What would make IHG ‘Spire Elite’ a compelling tier?

We previously wrote about IHG’s introduction of its long awaited new top tier status, SPIRE ELITE.

Spire

The press release (which came later) shows how out of touch IHG are with the market.

As part of the launch of Spire Elite, IHG Rewards Club has relaunched its Rewarding Experiences Digital Hub (ihgrewardsclub.com/rewardingexperiences) to showcase the experiences available to IHG Rewards Club members all over the world and across all four IHG Rewards Club membership tiers.

Because online advertising bloatware is going to drive stays at hotel.

So what about the rationale for the name (emphasis added)?

 About the Spire Elite name
‘Spire’ is derived from the old English word ‘spir’ – a shoot or a stalk of grass standing out amongst the others. It is awe inspiring, exceptional and a symbol of prestige. It conveys a sense of dedication and an aspirational attitude: going above and beyond; the sky is the limit. The name connotes a strong sense of prestige, elevated stature, and worthiness of admiration, along with a sense of dedication and an aspirational attitude, which is in line with how IHG Rewards Club sees its most loyal members who would qualify for this tier.

This surely takes the cake in loyalty branding. It is at least a hundred times stranger than Air New Zealand’s November 2013 renaming of their top tier as simply ‘Elite’.

The press release also quotes Susanna Freer Epstein, SVP Customer Loyalty, IHG as saying: “the feeling that you’re recognised for being special is what IHG Rewards Club aims to deliver to with the launch of Spire Elite.”

From our perspective, the new tier doesn’t come close to achieving that feeling.

However, IHG do state on their website that new benefits will be rolled out:

Even More to Come

New benefits, bigger rewards and an enhanced in-hotel experience will continue to be rolled out beginning in 2016.

We are concerned by the delay. When better than to further devalue points then when bringing in new top tier elite benefits?

Spire2

To be competitive, IHG need to introduce some of the benefits other hotel chains offer to their top tier members. Take for example any of the bolded benefits offered by the below competitors:

SPG Platinum with 75 nights

  • Your choice of welcome gift upon arrival — choose from bonus Starpoints, continental breakfast or local amenity.
  • An upgrade to best available room at check-in — including a Standard Suite.
  • Complimentary in-room, premium Internet access.
  • Complimentary health-club, Club-level and Executive-level access.
  • Your24™ — have the flexibility of choosing your check-in. For example, check in at 9 p.m. and check out 9 p.m. on the day of departure.

 Hilton Diamond

  • Complimentary Premium Internet access.
  • 1,000 HHonors Bonus Points per stay.
  • A complimentary continental breakfast for you and up to one additional guest.
  • Executive Floor Lounge Access irrespective of room upgrade.

Hyatt Diamond

  • Enjoy the best room available upon arrival, excluding suites.
  • Receive exclusive access to the Regency Club or Grand Club lounge featuring complimentary continental breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres. Enjoy daily complimentary full breakfast in hotels without a club lounge.
  • Treat yourself to a suite upgrade at the time of reservation four times annually on eligible paid nights.
  • Receive a special welcome point bonus or food and beverage amenity during each stay.
  • Stay connected with complimentary premium Internet access where available.
  • Extend your stay until 4:00 p.m.

What about InterContinental Ambassador?

InterContinental offer its Ambassador program for an annual fee of US$200. It comes with a BOGO certificate (buy one get one weekend night free when paying full rates) at InterContinental properties, plus the following benefits:

  • Guaranteed 1-category room upgrade
  • Fresh fruit upon arrival
  • In-room water and gift
  • Single-room rate for double occupancy
  • Extended checkout—up to 4pm
  • Dedicated Ambassador check-in area
  • Complimentary pay-TV film per stay
  • Complimentary use of in-hotel health club facilities

On top of this, it has been possible to earn Royal Ambassador status by staying 60 IHG nights in your Ambassador year with 20 of those nights to have been stayed at least 3 InterContinental brand properties. We expect that these numbers are about to rise to 75 and 30 respectively, although IHG have now changed the Ambassador terms and conditions to read (and in such haste that they left two fullstops next to each other):

Royal Ambassador Criteria: Royal Ambassador status is by invitation only. SCH reserves the right to change the invitation criteria at any time and without prior notification.. Rewards Nights do not qualify towards Royal Ambassador status.  

Royal Ambassador members seem to have all been comped Spire Elite status.

Royal Ambassador upgrade at the InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile

Royal Ambassador upgrade at the InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile

In addition to the bonus points, the other benefits of Royal Ambassador over Ambassador boil down to:

  • Guaranteed upgrade to executive room, Club InterContinental room or suite
  • Complimentary mini-bar beverages, during stay
  • Guaranteed room availability, 24 hrs in advance
  • Early check in from 8am

It is important to note these benefits are not applicable on award nights (thank you for your loyalty).

A good Royal Ambassador upgrade: the Ambassador Suite at the InterContinental Boston

A (rare) excellent Royal Ambassador upgrade: the Ambassador Suite at the InterContinental Boston

We don’t tend to use the last two benefits. Exercising the guaranteed room availability just results in an obscene rate being applied. Arriving early at any five star hotel of any chain, we tend to find we get a room promptly anyway (although perhaps not guaranteed by other chains).

The complimentary mini-bar beverages is nice although largely a gimmick. Some properties, such as the InterContinental Kuala Lumpur, remove most of the alcohol in the mini-bar before allowing a Royal Ambassador into the room. Others don’t have very good mini-bar selections. We usually use the benefit just to get a few waters and soft drinks. A good club lounge provides essentially the same thing.

Royal Ambassador mini-bar at the InterContinental Kuala Lumpur

Royal Ambassador mini-bar at the InterContinental Kuala Lumpur

And so all we are really left with is the additional bonus points and the ‘guaranteed upgrade’. Regretfully more and more InterContinental properties are giving the bare minimum upgrade, which usually just means Club access with no room upgrade. If you want a slightly nicer room then you can kiss your Club access goodbye. How is this better than Hilton Diamond or Starwood Platinum?

Junior Suite upgrade as Royal Ambassador, InterContinental Singapore

Junior Suite upgrade as Royal Ambassador (no Club access granted), InterContinental Singapore

A number of times we have got to our room as a Royal Ambassador member and discovered our upgrade is only one-category: the same as would have been given to an Ambassador member. Even so, these benefits are light years ahead of what is being offered for Spire Elite members.

We are interested in our readers’ thoughts on IHG’s elite recognition. Please leave your comments below.

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