IHG relaunches Priority Club with enhanced redemption options

ATLANTA IHG announces the relaunch of its Priority Club Rewards loyalty program, including increased point-redemption options, an overhauled website and new logos and membership cards.

New program features, which will be implemented in phases over the next three months, include:

  • Last Minute Reward Nights. A hotel industry first, Priority Club members will be able to redeem reward nights at a 50% discount for selected properties. Members will receive an e-mail on the first Monday of every month with a list of hotels where the offer is valid for the following weekend.
  • Points and Cash for Merchandise Rewards. Priority Club members in the United States will be able to redeem a combination of points and cash for brand-name retail merchandise. Priority Club Rewards currently offers points and cash capability on Reward Nights, but this will expand that functionality to merchandise rewards—a feature not offered anywhere else in the industry, according to IHG. The program will roll out globally later in the year.
  • Lucky Points Sweepstakes. This feature will allow members in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom to redeem small amounts of Priority Club points in exchange for a chance to win prizes. Typically, members will have six to eight sweepstakes to select from, with prizes including hotel packages, merchandise and even larger amounts of Priority Club points. The program will roll out in China and Japan beginning in autumn.
  • Downloadable Media Rewards. Priority Club will be the first travel loyalty program to let members redeem points directly for downloadable media, including music, electronic books, mobile applications and computer software. The program will roll out online in English globally and in several Europe languages beginning late this year.

Other changes to Priority Club will be largely superficial. The program is getting redesigned membership cards, with a refreshed blue color palette and inspirational imagery from destinations around the world, along with a new logo. Additionally, a revamped website will launch next month.

The program relaunch comes on the heels of three years of quantitative and qualitative research into what frequent travelers want from a loyalty program. “The research clearly confirmed that hotel loyalty program members in every region of the world not only want to earn currency that is valuable and flexible, they also want to maintain absolute control in how they use it,” says Don Berg, IHG’s vice president of loyalty programs and partnerships.

IHG’s research concludes that business travelers value loyalty more than price. Loyalty program membership is a stronger predictor of hotel selection than price or location among guests who stay a minimum of 20 nights per year, regardless of preference for midscale or upscale brands.

Travelers across North America, Asia Pacific and Europe are equally point-currency conscious, IHG says. The value that loyalty points hold as currency ranks as the highest priority for hotel selection by frequent travelers globally—higher than special perks, privileges or benefits in the hotel.

Additionally, IHG believes that hotel programs are making great inroads to unseating airline frequent flyer programs as the leading travel loyalty model. Frequent travelers place a higher perceived value on hotel loyalty program currency over frequent flier miles, as airlines’ imposition of fees, decreased reward seat inventory and greater restrictions have weakened consumer trust, and as hotel programs add additional redemption options, including access to airline inventory.

Not surprisingly, the health of the global economy is a solid indicator of consumer activity in loyalty programs. IHG reports an inverse correlation with driving hotel loyalty members to use point redemption options versus stockpiling, given points’ perceived utility as cash. For instance, during a single month in 2008, Priority Club members redeemed points for US$1 million in gasoline card vouchers as rising oil prices inflated gas prices.

A sample of the new IHG Priority Club membership cards
A sample of the new IHG Priority Club membership cards