Priority Club Changing Names To IHG Rewards- Adding Benefits, But Questions Remain
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Priority Club just announced that they are changing the name of their loyalty program to IHG Rewards and will be adding some new benefits including:
1) Free internet for all elite members starting July 2013 and for all members in 2014.
2) Fast track to retain Elite status when you stay in more than two hotel brands (No details on this were given, so I’ve followed up for more information)
3) Reward Nights now count toward Elite membership status
4) Rollover nights- Nights earned beyond what you need to retain Elite status will count towards your next year qualification
I think these are nice enhancements, but they are by no means game changers. They are simply catching up to the competition (except for rollover stays, which is nice, but Priority Club elite status is notoriously easy to get and maintain and the base perks are not very valuable in comparison to other chains). I hope other brands are pressured to offer free internet to all loyalty program members, which is something that Fairmont already does.
I still think their program is fundamentally flawed in the following three ways:
1) Elite perks are not extended when you redeem points. Dealbreaker- even when I was a Royal Ambassador I had to fight for basic perks, like at my last stay at the Intercontinental Rome. In my opinion, redeeming points for an award stays is not something that merits punishment.
2) The Intercontinental Ambassador program (details below) is still an offshoot program that offers incredible benefits and value, though the re-qualification criteria is murky at best. I don’t want to be a part of a program and not have any idea how to retain those benefits naturally.
3) Barring stackable promotions (which can be very lucrative, but also confusing) the base earning isn’t great compared to other chains. 2,000 points per Intercontinental stay is nice if you stay at cheap properties for one night, but if your stays are expensive, you miss out on point earning. At 2,000 points a stay, you need to stay 25 times to get a free top tier night.
It seems like they solved more issues around elite qualification (which has never really been a concern) instead of actually addressing true elite perks, like suite upgrades and free breakfast, and the main issue of recognizing elite status when redeeming the points you earned while attaining status! Perhaps more details are in the works, but until the needle hasn’t really moved for me, especially since they just increased the amount of points needed for roughly 30% of their hotels.
Priority Club is the one of the largest hotel loyalty programs with over 4,400 properties around the world that fall under a number of brands like Intercontinental, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites.
I’ve never been a huge fan because the elite perks have always been lackluster and the points relatively less valuable than many other currencies. For example, a top-tier Platinum member really only gets room upgrades (not suite upgrades) and some minor perks like priority check-in and guaranteed room availability- perks that come with most hotel mid and bottom tier status. No suite upgrades, guaranteed late check-outs, breakfast or free internet (though admittedly the majority of Holiday Inn/ Express/ Candlewood Suites already offer free internet).
Priority Club knows that their base program can’t compete with the other chains, so they created the Ambassador program for those who stay at Intercontinental properties. Ambassadors still accrue points in Priority Club, but get a different range of benefits for when they stay in Intercontinental hotels- like room upgrades, water, later check-out, free in-room movie, 5,000 bonus points and a free weekend night buy-one-get-one certificate.
The certificate alone can easily justify the $200 yearly membership fee and if you stay at enough Intercontinental hotels (the official number is not disclosed) you can be invited into the Royal Ambassador program, which gives some amazing perks like free-minibar and suite upgrades. I was given an invitation to join Royal Ambassador for free by a TPG reader back in 2011 and while I enjoyed my perks at hotels like the Palazzo in Las Vegas, Intercontinental Madrid and Intercontinntal Mauritius, I didn’t bother requalifying because the benefits did not work on award stays, like I experienced on my final Royal Ambassador stay in Rome.
Overall, Priority club can offer huge value in PointBreaks and if you can stack multiple promotions, but overall their programs are not streamlined enough and the core top-tier elite perks are not there (for me). However, they have a huge network of properties and a pretty generous credit card from Chase so I can see why people do get great value out of the program.