“It’s a great idea from the hotels’ perspective, because they need money now,” said Linda Canina, academic director of the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. “It’s a nice way for people to help support businesses that they want to keep going.”
To increase the appeal of gift cards, properties are sweetening the pot. The Cadillac Hotel and Beach Club in Miami Beach and Parrot Key Hotel & Villas in Key West, Fla., started a gift card program with 30 percent off future stays. Customers who buy a gift card by May 26 will earn a bonus based on the purchase amount. For example, a $100 card is worth $150 and a $500 card is valued at $750. The promotional value will expire at the end of 2021, but the original amount of the gift card is valid in perpetuity. Losinj Hotels & Villas, a collection of classic and luxury properties on the Croatian island of Losinj, recently began a similar program. Through May, the company will add 20 euros (about $22) to a 200 euro gift card (about $217). In addition, the more people spend, the more they receive. Travelers will have 18 months from the time of purchase to redeem the gift card.
Since announcing its Hotel Credits program in mid-March, Porter & Sail, a digital concierge company, has expanded its list from three hotels to 45 properties in nine countries and eight U.S. states, including Denver, Los Angeles and Nashville. Like the gift cards, the credits are worth more than the purchase price. For example, at Akyra Thonglor in Bangkok, a $200 credit is valued at $300 and a $120 credit is worth $150. Closer to home, Eastwind Hotel & Bar, a boutique hotel with glamping in New York’s Catskills Mountains, is offering a $300 value on a $200 credit.
Caitlin Zaino, chief executive and co-founder of Porter & Sail, said the company is increasing its inventory by about 60 percent per week, with an emphasis on domestic properties. In addition, the company has partnered with the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare Heroes program for the Buy One, Give One campaign: For each credit purchased, a health-care worker will receive a voucher for the same amount, which the recipient can redeem for a hotel stay, spa treatment or other escape.
Expiration dates vary by property, but most credits are valid through at least 2021. The company will also refund the full amount if the hotel is forced to shutter. “We want to eliminate as much risk as possible,” Zaino said.
Anyone who has ever received a Treasury bond understands the importance of patience. Fortunately, the maturation period of a hotel bond isn’t long — 60 days. A few weeks ago, Oxford Hotels and Resorts started a bond program at three of its Chicago hotels: LondonHouse, Hotel Julian and Hotel Essex. Travelers who buy a $100 bond can watch their investment grow by 50 percent over two months. The hotel management company has sold more than 200 bonds since its inception. Guests can use the credit to pay for their room or for such on-site expenses as meals and drinks, parking and spa treatments. The deal runs through June, and the bonds never expire.
With the Buy Now, Stay Later program, travelers can buy $100 bonds for about 300 properties in Africa, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and North America. After 60 days, the bond will be worth $150. Rachel Harrison, co-founder of Lion and Lamb Communications, the public relations firm that created the initiative, equates the deal to a 33 percent discount, or a free third night on a two-night stay.
“We’ve sold 15 bonds within the first two weeks,” said Pam Welliver, director of sales at Georgetown Suites in Washington, D.C. “It’s been a win-win for us — a way to help our hotel right now, plus a way to help the guest by saving money later.”
Harrison said the firm is adding about 20 hotels a day to its inventory, which ranges from luxury resorts, such as Nihi Sumba in Indonesia, to budget chains, such as Homeward Suites in New Jersey. The promotion will tentatively run through Aug. 31.
Guests buy the bonds directly through the hotel, which will send the customer guidelines before the sale is complete. The properties determine the restrictions, such as expiration and blackout dates. The one downside: If a hotel closes, people could lose their investment.
“I can’t see any of these hotels going out of business,” Harrison said, “but it would be wise for everyone to evaluate it for themselves.”
Despite the risk, Canina said, these options are better than booking a room at a hotel with a favorable cancellation policy. For one, the property typically does not bank the money until the guest checks in. Also, many deals are tied to a nonrefundable rate or a longer stay, both precarious commitments during these uncertain times.
“If you book a hotel, there is no return,” she said. “You’re not getting anything extra.”
Before committing to one of these initiatives, Canina said, travelers should ask themselves a few questions: What is the hotel’s typical starting rate and does it fall within your budget? Do you really want to stay at this hotel? And will you use the gift card, credit or bond? If you can answer “yes” to all of the above, then feel free to complete your mission.