In a madcap quest to earn elite status, hotel loyalty-program members are booking rooms they never use, reports Martha C. White in The New York Times (12/10/13). "It’s just a game of arbitrage, getting something for cheaper and then leveraging it," says Andrew Hazelton, who sometimes checks into low-end Sheraton hotels just to earn benefits at the chain’s fancier properties. Known as "mattress runs," the practice apparently is on the rise in the hotel industry; the same game has been played for years among airline travelers who book short hops to earn big perks.
The airline runs actually are declining because they don’t reap benefits the way they once did. Hotels, however, nearly encourage the practice. "For us, any night counts," says Chris Holdren, senior vice president of the Starwood Preferred Guest program "People will go through extraordinary efforts to earn that recognition and that status with us and we’re happy with that." Don Berg, vice president of loyalty programs at InterContinental says the runs actually build loyalty. "When people stay across multiple brands, they immediately become more loyal," he says.
Across the Starwood portfolio, "more than half of visitors are loyalty members; at some brands, the percentage climbs as high as 70 percent." It’s not just the free nights, or complimentary internet and breakfasts that the runners covet, either. "When you have status with a hotel, you’re treated differently, there’s no two ways about it," says Terri Lynn, a business traveler. "Their voice changes, the tone, the way they treat you – it’s night and day." Starwood’s Chris Holdren also says the runs add "to the fun of the program … That challenge is very exciting to some people," he says.