Why I Still Love Priority Club Even Though Their Elite Program Frustrates Me

Intercontinental Hotels offers perhaps the most rewarding elite level of any chain. You pay to join their ‘Ambassador’ program but the level you can earn is Royal Ambassador. And this in many ways is the most lucrative elite level there is: not just 4pm late checkout, but also guaranteed 8am check in; suite upgrades that often aren’t capped and can yield the biggest and most impressive suites; free drinks from the minibar (not to mention a free pay movie if you want it and free internet).

I’ve had some of my absolute best suites from Intercontinentals over the years — from the Presidential suite (twice) in Manila, a Diplomatic Suite in Bangkok, Ambassador Suite in Singapore, a Terrace Suite in San Francisco at the Mark Hopkins, to name just a few.

But the program is also frustrating in many ways. Most benefits — such as upgrades and early check in — do not apply per the terms and conditions to reward nights. So you stay and earn points and when it comes time to redeem those you can feel more like an unwanted guest than a valued one. Compliance with the program is tricky, some hotels have been known to create special room categories to weasel out of the upgrade benefit (does a fax machine in a standard room make that room ‘executive’ and thus the only upgrade required?). Still others will clean out the minibar before the member gets to their room.

Finally it’s a small program, since there aren’t a ton of Intercontinental properties. It’s a part of the Intercontinental Hotel Group, which also owns Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and others. But the rest of the hotels use Priority Club, whose Platinum status may come with Royal Ambassador but offers few true perks under the program’s terms and conditions (though some properties do go above and beyond).

Overall I find Intercontinental and Priority Club to be the most frustrating program. You can’t even spend extra points to get better than a base level room as an award night, which makes the lack of elite benefits on award stays doubly frustrating.

And yet points are so darned easy to earn with them. Because they run so many promotions which are ostensibly targeted, but which often times anyone can sign up for, and which wind up being completely stackable.

I’m going to lose my Royal Ambassador status at the end of the year, after 7 years. I haven’t been staying at many Intercontinentals. And it used to be easy to get referral certificates where existing Royal Ambassador members could gift you the status (and often you would get a certificate in your referred Royal Ambassador membership kit where you could gift it back). But those certificates have become fewer and farther between in recent times.

But I was reminded just how lucrative the points earning in the Priority Club program can be, having just completed a typical 3 night stay and earned the following — over 24,000 points:

That’s five different promotions I earned points through on a single stay.

Loyalty Lobby did a nice job outlining the different kinds of promotions that Priority Club offers and which are usually stackable.

The best source for staying up to date with all of the bonuses offered is Priority Club Insider.

But what to do with all of those points? Especially when you can’t count on upgrades except at the benificence of the hotel itself?

In the past one other unique feature of the program was that quite frequently there would be glitches where hotels would make most of their room types available for points, though that doesn’t happen nearly as often anymore.

I’ll hold onto them and an opportunity will present itself for sure.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary ┬╗

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  1. I still find the PC is the best value for redemption in NYC. If all you need is a room in a central location, there are enough of hotels that charge 20-25K points a night (of which if you are a credit card holder you get 10% back), offer free breakfast and internet and right in the middle of Manhattan. This represents the best value I’ve gotten out of PC.

  2. I agree with your viewpoint. It’s frustrating to not be able to get larger or nicer reward rooms even with more points and even at low level hotels like Candlewood. I travel and earn most of my Priority Club points as a single traveler but would like to get a little larger room when I do reward trips with my wife and three kids. No option at most hotels and most of the time no upgrade for being a Platinum and Ambassador member.

  3. I find priority club points to be very flexible and useful for routine, “non-aspirational” stays. I think the points and cash option is useful in extending your points and like how easy it is to gift a stay to someone else. Using the priority club visa is a great option also to maximize your points and I love the free night at any hotel, even Intercontinental and the 10% cash back.

  4. For work, our agency’s biggest office is in KC and I like to Stay at the Incontl @ the Plaza (+ can never seem to get the needed rate at the Hampton Inn Plaza – I’m HHonors Gold) It’s close to office so I pay $100/yr for Ambassador and get the room I like and Exec lounge for Bfast, beers, munchies, desserts, & bottled water. This year got a $50 gift card promo so that paid for half of annual fee. But rate doesn’t seem to give me PC points so not worrying about award problems. And used the annual free weekend nite at LA Incontl Century City upgraded to a really nice terrace suite on my ‘LA on a Whim’ wkend – near Getty Museum Not sure I have a point, but just wanted to share my experience/strategy

  5. It’s not surprising a program this convoluted is run by a British company. But the craziness can work to your advantage. Usually not at the flagship IC brand, where there are few properties anyway.

  6. I am not interested in getting or keeping royal ambassador due to the limited properties and the inability to use status on reward nights. I will keep platinum on priority club. I am a little frustrated that they now make it even easier to get with the chase card giving free status as long as you keep the card… It was pretty easy to get with point bonuses already… Kama huge fan of point breakers. Every year I use at least 7 days at breakers for less than the cost of one high end redemption. I stayed in an upgraded suit in brazil on the beach this year for a week at 35k points. … How do you top that?

  7. First of all, any and all of this is YMMV. I have previously on a different blog stated (for which I got lots of hate) that I am not really interested in collecting miles on virtually any of the big programs like SPG, HHonors Hyatt, Accor, etc. The reason isn’t that they aren’t rewarding. Some of them certainly are. The problem I have with these programs is that when I travel overseas and earn and redeem points, I find most of the properties relatively non-descript in terms of their vibe.

    Case in point…I was in Bali in June and stayed a few days at the Grand Hyatt in Nusa Dua. While the hotel is certainly very nice, we had a very nice room, and the facilities were pretty good, I, my wife, and my kids universally preferred the ICBali where we had stayed the 8 days prior. The reason is simply that the IC felt more like “Bali” and that the service was more personalized. The food was better and less geared towards mass tourism and the prices were lower.

    I have also stayed at the Westin Princeville which we left after 2 nights because the property could have been in Kansas for all I know based on the decor and lack of local feel.

    The MArk Hopkins in SF for example feels very much like you’re in SF.

    I usually try to stay at hotels that have local charm, so SLH is a good program (although there is no earning per se). And as I was doing my homework on other IC properties vs the other big chains, I have added IC Ambassador as another good option for earning and burning.

    While it’s nice having a suite, I don’t find it to be something that bothers me when I redeem for a regular room. I just get 2 rooms when I travel with kids and wife.

    So while earning is nice, the most important part of IC for me is that I feel like I am staying somewhere with a local vibe and that’s ultimately more important than a suite upgrade to me.

    My 2 cents. YMMV.

  8. IC hotels can be frustrating. Last year a family member was diagnosed with cancer, as a result we spent about a month at the IC suites Cleveland Clinic. This was before I knew about the travel point community (I actually discovered this hobby while spending downtime at the hospital). As a result of not being aware of and taking advantage of promos, and the fact that ICH’s actually awarded points per stay at that time, the end point total was something like 18k points after around 30 nights there.
    The staff of IC suites at CC weren’t especially accomodating or understanding, I guess since they deal with hospital patient’s family members frequently, they are inured to such situations and decided to treat everyone equally poorly.

  9. I think the sweet spot is finding Crowne Plazas w/lounges in good locations. (ex: CP Causeway Bay Hong Kong, which upgrades to Club access and free breakfast/internet on award stays.) This is a good value for 25K PC pts.

    The other strategy is to consider these IC award stays as virtual cash + pts stays…whereas the pts cover the base rate, and you use $ to buy up to Club access and/or a decent upgrade. I had a recent stay at the IC GS HK, and it was great. RA status got me a renovated harbourview room, and I paid $ for Club access. Club service was excellent, and it was never crowded. Also, the $ upgrades to a suite were reasonable b/c the base rate is so high.

  10. I left PC after the last points devaluation. Recently stayed 10 nights due to the location of a Staybridge Suites. Focused on SPG…this year SPG instituted their lifetime gold/platinum levels…. perfect timing for me as I just qualified….sorry PC…you were good until the devaluation!

  11. Thanks for tip on the CP Hong Kong, I think that Staybridge in Times Square is an example of excellent value via points.

  12. PC Insider is woefully out of date for codes. Everybody knows that FT is the best place to go for current listing of codes.

  13. At least here in Asia, PC is a reliable program in regards to getting benefits.
    The hotels that don’t honor benefits on award nights are very few – and well known by frequent travellers – so this is in my opinion no big issue.

    Anyway. You can have my referral certificate, if you want, free of course. Email me.

  14. the best program out there, but i hope your articles prompt them to apply RA benefits on award stays, keep the reminders coming Gary

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