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 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

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 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.

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Promos’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

My review of Etihad's A380 First Class Apartment (Part 2)
Bits: Hilton / Amex cashback, bonus Avios with stationery, Avios debit card now available again
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Comments

  1. As IHG operate as a franchise, the standards vary from hotel to hotel.
    My best experience so far was with Holiday Inn Moscow Sokolniki. This hotel is a way better than any other HI in the world I’ve stayed at (especially the UK ones which are generally shabby and outdated).
    I only have Gold status but on my stay with HI Moscow Sokolniki in October 2016 I got upgraded to a junior suite and on my second stay in February 2017 I got upgraded to an executive suite! This was 80sq m and this was far larger than my Moscow flat. The hotel is officially 4* but has a spacious spa and two-tier breakfast – normal and premium (for guests with status, Gold counts too!). And location is very good.

  2. Optimus Prime says:

    Can you combine the Ambassador voucher with IHG reward points? i.e. book 4 nights at some IC over the weekend and pay just 1 while the other 3 are covered by voucher plus points?

    • The AMB voucher needs to be used over the weekend – so you could pay for Friday use the certificate for Saturday and then book Mon & Tues on points for example. It’s debatable whether they would allow you to stay in the same room on the 2 points redemptions nights (you’d have been upgraded from what you booked on the Fri and Sat) – some hotels will others won’t. On here it’s been reported that Le Grand in Paris has allowed you to remain in the same room but IC Singapore not.

  3. Graham Walsh says:

    Just in the CP Times Sq on a redemption now. Clearly no upgraded room but I did get the Platinum Elite breakfast buffet voucher. $10 instead of $40. Nice view over Times Sq. Just about worth $10. Certainly not a $40 breakfast. Thankfully the kids were free too (6 and 4) so a good value breakfast IMO.

  4. Calvin Chen says:

    I agreed with the points make in this articles. I have been a Platinum for almost 4 years and it is incredibly difficult for the Elite Spire status and in fact do not offer much more than the Platinum. Although it’s membership programme indicate that Platinum will get 1 grade upgrade on the room booked but this is not always the case. No offered breakfast for platinum is a joke. I am trying to switch to Hilton Honors as work travel are more or less on HH programme and benefits is far better I guess. IHG need to step up their programme to retain their members…..

  5. Have to agree the points break hotels are getting fewer and far in between, but if you get in quick sometimes you can work a trip to benefit. I did 7 nights (35K points) at Staybridge Suites, West Chester, Cincinnati, Ohio which was a cracking deal as included breakfast daily and two evening buffet nights, plus they upgraded me as a Spire Elite member. So its always worth checking as soon as they come out, and if you want multiple days you may need to do each day separate as I did for the above. I visit the Mid America Truck Show in Louisville each year and always book my hotel 10 months in advance but always use Best available or points which give you opportunity to cancel, as last year when the points break came out, the HIE Louisville North came up so I grabbed 3 nights (15K) and cancelled my original booking.

  6. The terms of the IHG Permium MasterCard are the same as the IHG Barclaycard Visa both of which are not very clear to understand. The offer is below:
    •4 IHG Rewards Club points for every £1 you spend at any IHG family of hotels
    •4 IHG Rewards Club points for every £1 you spend abroad
    The thing to remember is that if you are a UK resident and travelling in US if you stay at an IHG hotel and pay the your IHG Credit Card you will only receive 4 IHG points per £1 for that stay, not 8 IHG points, so to be honest you could stay at a non IHG hotel and receive the same amount of points. I had an example last month where I normally stay in Candlewood Suites, Nashville, opted to stay in Extended Stay USA in Nashville for 30 nights, saved over $1200 and received 4 IHG points per £1 for the stay as it was a spend abroad. OK I did not collect any IHG points at the hotel but whatever I would have earned would not have been worth $1200. I think IHG really are missing out by only allowing one or the other for that offer, as I now use other hotels where there is a significant price difference.

  7. Must say a big thank you to “Binman” on here followed his article submitted claim on secure messages for £145.23p with threat of ombudsman if not a satisfactory resolution and received a telephone call from Barclaycard Customer Services within 30 minutes agreeing to credit me the amount I had requested. So if you were part way towards your 10K spend and a free night on 20th April then you can claim on a pro rata basis. Check out the link it is self explanatory and is only what you should be entitled to.
    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/28004795-post1420.html