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.
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.