By Kelli B. Grant
Using a social networking app on your phone to announce your location can now earn you more loyalty points in your airline or hotel rewards program.
In recent months, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Virgin America and Hilton have joined the growing ranks of travel companies offering reward point bonuses for consumers using apps like Facebook Places, Foursquare and Gowalla that pull GPS data from your phone to let you virtually “check in” at nearby businesses. Companies are increasingly harnessing these apps as a way to better reward their best customers, says Jim Sullivan, a partner at loyalty research firm Colloquy. It’s free advertising, too, since the apps broadcast your location to friends and family in your network. Although many of the current deals have end dates, consumers are likely to see more permanent offers, and from a wider range of companies, as businesses look to connect on social media, he says.
Taking advantage potentially lucrative. Until the end of July, Starwood Hotels and Resorts is offering 250 bonus points when you check in on Foursquare while you’re a confirmed guest at one of its participating properties. That’s a quarter of the 1,000 points needed for a free room upgrade. Virgin America is offering 25 bonus points per Facebook or Foursquare check-in at its terminals, gates and baggage claims until June 15, 2012. Checking in at the terminal, gate and baggage claim on each leg of a round trip would earn 150 (roughly $30 worth) toward the 2,500 needed for a reward seat. Travel program TopGuest, which launched last year, has gathered partners including Holiday Inn, Hilton, Kimpton Hotels and Caesars Entertainment (which operates Bally’s, Caesars Palace and other casinos), all offering points through their own programs.
To take advantage of the deals, travelers simply need to link their loyalty program account with that of whatever app they are using, either through the hotel or airline site or a third party like TopGuest. Before you do, check to see how the company will use your information, Sullivan says. Are they solely tracking your check ins at their property, or all of them on that app? Keep in mind, too, that some deals may carry restrictions on how often you can earn points, and whether other people in your household can get them for the same trip, even if they have a different loyalty account.