There have been a few stories on public and private frequent flyer forums and blogs in the last couple of weeks about IHG Rewards Club launching an aggressive crackdown on people who have ‘abused’ their bonus codes.
As is often the case, this is not the whole story.
What you need to remember is that a story posted on a board like Flyertalk is rarely the whole truth. Sometimes the story is simplified to make it easier to follow. Sometimes the poster misses out incriminating information which would explain why the account was closed.
Sometimes legitimate issues get mixed in with scare stories. One person I knew posted that his account had been closed for code abuse. It turned out IHG had blocked it due to a suspicion that it had been hacked and that all he needed to do was request a PIN reset ….
First, some background.
For at least the last 10 years – yes, that long! – IHG Rewards Club has used promotional codes to drive business. It would create an offer (eg 1,000 points on your next stay) and email it to a few thousand people.
It is a doddle to write the necessary computer code to ensure that only those accounts that are emailed can register. IHG has never – over a decade, remember – chosen to do this. It has become a tradition for people who receive these codes to post them on social media. They have even been posted at IHG’s own online community forum! I summarise them occasionally in posts such as this one.
The head of IHG Rewards Club said in an interview last year on the Loyalty Traveler blog that he was happy for codes to be shared in this way.
What is happening now?
Quite a few stories have popped up on Flyertalk and the like in recent weeks of people who have had their accounts closed. When questioned, IHG has said they abused promotional codes.
Not many people, though. Not when you consider how many thousands use the codes on Flyertalk, Head for Points etc. I only know one Head for Points reader who had problems and they fall under one of the categories below.
Who is having their accounts closed?
Let’s be clear on one thing. At the moment, IHG is not targeted ‘good’ customers unless you bring yourself to their attention. There seems to be NO evidence that people are being picked off at random who have a good record of IHG stays.
The following groups of people DO seem to be targeted:
Chinese people – unfairly or not, IHG has suffered some major problems with promotions, block booking of PointBreaks nights, the resale of reward nights etc from IHG members in China. Chinese accounts appear to be under great scrutiny.
People who have booked reward nights in China – in March, computer hackers block-booked the majority of the PointBreaks availability at some of the Chinese hotels listed. Note that the May list had NO China properties on it. We know that EVERYONE who booked into an InterContinental in China on a PointBreaks award had their IHG account audited. This impacted a HFP reader who had innocently booked it but had also registered for a lot of codes. Their account was blocked.
People who have done no IHG stays but have registered for lots of codes – this is to stop members opening multiple IHG accounts, one for every stay, and registering for all of the ‘one time only’ bonus codes. This can make sense – you could get enough from one stay for a £25 shopping voucher or for a free night in a small town, effectively ‘buy one get one free’.
People who have contacted IHG customer services about anything at all – some reports suggest that customer service agents who answer queries about missing points etc are encouraged to flag accounts if they see anything unusual whilst dealing with the query. That said, I have had a few dealing with customer services this year over a missing stay, a protracted Best Rate Guarantee claim and non-posting of stays to my Big Win and my account is untouched. I am a very long-term member however.
What does this mean for HFP readers?
In general, if you are a long established IHG Rewards Club member, you shouldn’t have a lot to worry about if you sign up for any promotional code you see online.
do NOT have any dealings with IHG properties in China
think twice about contacting Customer Services over missing points etc
think twice about doing this if your account is only a year or so old
think twice if your IHG balance is very large and you are signing up for codes only worth a small number of points (think risk / reward)
(To see our complete list of all current hotel promotions for the major chains, click here to visit our ‘Hotel Promos’ page or use the link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)