For weeks on end, the Global Hotels Alliance (GHA) has been teasing about major changes to its DISCOVERY loyalty programme. It was titillating at first, but became plain annoying the longer they fed information in dribs and drabs.
But now we finally have the full details on the new DISCOVERY, which takes effect from today. There’s revised tiers and benefits, new qualification criteria, a revamped rewards scheme and more.
Let’s dive in.
New DISCOVERY programme tiers & qualification
First of all, GHA has reorganised the tiers within DISCOVERY as follows:
|Old DISCOVERY||maps to||New DISCOVERY|
(with no stay in last 3 years)
(with min. 1 stay in last 3 years)
Silver is now the new entry tier, followed by Gold, Platinum and Titanium (formerly known as Black).
Existing Gold members who have stayed at a DISCOVERY hotel at least once within the last three years will keep their Gold status in the new programme. Otherwise, they will be dropped down to Silver.
Existing Platinum members maintain their status, which will be extended till the end of 2022. Existing Black members become Titanium, and also retain status till the end of 2022.
DISCOVERY will also change its qualification/requalification criteria as follows:
|Platinum||10 nights||2 brands||US$5,000|
|Titanium||30 nights||3 brands||US$15,000|
What should strike you immediately is how easy it is to qualify for Titanium. While Black status used to require 30 nights a year, the renamed Titanium tier requires just 3 brands.
Yup, that’s not a typo. You can earn top-tier status in DISCOVERY just by staying 3 nights. Gary Leff from VFTW spoke to a GHA rep, who told him it’s a feature, not a bug.
If you’re sampling their brands they want to reward you, because if they have a challenge it’s getting customers to identify what their brands are and see them as a unified program.
Be that as it may, it’ll certainly be the death of elite benefits, if not on paper then in practice. When everyone’s a Titanium (either through easy qualification or gifted through the “share status” benefit- see below), how are hotels supposed to dole out late check-out and double room upgrades?
DISCOVERY tier benefits
Here’s what the revised DISCOVERY benefits look like by tier:
|D$ Validity||6 mo.||18 mo.||24 mo.||24 mo.|
|Early Check-in||–||–||–||From 11 a.m|
|Late Check-out||–||–||Till 3 p.m||Till 4 p.m|
Ignore D$ for now; I’ll cover it in the next section.
Compared to the old DISCOVERY, the main change is that Titanium (ex-Black) members have their 9 a.m check-in/ 6 p.m check-out benefit revised to a 11 a.m check-in/ 4 p.m check-out. Platinum members retain their 3 p.m check-out benefit.
Early check-in and late check-out continues to be subject to availability, so whether you’re talking old or new DISCOVERY, there’s no basis to demand it.
|❓ Request for early check-in|
|The new DISCOVERY T&Cs state that Titanium members must request an early check-in at least two days prior to arrival. This clause also existed in the old DISCOVERY T&Cs, however, so I wouldn’t get too unnerved by it.|
In terms of upgrades, Titanium members retain a two-category upgrade benefit, and Platinum members a one-category upgrade benefit. All upgrades are subject to availability, and one really wonders how much availability there’ll be when every man and his dog is a Titanium…
Speaking of which, a newly-added benefit for Titanium members is the ability to share status.
- Titanium members are allowed to share their tier status with another member (it can be the same member they have shared with before) once per calendar year, once they have earned Titanium tier status through the normal tier credit requirements.
- The validity of the shared tier status will be through the remainder of the calendar year that status was shared, plus the entire calendar year of the following year.
- Members cannot share their status with themselves.
Think of this like adding a supplementary cardholder. He or she will enjoy exactly the same perks as any other Titanium member (except the status sharing benefit, of course). It’s an incentive to requalify as early as possible, I suppose, since the shared status is valid for up to two years. Needless to say, this will only exacerbate the “too many elites” problem.
In VFTW’s interview with the GHA executive, he mentioned that Titaniums would receive brand-specific benefits such as breakfast, airport transfer, or complimentary laundry. I can’t find any trace of this on the website, but complimentary breakfast would be a major enhancement if true. We’ll need to keep an eye on this one.
Local Experiences replaced with Discovery Dollars
Under the old DISCOVERY programme, members didn’t earn points; they earned Local Experiences comprising of unique dining and cultural events, wellness packages, or tours.
Platinum and Black members would earn a Local Experience every time they stayed at a new GHA brand, and there were some amazing opportunities for outsized value- stay one night in a sub-$100 Rydges in Australia and redeem a dinner for two a Michelin-starred restaurant in Munich? Yes please.
The new DISCOVERY replaces Local Experiences with DISCOVERY Dollars (D$), which is basically a glorified rebates programme. Members will receive a certain % of their total hotel spend back as D$, which can be spent on hotel expenses at a D$1= US$1 ratio.
|D$ Validity||6 mo.||18 mo.||24 mo.||24 mo.|
|D$ will only be earned on eligible rates, which typically means a booking through the hotel’s official website or the DISCOVERY portal. |
|Eligible Spend to Earn/Redeem D$|
Room and add-ons:
Food and Beverage at eligible outlets:
Other non-room spend at eligible outlets:
Now, DISCOVERY will tell you that the D$ scheme is more equitable than Local Experiences, since the latter could only be earned by Platinums/Blacks while the former can be earned by all members.
That’s true, but there’s still a minimum threshold before you can play. Members must redeem at least D$10 in a single transaction, which based on a 4% rebate for Silver members works out to US$250 of spend. Granted, that’s not astronomically high, but still a hurdle nonetheless.
Moreover, none of this conceals the fact that a 7% maximum rebate is much less generous than a Local Experience, the retail value of which could be sometimes be in excess of US$200.
Do note that D$ can only be redeemed during a stay, and expiry follows the tier those D$ were earned at. For example, any D$ earned as a Gold member will have an 18-month expiry period, even if that member subsequently gets upgraded to Platinum (24 months expiry).
The silver lining is that existing Local Experiences will be converted at a very generous rate: D$100 for Platinum Local Experiences, and D$200 for Black Local Experiences. These conversions should already be reflected in your member account.
In case you miss Local Experiences, they still exist- you just need to pay for them with cold hard cash (or D$, I suppose).
When DISCOVERY first teased its changes, an exciting rumour circulated on Flyertalk that one of the new elite perks would be access to hotel facilities, even when not staying at the hotel.
I was always skeptical about this, especially when I learned about the reduced qualification threshold for Titanium. I mean, no hotel is going to let its pool and gym get swamped with non-paying guests, right?
As expected, the floodgates haven’t quite opened. Most of the Local Offers are discounts on dining or spa treatments, and probably not all that different from what hotels were already offering, just consolidated into one portal.
But, and this is a big but, there are exceptions. For example, I can find a “complimentary pool and beach pass” offer at the Kempinski Hotel Muscat in Oman (they even throw in a complimentary mojito), and a “complimentary daily pool access” offer at the Kempinski Doha.
I’m struggling to figure out what the catch is, because I don’t see anything in the T&Cs about a co-payment, or even a cap on the number of times a member can redeem a given offer. It just seems too good to be true, and I’m suspicious.
Other examples of complimentary access include:
- Kempinski Hotel Soma Bay: Complimentary beach escape
- Hotel Emblem San Francisco: Boardroom and pool table access,
- Kempinski Hotel Fuzhou: Complimentary access to Executive meeting room
Local Offers in Singapore are scarce at the moment, with 15% off Kempinski Sunday Brunch being the sole option.
DISCOVERY changes: My take
While I’ll reserve final judgement until I know what exactly the Titanium brand-specific benefits are, I think on the whole I prefer the old DISCOVERY.
The new D$ is a significant devaluation compared to the previous Local Experiences, and the reduced qualification requirements plus status sharing are only going to make elite benefits that much harder to enjoy- you can forget about getting a villa upgrade at Capella Singapore, or late check-out at the Capitol Kempinski.
I mean, GHA’s always been rather liberal with handing out status. Just last month, Mastercard was giving away DISCOVERY Platinum and Black status with no stays required. It’d also be a bit rich of me to complain about status devaluation, given how I myself am a beneficiary of GHA’s previous largesse. I received Black status through a Mastercard offer many years ago, and maintained it till today purely through automatic extensions.
So I suppose this is a real life parable of the workers in the vineyard, whereby we don’t really have grounds to get upset that GHA’s being even more generous with top-tier status (unless of course you’ve been religiously clocking 30 nights a year, in which case, yeah, get mad).
It does mean that Titanium members will need to moderate their expectations significantly on their future stays, especially with regards to room upgrades and late check-out.
GHA’s revised DISCOVERY programme has winners and losers, but it’s safe to say erstwhile Black members won’t be too happy. At least they get a golden handshake, in the form of a very generous conversion rate of US$200 per Black experience.
Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end.
What do you make of the new DISCOVERY?