Priority Club Changing its Name But Not Becoming Good

Priority Club is renaming itself IHG Rewards Club with some program changes coming in July.

They’re announcing some new benefits, though we don’t yet know full details.

  • Free internet for elites in July and all members in 2014. Other chains already offer elites free internet. More Priority Club hotels offered it to everyone to begin with, and so they were slow to make this an elite benefit. This is good but incremental at best. (Free internet for non-elites is an interesting development, their press release claims they’re the first loyalty program ever to offer this which is incorrect — I believe the title of first belongs to the old Wyndham ByRequest program.)
  • Fast track to elite status “when you stay in more than two” of their brands. Details not yet released, if this is just fast track to Gold that’s nearly a meaningless level. I’ve always found it FAR easier to earn status on points than nights anyway.
  • Reward nights count towards status which is nice and follows Hilton and Starwood, but again for folks earning status on points earned rather than nights stayed this isn’t helpful. Lucky thinks this could also mean elite benefits apply on reward nights, I hope so and would follow Starwood’s notion that a night is a night however paid for (even though Starwood’s award nights don’t count towards promotions, and a night isn’t a night if booked through a third party). We’ll see…
  • Rollover nights if you stay beyond the nights needed for your elite qualification, the overage will count towards the following year.

Most of the changes revolve around how you qualify for status in the program. And they just changed which points count towards status at the beginning of the year. Of the above changes only free internet is clearly a new benefit, and many members at many hotels already get that.

Lucky uses the word ‘huge’ twice to describe these changes. I don’t see it. We will learn more details as July approaches for sure, and there could be more to it than what’s been announced, but Priority Club’s track record would suggest otherwise.

Priority Club has been increasing their award night pricing over the course of the past several years. In January we got more award categories and generally more expensive awards. A year ago January award price increases, too. In 2007 PointBreak awards (discounted award nights) were introduced as a sweetener coinciding with big increases in award pricing.

They also tried relaunching themselves two years ago this month, with a new logo and program tweaks at the margin such as ‘last minute reward nights’ (discounted awards each month for the upcoming weekend).

Priority Club doesn’t need a new name. They need the basic benefits that other hotel loyalty programs offer.

  • The ability to spend additional points for a better room when redeeming award nights.
  • Meaningful upgrades for elites (Priority Club does not have any suite upgrade benefit, let alone suites confirmed in advance).
  • A breakfast and/or club lounge benefit for top elites.
  • Elite benefits honored on award stays.
  • A less complicated program, merging the elite recognition programs for their Intercontinental hotel programs (Ambassador/Royal Ambassador) and the rest of their hotels (currently Priority Club), at the same time that all of their hotels share the same program for points earn/redemption.

Simple, other programs offer these things, and Priority Club doesn’t — and that makes them uncompetitive.

These are things they need just to catch up. A new program name accomplishes none of this.

The only real benefits of Priority Club are that they have properties pretty much everywhere that you can burn and redeem points at and that they (often unintentionally) allow you to stack lots of different promotions to earn points quickly.

But when you redeem those points, on-property benefits are hugely limited.

From what we’ve seen so far, announced changes aren’t even directionally moving the program towards what they need in order to competitive or attractive.

I do love the following, though from their press pitch:

With a wealth of recent research pointing to travelers’ loyalty to specific brands declining, hotel brands making it more and more difficult for consumers to earn/redeem reward points, and the spawning of a cottage industry of so-called “points consultants” – IHG Rewards Club is transparent, designed to benefit the traveler, and will not require a mathematician to decipher how to redeem points! In what will be an ensuing battle for consumer loyalty, IHG has fired the opening shot.

I suppose this amuses me most since I’m part of the ‘cottage industry of so-called “points consultants”‘ either through this blog or my award booking service.

But the ‘complications’ that require guidance when redeeming points really are predominantly an airline issue.

Though it’s tough to decipher point values from hotel programs, too, and these changes would seem to do nothing to reduce those challenges. Further, they appear to retain the confusing bifurcated elite recognition systems for Intercontinetal hotels and the rest of their hotel properties, leaving Priority Club as quite complicated for many members to understand. Announcements thus far do nothing to make the program more transparent than before, or more transparent than their competitors.

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. I don’t see how any changes wrt status qualification matter at all for a program in which one can buy top (platinum) status for $49 per year (via the PRC Visa).

  2. Do the folks running this program realize it’s currently irrelevant what the stay requirements are for elite status when they just give you platinum status for having their credit card? I would think EVERYONE in the USA who cares about having status has it with the card (unless they’re completely clueless).

    The internet thing is a bit strange since most Priority Club properties already offer it for free. Indeed, it’s their high-end properties that tend to offer a worse value equation. Just last night, as part if their pointbreaks program, I had to pick between staying at a HI Express or a Crowne Plaza for the same 5000 points. I chose the HI Express for the free breakfast and internet. Who wouldn’t?

  3. the worst hotel points program, just before hilton.
    their platinum membership is a joke and it has ALMOST ZERO BENEFITS

  4. Yes, I think Wyndam was first with free internet (and I believe local and 800 calls) for ANY member. Next up was at least FAIRMONT FPC, which offered free internet to any MEMBER and have for nearly a decade I believe. So, not sure how IHC can say they are “first”

  5. I do wonder what percentage of IHG, or any other loyalty program, points are awards to people for whom the use of “points consultants” is truly worthwhile. Obviously, the “whales” have the greatest interest in deploying their points to the highest and best uses – but how many points do they actually control?

  6. @jfhscott – it amused me but it really does seem strange, i’d guess most people aren’t really even aware such consultants exist and i doubt anyone consults (though they comment) on how to use Priority Club points. Either the pundit class is getting to these folks in Atlanta, or they think there’s broader recognition of the phenomenon than I do.

  7. I don’t get why they complain they are losing loyalty right after they gut the program. I think I could do a better job of running their program, the issue is not just the loyalty program some of their brands desperately need a makeover as well.

  8. I actually have had far better experiences than most folks with IHG it seems. Their points get you far more than Hilton and Marriott, and are far easier to earn due to promos. I’ve had some phenomenal upgrades, even on award stays.
    As for other chains giving internet to elites, Starwood only recently started offering it at the Gold level, and none of the chains except Hyatt offer it at the lowest elite level. None of the other major chains (Marriott, SPG, Hilton) offers free internet to all members.

  9. Does this possibly mean that there will be new credit cards that we can apply for? My husband and I have applied for the Chase PC cards and, as budget travelers, have used the points for some decent properties in the US and Asia. I would love to earn some more points!

  10. Club Carlson offers free internet at all hotels worldwide to all Club Carlson members.

  11. Do you know how one could find Kirk Kinsell’s email address? I’d like to email this excellent article to him.

  12. Have we all missed something here? Internet is free for Gold and Plats from July, then free for all members from January.

    This seems odd. A free-to-join scheme which gives you free internet? Sounds odd to me, how can hotels keep charging if its free to all PC members?

    Are we going to see a fee to join PC? This may be how they merge Ambassador and PC, by putting a fee – perhaps $25 or so – on PC membership with internet being the carrot.

  13. Your five needs for PC are dead on. As a credit card holder though I can understand not wanting to give too much more away to the top tier when you get it for $49 with a free night already. So I’d even go as far as saying they can make a tier above platinum which gets you free breakfast and some extra points on stays. Keep platinum as is just add upgrade ability, get rid of the stupid ambassador program and combine the two into one and voila PC is a pretty darn good program. Now of course they could keep it as is and just add all of those features to platinum and they’d have the best program in the business!

  14. Most of this announcement is nonsense. Everyone who stays in hotels should have the PC card, because you can’t beat $49 for a room at any property. Since having the card makes you top tier immediately, who cares what the rules are for qualifying thru stays or points?

    All of the chains are tightening up the ability to get award nights, and most likely worrying how this will affect their loyalty programs. So PC changes their name, and pretends to upgrade their loyalty program, without doing anything substantive at all. Apparently, they are hoping we will be so dazzled by their propaganda that we don’t notice they really haven’t done anything for us that even begins to make up for the devaluations of the award levels.

  15. reward nights counting for status is probably helpful for those chasing nights to make or retain RA, i would like to see the 10 points per $ spent (20 points for RA’s) introduced to the non north and Latin american markets, i would really like to see that issue pushed because at the moment you are encouraged to stay at properties in north america from a points earning perspective but not anywhere else, where as a RA you’ll earn 4K for 1 night or 365 nights plus Ambassador Accelerator but you get that anyway in north america

  16. @Tim O’Brien – at this point we have no idea if these changes will interface with Royal Ambassador re-qualification in any way

  17. Wow so much hate going on (me included) however I do like the current program (except for the separate ambassador part). Sure everyone is elite and you can’t book many suites through the reward nights but they have hotels everywhere I go and most are fairly consistent (not all). I thought they had the right idea in making a little harder to be Platinum. I think free internet should be expected like having your own private bathroom is expected. If they would just give you free breakfast, free internet, clamp down a little on the elite levels so not everyone is Platinum and allow elites to book suites or any room on points I’d be happy. I get free upgrades when available at most properties (normally a suite).

  18. Danin – they didn’t make it ‘a little harder’ to get Plat, they gutted it. You could do it on literally a handful of stays with the bonus promos, now you are looking at $4,000 of spend! They are looking at, I reckon, a 75 per cent fall in Plat numbers next year, exc credit card Plats.

  19. Why wouldn’t literally everyone who would ever want to stay at a PC location, for even one night a year, have the PC card and be instant Plat? Why even mention qualifying, when you get Plat along with a room at almost any property for a mere $49? And that certificate is good for an entire year. Not just once, every year you keep the card. I just don’t get it.

  20. @Robert Hanson: Because the card is ONLY for US residents (I think there’s a British version too?). What about the rest of the world? Although I am American, I think people need to stop being so Ameri-centric. These changes really screw non-Americans over.

  21. No they don’t “screw non-Americans over”. We have a superior economic system that produces advantages for US to enjoy. Why non-Americans have a right to a loyalty program in an American hotel chain is beyond me. Not that I want to deny it to them, I just don’t think they have a right to it. Our country choose Free Market Capitalism, and the EU chose Democratic Socialism, and now they are angry that our system gives us things their system doesn’t. That’s their fault, not ours. Just one more reason for us to stop trying to emulate the EU model.

    And I’ll stop being so Ameri-centic when I pay the same admission, or sometimes get free access, in the EU that EU citizens are charged.

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