You already know about hotel loyalty programs that let you earn points redeemable for stays. But did you know there’s a loyalty program that lets you earn things like a trip to the beach in Portugal, a Mayan cooking lesson in Mexico or the chance to drive a Lamborghini in Hungary?
This loyalty program — from the Global Hotel Alliance — is called DISCOVERY and it has a lot to offer. GHA has nearly three dozen brands in its portfolio, including well-known names like Anantara, Kempinski, Omni, Outrigger and Pan Pacific, along with less familiar names like Discovery Destinations and the Doyle Collection.
There are no points to collect for hotel redemptions that could be subject to blackout dates. Instead, members enjoy automatic perks based on their membership level, which they attain by staying in participating properties.
DISCOVERY elite status
DISCOVERY has three membership levels. You become a Gold level member just by joining the program. Work your way up to Platinum by staying 10 nights in participating hotels in a year. If you hit 30 nights in a year, you earn Black level membership, the highest tier with the most enticing rewards.
Gold members get low-level perks, like a free bottle of water, wireless internet and a 10% discount on nightly rates.
Platinum status comes with a welcome amenity, which varies by hotel, and an upgrade to the next category of room, based on availability. When available, 3 p.m. late checkout is another perk. Members who reach Platinum get one local experience to redeem during an upcoming stay.
Black-level members get the same perks as Platinum, plus a double upgrade based upon availability and late checkout until 6 p.m. if available. Even more surprising is the ability to check in as early as 9 a.m., which is especially helpful when landing in the morning. Black status also comes with another local experience to redeem at locations around the world, which can be used on more exclusive experiences available to members of this tier only.
Nerd tip: Platinum and Black guests earn another local experience in their account each time they stay at a new brand property in the program.
How status levels work
When it comes to earning Platinum or Black status, your first program year starts from the date you join. Once your first year is complete, nights accrue based on a calendar year, with status benefits lasting through February of the year following your first year of earning that status.
Local experience benefits
Once you attain Platinum or Black status, you can choose from a number of local experiences in your travel destination. You can browse experiences before you leave home with the convenient search tool.
The options are constantly changing, which means repeat guests have a lot of choices every time they stay. Not every hotel has a local experience, but at some hotels, you can redeem local experiences even without staying there.
Depending on where you travel and when, local experiences could include options like a wine tasting, a photo tour, a spa treatment or a live local theater performance. Or your menu of choices could include truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like a sand dune-boarding excursion in Mozambique.
The best experiences are often reserved for top-tier Black-level members.
How to book
When you’re searching experiences by date and destination, you can sort by “Stay required” and your membership level. You can redeem experiences online before your trip or, in many cases, you can choose your experience during your stay, though some require advance booking. If a stay isn’t required, you can redeem for any experience that is available in your location.
The experiences you earn with your elite DISCOVERY status have an expiration date: one year after earning it for Platinum members and 15 months after earning it for Black members.
Hotel brands that participate in DISCOVERY
Many of the over 570 DISCOVERY hotels include boutique or other one-of-a-kind properties. Found across 85 countries, here’s a closer look at a few notable brands where you can earn and redeem DISCOVERY perks.
Anantara Hotels & Resorts
With most of its hotels and resorts in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Anantara is known for luxury properties that highlight the local culture. The brand has a growing presence in Europe, too, with hotels in Marbella, Spain, and the Algarve region of Portugal. Anantara The Marker Dublin is set to open in 2021.
These hotels are known for personalized service; for example, it’s not uncommon for guest preferences to be remembered between visits — and even between properties. Its Dining by Design program, which allows guests to set up romantic meals anywhere on the hotel grounds, is a customer favorite.
Platinum and Black DISCOVERY members staying at Anantara properties are treated to a wide range of welcome amenities that are often personalized to individual guests’ interests.
The Elewana Collection is a grouping of safari lodges and camps, plus several hotels and resorts, mostly in Africa. It is unique in the safari niche because of its participation in a loyalty program, and that no two Elewana properties are the same. The Arusha Coffee Lodge in Tanzania and Elsa’s Kopje in Kenya are two examples.
These properties are known for their emphasis on sustainability, offering eco-friendly programs such as its “Ban the Bottle” initiative to reduce single-use plastic waste.
Omni Hotels & Resorts
To U.S. travelers, Omni is one of the more familiar names in the DISCOVERY program. Omni also has its own free-night program, Omni Select Guest, which allows travelers to earn a free stay after 20 nights (elite members earn double credit).
Nerd tip: The Omni Select free night perk is valid for Omni properties only, even though Omni also participates in DISCOVERY. You can’t redeem this free night award at another DISCOVERY hotel.
Across Hawaii, the Pacific and Indian Ocean, Outrigger resorts put travelers in the heart of paradise. The brand’s Hawaiian roots are notable in all of its properties. Outrigger Waikiki is home to two of Hawaii’s famous restaurants: Duke’s Waikiki and Hula Grill.
That same island spirit comes across in the welcome amenities for elite members, which can include anything from tropical fruit platters to locally made gifts like soap.
Tivoli Hotels & Resorts
With their distinctive Portuguese design, Tivoli properties are mostly found in Brazil, Qatar and Portugal. Many of Tivoli hotels are in urban business destinations, and there are several resorts in the mix, too.
The bottom line
The DISCOVERY program is unlike many other hotel loyalty programs: It offers redemption options beyond the typical, including local excursions. Elite status is earned through hotel stays and its different tiers offer guests additional amenities, including access to more experiences.
This can be a great program to join if you find yourself regularly staying at DISCOVERY properties around the world.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for: