%.

I found the room on another website but they tried telling me it wasn’t the same room. I contacted the Head Office and they confirmed I was right, but it was always one small irritation after another. I’m not renewing because their customer service people don’t seem to care and I can get my discounts through credit cards or coupon websites like Ensogo. There’s always a deal available somewhere, and there’s no annual fee.

Our conclusion after talking to these three gentlemen is that it might just be worth thinking about selling a personalized member card that lets customers select only the benefits they really value. When customers are irritated by vouchers they don’t use, complicated terms and conditions, unhelpful customer service and non-members getting the same deals as cardholders, there’s really nothing special about being a member – and there should be.