One of my favorite resorts is the Intercontinental Bali. The service is great. I wouldn’t stay at the ‘regular hotel’ it’s large and busy and there are just so many wonderful and inexpensive places in Bali to go. But their club lounge experience is really nice, it’s peaceful, and it represents just a phenomenal value although pricing is certainly higher than it was a couple of years ago.
There are three separate ‘wings’ of the hotel, the main property, the Sinjara wing, and the Club wing. As even an regular ‘ol Ambassador you can expect an upgrade to a Duplex Suite, they don’t upgrade generally between the wings though so if you want club you need to book (or buy up to) it.
Historically they were very generous with upgrades, as a Royal Ambassador in 2008 I received a Jimbaran Bay Suite which was just amazing, three separate seating areas on the balcony even. Club guests receive complimentary roundtrip airport transportation, though it no longer includes VIP fast track through immigration. And I understand though that they’ve downgraded the club experience somewhat, it used to be that there was complimentary food off a menu to order 24 hours a day and that’s no longer the case. A lovely spa, nice rooms, good service, it still seems like a property worth returning to.
But they’ve gotten much tighter on upgrades indeed, and they pay a great deal more attention to room rates than they used to. Last year some good friends received a Uluwatu suite when booking a club room on the Friends & Family rate. This year they were told that the friends and family rate is no longer eligible for upgrades at all. Technically according to the rules, to be sure, but a change in attitude towards their guests. (There are some reports of Royal Ambassadors still being upgraded from club room bookings to Duplex Suites but I haven’t seen recent reports of better upgrades than that, and they’re proactively telling folks they don’t upgrade the rate.)
Intercontinental’s terms and conditions allow them not to upgrade at all not just on rates like friends and family, but even on award nights. When using points — and mind you, there’s no way to use additional points to reserve a better room with Priority Club in contrast to Starwood, Hyatt, and Marriott — very few if any benefits apply at all. I offered a detailed discussion of the policy and a particularly bad Willard stay report back in January.
Last week I wrote about possible changes coming to the Priority Club program and Carol made a very trenchant observation, that I think captures something really fundamental:
Until they offer the same upgrades for awards that they do for paid stays, they are not a competitive program, Royal Ambassador or no. I’m not made to feel second class when I book an award at Starwood or Hyatt.
What some hotels, and some programs, forget is that the loyalty programs promise better treatments for their most loyal guests.
The best expression of the principle came from Flyertalk member PremEx in 2003, when Starwood announced that they would no longer honor elite benefits when booking stays through third party websites like Expedia. I raised the point, and his quote, last summer:
Welcome to the Starwood Preferred Rate® Program. You are no longer a Preferred Guest.
Forget about the 25 or 50 or 75 stays you had on normal rates, that earned you Platinum. Walk in the door on Jan 1, 2004 on an occasional Priceline or other third party booking…and magically and mystically you’ve somehow become a Non-Preferred Guest!
And now that that fundamental change in the program has kicked-off and that wall has been shattered to pieces, where will it end?
Only property elite benefits when staying on Rack Rates? That also would certainly improve elite benefits too…on only those times that you were staying on Rack Rates!
Slippery slope, my friend.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer to be a Preferred Guest. As long as I’m at a Starwood property, I prefer and expect to get the recognition I earned. And I earned that status all on qualifying rates.
Because I’m a Platinum Preferred Guest. I am not my rate.
This is a very important principle, and not just from a consumer standpoint. Programs destroy the goodwill they create when a loyal member walks into their property and is treated less well because of how they booked their stay. They no longer feel like an honored guest. Either the person is important to the chain or they aren’t. If they stay, say, 50 nights during a year on a qualifying, paid rate and they show up on an Expedia rate because it’s the only place that was selling the room, or because the room was booked for them by someone else, and they are treated less well then their loyalty feels less meaingful. More importantly, when they stay loyal and earn their points and finally cash in those points and aren’t treated as well becausee they’re taking advantage of what’s supposed to be a reward for their loyalty, their loyalty feels a whole lot less meaningful.
For frequent guest loyalty to mean anything, it needs to be that when a guest walks into a hotel they are important to the chain. Every time. Radisson in Europe even has the “Our World, Your Lounge” program where they tell their elite members that they’re welcome in a hotel any time even when they aren’t staying at the property– come in, have a complimentary cup of coffee, and use our internet. They’re a valued customer, every time, even when not staying at the hotel.
Similarly, there’s an issue for the airlines, if an elite member is flying on an award ticket they should be eligible for an upgrade. Using points, after tons of flights, they shouldn’t be treated less well than a customer on a discounted fare. (And don’t get me started on airlines that take the short-sighted view that full fare trumps status for upgrades, so that a Delta silver on a cheap government fare trumps a Diamond on a discount fare.)
Your members are people, your points are the reward, every time they walk into your hotel or up to your checkin counter they are the same person regardless of rate or fare. An honored guest is an honored guest. Or as PremEx so trenchantly reserved, “I am not my rate!” This deserves to be screamed from the rooftops.
Update: I should add that honoring status benefits on award stays is very much the norm, only Priority Club (that I can think of) has rules which permit a hotel not to do so. Honoring status benefits on Priceline stays is something that Marriott and Hyatt do. No earning towards status, but benefits are provided. Starwood and Hilton do not.