Small victories

Airlines and hotels are targeting small and medium enterprises with tailored loyalty schemes

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) might seem a secondary target for travel brands when it comes to courting their loyalty, but there are good reasons to pursue them as keenly as the bigger corporates.

The term SME is misleading – the UK government defines it as any business with fewer than 250 staff. Last year, there were 5.7 million SMEs, which was more than 99 per cent of all businesses. Moreover, some small businesses grow up to be very big businesses, which is why hotels and airlines cultivate them from an early age with dedicated SME loyalty schemes offering perks that keep customers coming back.

The majority of hotel SME loyalty schemes offer discounts on bookings, some with a minimum annual requirement. Airlines generally favour a points scheme, although some offer this in addition to a set discount. Here’s what some brands have to offer.

Marriott for Small Business
Marriott’s SME scheme offers a best rate guarantee for direct bookers and mobile check-in on a free app. Meeting spaces for 10-25 people, and event space for up to 50 guests plus catering can be reserved online. Free parking, wifi and domestic calls are included in the SME package, but at “participating properties only”. Stays including a Friday or Saturday night receive free breakfast for two adults and children under 12 at selected hotels.

Hyatt Leverage
Hyatt’s scheme is aimed at companies making at least 50 night stays a year. SMEs qualify for discounts of 5-15 per cent at all participating Hyatt properties, as well as 5 per cent off qualifying stays at Oasis serviced home rentals. Members receive a unique programme number managed by a dedicated administrator that permits discounted booking online or via reservations centres. A dashboard enables the SME to track traveller information, reservations and room expenses plus total bookings and room spend. World of Hyatt loyalty members continue to earn points on stays booked through Hyatt Leverage.

IHG Business Edge
Business Edge is open to any company not part of IHG’s managed account portfolio, but TMCs or other travel companies are not eligible. Business Edge offers discounts at all IHG properties, an upgrade to Rewards Club Gold Elite after the first stay and access to a customised portal with reporting capability. Rates negotiated locally with individual hotels by SMEs remain the same. Another perk is that Business Edge rates are available for personal use at participating hotels. Bookings are made via a dedicated website and there is a Shop & RFP section to make group reservations or reserve meeting space.

Millennium for Business
Millennium for Business has an SME programme via a digital platform integrated with the My Millennium Guest Reward Programme. It is aimed at registered companies that do not use a TMC and do their own bookings. Benefits include room upgrades, 15 per cent off dining, early check-in and late check-out and access to club or executive lounges. The app permits reporting and access to rewards. Properties in key destinations will have specific offers for combined “bleisure” trips.

Radisson Rewards for Business for Small + Medium Enterprises
Radisson tailors its rewards scheme for SMEs, offering discounts of up to 10 per cent plus ten points per US dollar. Members can upgrade to Silver status after three stays and all 1,100-plus properties participate. Travel arrangers earn ten Radisson Rewards points for every dollar spent on bookings made for others and five points for each dollar spent on meetings bookings. Travellers earn 20 points for every dollar spent at the property on room charges, food and drink. Points cannot be transferred to another member.

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts Business Travel Programme
Shangri-La’s Business Travel Programme is another online portal aimed at business travellers using the brand’s 100-plus properties. It is aimed at companies without existing corporate agreements that generate at least 50 room nights per year and offers booking online or via an app. Benefits include up to 10 per cent off flexible rates in all properties under the Shangri-La, Kerry, Hotel Jen and Traders brands, in addition to savings and amenities during stays.

Travelodge Business
Travelodge is popular with small firms and offers 5 per cent off all flexible rate bookings online or via an app under its Travelodge Business scheme. Other benefits include the ability to make repeat bookings, room allocation on quieter floors and a Travelodge Business account card. The card offers interest-free credit for up to six weeks and the ability to pre-pay for all Travelodge rooms, wifi, food and drink. There is a dedicated business support team and members receive monthly consolidated invoices.

British Airways On Business
This is an SME-specific programme that, as well as BA, covers flights on American Airlines and Iberia. On Business points can be used for reward flights or upgrades (although these do not qualify for waitlisting) and there are member-only discounts “of at least 5 per cent”.

Points are also given for purchases made on BA’s American Express Corporate Card or BA/Amex Card Plus. All three tiers qualify for one Business Point for each £1, $1 or €1 spent, but 25 per cent and 50 per cent bonuses are given to second and third tier members. Tier two membership, known as On2, is from £30,000 annual spend and On3 from £300,000. Administrators and nominated travel agents can access reporting of spend, plus point balances and redemption.

Bluebiz (Air France/KLM, Virgin Atlantic, Delta, Kenya Airways)
Bluebiz recently launched in the UK, with Virgin closing its Flying Co SME programme to take part. Membership of Bluebiz does not require a VAT number and SME travellers earn credits for every flight on Bluebiz member airlines. For every £100 spent, 2.5 blue credits are earned and each credit is worth £1, with no additional fees or taxes to pay upon redemption. Virgin customers continue to earn Flying Club frequent flyer miles. Other benefits include increased ticket flexibility, free name changes and a guaranteed economy seat in the case of a full flight.

Ten airlines – Lufthansa, United, ANA, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings, LOT, Austrian and Swiss – participate in the PartnerPlusBenefit SME scheme. Each booking earns an unspecified number of points redeemable for flights, upgrades and excess baggage vouchers and there are no minimum requirements or flight quotas for members.

BenefitCredit is valued in euros on the member’s choice of credit or debit card or SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) bank account. Individual members can also earn points for Star Alliance’s Miles & More scheme in tandem with BenefitPoints.

Play your cards right

Some SMEs have concerns about loyalty scheme data breaches.


Rob Burgess, editor of loyalty scheme website Head for Points, says: “There are a lot of issues with data security and loyalty schemes – some only require a four-digit PIN number and many still have ‘electronic’ awards, such as Amazon e-gift codes which can be redeemed very quickly once an account is hacked.


“I’m surprised we have not seen more SME-focused travel rewards credit cards. The market for personal reward credit cards has been decimated by the 0.3 per cent EU cap on interchange fees, however this does not apply to corporate cards.


“Airlines and hotel companies could do very nicely if they launched cards focused on their small business customer base. It is also possible, if you take a very loose definition of ‘being in business’, to give these cards to programme members who have little more than a buy-to-let or an eBay sideline.”

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