This year, IHG celebrates 10 years of hosting travelers in its family of hotels around the world. We are one of the world’s largest hotel companies and have been rewarding our guests through the world’s first and largest loyalty program, Priority Club® Rewards.
In this anniversary year, we have improved and renamed our loyalty program to IHG® Rewards Club. It will offer members the opportunity to earn and enjoy great new benefits as they stay across our 4,600 hotels in nearly 100 countries.
More important than any name change are the benefits. And there is actually some meat along with this change, and not just lipstick. Some of the new changes include the following:
Free internet worldwide for all members in 2014, starting with Gold Elite and Platinum Elite members in July 2013. This is HUGE, given that previously not even Platinum members received free internet as a published benefit.
Fast track to elite status when you stay in more than two of their brands. I’m not sure what exactly this means, though I suspect we’ll hear more on this soon.
Reward nights now count towards elite membership status. If this means elite members get elite benefits on award stays as well, this is HUGE and long overdue. It was always a slap in the face to be an elite member redeeming points and be put in a base room simply because it was a reward booking.
Nights earned beyond what’s needed for elite membership status will count towards Platinum status the next year. This is a nice benefit, though I sure hope most people aren’t earning Priority Club Platinum status by staying 50 nights. If you’re in the US, just having their credit card gives it to you for free.
Anyway, these are some exciting changes, and unfortunately the only details available as of now. It’ll be interesting to see what else they have in store for us. My hope is that they also merge the Priority Club Rewards and Ambassador program into one, as it’s lame to have a separate loyalty program for InterContinental hotels, and not honor elite benefits from the rest of the chain there.
Priority Club has just unveiled a new Pointbreaks list valid through June 30, 2013. Through PointBreaks, select hotels are available for just 5,000 points per night, compared to the normal rates of up to 50,000 points per night.
This new list is actually one of the longest I’ve ever seen, though I can’t say there are all that many properties that interest me. The only InterContinental properties on the list are those in San Salvador, San Pedro Sula, and Hanoi (that one interests me at least).
Other than that there are other properties that may prove useful though not especially aspirational.
Keep in mind that PointBreaks availability tends to disappear pretty quickly, so you’re best off locking in space ASAP if you’re interested. PointBreaks bookings have the same cancellation policies as normal reward night bookings, meaning they can usually be canceled up until a day or so before arrival.
Back in January Priority Club made a pretty radical change to their award chart, whereby they switched from pricing based on the brand of hotel you’re staying at, to category based award pricing, where hotels are assigned a category between one and nine. As usual they didn’t give much advance notice of the change, though they did offer a two month grace period after the change where you can still book under the the old rates.
The change was made on January 18, so you have until March 18, 2013 (tomorrow) to still take advantage of the old rates. The issue is that they don’t publish the old rates anywhere, and you can only take advantage of them by phone. Fortunately LoyaltyLobby has a list with all the old rates, so in many cases you could save a lot of points by locking in your reservation today or tomorrow. To make a booking under the old rates simply call Priority Club Rewards at 888-211-9874, and mention you want to book under the old rates.
While airline miles have maintained their value pretty well the past year, hotel points have taken a real beating in the first quarter of this year. If you’re not aware of all the devaluations that have been going on I suggest reading this post, where I provide a summary and explanation of what’s going on.
With that in mind, here are my valuations:
Club Carlson — 0.4 cents/point (not previously rated)
Club Carlson has really made a splash the past couple of years given the number of promotions they’ve run and their awesome new co-branded credit card. They have six hotel categories ranging between 9,000 and 50,000 points per night.
They have some really nice category six properties, especially in Europe, where you can get quite a bit of value out of your points. Probably not aspirational, per se, though if you can get nice accommodations in Stockholm in the peak of summer, I’d say that’s pretty tough to beat.
So while I value Club Carlson points at 0.4 cents each, you can get a lot more value out of them if you have their co-branded credit card. If you have that card the last night of a two or more night award stay is free. So that’s basically a “buy one get one free” if you’re only staying for two nights, which can nearly double the value of your points. I can totally understand why some people are obsessed with Club Carlson points.
Best credit card(s) for earning Club Carlson points: Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card, which offers 10x points per dollar spent at Club Carlson properties, 5x points per dollar spent on everything else, 40,000 bonus points upon account anniversary, and a free night when you redeem for two or more award nights.
Hilton, Hilton, Hilton. I can’t stop shaking my head at you guys. If they had any shame they’d feel like this dog:
For the past year or so I’ve been a huge promoter of Hilton, because they had some real high value awards. For example, by booking an AXON award you could spend four nights at any category seven property for 145,000 points. That was an incredible value, and basically made their top properties ~36,000 points per night. Of course all good things have to come to an end, given how easy it was to rack up Hilton points. As of March 28, 2013, Hilton will be in an almost unprecedented manner devaluing their award chart, to the point that I’d argue the value of their points drops by about 50%. You can read all about their recent changes here, which include the introduction of three new hotel categories and seasonal pricing.
The end effect is that some properties like the Conrad Koh Samui are going from 50,000 points per night to 95,000 points per night. So previously you could book an AXON award for four nights for 145,000 points, while now you’re paying 380,000 points for the same stay. Now, you do get the fifth night free under the new program, but you’re still going from paying 145,000 points for four nights to paying 380,000 points for five nights.
The thing is that at low and mid-tier properties the prices aren’t going up by all that much, though my original valuation of 0.8 cents per point was based on redeeming at aspirational properties. Frankly the number of Hilton properties I was truly excited about redeeming points at was quite limited (like the Conrads in Hong Kong, Koh Samui, the Maldives, and Tokyo), and those have all hugely gone up in price.
The above pricing does reflect the devaluation, so if you have any Hilton points hopefully you can burn them before March 28 so you can still get a decent value out of them.
Best credit card(s) for earning Hilton HHonors points: Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express, which offers 12x points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, 6x points per dollar spent at gas stations and on groceries, and three points per dollar spent on everything else. Also the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card, which offers 10x points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, 5x points per dollar spent on airline and car rental purchases, and 3x points per dollar spent on everything else. Also comes with Hilton HHonors Gold status for as long as you have the card.
Huge kudos to Hyatt. While I’ve given them some flak for their lack of lucrative promotions, I’ve come to appreciate it, actually. They’re trying to run a sustainable loyalty program with stable pricing. And for that matter they’re the only program that didn’t in any form devalue their program this past year. Their annual hotel category adjustments had more properties going down in price than up in price. Their only potentially negative change was that they eliminated Passport Escapes packages, but the reason was simply because it wasn’t utilized enough.
Their top end properties continue to be among the best points redemption value in the hotel industry. For just 22,000 points per night you can stay at the Park Hyatts in Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, or the Maldives, for example. Compared to the redemption costs at other chains for high end properties, this is amazing.
My valuation of Marriott points factors in the changes happening to their program on May 16, 2013, whereby they’re adding a ninth category to their award chart and adjusting the categories of many of their hotels. Roughly 1% of their properties are going down in price, while roughly 36% of properties are going up in price.
Marriott’s new award chart
Fortunately only about a dozen properties belong in the new category nine, which isn’t horrible. So I’d say after Hilton they had the second biggest devaluation of the year, probably similar in scope to Starwood (though with Starwood you can still transfer points to airline miles at the same ratio, so I can’t really lower their value).
Best credit card(s) for earning Marriott Rewards points: Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card, which offers 5x points per dollar spent at Marriott properties, 2x points per dollar spent on dining, rental cars, and airlines, and 1x point per dollar spent on everything else. Also offers free anniversary night annually valid at category 1-5 properties.
Priority Club Rewards — 0.5 cents/point (previously 0.6 cents/point)
Priority Club made a pretty radical change to their program earlier in the year whereby they switched from award pricing based on the brand to a nine category award chart based on the cost of hotels. For the average consumer the end effect isn’t huge, actually, because the top category hotels remain the same price.
Priority Club’s new category based redemption chart
It’s the ones in the middle that have changed. For example, the Holiday Inn Express New York Times Square and Holiday Inn Express Selma used to be in the same pricing group since they’re both Holiday Inn Express branded. Under the new reward pricing the former is 35,000 points per night, while the latter is 10,000 points per night. So when award pricing reflects the normal cost of a stay it’s definitely more “fair,” though as a consumer you’re no longer able to “beat” the system in the same way.
Best credit card(s) for earning Priority Club Rewards points: Priority Club Rewards Visa Card, which offers 5x points per dollar spent at Priority Club properties, 2x points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and at restaurants, and 1x point per dollar spent on everything else.
As I discussed in the section on the value of credit card points, this has been a rough year for Starwood. Earlier in the month the value of Starpoints for hotel redemptions dropped given that Starwood devalued cash & points by about 20-25%, which was the best use of Starpoints for hotel redemptions prior to this. Furthermore, 150 more Starwood properties went up in price than down in price with the recent category shifts, and when you only have a bit over 1,000 properties, that’s a pretty substantial number of properties going up in price.
So at this point when it comes to redeeming Starpoints for hotel stays I’d probably drop their value down to below two cents each. But the thing is that you can still convert Starpoints into airline miles at a 1:1 ratio, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points transferred. That means you can convert 20,000 Starpoints into 25,000 American miles. At a valuation of 2.2 cents per Starpoint, that means you’re valuing an American mile at 1.76 cents per mile, which is pretty close to my previous valuation of 1.8 cents per American mile.
So while Starpoints have gone down in value, I oddly can’t really quantify it.
As you can see above, this hasn’t been a good year so far for hotels. I’m sure award prices will stabilize for a couple of years before we see another major devaluation, though these changes have been rough. I’d be curious to hear how you guys value hotel points, and if it differs from mine valuations!
(In the interest of full disclosure, some of the above links earn me a referral bonus, and all are for the best available offers for each card — thanks for your support!)
Via Vielfliegertreff, it looks like the InterContinental Frankfurt is reducing Royal Ambassador benefits in the name of consistency.
I’ve stayed at the InterContinental Frankfurt several times before (reviews here, here, here, and here), and found it to be a great value as a Royal Ambassador member. I haven’t returned lately, though, as their lack of wireless internet is a deal breaker for me.
That being said, a guest checking into the InterContinental Frankfurt received a letter at check-in informing them that Royal Ambassador members would no longer receive complimentary access to the club lounge as in the past. It’s one thing if a single hotel devalues their benefits, though what’s interesting is that the second paragraph of the letter states that this is a new standard at European InterContinental hotels, whereby Royal Ambassador members will no longer receive free club access. Instead this hotel is offering Royal Ambassador members discounted club lounge access for 35€, instead of the usual rate of 70€. I wonder whether this is actually the case, or if the management at this hotel is just trying to find a scapegoat.
Royal Ambassador status used to hands down be the best top tier hotel elite status, though over the years it has been disappointing to see them slowly reduce benefits at the more generous properties in the name of consistency. My Royal Ambassador status is expiring at the end of the month and I’m not feeling too bad about it at this point.
Priority Club has unveiled a new PointBreaks list, valid for stays through March, 2013. Through PointBreaks, select hotels are available for just 5,000 Priority Club points per night, which are worth roughly $35.
The only hotel that really jumps out at me is the InterContinental Fiji. I’ve been wanting to visit Fiji so am extremely tempted to take advantage of this, though burning 125,000 AAdvantage miles for business class on Air Pacific just seems like a painful value proposition. I’ll work on dates, though, and might just pull the trigger on it.
If you have upcoming travels it’s always worth checking the list to see if any properties on the list overlap with where you need to be, as this represents some amazing savings. These stays are typically refundable and space at the better properties tends to disappear quickly, so I wouldn’t delay in making a booking.
I can’t help but smirk just a little about Priority Club. Back in 2010 Hilton devalued their award chart, and as a response Priority Club ran a “Luckiest Loser” promotion, whereby they gave those with the highest Hilton HHonors points balances up to 20,000 Priority Club points. It was a nice gesture to make people feel better about Hilton’s devaluation. Their chief marketing officer even said:
“If you want your loyal customers to stick with you during tough times, it’s vital to show you appreciate them and give them more value, not less. So it’s no wonder there was such a negative reaction to Hilton devaluing their points programme,” said Tom Seddon, chief marketing officer, IHG.
That sounded great until Priority Club substantially devalued their award chart less than two years later with little advance notice. Priority Club is unique in that their award pricing is by hotel brand, with each brand having a range of award costs (while most other hotel loyalty programs just have categories independent of the individual brands, with each hotel’s category dependent on average rates/demand).
It’s interesting to note that while the change kicks in on January 18, 2013, they’ll honor the old prices until March 18, 2013 by phone. The only problem is that they’re not publishing the new award prices yet, and the old award prices won’t be published after January 18, so it would make sense to jot down the award prices for the hotels you’re looking at so you can tell whether the price went down or not (or make a speculative booking now if you think the cost will go up).
You can find an open letter from the director of Priority Club Rewards here, though I’ll just share the part I find most relevant:
As you can imagine, this new chart will mean some hotels will be changing the number of points required for a Reward Night. Less than 30% of our hotels will be increasing with this change. But this also means that we can lower the points required at some hotels; more hotels, in fact, than we’ll be increasing. Not only will we be lowering points required at more than 30% of our hotels, we will now have more than 500 properties available at our lowest category – 10,000 points.
For the most part this won’t have a negative impact on “aspirational” redemptions, given that those hotels are mostly already in the highest category, and that was already 50,000 points per night. So I think we’ll see award costs more closely reflect the cost of a revenue stay than just the brand of hotel you’re redeeming at.
As a totally random example, take a look at the InterContinental Warsaw, which consistently has rates of ~75 Euros per night, yet costs 40,000 Priority Club points. The points requirement is almost entirely based on the brand as opposed to the cost of the hotel.
Meanwhile there are hotels like the Candlewood Suites Times Square which are only 20,000 points per night, despite rates of $200+.
So I think the trend we’ll see is that lower end hotel brands in expensive cities will go up in price, while the higher end hotel brands in cheap cities will go down in price.
Update: Points.com is sending out emails to those that made transfers, informing them the transfer was unsuccessful.
Priority Club points can be purchased for 0.7 cents each using the techniques outlined in this post. Basically you can make cash & points bookings (where you’re paying $70 in place of 10,000 points), and then redeposit them, with 10,000 points posting back to your account instead of $70.
Well, for whatever reason points.com is currently letting you exchange Priority Club points for Amtrak points at a very favorable ratio, 1,000:1,333.
While you can redeem Amtrak points for train travel, you can also redeem them for gift cards in a variety of programs at a rate of one cent per point. For example, you can get a $100 Hyatt gift card for 10,000 points:
Or you can get gift cards with AMC, Applebee’s, Barnes & Noble, Bath and Body Works, Bloomingdales, CVS, GAP, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Maggiano’s, Olive Garden, Pottery Barn, Red Lobster, etc, at the same rate (10,000 points gets you a $100 gift card).
So this is basically an opportunity to get gift cards for half off. $70 gets you 10,000 Priority Club points, and that gets you 13,333 Amtrak points (worth roughly $133 in gift cards, though you do have to transfer in the right increments).
The Amtrak rules for points.com say you can transfer a maximum of 50,000 points per transaction and a maximum of 100,000 points per year, though that doesn’t seem to be enforced.
The big risk here is of course that they don’t honor it. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen. If you have Priority Club points it’s a no brainer to take advantage of this. If you actually need to buy Priority Club points to take advantage of this, be prepared to get stuck with Priority Club points….
Priority Club has unveiled a new PointBreaks list, valid for stays through January 31, 2013. Through PointBreaks select hotels are available for just 5,000 Priority Club points per night, which are worth roughly $35.
Unfortunately this list isn’t all that exciting, as there’s only a single InterContinental hotel on it, in Jakarta.
That being said, it’s always worth taking a look at the list to see if there’s a hotel that matches your travel plans. These stays are usually refundable up until a day or so before arrival, so you’ll want to lock in a hotel now if there’s something that interests you, as most hotels don’t stay on the PointBreaks list for very long.
Priority Club Gold and Platinum status has long been a joke, both in terms of qualification criteria and benefits.
Gold status requires 15 nights or 20,000 earned points, while Platinum status required 50 nights or 60,000 earned points. What’s unique about Priority Club compared to other programs through which you can qualify on points is that they counted all earned points towards status. For example, outright 60,000 points during a promotion would get you Platinum status. So in a way the 15/50 night stay requirements are an absolute joke, since in practice you could earn status much more easily.
But even though status was extremely easy to earn, I don’t think it was really too easy, given how limited the benefits were. As a Platinum member, for example, you received a 50% points bonus on stays, but that was about the only consistent benefit. Upgrades were entirely at the discretion at the hotel, and Priority Club elite benefits don’t even apply at InterContinental hotels, which have their own “Ambassador” loyalty program.
But per a notice posted on their Chinese website, as of January 1, 2013, they’ll change the way they calculate points that qualify towards status, which (apparently) roughly translates as follows:
Starting from 1st January 2013, PCR points will be divided into two categories: status points and non-status points. This is to better clarify the threshold for Gold and Platinum memberships. The status points will include qualifying room rate and partner points from qualifying activities. The qualifying room rate also include: flexible room rate, corporate rate, GDS corporate rate, state/regional/local government negotiated rate and special leisure rate confirmed in HOLIDEX Plus system assigned by IHG. Non-status points will include: promotional points, points voucher, point purchase, point transfer and point deposit.
So while it’s not entirely clear which points will count as status points and which will count as non-status points, I think it’s safe to assume that it won’t be possible to earn Platinum status anymore by making a few stays on cheap rates with lots of stackable promotions.
Now, the optimist in me wants to think that they’re intentionally doing this so they can start adding value to the program and making Priority Club status worth having, which obviously can’t be the case with their current system. But the realist in me recognizes that Priority Club doesn’t even honor elite benefits on award stays (they’re the only major chain where that’s the case), so I have a hard time imagining they’re thinking progressively here.
And maybe it’s just my imagination, but I have the perception that Priority Club is more focused on having as many members as they can vs. as many elite members as they can. While Hyatt Gold Passport seems like an elite-centric program, I get the impression Priority Club is more interested in creating loyalty among the average once a year traveler that would otherwise stay at a Holiday Inn/Holiday Inn Express/Crowne Plaza competitor. That might explain why 90% of the time I’m thanked at check-in for being a “Priority Club member,” and given the same “welcome gift” as any Priority Club member.
On the whole I’m guessing this will simply mean that the program remains as lame as it currently is, but fewer of us will have status with them… maybe they’re doing us a favor?
I hope I’m wrong. I’ll make another post once we receive official clarification on which activities count as status points and which don’t.
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