Priority Club Redefines the Travel Loyalty Program

I2m_priorityclub1_1 About two months ago, my wife joined the pilot Buzz Agent program for the new Priority Club Any Hotel, Any Reward program.  The travel industry does not have a history of transparency, when it comes to pretty much anything.  Hotels focus on the lobby, while the back rooms, employee elevators, and other hidden areas are often a different world.  Ask any airline sales representative to explain the pricing structure or the meanings of all the fare codes, and you’ll probably get a blank expression.  Car rentals have become such a commodity pricing model, with sites like Hotwire and Priceline offering $15 per day rentals – that the only way for rental agencies to recoup costs are with not-so-well-publicized fees, and extra charges for just about anything from child seats to GPS devices.  Many customers have started to question whether loyalty is even worth it.  So into this world of anti-transparency, it was interesting to read Intercontinental Hotel Group’s description from their website of their new Any Hotel Any Reward card:

Even though InterContinental Hotels Group is the world’s largest hotel company, we cannot be everywhere. So now we want to give our members the ultimate in choice and flexibility, by allowing them to redeem their points toward stays at any hotel, regardless of brand affiliation. By rewarding our members with this freedom, we believe we’ll gain even greater loyalty and more repeat business from them. 

This Seth Godin-esque level of transparency is so unexpected in the travel industry, that I had to read it again and look further into the campaign.  Turns out that in an effort to become the network of choice for frequent and leisure travellers, IHG is willing to work through the American Express network to give points anywhere the Amex card is accepted.  Ah, so now I understand how they can do it – using the same credit card system that has allowed travellers to get points anytime they use the card, anywhere they use it.  But what a great marketing strategy, in an age where loyalty programs are starting to alienate the "best customers" that they once served — to see a large hotel group focus on giving their customers what they want and counting on their openness to drive even more customer loyalty.  As they know, the ones that are the hardest to convert are the frequent travellers on other networks.  But I have to say, this strategy may just drive me to cash in my Platinum Starwood account and upgrade my Priority Club card.  For consumers used to being treated like clueless idiots, a little transparency goes a long way to winning our hearts …

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