Everybody loves rewards. For customers, earning points and redeeming them feels like winning a prize; it makes them feel special and taps into their innate competitive nature. For businesses, offering that experience can make them stickier with consumers, as the merchant or establishment creates reasons for consumers to keep coming back — sometimes just to reach that next level of reward!
Loyalty programs, however, are changing. Consumers don’t want to rack up points forever and ever in order to get some dinky little prize. They want choices; they want instant gratification; they want control over what rewards they get and when and how they get them. To keep up, companies from retailers to restaurants, airlines to hotels, must take a different approach when it comes to creating loyalty.
One hospitality chain that’s leading the pack is Hilton, which recently teamed up with Amazon to let customers redeem their Hilton Honors rewards points on the eCommerce market through a new “Shop with Points” offering. The rewards program has 66 million members, Hilton reported in a press release. The hotel operator is the first to offer rewards redemption on Amazon.
And if you think about it, it’s kind of an odd move — wouldn’t the company want to keep those rewards within its own ecosystem?
PYMNTS caught up with Mark Weinstein, senior vice president and global head of Customer Engagement, Loyalty and Partnerships at Hilton, to find out why this program made sense and what Hilton hopes to gain. The conversation is excerpted below.
PYMNTS: If you can, start by describing your philosophy on reward points in general. What are the most important things to keep in mind?
MW: You will always get the best value from your Hilton Honors Points when you redeem them for stays within the Hilton portfolio, but we understand that our members want flexibility to use their points in new ways, which is why we are always looking to add programs and partnerships that provide us the opportunity to have more frequent interactions with our customers both between their trips and during their travel.
Rather than just focus on reward points, we like to look at our loyalty program more holistically, with rewards points being just one of the many benefits you gain from being a Hilton Honors member. For example, when guests use their Hilton Honors Card from American Express, they can make travel even more rewarding by earning bonus points on everyday eligible purchases.
PYMNTS: It’s our belief that Hilton Honor members build up reward points because they like to use them for upgrades and redeem them for travel services. If this is true, what led you to making them shoppable on Amazon?
MW: In the case of our newest program benefits — Points & Money Rewards™ payment slider, Points Pooling and Amazon Shop with Points — we have been researching these features for the past two years, listening to and acting on feedback from our members.
Frequent travelers told us they want more flexibility to use their Points, and less frequent travelers said they want more ways to use their Points and use them faster. Our response has been to create greater flexibility and value for all levels of membership that ensures our members’ Hilton experiences are meaningful and relevant.
Understanding that our members want to use their Points for more than the next trip, vacation or experience and recognizing our longstanding relationship with Amazon, we thought they were an obvious choice to team with on a new, industry-first benefit exclusively for our members.
As the first hotel loyalty program to join Amazon Shop with Points, and with Amazon being among the world’s largest retailers, we’re giving our members millions of ways to use their Points. We are always looking for ways to engage with our members and the Amazon Shop with Points program allows us to engage with them even when they aren’t traveling or planning a trip.
PYMNTS: With this new integration with Amazon becoming official, how do you see the future of reward points? What are some of the innovations or features with which you expect to impact the space in the coming years?
MW: Loyalty programs have evolved significantly over the years. And at Hilton we’ve been leading this evolution, going all the way back to our first “Instant Win” scratch-off promotion in 1987.
Originally, programs focused on building loyalty through rewards designed for high-frequency travelers. Rewards were transactional and focused on what you could get for dollars or nights spent. Then things began to shift to more of a “club” mentality — offering more tangible, instant benefits for all travelers.
Now, we’re seeing a combination of the best of both worlds and getting to the core of what our guests want: a program centered on personalized relationships and rooted in customized experiences.
We are continually looking for opportunities to engage with our customers between trips and while they are traveling, so I think you can expect to see additional programs and partnerships that allow us to bring more value to our members each and every day.
PYMNTS: How will developments in artificial intelligence, like voice-assistants (Siri, Alexa, etc.) impact rewards and reward redemption?
MW: What we have always been and will continue to be focused on is delivering exceptional customer experiences to our guests and members. The tools that allow us to do that in new and improved ways may change, but our goal will allows remain the same.
Today, our Hilton Honors app allows guests to do so much more than we ever thought possible back when we launched it. You can check in, choose a room, set personal preferences and unlock your door using Digital Key. The result is an unprecedented seamless experience, and our guests love it.
What’s next? Hilton is currently working on a project to deliver guests a truly mobile-centric hotel room. Guests can look forward to personalizing their stay and controlling their hotel room from the palm of their hand.
PYMNTS: What’s the future for Hilton Honors Program?
MW: We’ve already moved beyond programs designed just around points. Today we are focused on a more holistic relationship with our customers. At the end of the day, what you can continue to expect from Hilton Honors is delivering value to our members by focusing on brands, products and experiences our customers know and love. You’ll see this at play in the coming months as we roll out the specifics around our new Hilton Honors Cards from American Express, which are designed to enhance value for our most loyal guests.