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

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This is the second 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 – basically ‘How does IHG Rewards Club work?‘ – whilst the other will be my subjective view of what is of particular merit.

IHG Rewards Club is the loyalty programme for over 5,300 hotels globally. They operate primarily under the InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Kimpton, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites brands.  The small Regent chain of luxury hotels was added in 2018.  The IHG Rewards Club home page 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.  Except Sweden.

Do I use them?  Yes, but less than I did since I gained Marriott Gold and Hilton Diamond status in the past year.  Those status levels offer specific benefits (guaranteed lounge access, guaranteed 4pm check-out with Marriott) which are sometimes invaluable.

The key benefit of IHG Rewards Club is that it allows me to earn points quickly at mid-market hotels via their regular bonus promotions such as Accelerate and then redeem them for luxury properties.

Whilst status benefits are admittedly weak, even for top-tier Spire Elite members, I get around that by buying InterContinental Ambassador status each year which has guaranteed benefits such as 4pm check-out, albeit only at InterContinental properties.  InterContinental has high quality hotels in the big cities I tend to use most – London, Paris (photo below), New York, Hong Kong, Boston, Dusseldorf etc.

All I am waiting for now is for them to open a beach resort in the Middle East (not happening, there is a 3rd Dubai IC on the way, but this one isn’t on the beach either!) and for the forthcoming InterContinental Venice to finally open.

How does IHG Rewards Club work?

Elite membership levels

It is worth noting that IHG actually runs TWO loyalty schemes. As mentioned above, 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 three elite tiers in IHG Rewards Club are:

Gold Elite – 10 nights or earn 10,000 base points. Only major benefit is a 10% bonus on base points and a welcome gift. You can also receive Gold status for taking out the free IHG Rewards Club Mastercard credit card.

Platinum Elite – 40 nights or earn 40,000 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 Rewards Club Premium Mastercard credit card.

Spire Elite – 75 nights or earn 75,000 base points. Benefits are a 25,000 point bonus for reaching or retaining Spire (or a free Platinum card for a friend), 100% bonus on base points and a non-guaranteed upgrade to a ‘better’ room.

These benefits are undoubtedly weak. In reality, only at Crowne Plaza hotels – where a Spire may receive lounge access – are you likely to receive anything worthwhile.

In most hotels, elite members receive a welcome gift. It is usually the underwhelming choice of a few hundred points depending on brand, or a free drink and snack from the hotel bar. In Hong Kong last year, the InterContinental gave me a HK$135 (£13) food and beverage credit as a Spire Elite member. They also gave me two free drink vouchers for being an Ambassador.  It isn’t exactly life-changing.

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 but it is not guaranteed.

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.

Bonus points do NOT count towards elite status.  It is worth knowing that:

Virgin Flying Club points transfers DO count for status – but not, it seems, Finnair transfers (these are the only two airlines which let you transfer in to IHG Rewards Club)

IHG credit card points earned from spending DO count for status

IHG credit card points earned from sign-up bonuses DO NOT count for status

IHG Rewards Club is generally very aggressive with bonus point promotions, especially the recent ‘Accelerate’ 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 70,000 points in Category 6 (the higher end InterContinental properties in London, New York, Bali etc).  The 70,000 point tier was only introduced in 2018.

You will generally receive better value by redeeming for more expensive hotels but the new 70,000 point top tier has made the differential lower.  Most of the ‘freak’ low valuations, such as 10,000 points per night for the fully refurbished Holiday Inn Wembley in London, have now gone.

There are no discounts for extended stays.

IHG runs regular ‘PointBreaks’ offers. Every three months, 150-200 properties globally are offered for just 5,000 to 15,000 points per night.  If you can be flexible with your holiday plans, there some excellent deals here.  Here is my article on the current batch which are bookable to 30th April.

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 60,000 point redemption would typically require a Gold member to spend $2,000. 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 expire if a) you do not have elite status and b) you have no activity on your account for 12 months. Simply making and cancelling a redemption will count as ‘activity’ and reset your expiry date. I wrote a full article on IHG’s expiry rules here.

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. ‘Cash and points’ is ALWAYS available as an option.

In most cases 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.

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 Mastercard (£99 fee, see my review) gives you automatic Platinum status. The free IHG Rewards Club Mastercard (see my review) gives you automatic Gold status.

Is IHG Rewards Club an Amex Membership Rewards partner?  No. You could transfer your Amex points to Virgin Atlantic and then on to IHG Rewards Club. This is poor value – one IHG point per Amex point is not good – but on the upside the transferred points would count towards elite status.

Purchasing and transferring points

You can buy IHG Rewards Club points from $13.50 per 1,000 via this link.

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.  Virgin transfers count towards elite status but, according to recent reports, Finnair transfers do not.

Because you receive 25,000 bonus IHG Rewards Club points for reaching or retaining Spire Elite status, it would make sense to do a transfer from Virgin Atlantic late in the calendar year if you were only a few thousand points short of Spire.

My opinion

Part two of this article tomorrow will cover my personal opinion of IHG Rewards Club.

(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.)

Bits: BA call centre staff reprieved, the future of Hilton lounges?, Aer Lingus / Alaska partnership
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Comments

  1. Robert says:

    Agree benefits are weak even for top status, although some properties are better than others. IC aside (where my AMB counts) i’ve always had good treatment at most CPs especially the NY TS property where a nice upgrade, drink vouchers for the bar (which pretty much cover any drink you like), and a reduced rate of just $10 for the buffet breakfast (in fact on a couple of occasions i’ve had a free breakfast voucher placed in my room).

    Thanks for the news about IC opening in Venice, I had no idea! The only info I can find is that it’s meant to have opened early 2018, so have you any further details on that Rob?

    • 2019 now – an IHG exec (who is Italian) told me over lunch recently that it is definitely progressing.

      • Rob, did you ask your IHG exec friend if he had heard any rumours of where the other competitors in his industry is going with their Status level perks such as the piece on Conrad possibly changing to paid access to lounges via room rate?

      • Robert says:

        Thanks!

  2. Julie Avenell says:

    Slightly OT . Just stayed at the Kimpton Amsterdam (bar still dark). Got a surprise when I was credited with 10k points as well as the usual points. After looking on the internet Kimpton are offering 10k bonus to IHG reward members to encourage them to use the Kimpton brand. Need to stay before 30 April.

    • Yes, all accounts seem to have had this added. We are back at Kimpton next week for another look after the Eurostar launch event.

      • Genghis says:

        I thought it wasn’t great last time? Noisy etc? Comped stay?

        • Yes, IHG has comped it for next week. We told them Anika was invited on the Eurostar launch trip so they offered us a room, saying that they have now settled down after a dodgy opening (but the road is still there).

        • Julie Avenell says:

          We had a room that overlooked the middle and so wasn’t noisy.Really comfortable room. Our only complaint was that the first two breakfasts was cooked to order and were good. The next two were buffet and were awful. It was a buffet due to the hotel being full on those mornings. We complained and got some money off. However we did have a really good meal in the restaurant one night.

  3. My worst redemptions were ihg in terms of comfort but I have to give credit that they were the only ones available in hot periods
    – Kyoto crowne plaza during cherry blossom : super outdated hotel (30 000 per night :((
    – Rome holiday inn on 31st dec (high points but at least free breakfast and super big bed for 3 ppl)

    Lack of lounges and breakfast at higher properties is a deal breaker for me but I like having them as option when nothing else is available

  4. Genghis says:

    I’ve said it before but the issue with IHG is the inconsistency in the hotels and the programme. I’ve stayed in some decent HIXs, some decent and awful HIs and CPs… had good upgrades in some places, no recognition in others, free breakfast at IC once, lounge access a few times etc etc. In short, you then need to do a bit of research so you know what you might get and can then weigh up other options. It is easy though to rack up IHG points.

    To that end, has anyone used AMB cert at IC Boston recently? Got a stay booked in May and would be good to know what was received. TIA.

    • Didn’t use a cert at Boston but was a Plat ambassador. Early checkin, room upgrade and 4pm checkout. Discounted lounge access.
      Great hotel and even better to have these benefits when it was a BA holidays booking!

    • Sandra says:

      Didn’t use certificate at Boston IC either but status recognised with usual 1 level upgrade free. On arrival we were then offered a harbour view suite with Club access at a very attractive supplement (which we haggled over a bit too as initially it was just the suite upgrade offered) as we were staying a week. We were also given $45 in drinks vouchers as it was a trip for birthday/anniversary/holiday combined. Ask for room on water side as a big & very busy main fire station is opposite hotel on city side & sirens are going at all times of day/night. Top floor lounge is very nice & great staff running it. Enjoy Boston, fabulous city!

      • Genghis says:

        Thanks both.

        • Dave R says:

          I used an AMB cert at IC Boston last April. I booked a club room for 2 nights with the cert and one night in a standard room with points.

          They upgraded us to a harbour view club room for all 3 night so that we didn’t need to change room mid-trip. I had to pay for lounge access on the reward night. The lounge is nice but I thought it strange that they don’t serve any food (other than the usual cookies, nuts etc) in the afternoon’s like most other IC’s I’ve stayed at. Maybe it’s a US thing.

          I also recieved late checkout and water/buscuits as welcome amenity (which I had to ask for)

    • Robert says:

      I was on a one night points stay there last year (bargain considering it was last minute and cheapest rate was $500), got upgraded to a very nice and large harbour facing room, drink voucher, late check out etc.

      lovely property, in a great location.

  5. Roger I* says:

    I’ve long since ceased to expect anything of real value in IC Ambassador gifts and take them as they come. Our 5-night stay at the Sandton Towers IC Johannesburg shows why.

    Mrs Roger and I, both Ambassador members, had the following arrangement for our 5 nights:
    – 1 free credit card night (me)
    – 1 paid night and 1 free w/e night (me)
    – 2 award nights (Mrs Roger)

    Gifts: mine was a useable pair of headphones, worth having. My wife was assured she would also receive a gift for her booking When it came, it was a bar of nougat! 😀 We shared the nougat and, er, she now has the headphones. 🙂

    The 2 mini-lounges were parcel shelves on the 27th floor overlooking the atrium. Staying in a Club floor room and apparently for no other reason, we had free cooked to order breakfast daily as well as evening snacks and bar,

    This used to be my go-to hotel in JHB, alongside the Hyatt Rosebank. At 30k points per night, it’s not bad award value. However with Protea’s properties now part of Marriott, I fee the need to spread by wings a little.

    • Genghis says:

      We really enjoyed the African Pride at Melrose Arch last month

      • Roger I* says:

        That’s on my list of possibles for next month. Thanks for the update.

    • We’re at the IC at JNB airport tomorrow and I’m an ambassador. Hoping for headphones but i’m sure the kids would like the nougat.

  6. Roger I* says:

    typo in penultimate line: ‘fee’ s/be ‘feel’.

  7. I’m done with IHG. Their so called “Best Price Guarantee” is worthless. I found a better deal on Skyscanner for Kimpton in Chicago during the marathon in October and my claim was rejected because booking directly through Skyscanner isn’t possible. This is not in their terms and conditions.

  8. As somebody who is retired but fortunately able to travel a fair amount, compared with my contemporaries, so long as I carefully select my spend, the IHG range of Hotels are decent value. I use a Holiday Inn Xpress in Colchester and one near Gibraltar and they are both good value and treat me like a real friend when returning.
    For me being a Spire member works and I also both black and white (for my wife) credit cards which work well for me.

  9. RussellH says:

    I think that IHG get treated rather poorly by some on here. In my experience, IHG is the only chain to give anything at all to those on first rung status (IHG Gold, Hilton Silver etc.) In the UK and Europe we **always** get something as IHG Gold, while at Hilton, Radisson or SPG it is just a few (10% or 15%) extra points. Sure, the higher levels in other schemes may give more than IHG, but there is no way either of us could ever reach them without buying it via a fee paying credit card.

    We have a last minute booking at an HI next week because of a funeral; 10 000 points for a £75 room. We know from experience that they will give us 300 points for our Gold status before we get there, offer us free drinks or another 300 points and almost certainly get both . Last year at the same place we always got free drinks for both of us (and, indeed, did every other IHG hotel we stayed at apart from two, which we under the same ownership (one was the CP Gatwick in Crawley, but the room was only £45).

    IHG may well be disappointing for those with Spire status, but at the bottom level, and bottom level pricing, say <£55, even one free drink, let alone two is around 20% of the bill and very well worth having.

    • Think it is to some extent because a large number on here travel on expense accounts wanting the maximum from hotel/airline. They forget many of us are not in the same position so fully agree with you.
      I have collected IHG points for, at a guess, the best part of 20 years over which I have had some really good stays using points collected.

    • Fair point.

  10. how does $2000 spend accrue 60k points before promotions? I thought a gold would get 20k+2k?

  11. I find IHG laclustre as theu treat status holders so badly. Until the start offering lounge access to Spire holders my money will always go toward Hilton/Marriott

    • RussellH says:

      Fair enough if you are Spire, but if you are Silver Hilton or Marriott, then IHG is clearly better in terms of status recognition.

      Of course, as always, the crucial point to consider is location. If there is only one hotel brand where one needs the hotel, then that one will get the business!

      And I have have to admit that currently Hilton has been working well for us, but only because we have needed to be in / around Newcastle. Four nights this year for £160 cash plus 52 000 points. Earnings 31 640 points, half of which are promotional bonuses. A fifth Hilton in a couple of weeks should bring in another 12 000 bonus.

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