One of the major trends we’ve seen in the hotel industry recently is hotels emphasizing that they want you to book directly with them. When you book through an online travel agency, hotels have to pay a big commission, and that’s an area where they feel they can cut costs.
That’s why hotels have been doing everything they can to encourage you to book directly with them.
For example, most of the major hotel chains now offer member only rates, the intent of which is that you get a small discount when you book directly with the hotel. Many consumers are under the impression that you get the best deal through online travel agencies, though now hotels are emphasizing that they have the best rates for their rooms.
IHG Rewards Club has just sent out an email to members, explaining their latest change to get members to book direct. This initiative doesn’t come in the form of adding benefits for those who book direct, but rather taking away benefits for those who don’t. IHG Rewards Club has announced that as of January 1, 2017, members must book directly through IHG in order to take advantage of IHG Rewards Club benefits. Here’s the wording of the email:
We’ve made a change. Effective 1 January 2017, members must book directly through IHG® (IHG.com, IHG® App, IHG® brand sites, corporate travel sites, Central Reservations, or Hotel direct) and not through other travel booking sites in order to take full advantage of the benefits that come with an IHG® Rewards Club membership. Why? We want to give you the best travel experience—from start to finish—every time. And we can only do that when you book with us directly.
I interpret this as meaning that you can’t receive benefits when booking through wholesale online travel agencies. I suspect programs like Citi Prestige Fourth Night Free, Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, Virtuoso, etc., won’t see a change in benefits.
In late 2014 IHG Rewards Club changed their program terms to indicate that you could no longer earn points on bookings made through online travel agencies. Furthermore, IHG properties don’t technically have to honor elite benefits on third party bookings, though many still do.
So my guess is that in practice we’re not seeing much of a change here, since technically you already don’t get points or elite benefits on third party bookings. Instead I’d guess that this is more of a marketing technique by IHG than anything else, where they’re trying to do everything they can to get you to book direct.
Lastly, can I just point out how loyalty program marketing drives me nuts? Here’s IHG’s explanation for why they’re taking away benefits from members:
Why? We want to give you the best travel experience—from start to finish—every time. And we can only do that when you book with us directly.
Yep, they’re doing it for you!
What do you make of this IHG change? Am I missing something, or are they mostly just reinforcing the existing rules here?