There are so many ways to find and book a hotel these days. It’s easy to go to a specific hotel’s website and book directly but often, if you’re not familiar with the area you’re traveling to and you need to find the best price and reviews possible, you’ll use an online booking service (otherwise known as an Online Travel Agency or OTA) like Expedia or TripAdvisor.
However, customers can still have varying standards or leave a bad review based on personal experience, so how do you know the hotel you’re looking to stay at has actually been vetted in any way to provide you the best hospitality experience possible? There are plenty of hotel groups and portfolio collections like Relais & Châteaux or Accor that vet their member properties before they can join, but that’s more about premium branding instead of rewards-based membership.
Now there’s a game-changing middle-ground option: Safara.
A new travel subscription company that launched at the beginning of this year, Safara was co-founded by travel industry pro and self-proclaimed “die-hard fan of hotels,” Maya Poulton.
“Hotels represent our communities. We work there, socialize there, have staycations and birthdays there,” Poulton says. “In London or NYC or Singapore, walk into any cool hotel lobby and you’ll see a mix of locals and guests alike, drinking coffee or having a cocktail later in the day.”
Poulton’s worked on both sides of the hotel booking model, first with online booking sites like Jetsetter and then as head of International Marketing at Mr & Mrs Smith, a high-end global collection of boutique and luxury hotels. Poulton was able to create a happy medium with Safara, combining the cachet of being part of an elite, curated collection, with attractive rates and rewards and the ease and convenience of a subscription-model business.
Here’s how the Safara playbook is different. For a yearly membership fee of $195, you gain access to the Safara catalog and its exclusive rates for each property. Searching for a hotel on the site works pretty much the same as any other OTA, with customizable dates and destinations. Based on those results, Safara pulls up a compact list of the properties. Without being overwhelmed by options, you can more efficiently browse and choose the best place to stay for you. Some listings also feature a “Where We Stay” marker to show that the property has hosted Safara staff in the past.
But when a member books a stay through Safara, they also earn “Safara Points,” the number of which varies from property to property. Worth the equivalent of a dollar, users can accumulate these points toward savings or even free stays in the future at Safara-approved properties, with no expiration or blackout dates.
“We don’t believe in taking commissions: We give our members 100% of those back to spend however they like, whenever they want, on any of our global hotels,” explains Poulton. “Our members earn on average $1,000 a year back in free travel.”
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Currently, Safara has over 7,000 hotels from all over the world in its Rolodex, its offerings running the gamut from hip boutique chains like Hoxton to luxe outfits like Ritz-Carlton. Poulton has personally either stayed in or toured many of the properties Safara includes to ensure they meet the site’s high standards. And in handpicking the hotels, she says less than 2% were accepted.
Another benefit is that it streamlines the process of earning rewards points; no more juggling multiple membership rewards programs for different sites that use different terms and conditions for their rewards. It’s simple and straightforward.
“Built with the frequent traveler in mind,” Safara is confident that, within a year, you’ll have earned more Safara Points than the cost of the membership. So confident, in fact, that if you don’t, the service will refund you the cost of your membership.
“The ultimate hack our members have found with Safara is to use us to expense work trips you need to take anyways and keep all the money for yourself from the commissions we give back for free vacations,” Poulton says, specifically pointing to unmanaged Millennial business travelers who can do their own work-trip bookings and who may engage in “bleisure” travel — extending a work trip for personal vacation time — as well as frequent pleasure travel. “One work trip to SF for a few days could easily mean $150 back to you to spend how you like on hotels later.”
Naturally, none of us are traveling right now, but we will again in the near future. And Poulton is confident the hotel industry will be able to recover and thrive.
“When lockdown ends, hotels will be more important than ever,” Poulton says, citing not only the unique position hotels hold as community gathering spaces, but also the fact that they have access to professional cleaning, which will appeal to patrons. “I think hotels are going to see a lot more customers back from other kinds of accommodation after this pandemic.”
She also says Safara is currently working closely with its partner hotels to “see what we can do in the near and long term to help them bounce back … especially the unique boutiques and smaller chains that have been hit hardest.” There is also the possibility of special discounts being offered to Safara members, which can allow hotels to fill up faster when travel is safe again. “It’s win-win for the hotels and our members to book through Safara.”
If you want to try Safara for yourself, the brand offers a free trial, and you can earn up to $100 in Safara Points with your first booking.
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