Link-bait headline aside, I wasn’t quite sure how else to describe this story. FlyerTalk member zaunstar was staying at an InterContinental hotel in Beijing for 34 nights and had a final hotel bill of over $9,000. Anticipating this when he checked in, he signed up for the IHG Rewards program at the front desk. IHG promises 10 points per dollar to base members and up to 20 points per dollar to top-tier Spire elite members.
But when he checked out he only received 1,000 points, not 90,000.
The reason is that IHG Rewards states on their enrollment brochures that new members will receive 1,000 points for their stay when they sign up at the hotel.
If you enroll in IHG® Rewards Club at the time of your initial stay in any IHG branded hotel excluding ANA partner hotel worldwide, you will be awarded 1,000 points for that qualified enrolling stay.
That’s not an additional 1,000 points. It’s 1,000 points, period.
I don’t want to make this a blame game or a consumer advocacy case. Rather, I think it’s a useful lesson about the importance of fine print and showing up prepared. My opinion is that IHG Rewards offered what was promised and what makes sense from a typical business perspective, but it clearly looks absurd in this particular exception.
Why does this make sense? A new member who enrolls at the hotel wasn’t really incentivized by the loyalty program to stay there in the first place. The points are a freebie. In many cases the difference is small enough. Consider a two- or three-night stay, probably at one of IHG’s many cheaper brands like Holiday Inn Express. Let’s be generous and call it $500. How many people will complain about the difference between 5,000 points and 1,000?
There’s obviously a big difference when the customer was expecting 90,000 points. I think zaunstar has some room here to reach out to the hotel or IHG’s corporate office to ask for reconsideration. I don’t know of any other hotel loyalty program that has this first-stay limitation. Many airlines, in fact, allow you to save a boarding pass and claim credit up to six months after travel.
That doesn’t mean I won’t be proved wrong by another fluke exception. What you should take away is that it’s something that could easily be avoided in the first place, perhaps even by registering during the booking process. I’m a member of several loyalty programs in which I have few, if any, miles and points. Sometimes it’s so I can transfer points from another program and redeem them immediately. But more often it’s because they store my information, making it easier to track reservations. Or because creating a free account with a car rental agency is sometimes the easiest way to shorten the wait because they already know you don’t want insurance. Or for the sake of programs like Avianca LifeMiles that target their best offers to pre-existing members.
But if I had one piece of advice for anyone planning an extended hotel stay, it’s that you should sign up for the hotel’s credit card before you go. You may not use it to pay for the trip, but many credit cards include some kind of elite status. Status means bonus points. The Platinum status that comes with the IHG Rewards credit card — or, even better in this case, purchasing InterContinental Ambassador status — would provide an easy 50% bonus or 45,000 additional points.
As an added bonus, that credit card application will automatically generate a loyalty program number for you if you didn’t have one already. 😉