I don’t mention Leading Hotels of the World much on Head for Points. 10 years ago it was quite a force in luxury hotel marketing – and they threw some fantastic events in London to prove it.
Leading Hotels of the World is a marketing group for 375 independently run luxury hotels across 75 countries. It provides a centralised booking site as well as a loyalty programme, Leaders Club.
Its allure has faded in recent years. There is no particular reason but the factors include:
the continued growth of branded luxury hotels, primarily Four Seasons, which do not belong to Leading Hotels of the World
the struggle that independent luxury hotels find in accessing the capital needed to renovate and compete with the major brands, which makes them less attractive to guests
the introduction of a $150 annual fee for joining Leaders Club, albeit this can be justified by additional benefits on stays
the growth of ‘preferred partner’ travel agent schemes such as Virtuoso (which includes a lot of independent hotels), Four Seasons Preferred Partner etc. These schemes offer GUARANTEED benefits when you book through them as opposed to the vague benefits – apart from breakfast – promised by LHW.
If you join Leaders Club for $150 you receive the following benefits:
A free night for every five stays you complete (there are conflicting reports about how difficult it is to redeem a free night)
Free continental breakfast for two on every stay
One category room upgrade when available at check-in
Free internet access
Early check-in / late check-out ‘considerations’ (ie worthless)
Welcome gift at each hotel
The only thing you can rely on is free breakfast – although that is worth having, of course, and would justify the $150 membership fee on a 2-3 night stay at a Leading Hotels member.
However, compare it to the benefits that American Express offers to Platinum cardholders who book a hotel via Fine Hotels & Resorts (I wrote more about Fine Hotels & Resorts here):
Noon check-in when available (admittedly worthless)
Room upgrade on arrival when available (not worth much)
Free breakfast for two people (continental at a minimum but usually full in my experience)
GUARANTEED 4pm check-out (very valuable)
An additional benefit, usual $100 of food and beverage credit per stay
Free in-room wi-fi
Compared to Leaders Club, Fine Hotels & Resorts trumps them with the $100 food and beverage credit, often a better breakfast and a GUARANTEED 4pm check-out.
LHW wants me back
I let my Leaders Club membership lapse when the $150 annual fee was introduced. I have happily survived without it using a mix of Virtuoso, Fine Hotels & Resorts and Four Seasons Preferred Partner booking options.
On Monday, however, I got an email from Leaders Club:
If I renew my Leaders Club membership for $150, I can claim a free night at one of 49 participating hotels to be used before 30th November.
This looks like a good deal. There are a lot of hotels on the list I like the look of. This includes the new and well reviewed The Gainsborough in Bath (image above) – where I was at university – which is usually £267 midweek with breakfast. I could get in via this route for £115.
There are others – the Kamp in Helsinki which I stayed in years ago and loved. Vila Vita in Portugal which I’ve always been intrigued about. The Bairro Alto in Lisbon. The Grand Hotel in Stockholm which, again, I have stayed in a few times. I took my wife there on our first weekend away if I remember correctly. For $150 this is a good deal even if I don’t use the LHW benefits again during my membership year.
So …. I have ponied up my $150. I will let you know when and where I redeem my free night, whether I have any issues doing so and what sort of LHW recognition I receive.
Hotel offers update – August 2021:
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