My thoughts on the Priority Club / IHG Rewards Club rebranding

Almost as soon as we landed in Dubai before Easter, InterContinental Hotels Group – owner of Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Indigo, InterContinental and other brands – announced the rebranding of the Priority Club loyalty scheme as IHG Rewards Club. The change will be introduced in July.

I didn’t have the time to post in detail about it when announced. However, this has given me the chance to mull it over for a couple of weeks. This is my take on it.

IHG Rewards Club

Take a quick look at the official IHG website for IHG Rewards Club (EDIT: link removed as now dead) before reading any further, to see what they are planning to offer.

First question – is this a defensive measure or not?

The Priority Club rewards programme has been gutted TWICE this year, which is quite an impressive achievement. Firstly, IHG changed their earning structure massively . Bonus points, which accounted for about 80% of my earnings, no longer counted for status. My gut feeling was that this would cut the number of Platinum cardholders by around 75% for 2014! You now need to spend $6,000 (before taxes) in their hotels to earn the 60,000 points required.

Secondly, IHG sharply increased the number of points required for redemptions in major cities, as I posted. Whilst InterContinental hotels were not impacted, there were some massive increases in, for example, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express properties in London.

Taken together, there were a lot of good reasons for people to walk away from Priority Club. Is this early announcement of the new programme a rushed piece of retaliation?

Second question – are the benefits going to be any good?

The downside of Platinum status being so easy to achieve was that the benefits were often modest, if not non-existent. NOTHING was guaranteed. You MIGHT get an upgrade or some other benefits, but it was always at the discretion of the hotel.

Now that Platinum will become incredibly hard to earn, unless you get it via the Priority Club Black credit card with gives free Platinum status, surely the benefits should increase sharply?

Well, no. From July, IHG has announced that Gold and Platinum members will get free internet on all their stays. That is a real improvement. However, they then say that from 2014, ALL Priority Club members will get free internet – even those who sign up online for free and have never earned a single point! So, from January, this is not exclusively a benefit for Gold or Platinum members.

No other new benefits have been announced. This is important, because IHG desperately needs people to WANT to retain Platinum status for next year and to start putting more business their way NOW. If they were planning to introduce free breakfast or guaranteed upgrades, I think they would have told us.

Of course, this will lead to the crazy situation where Platinum becomes very hard to get but STILL has no worthwhile benefits! Can this really be true?

Thirdly … what will happen to the InterContinental Ambassador programme?

At the moment, InterContinental runs its own Ambassador loyalty scheme which costs $200 to join. Priority Club Platinum status does not officially count for anything at IC’s, and Ambassador does not officially count for anything at a Crowne Plaza, although in reality some hotels do recognise it. There has not been any word on this so far.

Fourthly … what is the ‘fast track to elite status’ programme mentioned on the website?

At first glance, this seems like IHG back-peddling on the changes they made to the programme, by making it easier to obtain Platinum.

However, Business Traveller claims to have seen the targets for this programme, and it seems effectively worthless. They wrote:

Those staying with three different brands in a calendar year will only need to complete ten nights to reach Gold Elite status (instead of the normal 15), and those staying with four brands or more will be required to complete 40 nights to reach Platinum Elite status (instead of 50). Members based in the Asia-Pacific / Oceania region will only be required to stay with three distinct brands and complete 40 nights to gain Platinum Elite status.

40 nights instead of 50 nights, which must be spread across three brands, is not an easy way to get back to Platinum in my opinion.

We need to see, of course, how things end up. Perhaps the generally negative reaction to these changes will send them back to the drawing board. I can’t seriously believe you can have a Platinum tier which requires $6,000 of annual pre-tax spend but still delivers NO guaranteed benefits, when Hilton Gold (mid-tier) gives free internet, free breakfast and a guaranteed upgrade. Let’s see.

If you ever needed proof that this hobby was worth pursuing ....!
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Comments

  1. BritBronco says:

    Isn’t it $6k for Platinum? The platinum bonus doesn’t even count for status points.

    • Yes, sorry! Corrected. I think of it as £4,000 in my head (which it is) and then I used the £ figure with a $ sign in front …

  2. TheLady says:

    Seeing the illustration from afar on facebook, the thumbnail looked like a Vulcan taking off, afterburners alight!

  3. James67 says:

    IHG was my hotel chain of choice. Following the enhancments earlier this year I had decided I no longer had a chain of choice. The rebranding and associated ‘benefits’ have done nothing to make me reconsider. None of the hotel programs now offer me sufficient rewards for my loyalty so I’m now just taking best deals as and when I need them regarless of chain, or whether hotel is even part of a chain at all. I’m convinced my cummulative annual saving in doing so will outweigh any points, miles and benefits I would otherwise receive fo loyalty to one (or perhaps two) chains. It has the advantage also that I am now enjoying my hotel stays more because the hotels are more varied, and the independents invariable provide more individuality and charm than do the chains. Another factor was the cost. Even HIEs in central London were often more expensive than I could obtain high end Hiltons on special offer. IHG pricing in London has always seemed crazy to me. Not that Hiltons were to me heralded either; I have stayed in better travelodges than some of my recent Hilton experiences. So, now I just take what point and miles I can get from whatever chain when it suits me; their enhancments have cost them my loyalty and I’m sure I’m not alone.

  4. Just came back from Madrid where I had booked the IC for 4 nights at the old rate of 30k per night. I was Platinum via the PC credit card which I actually cancelled in January but PC still show me being a Platinum member. A few days before the trip, I received a phone call requesting whether I would prefer a king or queen bed and what time I was expected to arrive. In addition they confirmed that as a Platinum, I would can check out at 1400 hrs rather than 1200 hrs. On arrival, the free wifi was confirmed and I received a welcome drink/snack in the room. The room itself was the lowest category. on my birthday, they sent me a bottle of cava but am not sure that was because of my platinum status or because it was my birthday. The day before checkout, I received a call thanking me for being platinum and ensuring everything went smoothly. No issues at 1400 hrs check out and wifi was useful. Overall, I got the feeling that Platinum status may start to mean something.

  5. Steve C says:

    Just a quick point that Hilton Gold does not give you guaranteed upgrades and breakfasts. In fact the only thing guaranteed with Hilton nowadays is inconsistencies. Upgrades are always subject to availability but I have had them not upgrade me even when I was told they were not at full capacity. Recently at the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah, I wasn’t upgraded but as an ‘alternative’, I was given a free breakfast, despite already getting that by being gold! I have also have heard of people being given $10 vouchers per person to spend on breakfast in Hawaiian properties which belittles the Gold breakfast benefits as $10 will be an orange juice alone at the properties. Is this not just a change by IHG and a general shift in the industry to actively promote and reward spending within properties to gain status as opposed to people getting it for free/cheaply? (No disrespect meant to this site – honest!)

    • US Hilton properties are notoriously bad with free breakfast, taking the definition of ‘continental’ to extremes. As I found at the Conrad NYC recently. Outside the US it is a lot better, though, probably due to fewer elite members.

  6. Thunderbirds says:

    As a Platinum member (65 paid nights last year & 6 reward nights) my personal experience has been that this status isn’t worth anything if you stay in HI or HIE (except perhaps an occasional soft drink, bar of chocolate or room on a high floor). The Crowne Plaza is another matter, the last 4 bookings I’ve been upgraded from a standard room to a Club room with free wi-fi, access to the club lounge and continental breakfast (upgrade to restaurant with full cooked breakfast et al for £9)
    IHG has been sending out a number of surveys recently and I suspect the complex “fast track to elite” is due to their shock of how little people know of the brands in IHG.
    The remaining changes will help me in that carrying over to the next year of surplus nights above 50 would have been a big help this year as would counting the 6 reward nights.
    The one I cannot fathom is why offer Platinum status for the £99 PC Black Credit Card. I’ve e-mailed them to ask how they justify this compared to paying £4k for rooms. You may not be surprised to hear that I’m still waiting for an answer.

  7. Lostantipod says:

    I was a member of an online customer feedback forum run by IHG for about 18 months. There were monthly emails from their team asking us for feedback on proposed advertising campaigns or in-hotel decor, what rewards we valued, which brand email layout we liked, views on environmental policy etc etc. We received the occasional survey to complete, plus we could leave feedback amongst ourselves on IHG hotels we had stayed at. The forum members were mostly US or UK based. In return we were each bunged around 2000 points per month. For a moment there I think we thought they cared ! By the end of it (they closed it last December) we were continuously starting threads demanding free internet for premium members , simply because the message was not getting through via the structured feedback we gave. Well – it only took IHG 18 months to work out that the free internet thing matters (indeed, is really a catch-up with other chains)…. so if anyone here doesn’t like these other IHG changes… my experience is that you only need to wait another 18 months for the IHG management to wake up and smell the coffee….. so good luck with that.

    Meanwhile, for those that are interested in the credit card thing, I built an excel model based on my spend patterns and found that the Hilton Honors Visa edges PCR Black, mainly because of the value I assign to the far better experience in upgrades and free breakfasts with Hilton (as a Gold), than I ever have had with IHG as a Plat. (YMMV, you need to spend £10K on the cards p.a. to keep your status, and I am not including joining points bonuses in this analysis as I have had both cards for a year or more).