Priority Club Relaunch: Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing

Last week I blogged about upcoming changes to the Priority Club program.

Business Traveler was reporting at the time on the introduction of an option to buy airline flights directly with points.

Now Loyalty Traveler summarizes the press packet on upcoming changes that have now been announced .

Bottom-line is that there really isn’t much here.

  • Last Minute Reward Nights. Like airline e-savers of old, Priority Club is going to send out emails at the beginning of the week with a list of hotels where you can redeem your points at half off for the following weekend.

  • Points & Cash for Merchandise Rewards. As if it wasn’t already a bad idea to redeem your points for toasters ‘n such, now you can do so with a combination of cash and points.

  • “Lucky Points” Sweepstakes. You can buy lottery tickets with your points, entering drawings for prizes like iPads, hotel stays, and more points. This rolls out in China and Japan in the fall. State-run lotteries are a tax on people who don’t know math. I don’t expect that this will be much different. I’ll be interested to learn if the offering makes it to the U.S. and how they manage to maneuver various gaming laws. I suppose the argument is that the points don’t have cash value. Will prizes that you win generate tax forms? Will they use inflated valuations, such that the tax owed will often be as much as the value of the prize? I don’t see much good coming from this one.

  • Downloadable Media Rewards. I redeem my points for luxury stays on the beach. You use yours for the latest Justin Bieber. Tomato, tomato, potato, potato.

All in all not much here other than a new logo.

Now, the introduction of last minute redemption discounts does seem to overlap with the existing PointBreaks offering — reduced point prices for hotels that may be lightly booked, for a short period of time. PointBreaks were introduced in March 2007 as a sweetener to soften the blow of a pretty brutal points devaluation (some redemption prices increased by two-thirds, and with no notice). But they haven’t been nearly as generous as they were when first introduced. So it wouldn’t surprise me if they were eventually phased out in favor of these last minute weekend redemption offers, which would be a shame as PointBreaks at least let you plan further out than a weekend and are only 5000 points — a much better deal than 50% off.

Other than that, which is just speculation of a future move which hasn’t been announced, there’s little news here at all. Which is a shame, because Priority Club desperately needs to:

  • Honor elite benefits on award stays, rather than leaving it to the discretion of the property. I’ll scream this one from the rooftops. (No other major chain has terms and conditions making elites ineligible for upgrades when spending points.)
  • Offer better rooms for additional points, like Starwood, Hyatt, and Marriott do. Members want something other than a standard room when they redeem their points, that’s part of the point of an aspiration award for many members.

  • Offer real elite benefits as part of Priority Club and not just for Royal Ambassador members at Intercontinental properties. Priority Club Platinum is not a meaningful elite level in any way.

So in many ways an opportunity lost, though fortunately for now not a devaluation.

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. “State-run lotteries are a tax on people who don’t know math.”

    has replaced my previous favorite gleff comment,” People undervalue peak experiences.”

    I bet you didn’t know you were this quotable Gary.

  2. I interpreted Lucky Points sweepstakes as a program starting soon in U.S., Canada and U.K. and then Japan and China in Fall 2011. Here is the actual PR wording:

    “Lucky Points” Sweepstakes: This feature will give members based in the US, Canada, and UK the chance to turn their extra points into great rewards.  Members will be able to redeem a very small quantity of Priority Club points (e.g., 100 or 200 points per entry) in exchange for a chance to win the prize or prizes that are most appealing to them. Typically, members will have 6-8 different prize draws to select from, ranging from terrific hotel packages (e.g. 4 nights at the InterContinental Times Square- New York) to popular merchandise (e.g., iPads), and even 1 million Priority Club points!  Priority Club Rewards will be the only travel loyalty program to offer members this chance to turn a single stay into a huge prize! The program will roll out in China and Japan beginning fall 2011.” 

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