In the world of hotel marketing, offering special rates for loyalty-program members who book direct with the hotels is the tactic du jour. Since Starwood deployed its members-only rates late last year, Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott have followed suit. To that list can now be added InterContinental Hotels Group.
Beginning this week, members of InterContinental’s IHG Rewards program can take advantage of members-only Your Rates when booking direct. Here’s how the new rates are described in the IHG Rewards terms and conditions:
Member-exclusive Rates. An IHG Rewards Club member is eligible to book exclusive rates available only to IHG Rewards Club members, provided the member books his or her stay at an IHG hotel through one of IHG’s websites (including mobile sites), the IHG app, IHG’s central reservations office, or at an IHG hotel’s front desk. Availability of member-exclusive rates varies by brand and region.
That struck me as vague, bordering on vacuous. In response to my request to InterContinental’s media representative for specifics, I received the following:
Your Rate will be the lowest rate for individual IHG Rewards Club members who are not qualified for a corporate rate, group rate or other discounted rate per the rate terms. For all IHG brand hotels in the Americas (excluding Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants), Your Rate will take the form of a discounted rate between 2% and 6% when members book direct.
So, a discount of between 2 and 6 percent. That’s a substantive claim, and potentially enough of a savings to be worth pursuing.
In random test-bookings on IHG’s website, Your Rates were reliably lower than IHG’s Best Flexible Rate (free cancellation, no deposit required), typically representing a savings of 3 percent. But in some cases, the early-booking rate (non-refundable, deposit required) was lower than the member-only rate.
There are, then, discounts to be had by joining IHG Rewards and booking direct. But there might be even better discounts available for those willing to book early, pay a deposit, and risk losing that deposit if they have to cancel their stay.
No doubt members-only rates, bundled together with free WiFi and points-earning, are tipping the balance somewhat in favor of booking away from online travel agencies like Expedia and Booking.com. That’s the point: Hotels want travelers to deal with them direct. But until the discounts are heftier, and more predictable, comparison shopping will remain a key part of the travel-buying process. And for that, online travel agencies are still the way to go.
Reader Reality Check
Book direct with the hotels: Yay or nay?
After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.