Thursday, July 30, 2009

How a Single Vacation Experience Can Impact Loyalty





I generally do not blog about my own personal travel experiences, but I felt compelled to do so after my family's recent trip to Hawaii. To validate that I am indeed a frequent traveler, I am currently a UA Global Services member, a SPG Platinum and a Marriott Silver Elite. I have made 11 trips to the Middle East in the last 12 months and traveled to Amsterdam, Berlin and Dublin on the way back from some of these business trips.

In order to use free tickets on UA for my family, we extended our stay a few days before and one day after. We exchanged our Marriott timeshare in Lake Tahoe for a timeshare on Kauai. We stayed at the Sheraton Kauai for three nights and the Kauai Marriott for one night.

When I checked-in at a separate line for SPG members at the Sheraton Kauai, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that we had been upgraded to a corner suite which were three connecting rooms and three balconies. This is a picture from one of the balconies. This was a great start to our vacation and reinforced the Starwood brand.

Our Marriott Lake Tahoe timeshare is one of the most desirable timeshares on the market at the foot of Heavenly Ski resort overlooking Lake Tahoe. We were sold on the timeshare a few years back based on the superior level of the property and its value in exchange through Interval International. When we arrived at the Pono Kai we received no recognition (the property is managed by Blue Green) and though I had requested an ocean view, called two weeks prior to the property (on the advice of the property) to request it again, we were given a garden view. Overall the property was fine and we enjoyed our stay, but the lack of recognition and the lower quality of the property has made me question the value of our Lake Tahoe Marriott timeshare investment.

At the end of our trip we stayed at the Kauai Marriott. There was no special line for Elite member check-in. In addition, I had requested an upgrade and I was not aware that having done so, we would have to pay an additional $150 per room for the ocean view. An email came to me the day before checking in stating the $150 charge. I was disconnected during entire trip so I never saw this email. We were using points for the two rooms for a one night stay. When I asked to downgrade, I was told that no garden view rooms were available. We had to wait approximately 3 1/2 hours to check in and the room though newly renovated was only a partial ocean view and did not have any furniture on the patio to allow us to enjoy the expensive upgrade. The property is beautiful and the renovated room was very nice, but the lack of recognition and overall treatment has influenced my future travel booking behavior.

As a frequent unmanaged business traveler, I generally have complete choice on where I stay. I am currently working on two projects for the US Government which will involve lots of trips to the DC area over the next 2-3 years and I have consciously chosen to stay at Starwood properties as a direct result of my Kauai experiences. As a Global Services member, UA treats me great. The three nights in the luxury suite at the Sheraton Kauai has increased my loyalty to Starwood. Given the money we've invested in the timeshare and the number of nights I've stayed at Marriott this year, the lack of recognition and surprise charges dilutes any positive feeling I've had towards the brand. Overall it was a great vacation, but proved first hand how loyalty can be impacted by a single trip.

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