By Alisha Prakash
February 11, 2020
Courtesy of Benny

You’re planning a bucket-list vacation, and it’s time to book a hotel. You’ve painstakingly pored over countless reviews from strangers, but you’re still stuck on which property to choose. You’re seeking recommendations from someone who really understands your travel style, as well as accommodations that offer the most bang for your buck

Meet Benny, a new, invite-only platform where well-traveled individuals serve as hotel agents for their friends and family. Each agent, who is accepted after a thorough vetting process, can recommend their favorite hotels, share insider tips, and invite their social network to book hotels at exclusive, discounted rates. What’s in it for them, you ask? A five percent commission on each booking referral they make, not to mention, the same exclusive booking rate.

President and founder Jimmy Suh, who has over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry, came up with the idea while he was the chief commercial officer at the Standard Hotels. “Being in the industry, I got an insight for people asking friends and family for hotel recommendations. People would ask me what my favorite hotels were, knowing that I travel a lot,” he told Travel + Leisure. Noticing a similar pattern at Standard Hotels, Suh decided to give employees their own friends and family code. “That program, which I thought was rather innocuous at the time, grew like wildfire. People who know the brand, and friends who know their friends, recommending which hotels would best fit the individual profile – it was just a better alignment. It was my vision to start this program outside of Standard Hotels.”

Each potential agent must first fill out a questionnaire detailing their favorite hotels, preferred destinations, travel history, and other information meant to gauge whether they align with the hotels on the platform. “We look for an authentic voice – someone who gravitates toward something out of the mainstream and understands the hotels that they are recommending,” said Suh. “If we feel that their description of the hotel is not on par with what we know about it, or more importantly, what the hotels are seeking to promote, we have the ability to deactivate agents or recommendations. We want to make sure the Benny agents truly understand the city and their hotels.”

Rather than scouring reviews on seemingly endless forums, Benny relies on its agents to spread the word to friends, who trust their recommendations. “Benny is an extension of [the hotels’] salesforce,” said Suh. “You have brand advocates selling the hotels and telling their story in possibly a better way than they can themselves because they know their friends and family better than the hotel.”

But agents aren’t the only ones being hand-picked; hotels — mainly independent, experientially driven properties — must apply, too. “We want to showcase hotels that provide a unique experience that resembles the local culture,” said Suh.

Currently live in five locations – New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Austin, and Palm Springs – the platform plans to grow to approximately 100 cities by the end of the year. Hotels include favorites like Surrey, Wythe, Faena, Petit Ermitage, and more. And if you don’t know a Benny agent, don’t worry, as you can still take advantage of the platform. Simply sign up to be on the waitlist, and you’ll be matched with an agent.

As for the name Benny, it’s a spin off the saying "friends with benefits."

“[Benny customers] get a better value – from a price standpoint as well as a [greater] experiential return for their hotel spend,” said Suh. “Hotel spend should be far more precious to a traveler because not only are they investing their dollars in whatever currency they’re spending, but it’s also their time and what they’re seeking to gain out of the travel experience. When people travel, they want to get out of their comfort zone and become a better version of themselves – a more heightened version of themselves – and with Benny, it allows all that fulfillment to occur.”

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