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

In my article yesterday, I outlined ‘the facts’ of the IHG Rewards Club loyalty scheme. This article is my personal opinion, highlighting areas where I think you might want to focus.

The 10-second summary:

Strong points – excellent global coverage at all price points, InterContinental hotels in key gateway cities usually impressive, bonus point promotions make it easy to earn free nights, free internet at all hotels, PointBreaks 5,000 point redemptions, free top-tier status with the £99 fee credit card

Weak points – Platinum status is a joke except at some Crowne Plaza hotels, benefits do not apply to InterContinental hotels which have their own programme

InterContinental Cannes

The longer version:

IHG Rewards Club has been my dominant hotel loyalty programme for many years. This is despite the fact that – by a huge margin – it has the worst elite benefits of any hotel scheme. How do you resolve this contradiction?

The fairest thing to say is probably this – if you are a heavy user of hotels for business, and you are reliant on elite benefits to make the most of your stay, then IHG Rewards Club may not be the best option for you.

Your elite card won’t get you much, if anything, at an InterContinental.

Crowne Plaza hotels are better, and you may get an upgrade and lounge access. A Holiday Inn or HI Express cannot offer you much more than a room on a higher floor or occasionally a larger one than booked. No free breakfast (except for Crowne Plaza guests upgraded to a club room), no suite upgrades, generally no room upgrades.

The irony is that – since the rule change in 2013 which meant that only base points count towards status – IHG Rewards Club Platinum status is now incredibly difficult to earn unless you get the credit card. You would need to spend around $4,000 excluding VAT to earn 60,000 base points. And, in return, you won’t get much!

For the lover of points and free nights in luxury hotels, though, the scheme is ideal. The large number of cheap UK properties (even in the London area you can get the Holiday Inn Express Croydon near East Croydon station for £60 much of the time) means that – when bonus point promotions are running – it is easy to run up points very cheaply.

There is currently an anomaly in the IHG rewards chart that works to your benefit. Reward nights are capped at 50,000 points. Combined with the fact that InterContinental generally has very good properties in the major ‘gateway’ cities, you can use the bonus points you earn cheaply to redeem at very smart hotels.

(Mid tier redemptions are less useful. Most Holiday Inn Express properties in Central London are now 35,000 points per night. You would need to be crazy to redeem for those when the InterContinental Park Lane is only 50,000 points.)

The PointBreaks offers every two months are also excellent value – in fact, it is the best hotel loyalty scheme deal available. 100 or so properties are offered for just 5,000 points per night. If you can plan a trip to correspond with a participating property, you will get a very good deal.

What don’t I like?

The ‘free’ internet for elite members is, in some hotels, very slow and you are ‘encouraged’ to pay to trade up. To be fair, I have never experienced this in my stays since free internet was introduced but it is an issue.

The benefits of Platinum are now totally out of kilter with the difficulty in obtaining it. Free breakfast should be a minimum. The potential for suite upgrades would be welcome, as would the opportunity to use additional points for club rooms or suites.

InterContinental has its own loyalty programme, Ambassador, which I wrote about here. This means that they tend to put a low value on IHG Rewards Club status.

Non-US and non-UK members do not have the ability to get status by taking out the IHG credit card. In the UK, you can pay £99 for the Black credit card and you are immediately Platinum. If you are French, you have little choice but to spend $4,000 in IHG properties.

Like Hilton and Marriott, the oldest brand in the chain – Holiday Inn – tends to have the oldest and dirtiest properties although there are some new builds knocking around. Check reviews carefully before booking a Holiday Inn. The other chains are more uniform, although there are always unwelcome surprises.

IHG Rewards Club withdrew from Amex Membership Rewards a few years ago. This means it is harder to obtain IHG points without staying. You can, if necessary, transfer Amex points to Virgin Flying Club and then on to IHG but the 1:1 ratio is not great. The UK IHG credit cards do offer decent sign-up deals of up to 20,000 points, see our ‘Credit Cards Update‘ page for links.

Finally, it is worth noting that most customer service queries are dealt with via a contact centre in the Philippines. This can make it very difficult at times to get a sensible response to any semi-complex issue.

(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.)

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Comments

  1. IHG is now our main hotel program. Thanks to Set your Sights, a few stays and the credit cards, we now have enough points for 2 rooms, 4 nights at the Mark Hopkins in San Francisco for my mums 60th next year. Without those points (and Headforpoints) this would never have been possible (Also flying in FIRST).
    What I also found impressive, was that I booked a stay at the Crowne Plaza in Manchester and although I used hotels.com, I got a gift of 600 points, an upgrade and lounge access as a Thank you for being Platinum. I would have not expected that.

    • Irons1980 says:

      Reading this really p*sses me off – sorry Kevin – but I have stayed numerous times at the CP Manchester and when in have stayed in a non-club room i have never been given an upgrade or lounge access doh! Oh and I am a Plat Ambassador. However at CP Times Square
      I did get free breakfast every day and was told it was a Plat benefit…

      Otherwise the scheme is good – I have sometimes been upgraded to supposedly superior rooms (got a great one at the indigo Paris last week) as well as drinks / points voucher but generally being Plat is no great shakes… However Ambassador is great especially as on average it only costs me 19,000 a year for all the benefits you get.

      I think the Plat recognition and any extras is basically up to each hotel although I know IHG are trying to standardise it and changes may be in the off…

  2. I suspect I am in the ” lover of points and free nights category” which is why I took out the premium card.
    I have previously bought points and used they to redeem at intercontinental hotels and took the card out with that in mind. It may be enough to choose the brand for UK stays in an effort to build up points and I have also considered trying to gain points with their recent promotions, but the buying points bonus, of 100%,meant I didn’t need to.
    I wonder now I’m platinum, through the credit card, whether the offers will be as generous as I haven’t credited a stay to my account?

  3. Our_Kid says:

    I’m a huge fan of IHG – Platinum status has got me upgrades and drinks vouchers (Hotel Indigo good for this) but I also am enrolled with Intercontinental Ambassador – this is worth every penny due to the free night certificate. IHG definitely my brand of choice.

    I’ve found the Phillipines Contact Centre helpful – use the web form on the IHG site for the best response!

  4. Felix Flyer says:

    I’m a big IHG fan too. Currently in the HiEx Hamilton on points break. As I am an Ambassador it should be 4500 points per night as I renewed at the bonus points and 10% rebate on points rate. Agree with using the web form for the best response for points queries.

  5. I’ve been wondering about Hotel Indigo. IHG newbie here having just taken out the premium visa. What is the Indigo brand like for upgrades/club access etc? Thinking about using Indigo in NYC and Bangkok. Any thoughts?

    • Irons1980 says:

      Indigo Chelsea is ok – good value for NY but European Indigos such as Paris Opera and Birmingham much more luxurious

      • Irons1980 says:

        Should also add, Indigos don’t have lounges and Indigo Chelsea only has a couple of room types and they are generally differentiated by size… rooms are nice, but generally basic (as in most mid-market US hotels)
        Paris Opera is different – got upgraded to a Junior Suite… was a lovely room. Nespresso machine, free mini-bar (soft drinks), robe, slippers, fluffy towels, nice toiletries, etc – very nice. Breakfast was average, although most rates seem to be room only no on IHG…

    • Indigo is, in my opinion, the best IHG brand. It’s a boutique-style brand, which means that even the standard rooms have better furnishings and amenities than all the others, including Intercontinentals. The problem with Intercontinentals seems to be that the standard rooms are rarely anything special – if you get upgraded, then you might be okay, but as Raffles points outs, this is not guaranteed unless you’re part of the Ambassador scheme. The free drinks that come with most Indigo hotel rooms is a nice touch and they will usually upgrade you if you’re platinum, giving you even better amenities such as Nespresso machines.

      The Indigo Paddington in London even offers Executive rooms for redemptions at the same number of points. I would always choose that, at 45,000, over a standard room at the Intercontinental Park Lane, where you get a name, but not much else. The Indigo KuDamm in Berlin is also great – only 20,000 points, so cheaper than the Holiday Inn Express hotels there – and Platinums get upgraded to the Balcony Rooms on the top, with a small ‘terrace’ overlooking the city.

      • I think there is a lack of discussion here of ambassador and royal ambassador. Royal ambassador is by far the best hotel loyalty recognition in my portfolio. Whilst some of the normal IHG rules apply (e.g hit and miss club access), you do get guaranteed upgrades even when booked into suites (with very few specified exceptions), free minibar and broadly excellent in property recognition.

        The IC Park Lane has become a staple since I moved out of London (although I stay in London hotels for 2 to 3 nights per week). As a regular guest I tend to get truly exceptional recognition even on points stays. I have been upgraded to decent suites for 5/6 of my recent stays many of which were redemptions, plus free minibar and highest speed internet (40mbps recently up and down). For those who stay regularly at IHG with a decent proportion of IC stays ambassador is a terrific programme.

        I like indigos too especially the indigo Kensington but they are not up to the standards of the average IC in my experience unless you just want a room and little else.

        • Yes, if you get upgraded to suites, then that’s different.

          Personally, the room matters far more to me than the rest of a hotel – I’d much prefer the best room in a four star hotel to a standard room in a five star, because I simply have no wish to use the facilities that make the hotel a five star. I’d much prefer to eat out, go to bars other than that in the hotel and spend more time exploring the city I’m in.

          • That’s my view too. I’ve never been one for chain hotels before which is why I like the sound of Indigo.

        • Ambassador gets a big push at least once a year. I don’t discuss RA much because it only applies to a few people.

  6. I am also a fan of Indigo hotels. We stayed at the Indigo in Shanghai last year. Excellent amenities and the rooms were fabulous, boutique and personal touches by the staff made for a great stay.

    On another note, I have recently joined the IHG Dining Rewards programme. I believe this may only be an Australasian thing? For a fee you are given an upgrade to the next level of status (i am plat so just kept that status). also a free night certificate for any IHG hotel and dining vouchers. You get 25% off all food and beverages in participating hotels (pretty much all of them) and 10% Best rate.

    I got called and offered a special deal over the phone so they are selling them quite hard.

    see here:
    http://www.ihg.com/diningrewards/gb/en/home

  7. Applied for the premium card on 31 March. Got referred iniitially but the card arrived with no further information requested but with a start date of 04/15. Made a small spend.

    Will I have any problem getting the 60000 points intro offer and when will it show up?

    • Over on Flyertalk most people are saying it takes about 6 weeks to get the 60k. Receive the card, get yours first statement (for the £99 card fee), then a month later you get your next statement, which confirms the spend, and a week or two after that your 60k points should post to your account. Platinum status on your account should be confirmed before the bonus points post (in my recent experience).

      • Got my platinum status last week (shows on IHG app) and haven’t actually used card yet. Barclaycard confirmed £99 will be requested on next statement.

  8. I probably try to use IHG the most for business which gives me good points redemptions for holidays as I think most Hiltons’ in the UK are festering over priced excuses for hotels .

    Out of my 2014/15 points pot, my holiday this year is benefiting from having 2 nights booked in the IC Doha for 35000 points per night and I have 6 nights booked at the IC in Kuala Lumpur for 35000 point per night as well; adding on to the front of the KL booking my free night and upgrade for my Ambassador status. So for a year messing around in IHG hotels on Business and getting the IHG black credit card, it’s not a bad return for the family.

  9. Sebastian says:

    At the moment I mainly use Hilton and Club Carlson but have been looking to get into IHG but have been put off my a few things. Firstly,the HI and HIE hotels, for me, are way over priced for the type of hotel that they are, as normally I can get either a Park Inn or a Raddisson Blu in Europe which normally better hotels and bothalso normally have a lower standard rate (well the Park Inn for sure) and a lot of the time have the 241, which makes them a lot cheaper. Status benifits at IHG are know to be a ongoing joke, which also puts me off, as whilst yes IHG do put on some amazing promotions, this isn’t going to help you when you check-in for your paid stays, as I know at Hilton I get a minimum of breakfast, a one room upgrade and normally lounge access, which again saves me serious cash. For instance, I did ten nights in the Pryamids Cairo for 40,000 points for me and my family and got upgraded to a executive room, thus I saved around £750-900 on food and drink for the trip and got given a massive room with all the extras.

    The promotions for IHG are obviously the major attraction as 50,000 points+ for a three night stay is obviously fantastic, the 50,000 point rate for a luxury hotel night is also good and obviously the 5,000 point sale is absolutely amazing. Nevertheless, I do have a number of concerns, firstly from reading around it seems that once you achieve one or two very attractive “set your sights” types of promotions things start to get a lot harder, is this true? Because it is it seems IHG’s standard earning rate (due to the lack of double points promotions) make it very difficult to earn points without loaded offers. Also, the 5,000 point sale seems to included a lot of lacklustre hotels and do not have many good ones during the holidays, so for someone like me with kids, this kills off the 5,000 sale (although I’ve only been checking recently).

    That said, I do want to move into IHG (for Intercontinental) as I like to spread my points around and I find Hyatt too small a chain, while I do not like Marriott. I find Accor ok, as I’ve Plat status due to my Amex, but they status benifits are also poor and unless you get the odd €160 offer like they did, it’s not that great for redemptions. Although I must say their Happy Monday’s is perhaps the best London hotel offer offered by anyone due to the unbelievable prices week-in, week-out.

    • Thunderbirds says:

      Yes it is true. I’ve completed in full the last two “set your sights” style promotions (including the additional bonus promotion on the one at the end of 2014) and earned a large number of points. However, as a result for the 1Q 2015 promotion the requirements went crazy (including the need to get 7/7 rather than 6/7 of the individual challenges), as a result I’m having to back off and pick off the best bits of the latest promotion and hope this re-bases their calculations for the next one.
      The 5,000 point breaks are incredible if you can get them. Over the last 3 years the selection has become too thin and ‘obscure’ to be of use to most I suspect.
      Earning ability is about the same given the promotions what has changed the game is the disqualification of all bonus points (except credit card?) from the Elite calculation. My earnings rate so far this year is 1:5 Elite to Total. This year due to changing circumstances I may not get Platinum from Elite points but instead the 118 Elite nights I carried across from last year.
      Intercontinentals are great points value and I find the Ambassador program is worth paying for as the benfits are good.

  10. IHG has been extremely good to me. I stayed 4 nights with the “Big Win” promo + some offer codes 2 years ago which I think cost me less than £200 and used the points collected for a total of about 20 nights in London Wembley HI (10000 points/night). Probably saved me over £3000 as that hotel gets oddly expensive some times.

    • Irons1980 says:

      Might it have something to do with numerous world-class entertainment venues in the immediate vicinity of the hotel which might affect its pricing somewhat?

  11. Platinum status has worked well for us at most of the brands. For example recently we were upgraded from a standard room to a Junior Suite on a 5 night stay at HI Edinburgh West. Other examples were great upgrade to a Parlour Suite on points at Indigo San Dieago and great rooms at Staybridge Birmingham. It’s inconsistent what you get but we’ve had great value over the years.

  12. Here at the Crowns Plaza Santo Domingo got upgrade to exec king club room from basic 25000 point room . Only a few people in lounge , which by the way is quite nice.

  13. IHG are my main hotel programme – I tend to stay at HI / CP with work, which allows me to build up a decent number of free nights.

    I have 4 nights at the Staybridge in New York, 5 nights at the HI in Seoul and 3 nights at the IC in Tokyo coming up.

    I have a query … I am a Platinum member but when I log into the app, I am described as “Platinum Ambassador”. I’ve never paid for the IHC ambassador loyalty scheme – is this a mistake? Or incorrect terminology on the app?
    I have checked my status on the website and I am platinum.

  14. In case anyone else is wondering – it takes 6-8 weeks for the 30,000 bonus points on the free card to show up too. Personally I think their website was pretty misleading on how long this would take (annoying as it pushes back my Hilton Visa churn).

  15. Just something that I have been wondering for a while-
    When booking a hotel via IHG website abroad, it seems as if it forces you to pay in the local currency, even for upfront bookings. Am I being daft or is there a way to pay in GBP?

  16. anyone had their hotel nights in Set Your Sights wrongly classified and thus missed their target? weve had one weekend stay wrongly classified as ‘Booked By Phone’ and thus 13 emails, 5 calls later, they still wont reclassify the stay. IHG say i booked with hotel. Hotel, despite messing the booking up 3 times, one including cancelling the whole stay & rebooking the booking to me instead of my wife, say i booked with IHG central reservations on the phone, when i booked online to specifically hit a SYS target.

    just been told the matter is closed and nothing i can do about it.

    ironically they gave me the stays in error, but let me keep them on my account because of the hassle theyve caused and said they would also credit to my wives account to correct the error but now they wont agree the ‘booked online’ part and theres nothing i can do about it. Thats the part that hits her bonus.

  17. Of course, no sooner has Raffles extolled the virtues of the IHG Rewards Club then they announce changes (or should that be “enhancements” 😉 ), including some “adjustments” to redemption levels…

    http://www.ihg.com/hotels/gb/en/global/rewardsclub/member-benefits

    • They don’t even name their new top tier! Very annoying about points expiry after 12 months too.

  18. Hi everyone, I see most of you who have the IHG credit card, have the £99/yr one. Is the free one worth getting or should I just get the Platinum one? We tend to do 3-7 night stays in Europe, 7-9 times a year. Thanks for your comments!!