by Jonathan Vatner | August 01, 2004

The constant flurry of changes to hotel rewards programs for meeting planners is almost impossible to follow. Trying to figure out which program offers the best value presents a different kind of barrier, complicated by brand preferences and fluctuating point requirements for hotel stays.
    A summary of the regulations follows. If the rewards are important to you, put them into the event contract. Also, check whether your organization allows you to use these points personally.
    Hilton HHonors Meeting Planner Program: Planners earn one HHonors point and one airline mile for every dollar spent on guest rooms and meeting room rental, with no limit on points earned.
    Hyatt Meeting Dividends: Planners earn one point in the Gold Passport program per dollar spent on catered events. Points also are earned for room blocks of 10 or more, depending on the day of the week. (At a hotel, more points are earned during the weekend, and vice versa for a resort.) The maximum per meeting is 50,000 points. Alternatively, the planner can receive 2,500 airline miles for 10 to 50 rooms booked, or 5,000 for more than 50. If the planner collects rewards for a meeting, attendees do not.
Le Méridien GuestBook: For every £10 spent (about US$19 at press time), planners earn one Moments point, good for hotel stays or frequent-flyer miles. 
    Meeting Options (Crowne Plaza/InterContinental): For meetings of at least 10 rooms in the U.S. or Caribbean this year, planners can choose room upgrades, 10 percent off A/V costs, 5,000 flyer miles or 20,000 Priority Club points. Holiday Inn’s Miles for Meetings program is similar.
    Marriott’s Rewarding Events: Planners earn three Marriott points for every dollar spent, up to 50,000 points, or one flyer mile for every dollar spent, up to 15,000 per event. Planners can convert 50,000 reward points to $250 good toward future meetings.
    Select Rewards (Omni Hotels): New in June, this program offers one frequent-flyer mile or American Express Membership Reward point per dollar spent on rooms. Or, planners can earn vacation packages, a year’s membership in a major meeting planner association or a $500 donation to charity.
    Starwood Preferred Planner: One Starpoint is awarded for every three dollars spent on the meeting. Points are good for the Starwood Preferred Guest program or can be exchanged for gift certificates or used to pay for educational books or membership dues for Meeting Professionals International. The points also can be donated to various charities.
    Wyndham Meeting Rewards: Wyndham uses a tiered system. At the lowest tier, from $2,500 to $4,999, Wyndham gives the planner $100, payable either as an American Express Gift Cheque, credit toward the event or a donation to charity. More expensive meetings earn a larger sum or other gifts, like an HP iPAQ Pocket PC, in lieu of the cash.

Ethically speaking
Is it ethical to accept personal awards for booking rooms? MPI and the American Society of Association Executives have no specific rulings on the matter, other than codes of conduct requiring planners to avoid taking inappropriate incentives. Each organization, the associations say, should have its own guidelines.
    Terri Breining, CMP, CMM, president of San Diego-based Concepts Worldwide and immediate past chairperson of MPI’s board of directors, is more firm on the issue. Her company does not accept any type of incentive for booking at a property; if she’s given one, she passes it along to her client.
    “It’s not clear to people looking at that transaction whether or not the planner made the decision to book at a particular property based on those points,” she says.
    For this reason, most points programs offer alternatives to defray current or future meeting costs, or they donate the bonus to charity.