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 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.
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