|Photo by Freeimages.com/Ben Ullman|
Marriott International has announced it will offer its best rates to loyalty program members who book through direct channels or through select corporate travel partners and travel agencies.
Starting in April 2016, Marriott is introducing Marriott Rewards Member Rates, a new rate for loyalty members who book directly on Marriott.com, through Marriott's app, through Marriott's call centers, or through select corporate travel professionals and travel agency partners.
The new rates are available starting April 11 with a Marriott Rewards loyalty account, and join other benefits Marriott offers its loyalty program members, such as a Best Rate Guarantee, exclusive functions on Marriott's mobile app, free Wi-Fi, and opportunities for access to exclusive events and experiences, such as the Super Bowl and concerts. The rates are available across Marriott's portfolio of brands, including Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, EDITION, Marriott Hotels, Autograph Collection, Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inn by Marriott and more.
The Latest on Direct Bookings
The decision to include select travel agencies in the new loyalty rates is different than Marriott's previous changes to its loyalty program. In 2014, Marriott announced that it would offer free Wi-Fi to loyalty program members, but only those who booked through Marriott's direct channels -- travel agents were not included. At the time the move drew criticism from the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and other industry organizations, who argued that the policy penalized customers who choose to book with travel agents.
In the announcement of the new loyalty rates, Marriott said it had been encouraging consumers to book direct with a digital educational campaign, dubbed "It Pays to Book Direct," that has received more than six million views on YouTube.
Other companies have also been experimenting with ways to drive direct bookings among consumers. Most recently Hilton Worldwide launched a new discount campaign for its Hilton HHonors loyalty program members that, like Marriott, provides special rates to members who book either through direct channels or select corporate travel partners and travel agencies.
Last summer, Lufthansa Group (LHG) also sparked controversy when it moved to encourage direct bookings by implementing a EUR 16 "Distribution Cost Charge" (DCC) for every ticket issued by a booking channel using a GDS for LHG airlines: Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS). At the time LHG argued that the move was necessary, as LHG's costs for using a GDS are several times higher than other booking methods. Nevertheless, industry groups including ASTA, Travel Leaders Group and Ensemble Travel Group charged that the move would drive their customers to book with other airlines.
What do you think of the recent moves by Marriott and Hilton to include select travel agencies in promotions that otherwise apply to direct channels? Let us know on our Facebook page or in the comments below.