(Bloomberg) -- Here’s a little-known fact: People who hold as little as a single share of certain travel companies are entitled to instant perks that far outvalue the price of their investment.
Think of it as an alternate version of a loyalty program, one in which you follow the Warren Buffett philosophy of buying in to the companies that you love. With Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd that has lately cost around $109 a share; with Meliá Hotels International it’s been easily under $10. That nominal purchase can unlock a world of benefits, ranging from $1,000 shipboard credits on certain cruises to instant silver status.
Investments aren’t normally made for the sake of kickbacks or perks, and indeed, this is a time when making larger investments in travel companies may come with considerable risk. According to analysis from Bloomberg Intelligence, US airline shares are underperforming the S&P 500, with both domestic and business travel demand “wilting,” while higher interest rates and geopolitical tension are stifling the growth of European travel brands. On the hotels side, analysts say the same geopolitical fears and additional cost risks stand to temper global travel in 2024. Cruise lines, however, have shown surprising resilience post-pandemic, with Bloomberg Intelligence citing 2023 sales as being 15% higher than 2019 peaks, “despite sector deployment away from the Middle East and a tenuous economy.”
For the companies, the perks are an easy way to entice people to make an investment they may have otherwise been on the fence about. “Cash always is king, particularly when it comes to companies still in turnarounds post-pandemic,” says Jody Lurie, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst who covers lodging, adding that cash generation and customer loyalty have been key concerns, particularly for cruise companies, in recent years. And for consumers—particular those already loyal to these brands—stacking shareholder benefits with loyalty program perks can create an appealing multiplier effect, where applicable.
As with all things, not all shareholder perks programs are equally valuable—and some are in fact not a good deal at all. Here are 10 deals worth knowing about across hotel, cruise and aviation companies—along with breakdowns of how much value those perks can really add. In some cases, you may just find a fast track to your 2024 vacation goals.
Accor SA, the largest hotel company in Europe, offers instant elite status to anyone who holds just 50 bearer shares, or one registered share, which at press time was trading at around €32 ($35). That’s a small price to pay for gold status, which usually requires staying at the company’s hotels for 30 nights during a calendar year. The status can be valuable: It confers room upgrades, late checkout times and welcome gifts for guests at any of Accor’s hotels—the company’s 53 brands include legacy stalwarts such as Fairmont, Sofitel and Raffles.
To get a sense of the return you might expect on that $35 investment—not counting the couple of bucks you might make on your single share—imagine you have a weeklong vacation booked to Singapore, with a stay at the legendary Raffles hotel. If gold status means an upgrade from a State room suite to a Courtyard accommodation room, that could represent a value of $500 over the course of your trip.
The only other major hotel company that has a program like this is InterContinental Hotels Group PLC, which offers eligible shareholders a 20% discount on “flexible” room rates. That option, however, comes with a far steeper buy-in—it’s only available to those who own at least 100 shares of the company, and the current stock price is 6,337 GBp ($80)—making it less recommendable.
For the best deals, turn to brands with less global name recognition. For instance, Spain-based NH Hotel Group SA, which is now part of the fast-growing Minor Hotel Group Co Ltd, offers up to elite status within the NH Discovery loyalty program. The level of status conferred varies based on the amount invested. Buying just one share for about €4 is enough to get gold status; it takes more than €2,000 worth of shares to receive platinum and some €3,000 worth to get top-tier titanium status.
It's easier to use that newfound status than you might think. In addition to being valid at NH’s 350-plus locations around the world, including the recently opened NH Collection New York Madison Avenue—where the rooms are much more tastefully styled than their $210-a-night price point would suggest—that status also applies to hundreds of hotels within the Global Hotel Alliance. This could net you late checkout, double room upgrades and welcome gifts at brands such as Anantara, the Leela, Kempinski and Viceroy. While the upgrades are dependent on availability, they can deliver an incredible return on investment: A booking for a Superior Over Water villa at Anantara Veli Maldives Resort ($670 a night) could get upgraded, perhaps, to an Ocean Pool villa ($931 a night), yielding $1,827 in returns for a weeklong trip.
Meliá Hotels International SA, another Spanish brand, similarly awards elite status to shareholders for investing. Owning at least one share (roughly €6 at press time) earns you silver status. One thousand shares buys gold status, and top-tier platinum status is reserved for those who have at least 10,000 shares.
Three cruise lines have similar programs: Carnival Corp., Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. For each, the benefits kick in by holding 100 shares, and what you get varies based on the length of your cruise; in most cases, it would take repeat cruising, ideally on longer itineraries, for the perks to outvalue the stock purchase.
Carnival, which consists of its namesake brand and eight other cruise lines including Cunard Line Ltd and Seabourn, offers as much as $250 in onboard credit for sailings of at least 14 days. The credit is only $50 on its shorter cruises. Its share price at press time was $15.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd offers similar onboard credits of $250 for trips of at least 15 days (and $50 for six days or fewer). Norwegian’s program is valid with partners such as Oceania and Regent Seven Seas, too. Its stock price was $15 at press time.
Royal Caribbean follows suit with the same credits on its sailings as well as partner brands Celebrity and Silversea. If you take one of its world cruises, which can last anywhere from three to six months and visit dozens of countries, the onboard credit rises to $1,000. But the company has a much higher share cost, which in recent weeks has increased from $89 to $109.
Shareholder perks are less common among airlines, and generally nonexistent among US carriers; Bloomberg Intelligence aviation analyst Tim Bacchus says one (perishable) opportunity for finding them is when an airline undergoes an initial public offering, pointing to AirAsia X as a somewhat recent example. More long-term deals can be found among international aviation brands. Japan residents, for instance, can take advantage of shareholder deals with each of the country’s two largest carriers, ANA Holdings Inc and Japan Airlines Co Ltd. Both airlines offer the same deal: 50% off vouchers for domestic flights with the purchase of at least 100 stock shares. The more stock you own, the more vouchers you earn. (The share prices were at 3,045 yen and 2,802 yen for ANA and Japan Airlines, or $21 and $19, respectively, at press time.)
SAS AB, the national airline of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, has a similar program for people who buy shares of its Nasdaq Stockholm-listed stock, where shares are trading for around $0.29 each. If you own at least 4,000 shares, you’re eligible for special discount fare offers, but the real perks kick in when you own 100,000 shares—enough to earn gold status in the airline’s EuroBonus loyalty program. This status automatically unlocks Star Alliance gold status and comes with benefits such as United Club access any time you fly in the US with United, lounge access when flying internationally (no matter what cabin), priority check-in and extra baggage allowance.
A word of caution: The airline is expected to leave Star Alliance for SkyTeam in 2024 and is on the heels of entering bankruptcy proceedings. Both factors make it unclear if the program will remain. (Executives have been mum on this so far.) Even if the shareholder perks persist, there are cheaper paths to the same status by flying with the airline itself. For example, taking 45 round-trip domestic flights within Scandinavia will get you there (typically costing around $4,000).
Ultimately, what’s true for SAS is true for many of these offers: The perks are great, but they’re only worth it as an added benefit to an investment you were already happy to make.
(Corrects the spelling of Warren Buffett in the second paragraph and Jody Lurie in the fourth paragraph; IHG share price.Updated to clarify relationship between SAS and Star Alliance loyalty status.)
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