Answering reader question about my hotel loyalty

Ben,
I for one would love to see a detailed post about why you like ICH/Priority club and why you have chosen then to be your primary hotel chain. I am looking to expand my hotel points and am looking at PC and Marriott rewards. Keep up the good work!

Thanks for the question! Let me start off by saying I’m not quite as obsessed with hotel status as I am with airline status. While I rarely use Priceline, it’s incredibly tempting at times when the prices are so low and the benefits of status are worth $10-20 most of the time (free internet, breakfast, etc.).

That being said, I’m loyal primarily to Priority Club (where I’m a Platinum Royal Ambassador) and Hilton (currently Gold, going for Diamond). I’ve gotten into a habit of “regionalizing” my loyalty, and basically only stay at Priority Club properties internationally and Hilton hotels within the US.

Now, about Priority Club. Priority Club consists of several hotel chains, from lower end hotels like Holiday Inn to the much nicer InterContinental properties. Priority Club itself is mediocre at best. Their Platinum status is very easy to get, and requires 60,000 points. Unlike Hilton, we’re not talking about base points here, but rather total earned points. This means that My Coke Rewards, bonuses, etc, all count towards your status. Platinum can be earned for as little as a handful of nights if planned properly, bringing me to another strength of Priority Club, the points earning opportunities. Priority Club has some amazing promotions, and with the InterContinental Forum on FlyerTalk there’s quite a few tips to be picked up for earning extra points. The Master Promo Thread is especially useful.

The benefits of Platinum itself are pretty minimal at times. Technically you’re supposed to get a better room and extra points, but other than that there are very few written benefits. A lot of Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express properties don’t really have premium rooms, which means upgrades are often non-existent. That being said, I primarily stay at Crowne Plaza hotels internationally, and have always either gotten a suite upgrade or club upgrade, sometimes even both. Internationally Crowne Plaza is a pretty solid chain, although I often stay away from them in the US.

As for burning points, the values can really vary. The upper end InterContinental properties, which I think are a great use of points, are 40,000 points per night. The middle to lower end InterContinental hotels are 30,000 points per night. Crowne Plaza hotels are 25,000 points per night, which could be a good value if you’re staying at a property like the Crowne Plaza Times Square in NYC. The best use of points, however, is the PointBreaks promotion. Basically every so often they add hotels to the list, many of which are quite good, and can be reserved for only 5,000 points a night! While the list looks bland at times, it has seen hotels such as the InterContinental Bali, Bangkok, Tokyo (ANA), Wellington, and many more. Considering that’s 1/6 to 1/8 the cost of the normal points rate, that’s a darn good value. The list is constantly being updated, but you really can’t go wrong there, since 5,000 points can be purchased directly from Priority Club for $50 or less.

Now all that is nice and dandy, but the real reason I’m loyal to InterContinental/Priority Club is their Ambassador program, or more specifically the Royal Ambassador program. Ambassador is a status that is good for stays at InterContinental hotels, and it’s $150 to join for the first year, and $100 to renew every year after that. In your membership kit you get a buy one get one free certificate for a weekend night as well as a 5,000 points certificate every year, which more than pays for the cost of membership in and of itself. You can use the BOGO on any room rate, and the second night will be free. I’ve used this for suites in Singapore and Sydney, for example. Add that to all the benefits you can get, which are listed on the paged linked above, such as special check-in privileges, room upgrades, free pay per view movie, etc, and it’s quite a deal.

The really exceptional status with InterContinental is Royal Ambassador, which requires around 50 nights of so at ICHG properties (invitation only, so you never really know), and you only start earning nights towards RA once you signed up for Ambassador. Royal Ambassador is probably the single best top tier hotel status, I would say better than SPG Plat, which many love so dearly. As an RA you get a double upgrade (often more, but that’s the minimum), free consumption of the beverages in the minibar (so if you ever hear about a minibar party at an IC, now you know why), welcome gift and fruit plate, and many other benefits. What I love about it compared to SPG is that they deliver a consistent product. You can email the hotel and ask exactly what your upgrade will be in advance, and you can bet your rear that’s what you’re going to get. Just like any other chain some properties are better at delivering elite benefits than others, which is why the Royal Ambassador Experiences thread on FlyerTalk is very useful.

A quick note about Marriott, from my point of view. Marriott is the one chain that doesn’t attract me at all as far as their loyalty program goes. You can’t qualify on stays (only nights, and with 50 nights just to earn their middle tier, be ready to spend your life in hotels!), the benefits aren’t particularly good (club access is all you can expect), and using points for shorter stays doesn’t always make sense since the redemption rate gets cheaper the longer you stay. No doubt they have their strengths, such as the ability to earn lifetime status, but it’s simply not enough to make me even consider them.

Thanks for the question and I hope that sort of gives you an overview. I wrote all of this immediately after a redeye, so please let me know if anything isn’t clear or if you have any other questions.

Comments

  1. So you can get the Royal Ambassador level after 50 nights at Holiday Inn Express locations? Or is that where the “invitation only” kicks in (just like United GS) and they basically make it dependent on the profit you bring to the table?

  2. Well it is invitation only in the sense that they set a benchmark in terms of nights every year and don’t really publish it, but as far as I know it’s not really about revenue. I could be totally wrong of course since it’s all unpublished, but that’s my understanding.
    The best way to go is to get a referral, of course, whereby you don’t have to spend any nights to earn it.:)

  3. Ahhh, referrals are the true secret. Well, then, I think you have the email address of this faithful reader of your blog 🙂 🙂

    Just kidding.

  4. Hi Ben, 1 more night at HH and I will be Diamond (next week!!). I was going to wait until June and call SPG for a status match (so it would last until end 09). Should I look at ICH instead? Will they match me?

  5. Hehe Oliver, I do owe you something, that’s for sure!

    As for status matching, Priority Club would match you to Platinum, but not into the Ambassador/Royal Ambassador program. Platinrum, as I mentioned above, isn’t exactly great, so since you can’t get RA by matching I would still stick with SPG and see how you like Platinum with them.

  6. @Oliver: I believe the stays only count at InterContinental hotels and not holiday inn express. I’m sure you can know why (much cheaper to stay at HI Express)

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