In normal times, hotel promotions are on-again-off-again events, keyed to run during low-demand periods of the year, and disappear during those months when travel demand is more robust.
They're cyclical, and predictably so.
But the protracted economic slump has turned such simple marketing assumptions on their heads. It's been one long, undifferentiated slow season, spurring the major hotel chains to deploy back-to-back-to-back promotions for almost three years.
It's the longest sustained period of hotel promotional activity ever.
But that's ancient history. What travelers want to know today is what hotels can do for them tomorrow.
Looking Ahead: Current Data
One reliable indicator of hotels' future behavior is their current performance. Free nights and bonus miles would be a costly extravagance if their business had already rebounded fully. It hasn't.
While there are signs of strength, occupancy rates and room tariffs have a long way to go to regain their pre-recession levels.
According to STR, an industry research company, U.S. hotel occupancy rates for July 2010 averaged 67.9 percent, a 7 percent improvement over the same month last year, but still below the levels in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, when occupancy rates routinely exceeded 70 percent.
Average daily rate (ADR), another key industry benchmark, is even more telling. For July, the ADR was $99.14, a mere 1.4 percent improvement from July 2009, and still 7.6 percent below the July 2008 ADR. Year to date through July 2010, ADR was $97.53, off 1.4 percent compared to the same period last year, and off 9.9 percent from 2008.
So while travel may be on the road to recovery, it's stuck in the slow lane.
Looking Ahead: Current Promotions
The combination of sluggish current momentum and uncertainty over what competing hotels will do is likely to spur the hotel companies to continue their promotional push well into next year.
In the meantime, travelers can continue enjoying the fruits of the hotels' distress. A summary of the major hotel networks' current offers follows:
Best Western Rewards members who complete two stays before November 21 will earn double points.
If the qualifying stays are booked at bestwestern.com, members earn will triple points.
And if the stays are charged to a Best Western Rewards MasterCard, program members will earn an additional 1,000 bonus points.
Regular Rewards members can only earn the bonus once, after two stays. Elite members can earn the bonus twice, after four stays.
Members of the Choice Privileges program can earn 8,000 points—enough for a free night—for every two stays completed by November 3 at Ascend Collection, Cambria Suites, Clarion, Comfort Inn and Suites, Quality Inn and Sleep Inn hotels. The bonus may be earned up to four times by regular members, and an unlimited number of times by Platinum and Diamond elite members.
During the same period, Choice Privileges members can earn double points for every stay at EconoLodge, MainStay Suites, Rodeway Inn, and Suburban Extended Stay hotels.
Details of Hilton's systemwide HHonors offer weren't available at press time, but their fall promotion in conjunction with Delta is an attention-getter.