World's largest hotel group promises to pay checked baggage fees

"Overpack. There's plenty of room for the maybes and why nots. We're paying"

So urged InterContinental Hotels Group recently in an all-out push to win back customers to its properties this fall with an unusual promotion in which it's offering to pay for guests' baggage fees.

There's plenty of fine print in the offering -- which reimburses guests up to a maximum of $50 for one bag per person per trip based on an airline's fees as of Aug. 13. The promotion is available for guests staying in any of IHG's 4,500 properties -- which include Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and InterContinental hotels -- from Sept. 1 to Dec. 30.

The promotion highlights the tough times that continue to plague the hotel industry, where rates remain stagnant even as airfares creep higher. Domestic hotel rates actually fell this summer by 6%, while domestic airline ticket prices are as much as 20% higher than they were a year ago."I think it is a clever way for hotels to alleviate a point of pain for leisure travelers and draw in customers," said Jami Counter, senior director of TripAdvisor Flights. "It is also set up so that hotels are still able to maintain their daily rates while likely helping shift share."

Hotel executives agreed that the promotion is crafted to help the world's largest hotel chain by number of rooms -- it holds 650,000 rooms in 100 countries and territories -- recover from the Great Recession by capitalizing on travelers' distaste for ever-increasing airline fees.

"The "Check it Free" promotion is designed to make it easier for our guests to take weekend or week-long vacations without the hassle of checked bag fees," said Del Ross, vice president, U.S. Sales & Marketing for IHG. "Continued investment in the business puts us in great shape to increase our share in what is now a market with momentum."

To participate in the promotion, U.S. residents must book a two-night weekend stay using a Visa card. After their stay, they are required to download a rebate form and submit it, with their hotel and baggage fee receipts, by Jan. 31, 2011.

Guests who qualify are eligible to receive up to $850 in IHG Visa prepaid cards that can be redeemed at IHG properties this fall and winter.

Recent surveys found that travelers loathe checked bag fees. About half of 3,200 U.S. travelers interviewed for TripAdvisor's annual air travel survey cited checked bag fees as the "most annoying" current airline add on. An equal number said they often carry on their bag to avoid the charges.

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