How IHG’s New Promotion Bucks Trends in the Loyalty Industry That Hate on the Gamers

The new IHG Rewards Big Win promotion gives points for a variety of different categories of hotel stays — stays in different cities, stays at different brands (like Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holkiday Inn, etc), stays that include Saturday nights. And it gives points for online booking and points for hitting a certain threshold of nights.

IHG Rewards (I keep typing “Priority Club” and have to delete it) describes the promotion as “offers created just for you.”

Loyalty Programs are Increasingly Using Data to Target Offers, and Letting Members Choose How to Invest Program Dollars In Ways That’s Best for Them

‘Customization’ is all of the rage in the loyalty industry, using data to come up with offers most likely to incentivize individual behavior based on whatever characteristics they know about you on the one hand, and on the other (not evident in this case) giving members what they want most based on individual choice.

My favorite example of the latter sort of customization, I think, is Starwood’s elite benefits: breakfast for Platinums is a choice (as a check-in amenity, saves costs and lets members pick how the program invests in them); suite night awards which let members express when they want priority for their upgrades; 24 hour checkin for 75 night Platinums; assignment of a dedicated reservations representative for 100 night Platinums.

The IHG Big Win promotion gives different offers to different members based on stay patterns, there’s no reason to award low thresholds of activity to your most regular guests (other than angering them when all their friends get rewarded for low thresholds of activity…) and there’s no reason to make a promotion opportunity useless for occasional guests with impossibly high thresholds, when you have the opportunity to influence some business from them at the margin.

But the promotion actually represents something else that is very much not in vogue: gamification.

Loyalty Programs Have Discovered a New Enemy: the Gamers

One of the ultimate examples of turning promotions into a game is US Airways’ Grand Slam promotion that we haven’t seen in a couple of years, you would earn progressively more bonus points for having more and more transactions with their partners. Members could figure out how to get the most partner transactions possible at the lowest cost, it wasn’t hard to earn 100,000 miles for about $400 and a little bit of effort.

Another form of ‘game’ is the mileage run, finding the cheapest flights possible to take to earn miles and elite status and with that upgrades and better travel for the coming year.

Rather than awarding passengers contributing the least amount of revenue for their flying, United and Delta have imposed minimum revenue thresholds for their status levels.

Last year I spoke on a panel at the Global Business Travel Association’s annual conference on ‘gamification’ as it related to business travelers and their managed travel programs.

If there’s one thing that corporate travel departments and loyalty programs seem to agree on, they don’t like “gamers” and they feel taken advantage of, members who play by the rules as-written but find ways to extract maximum benefit at the same time are seen as taking advantage of them. Topics at conferences include figuring out how to shut down these members. There’s a sense that they want people to abide by the spirit of the rules, which is somehow the same as ‘not doing things that are costly to them’.

For a variety of reasons we haven’t seen promotions like US Airways Grand Slam or Hyatt’s Faster Free Nights (2 nights at a cheap airport Hyatt earned a free night at the Park Hyatt Tokyo).

And Yet the IHG Rewards Big Win Promotion Encourages its Members to Game

And while the Big Win isn’t nearly as lucrative as these, this promotion isn’t just set up as a game the marketing language for the promotion actually encourages members to treat it that way. They offer the ‘insider tip’ of trying to arrange your stays to qualify towards more than one category of bonus at the same time — such as staying at a new brand in a designated city on a Saturday night.

IHG has a complex promotion with lots of steps whose marketing language encourages gaming. And in that way it’s an uncommon move, out of step with trends in the industry.

While it’s a good promotion, it isn’t so lucrative that the program’s revenue can be substantially divorced from its costs.

Perhaps gaming — which engages members and catches their attention and imagination — has a future yet, albeit one limited in upside for the gamers.

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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The slight snag here is that IHG really hasn’t thought it through too well. Giving a UK resident a ‘5 brands’ challenge is very tough – very few Indigo / Staybridge properties in Europe. Similarly, the ‘big cities’ list is very odd and simply impractical for many.

    Once you see one target on the list that is fundamentally impossible for you to achieve, you won’t bother pushing for the others – because the big bonus comes with doing the lot.

  2. The Club Carlson promos of 2011 and 2012 were effective in getting me to stay in a lot more of their hotels by getting me to try the brand. This may work here.

  3. Of course the customization never works as intended. I went to Australia (leisure), for the first time this year, now IHG wants me to go again to Australia to get some bonus points. hmmm something is not working well in that model

  4. Thispromotion turns me OFF instead of turning me ON. The promise is 89,800 points but where over 60% of them require me to travel to Europe when never in my life have I stayed at an IHG in Europe. What would make them think that a few thousand points would convince me to jump on a plane to Europe, and then to stay at Holiday Inn’s in random cities? Not very well thought out.

  5. @ Jon, maybe someone will find a cheap hotel over there that will allow a paid night and you won’t actually have to show up to get credit.

  6. Does gamers really cost these programs $ when you consider the fact that for every true gamer there are a number of wana-be gamers trying to copy. These new people will do a half hearted attempt or start and not finish and therefore create revenue.
    I doubt that the loyalty programs will look at that seeing as it is not something you can measure.

    My pet peeve is the number of times I don’t get credited for points or miles & have to chase them down. Most people do not follow up and therefore we are the ones being gamed. Bottom line, they win in the long run.

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