What is the best hotel scheme? – IHG Rewards Club – The Facts

This is the fourth of our overview series of the main hotel loyalty schemes. Each scheme will be covered over two articles over two days. One will list the basic facts of the scheme, the other will be my subjective view of what is of particular merit.

IHG Rewards Club is the loyalty programme for over 4,700 hotels globally. They operate primarily under the InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites brands. The rewards programme was renamed from Priority Club in 2013. The IHG Rewards Club homepage is here.

What is the geographic spread? Excellent. IHG is the largest chain in the UK, with a huge number of Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express properties. They also have excellent coverage across much of Europe, and there are few places in the world where you will not find one of their hotels.

Do I use them? Heavily. For me, IHG is the perfect rewards programme. It allows me to earn points quickly at mid-market hotels via their regular bonus promotions, and then redeem them for luxury properties. InterContinental has high quality hotels in the big cities I tend to use most – London, Paris (photo below), New York, Hong Kong, Berlin, Boston, Dusseldorf. If they could rebuild the Frankfurt one and open a beach property in Dubai (there is an InterCon at Dubai Marina opening soon!) it would be almost perfect.

IHG Rewards club thumbnail

Elite membership levels

It is worth noting that IHG actually runs TWO loyalty schemes. There is a fee-based loyalty programme for InterContinental properties called Ambassador. I reviewed the benefits of InterContinental Ambassador here. This means that IHG Rewards Club benefits are NOT great at InterContinental hotels as they favour Ambassador members.

The two elite tiers in IHG Rewards Club are:

Gold – 15 nights or 10 nights across 3 brands or earn 20,000 base points or pay $50 for immediate Gold. Only major benefit is a 10% bonus on base points. You can also receive Gold status for taking out the free IHG Visa credit card.

Platinum – 50 nights or 40 nights across 4 brands or earn 60,000 base points. Benefits are 50% bonus on base points and a non-guaranteed upgrade to a ‘better’ room. You can also receive Platinum status for free by taking out the £99 IHG Premium Visa credit card.

These benefits are undoubtedly weak. In reality, only at Crowne Plaza hotels – where a Platinum may receive lounge access (but also may not) – are you likely to receive anything worthwhile.

In Europe, Gold and Platinum members receive a welcome gift although InterContinental properties seem to be phasing this out.  It is usually the choice of a few hundred points depending on brand, or a free drink and snack from the hotel bar.

All guests at IHG hotels receive free internet – it is not an elite benefit.

Platinum members can roll over their additional elite nights into the following year to aid requalification. Gold and Platinum members can request late check-in and check-out.

Suite upgrades are NOT an elite benefit.

Rewards nights DO count towards renewing elite status.

The full table of elite benefits is here.

IHG Rewards Club does not offer lifetime status.

InterContinental Paris Le Grand

Earning points

Most brands earn 10 base points per $1 spent. It is only base points that count towards elite status renewal.

Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites give a reduced 5 points per $1.

IHG Rewards Club is generally very aggressive with bonus point promotions, especially the recent ‘The Big Win’ and ‘Set Your Sights’ offers. Our ‘Hotel Promos‘ page contains details of current promotions.

Spending points

Redemption rates for hotels run from 10,000 points in Category 1 (the cheapest Holiday Inn Express properties) to 50,000 points in Category 6 (the higher end InterContinental properties in London, New York, Bali etc).

You receive substantially better value by redeeming for more expensive hotels – in London, a Holiday Inn Express may be 35,000 points whilst the InterContinental on Park Lane is only 50,000 points.   The odd freak result gives outstanding value – eg the Holiday Inn Wembley, fully refurbished in 2013, is only 10,000 points per night.

There are no discounts for extended stays.

IHG runs regular ‘PointBreaks’ offers. Every two months, 100 or so properties globally are offered for just 5,000 points per night, a discount of up to 95% on the usual rate. If you can be flexible with your holiday plans, there some excellent deals here. A friend stayed in a Crowne Plaza, with free club lounge access due to his status, for a whole month for just 150,000 points!

IHG does NOT have ‘last room availability’. Hotels are required to make 5% of their rooms available for redemption each night, but do not need to offer more when that quota is booked.

A 5-star 50,000 point redemption would typically require a Gold member to spend $1,700. However, because of the heavy number of IHG bonus point promotions, the actual spend required would be substantially less.

Points expiry

IHG Rewards Club points do not expire.

Can you upgrade using points?

No.

Some hotels put multiple room categories up for redemption on quiet nights, for example Standard and Deluxe Rooms. There is no additional points cost if you choose a Deluxe Room even though it would be more expensive if bought for cash.

Are ‘cash and points’ redemptions available?

Yes. IHG is, I think, the only chain where ‘cash and points’ is ALWAYS available as an option.

You can use $70 to reduce the number of points required by 10,000 points, or $40 by 5,000 points. This is not necessarily worth doing, however, since you can buy points at the same price at any time in the future if you need them (see ‘Purchasing & Transferring Points’ below).

Airline redemption options

IHG Rewards Club point can be transferred to a large number of airlines including Avios. The ratio is a weak 5:1, however.

If you did not want to use your points for hotel stays, you may get better value cashing out for UK retailer gift cards. 4,500 points gets you a £5 online e-code for Amazon etc.  You will never get better than 0.16p per point this way compared with 0.5p per point if redeemed smartly for hotel rooms.

Can I earn Avios directly without collecting points?

Yes, see ba.com here. You can earn Avios by showing your British Airways Executive Club card at check-in – the amount will depend on which IHG brand you are staying with. You will not earn any IHG Rewards Club points. However, you must still be a member of IHG Rewards Club in order to do this.

Credit card partnerships

Can you get elite status with a UK credit card? Yes, the IHG Rewards Club Premium Visa (£99 fee, see my review) gives you automatic Platinum status. The free IHG Rewards Club Visa (see my review) gives you automatic Gold status.

Is IHG Rewards Club an Amex Membership Rewards partner? No

Purchasing and transferring points

You can buy IHG Rewards Club points for $13.50 per 1,000 via this link (scroll down for IHG).

As long as you have a 5,000 point balance, however, you can buy points for $7 per 1,000 in a roundabout way. You need to book a redemption night at a 15,000 point per night hotel, choosing to pay using 5,000 points and $70. After booking, cancel the reservation. Your $70 is not returned – instead you receive 15,000 points back into your account. You are $70 out of pocket but 10,000 points better off.

Points can be transferred to other members at a cost of $5 per 1,000. This is reasonable and I have done it in the past to move very small amounts for ‘nearly empty’ family members.

You can transfer Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles into IHG Rewards Club points at a ratio of 1:1. You can also transfer Finnair miles to IHG Rewards Club at a ratio of 2:1.

My opinion

Click here for Part Two and my overall opinion of IHG Rewards Club.

(To see our complete list of current IHG promotions, click here to visit our ‘Hotel Promos’ page or use the link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

The new SPG Suite at the 02 - an outstanding non-travel redemption
Details of the new Priority Pass and Lounge Club lounge at Stansted revealed
About Head for Points

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Comments

  1. It’s a shame all the lucrative stacked bonuses have disappeared with IHG (or if not totally gone have become much more risky to use than they used to be!) however I’ve found availability to be generally very good – had an excellent stay at the IC San Francisco for 45k points a night. This was at the time of a major conference, so rooms were selling for cash for the same dates for $2,100 for the three nights – I therefore redeemed at almost 1p/point!

  2. I think it an excellent scheme for the casually business or leisure traveler. If you are a heavy user of hotels than in recent years this scheme is not so lucrative.

    The reason is the lack of bonuses. Raffles says in the article, “IHG Rewards Club is generally very aggressive with bonus point promotions”. This may be the case for the infrequent traveler.

    However, if you are already showing high levels of activity on your account, your bonus targets will be set pretty much out of reach. The last 3 large bonus schemes they have had have been pretty much impossible for me despite achieving over 60 paid nights per annum.

    This means that I have pretty much only earned based points (and platinum bonuses) in the last couple of years. This is a poor return.

    I would compare this with Marriott were the bonuses levels available actual increase the more I stay

    I agree redemption opportunities are good once points have been accrued. However conversely, status recognition and benefits are poor compared to its peers.

  3. Would there be anything to prevent using SPG for passing Virgin Miles to Avios?

    I’m going to end up with about 10k VM at the end of the year so not sure what the best way is to use them. I’ll have about 200k Avios by then so would probably rather add to this than try and make an additional redemption on flying club. Unless there is a better use for these points (I never normally fly virgin, I am getting the points through Virgin Holiday)

    • No, it works. The rate is rubbish though – 10k Virgin = 10k IHG = 2k Avios. A better deal would be to redeem the Virgin miles, if you get 12500 of them, for a £50 Virgin Voucher which can be used with various companies, not just Virgin ones.

  4. Paul Irving says:

    If I have the free credit card, can I apply for the fee one also and get the 60,000 bonus points?

    • Good question. I don’t know, to be honest. However, the 60k offer ended on 31 March so that is academic for now, the offer is back to 20k.

      • SoloFlyer says:

        As Raffles said the offer has now ended but I can confirm that I got approved for the Fee Card whilst having the Free-Free Card. Still currently have both….need to cancel the white one!

  5. I’ve found that with Platinum I never get free breakfast at UK properties, but in Europe I always get a free breakfast when staying on points. Anyone else noticed this, or have I just been lucky/unlucky?

    • Werner says:

      I’ve never had that anywhere – unless you were staying in a Holiday Inn Express, in which case breakfast is free for everyone.

      Free breakfast in other properties is certainly not an advertised top-tier benefit of IHG, unlike with Hilton or Marriott.

  6. Given how bad the traffic is to get on and off, that is unlikely unfortunately!

  7. Janet Thomas says:

    My husband and I both held the free IHG Rewards card and both of us successfully applied for the Premium and gained the 60,000 bonus points – no doubt HFP will report if they run the offer again.

    • Hi Janet. Thanks. When you say ‘held’ (in the past tense) do you mean that you had applied for AND CANCELLED the free card before you got the paid card, or did you hold both the free and paid cards at the same time?

      • Janet Thomas says:

        Sorry for late reply to your question Rob – we did not cancel our free IHG cards when we applied for the premium ones. I suppose we should cancel them now though.

  8. Romano says:

    Raffles: do you know if status benefits (for what they are worth) are available if booked via a third party? Spurred on by a much earlier post of yours I’ll be basing myself at the Crowne Plaza Marlow whilst taking the family to Legoland. However, Legoland themselves are offering to book the hotel and tickets for a lower combined price than if booked directly and separately?

    Also – anyone else found they’ve hit the Platinum target of 60K in a calendar year but haven’t had their elite status upgraded? Just noticed I was on 65K points and within the ‘calendar year requirement’ but still sitting on Gold status and sent them an email.

    Finally, with the points and cash way of purchasing 10K of points for $70: does this automatically get credited as points to your rewards balance or do you need to ask them to refund points instead of cash? I would have thought they would have automatically refunded the cash payment unless otherwise requested.

    • Thunderbirds says:

      You are less likely to get status benfits if booked via a third party as the rates paid to the hotel are likely to be lower.
      IHG IT system are a bit slow and error prone, however, as long as you have 65k in the Elite Qualifying Points Earned category rather than the Total Points Earned category then you will be upgraded eventually.
      If you pay for a room with points and cash they credit you with the points purchased for the $70 then deduct the full amount for the room in points. If you cancel the room you get the the full amount in points returned no cash at all is refunded.

      • Romano says:

        Thanks for the reply Thunderbirds.

        Still quite new to this and didn’t realise the difference between Elite and Non-Elite Qualifying Points*. Alright… that doesn’t put me quite as far ahead as I thought :-) And given the Elite benefits aren’t the best it doesn’t look worthwhile to go after, will stick to surfing the promotions when to rack up redeemable points.

        * From there Terms:

        “All other point earning transactions, including promotional points, points vouchers, points purchase, points transfers, and points deposits, will be considered Non-Elite Qualifying Points and will not be counted towards elite status.”

  9. Never realised I could get Avios by showing my BAEC card. I’ll have to carry it in my UK wallet.

    From the last 2 promotions, I’ve got 50k points and 2 free nights. I shall probably use these for a cheap week in NYC and DC in the May. Just trying to decide exactly where I’m going.

    • Romano says:

      Fenny – or if you have an iOS or Android phone you can use the digital membership card included in it so you don’t have to physically carry it around if you don’t want to:

      http://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/ba-on-your-mobile

      • As BAEC are still completely unable to reset access to my account, I can’t actually log in to my phone app. But thanks for the tip. I’m off to stay in Birmingham in a couple of weeks, as I can’t get a train back after watching Avengers:Age of Ultron at the IMAX, so if my BAEC account is available then, I’ll try that. Meantime, I’ll stick the card in my wallet.

        • Think Square says:

          Missing password reset emails? If so, I’ve just solved this by using the link to change the email address – this appeared to fail, but a subsequent reset password email arrived at the new address.

          • I’ve tried to change my email, but there are some errors in their data and it won’t accept the first line of my address!!! Even the Customer Service person couldn’t understand this and passed it to IT services. That was last Friday and repeated contact via twitter hasn’t made any difference. I’m still unable to access my account and I’m incredibly not happy.

  10. Thunderbirds says:

    Free breakfast and Club Lounge access are not advertised benfits of IHG Platinum because they are local benefits provided by the individual hotels. Only room upgrade is generally available as standard (assuming availability). CP Heathrow used to give upgrade, club lounge access and full breakfast until the beginning of this year. The letter I got from them removing the Club Lounge access as a benefit was predicated on the ‘increasing number of Platinum members’. Now given the fact that they removed bonus points from quailfying totals I can only assume that this increase in Platinum members is now being driven by the Credit Card benefit of Platinum for having the £99 credit card.

    • Martin says:

      I’ve been a platinum for a number of years now maybe 4 or 5 but probably stay no more than 10 nights in CP and have received Lounge access once and even then it was a redemption booking. Always got a room upgrade though.

  11. songfuny says:

    Does anyone know the lounge in IHG hotel better or Hilton one is better ?

    • Don’t know about the quality, but Hilton definitely has much more lounges than IHG does.

    • Think Square says:

      I’ve never been in an IHG lounge, but the Hilton ones are so variable it would be hard to say which is best anyway.

  12. danksy says:

    I never knew about the Avios either and have stayed probably 20 nights funded by myself over the last 12 months!

    On the upside with the platinum card with me and SWMBO plus staying at some very cheap hotels to trigger the various (into the nights and set yoursights) promo bonuses we’ve managed to get a week at the Holiday Inn Waikiki beach; plus a couple of hundred thousand points left over too!

    Love this scheme for cheap stays but Hilton better for status recognitiion IMHO

  13. avioscollector says:

    what is the best way to earn avois through hotel stays?

    • No single answer. Some chains give a flat amount (eg 500 per stay) whilst others base it on spend. Cost of stay is therefore key. You also get bonus promos which skew it even more.

      You won’t find a hotel chain which offers you 3,000 Avios for £200 spend, however. Even the current Carlson triple points deal only earns roughly 1,800 Avios for £200 spend.

  14. Alan C says:

    Currently at the Crowne Plaza Deira in Dubai again. 25,000 a night on points for one room and approx 80 pounds a night on the paid room. One room upgraded to a huge Junior Suite and both rooms have Club Lounge access. Great when bar prices at 8 pounds a pint. Buffet food is fantastic. 4 hot items – beef strips, tikka chicken and breaded fish with a pasta option too. Both of us Platinum with one via the Premium 99 pounds card and huge targetted bonus’s.
    15 years straight Diamond at HHonors and no way near Lifetime due to single night stays. IHG the way to go if guaranteed lounge access was in stone.

  15. I received a Platinum card a couple of weeks ago for IHG in the last year I’ve stayed in the crown plaza in Copenhagen for maybe 5 nights max and two nights in a holiday inn in nottingham. So not really sure why they have sent me a card,

    It may at least make me push my travel team to select IHG hotels going forward,