Jan302009

IHG Priority Club Platinum members – Please Sound Off

Loyalty Traveler wants to hear from Priority Club Platinum elites and Ambassadors. Please share your opinion on the value of Priority Club elite membership as evidenced by hotel recognition in terms of upgrades and amenities during your stays.

I have made a general statement over the years with regards to hotel frequent guest and airline frequent flyer loyalty program elite status.

“Top level elite members are generally quite happy with value-added benefits received in recognition of loyalty.”

Elite membership in a travel loyalty program offers value-added benefits like room upgrades, free meals, gifts, complimentary Business Class/First Class flight upgrades, airport lounge access, and change fee waivers. Loads of award travel opportunities have come my way courtesy of Starwood Hotels, Hyatt Hotels, Marriott Hotels, Hilton Hotels, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and so many other loyalty programs even where I did not have elite status. IHG is the major hotel chain I have not frequented as an elite guest.  I have been planning 2009 to be a Priority Club Rewards / InterContinental Ambassador elite membership year.

Now, in recent weeks, I have been made more aware of Priority Club Platinum elite members claiming they are not feeling the love. A discussion on FlyerTalk, highlighted in the TalkMail email I received yesterday prompted this discussion of whether Priority Club Platinum members are getting adequate loyalty attention from member hotels.

crowne-plaza-seattle-breakfast-room

Crowne Plaza Hotel Seattle

 “Show me the upgrade!”

Comments on Loyalty Traveler blog and FlyerTalk lately have me rethinking my analysis of Priority Club. 

I have repeatedly been reading anecdotes from Priority Club Platinum members stating the upgrades are far and few between and aside from the bonus points, there is not much recognition from hotels as a 50 night per year (or 60,000 points) elite program member.

On the other hand, Ambassador members in the InterContinental Hotels paid membership loyalty program seem to be relatively content over the years.  Link to IHG Ambassador program.

Why are these IHG hotel loyalists offering different viewpoints of the merits of loyalty? 

I have two different thoughts on the reasons for different experiences.

1.      The history of the IHG program may play a role.

2.      Hotel Market segment distribution for IHG compared to Starwood Hotels.  (I’d like to expand this to show a comparison to Hilton and Marriott, but time constraints keep me from going into a broader comparison today.)

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is a product of corporate acquisition of hotel chains through the 1990s by British brewing company Bass.  Holiday Inn was purchased in 1990, Crowne Plaza in 1994, and InterContinental in 1998.  The IHG portfolio is the merger of two upper upscale hotel brands with the midscale Holiday Inn/Holiday Inn Express brands–a much larger proportion of hotels and rooms within IHG.  In all fairness, there are several hundred Holiday Inn hotels which should be in the upscale or upper upscale market segment, but as a whole entity the brand is downgraded to midscale due to the numerous older, standard room hotels. 

Market segmentation is relatively standardized for hotel brand placement in the overall market based on hotel industry research reports from several different sources I have read in the past year. 

St. Regis, Waldorf-Astoria, Four Seasons, and Ritz-Carlton are examples of the luxury segment. 

Westin, Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt Regency are examples for the Upper Upscale market segment. 

Four Points by Sheraton, Hilton Garden Inn, and Courtyard by Marriott are brands in the upscale segment.

IHG Hotel Loyalty Programs

The international model of loyalty seems to be more fee-based with loyal travelers buying membership for additional privileges.  Six Continents Club formerly existed for InterContinental Hotel guests and has evolved into the current Ambassador loyalty program.  Priority Club was the existing free loyalty program for Holiday Inn and incorporated Crowne Plaza and other brands into its earning and redemption offers.  There is value in belonging to both if you are a Priority Club member planning stays with IHG brands including InterContinental Hotels. 

2009 could be a year where more effort is made to improve benefits for Platinum elites if IHG wants to be competitive with the other major programs.  The flip side of the argument is IHG may have already chosen its path with adding a benefit to the fee-based membership perks with Ambassador members now eligible to earn 20,000 Priority Club points after 15 nights in a calendar year at InterContinental Hotels. 

Number of hotels and rooms in largest IHG hotel brands

IHG has over 4,100 hotels worldwide.  (IHG Corporate investor reports available on website)

 

InterContinental is the top tier brand and maintains its own separate InterContinental Ambassador fee-based loyalty program in addition to offering Priority Club Rewards points for InterContinental Hotel stays to Priority Club members.

 

IHG in the Americas

 

A 2008 IHG corporate report lists the following breakdown of hotels by brand. 

 

54 of 157 InterContinental Hotels in Americas (18,105 rooms) = 34% of IC Hotels

180 of 331 Crowne Plaza Hotels in Americas (49,509 rooms) = 54% of Crowne Plaza Hotels

929 of 1,352 Holiday Inns in Americas (171,380 rooms) = 69% of Holiday Inn Hotels

1,684 of 1,889 Holiday Inn Express hotels in Americas (142,158) = 89% of Holiday Inn Express Hotels

 

Fewer than 18% of rooms in IHG hotel properties in the Americas are positioned in the upper upscale market segment within Crowne Plaza and InterContinental Hotels.  The majority of the upper-upscale hotels in IHG are located outside the USA.  Americas is defined as hotels in USA, Canada, Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America.  A significant number of the 68,000 upper-upscale rooms shown above are not located in the USA.

 

Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express are defined by the hotel industry as midscale hotels segment. 

 

Upper-upscale hotels tend to be larger hotels and have a larger variety of rooms.  You can’t be upgraded, except for a better view, if there are no differences in the room types.

************

Starwood Hotels Market Segmentation

Starwood has 9 hotel brands.  Only 145 of 925 hotels are not in the upper upscale market.

St. Regis 13 hotels

Luxury Collection 59 hotels

W Hotels 25

Westin 162 hotels

Sheraton 411 hotels

Le Meridien 110 hotels

 

Only about 16% of Starwood Hotels are not in the upper upscale or luxury market.  Upgrades are common for SPG Platinum members.  I have had some nice upgrades to suites at certain Four Points by Sheraton hotels in places like Sydney, Australia and San Francisco Airport.  The typical hotel in the Starwood chain has a variety of room types and upgrades are common for SPG Platinum members.

 

87% of IHG hotels are not in the upscale market. 

 

Standard Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express hotels may have very few or no differentiated rooms for complimentary upgrades to be offered to Platinum-elites.  Crowne Plaza and nicer Holiday Inns remain the only upscale brands for upgrades since InterContinental operates its own fee-based program for loyalty recognition. 

 

Priority Club has a generous points earning policy allowing multiple promotions and bonuses to the same hotel stay.  Free rooms are relatively easy to earn, particularly at the high-end redemptions of Crowne Plaza at 25,000 points and InterContinental Hotels at 30,000 or 40,000 points compared to the money spending required to earn high-end rewards with the other major hotel programs.

 

But complimentary room upgrades as a major loyalty benefit for Priority Club Platinum elites?  Well, that benefit seems to be a matter of opinion and luck.

 

Ambassador Benefits from Priority Club Terms

 

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »

Comments

  1. I too am trying to commit myself to PC this yr. I feel that the PLAT situation is a thorn n “just about” every hotel chain. But as a Hyatt Plat, I have received upgrades a few times. Other than that it does seem as if Hyatt is trying to loosen the belt some by giving “all elites” free internet(yes-this includes Plats). Maybe upgrades will be next.
    Like u, I am just experiencing PC so I don’t know if PC gives free internet,but if not hopefully they will follow n Hyatt’s footsteps which may lead to an industry wide wake-up call to recognize the Plat & give us free upgrades & internet as well.

  2. Priority Club Member. Stopped at the holiday inn express @ 675 and wilmington ave this morning to fax 2 sheets to my home office. AS a platimum member I was told there would be a $2 charge. WE have spent 100’s of thousands staying @ this chain. NO I was not staying @ this facility @ the time. And I never will stay at these chains. Hope they invest their $2 wisely. Sorry I forgot to leave my $3 tip.

  3. I am a traveling salesman covering 4 states. Some years I’ll stay in hotels around 100 nights. Being a Platinum member, I am recogized as such probably 90% of the time at check in. The better managed facilities almost always upgrade me automatically to a suite. I don’t even bother to ask for an upgrade, it’s already been done. I’ve stopped at different properties while traveling, used the fax machine, business center, etc.., never been charged a dime. The IHG Plantinum PC program offers the best value of any hotel chain…period.

  4. Glad to hear there is a happy platinum member getting the recognition one should expect from Priority Club platinum status.

    Any top elite member should feel the love from his or her hotel loyalty program or be looking for another bed to sleep in.

  5. I just sent a complaint to Priority Club regarding my Platinum Elite Status and not feeling the love. I stayed 50 nights in the last 6 months of 2009 – and many more nights for the entire year, this year I’ve already stayed 30 nights and as such am very much considering changing hotel brands as I’m tired of not being recognized for my status level. The only hotel within the hotel brands to provide me with an upgrade is the Staybridge Suites in Sunnyvale, CA and this is limited as they are consistently over-booked (this is also the only one where they are willing to provide me a room when they are sold out, when Priority Club contacted them on my behalf). The Holiday Inn I am currently staying in as I write this, did not provide me with the norm of free breakfast coupons or coupons for 2 free drinks as all the other Hotels within the organization provide. The Crowne Plaza while they have more rooms available for upgrades have not provided me with an upgrade even when asked. Several years ago I paid for the Ambassador level when I was staying at the Intercontinental several times and they were they only ones (due to the Ambassador level) providing upgrades.

    Holiday Inn has come a long way in improving their properties and the beds and showers are generally amazing, however, they are very quickly about to lose a customer if they do not start to provide a little more incentive for me to continue to bring my business to their hotel properties.

    Unfortunately, my job requires me to travel 75% of the time right now, and as such I would think they would like to continue keeping my business and the additional business I bring.

  6. You have choices. You should sleep around some hotel brands as many nights as you are in hotels. Give Hyatt a try since they have a fast-track to Platinum that can have you set for elite through Feb 2012 with just 15 nights.

    You can probably get a status match from Starwood Preferred Guest or Hilton based on your numerous hotel nights.

    You might want to give Marriott a shot if you can put in 75 nights. You can get night credit with a Marriott credit card to bring the nights down to 60. In 2009 Marriott had a nights count double promotion for a couple of months.

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