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 Platinum Elite status with the £99 fee credit card, credit card points and transfers from Virgin Atlantic count for status
Weak points – status benefits are a joke except at some Crowne Plaza hotels, benefits rarely apply to InterContinental hotels which have their own Ambassador programme
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 at an InterContinental. You need to pay for their Ambassador membership scheme.
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 and 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 Spire Elite status is now incredibly difficult to earn. You would need to spend $7,500 (£6,000) excluding VAT to earn 75,000 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 outside London means that – when bonus point promotions are running – it is easy to run up points very cheaply, via mattress runs if necessary.
There is currently an anomaly in the IHG rewards chart that works to your benefit. Reward nights are capped at 60,000 points so luxury hotels tends to give a better ‘pence per point’ ratio than cheaper IHG brands. 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. That isn’t a good deal when the InterContinental Park Lane is only 60,000 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. The problem is that these deals are rarely available for key cities but it is handy if you want a cheap weekend in, say, Doncaster.
What don’t I like?
The ‘free’ internet for elite members can, in some hotels, very slow and you are ‘encouraged’ to pay to trade up.
The benefits of Spire Elite 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 this brand tends 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 Premium credit card and you are immediately Platinum Elite. If you are French, you have little choice but to spend $4,000 excluding tax 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 impressive new builds knocking around. The new Manchester hotel, reviewed here, is a template for future new builds. 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 unless you are short of status points.
The UK IHG credit cards do offer decent sign-up deals of up to 20,000 points, although these do not count for status. Day-to-day spend points earned from the credit card do count for status, confusingly. This means that you can earn Spire Elite status by spending £37,500 on the IHG Premium MasterCard. 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.