- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2000

Kim Kretzschmar has made two Marriott International hotels in the District her second home.

The Michigan attorney, traveling to Washington a couple of days a week for work, spent 90 days last year between the J.W. Marriott on Pennsylvania Avenue and the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue. She suspects she's already stayed in the two hotels more than 90 days this year.

Ms. Kretzschmar is being rewarded for her consistent loyalty.

She is greeted by name, guaranteed a room, gets her room upgraded, has express check-in and can check out later than other guests.

But more importantly Ms. Kretzschmar gets free rooms a lot of free rooms.

It's all a part of the Marriott Rewards a frequent traveler program that results in free stays, vacations, cruises and merchandise for guests who stay at one of the nine participating Marriott brand hotels.

"It's a great marketing tool to recognize our best customers," said Gordon Lambourne, a spokesman for Bethesda-based Marriott. "It drives business to all the Marriott properties."

More hotel chains in recent years have followed the airline industry's lead in seeking new and repeat business with frequent traveler programs.

Guests rack up points for each dollar they spend at a particular hotel. The points can be redeemed for different rewards depending on the hotel chain. The most significant and popular reward are free stays at a participating hotel.

Marriott Rewards, for instance, gives 10 points for every dollar spent at one of its hotels. Rack up 20,000 points by spending $2,000 and frequent guest will get a free room at one the full service Marriott Hotels.

Last year the Marriott gave out more than 1 million free stays. While frequent guest programs are not new, more and more hotel chains have added such programs to their list of amenities.

The Marriott, which has changed its program to include nine of its hotel brands in 1997, has 13 million Marriott Reward members adding about 100,000 each month, Mr. Lambourne said.

Choice Hotels International, based in Silver Spring, has one of the newest frequent traveler programs. Guest Privileges, which started in October 1998, gives guests 10 points for every dollar they spend. A guest can get a free hotel room after 10 nights at a Comfort, Quality, Clarion or Sleep hotel.

"Since we were one of the last [hotels to offer a program], we could look around and see what others were doing," said Cynthia Slavin Lakas, director of database/ frequency marketing at Choice Hotels.

The program, which currently has 700,000 members, has already given away 35,000 free stays at the four hotel brands.

Frequent traveler programs have gotten more attention and become more popular lately because of the industry's wave of consolidation, said Randy Petersen, editor of InsideFlyer Magazine, a monthly consumer magazine about frequent flyer and traveler programs. Hotel chains have been buying up competitors that may have a frequent traveler program that's completely different from their own so they have to combine the programs or create new ones.

These programs are translating into extra dollars for the hotel chains. A Marriott Rewards member gives the hotel 2.5 more stays than before they were a member. And Choice Hotels, which are all franchised owned properties, have had an "incremental increase" in business, Ms. Lakas said.

Hotels also make money on the extras the member guests are likely to spend, Mr. Petersen said. Even if a guest is staying at a hotel for free by redeeming points, they're likely to spend within the hotel to add to their point total.

There's no doubt the business of frequent traveler programs is "cut throat" since each hotel chain is vying for the same travel dollar, Mr. Petersen said. Hotels don't hesitate to point out what they have that a competitor may not have.

The fierce competition is good news for hotel guests, who on average belong to 3.2 frequent traveler programs. They get their pick from an increasingly expanded list of rewards. Besides from top-notch service like room upgrades, guaranteed rooms and express check-ins, the members are being inundated with new ways to get points or new partners to offer them deals.

The Marriott added free airline miles to its program in September 1999. Members can earn up to three miles for every dollar they spend at the Marriott.

Earlier this month Marriott introduced its new three-tiered elite member status where members who stay with the Marriott as few as 15 nights in a year get special recognition and benefits including bonus Marriott reward points.

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