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

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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, PointBreaks discounted redemptions, free Platinum Elite status with the £99 fee credit card, credit card points and transfers from Virgin Atlantic count towards 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, although I am currently having a phase away from them. 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 and you are reliant on elite benefits to make the most of your stay – 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 if you are Spire Elite.  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.

You will get a few hundred bonus points or a free drink and snack on each stay if you have status.  This is a terrible deal at most hotels if you are Platinum or Spire Elite (being given a free Kit-Kat as a reward for being top tier is not exactly generous) but, arguably, it is a decent return for bottom rung Gold members, especially those who get it from the FREE IHG Mastercard.  Hilton Silver – the equivalent Hilton tier – doesn’t get you any real benefits at all.

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 very 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 an anomaly in the IHG rewards chart that works to your benefit. Reward nights are capped at 70,000 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 70,000 points, although I accept that a ‘fresh’ HIX with free breakfast is perfectly acceptable for many people.)

The PointBreaks offers every three months are also excellent valuein fact, it is the best hotel loyalty scheme redemption promotion200 or so properties are offered for just 5,000 to 15,000 points per night.  If you can plan a trip to correspond with a participating property, you will get a very good deal.  Some people are unhappy that the cost is now 5,000 to 15,000 points rather than just 5,000 points, but the truth is that the selection of hotels offered at 5,000 points had become laughable.

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.  I am very keen on Marriott’s approach of often offering better rooms on points at the time of booking for a small additional cash payment.

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 with no local credit card, 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.

Transfers from Virgin Flying Club to IHG Rewards Club (1:1 ratio) also count for status.  IHG Rewards Club is the only hotel scheme which lets you earn status by counting points from some partners.  Make a 75,000 miles transfer from Virgin Flying Club and you are top tier Spire Elite.  Do it in January and you’d have the status for 23 months.

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.

For 2018 I have Hilton Diamond, via their status match, and Marriott Gold (guaranteed lounge access and 4pm check-out) via my SPG Gold which is via Amex PlatinumThis is reducing the time I spend with IHG despite my top tier status.  It is unlikely that I will retain either of these in 2019, though, and I imagine that I will be back with IHG as my first choice.

(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: extended BA lounge guesting for Easter, Radisson Blu and Park Inn sale, £15 Lufthansa discount code
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Comments

  1. Some CPs have stopped giving lounge access to spires in the past few months

    • Mr dee says:

      Rather harsh as it is such a new perk most don’t even know about it instead I have a free drink and some nuts they usually put on the tables

    • +1
      I didn’t get lounge access at CP Heathrow despite being upgraded to Exec room. It wasn’t too much of a problem as I got to hotel with just half hour left of evening drinks service.

      Conversely, I stayed at HI Mumbai this week and was upgraded in room and given lounge access. Must say this HI was spectacular and one of the best I’ve stayed in. Having previously stayed at the Intercontinental Mumbai I’d happily give that a miss and stop here.

    • As a Platinum I got a complimentary upgrade to club room and club lounge access at the CP Nottingham. The CP was slightly more expensive than other hotels in Nottingham that night so I called up IHG and requested if lounge access could be comped and they said yes without any pushback. It probably helped that it was a last minute booking (I booked at 2pm for a room that evening).

    • Martin says:

      Where is this happening? I use 4 regularly and have still had access to them all

  2. John O’Sullivan says:

    Bizarrely the thing I enjoy most about IHG is not being guaranteed anything. We have had a couple of completely unexpected amazing upgrades/ benefit packages from IC on reward nights, other times at CP’s barely an acknowledgement of status. Currently ambassador as this year I retire, my wife retires and it is our 30th wedding anniversary. I’m expecting to be well looked after at the IC’s I’ve booked. I got Ambassador for 17k points, 32k minus 5k accelerate target, minus 10k sign up bonus. Points are relatively easy to acquire for the IC stays, including the “free night” for the paid credit card. I like using the HIE in Exeter and the Indigo in Cardiff for the stay at x number of our brand targets.

    IHG get money off us for the paid elements of our stays/meals etc. Overall we stay in better standard hotels than we would usually at a significantly reduced rate and get a range of bonuses when we do so.

  3. Rob, this comment “It is unlikely that I will retain either of these in 2019” about SPG/Marriott/Hilton statuses.

    Why would you not retain them at gold level at least when I thought you always kept an Amex plat? Or do you expect that perk to stop?

    • I will keep Hilton Gold via Amex Plat but that doesn’t give lounge access.

      I would be shocked if Marriott kept Gold status in their new programme as a benefit for Amex Plats – it is just too generous (unless the benefits are cut) given the guaranteed lounge access and 4pm check-out. It would be worth getting a Plat just for one long stay given the cost of lounge access is usually £75 or so on top of the standard room rate.

      • I’d be aware though that for weekend stays Marriott lounge access can be non-existent.

        Stayed at one in Brussels last weekend and they didn’t even refill the fridge in the lounge all weekend, so some soft drink,, a coffee machine and that was it. Comped breakfast in the restaurant and a 25% off voucher for other food was all that was provided. Not the first time that’s happened. Amsterdam was the same.

        Late checkout was very useful though and you can now request the late checkout and have it confirmed on the app which was great.

      • But surely if the SPG Gold/Marriott Gold goes for Plat customers, what point would there be for anyone to take the card? The earning rate is already lower than the Gold owing to travel spend and the other statuses are not great at all. Furthermore, the offers are rarely better either and is more to do with pot luck.

        • It is not up to Amex, it is up to Marriott and whether they want to devalue their status this way. Remember that Marriott had no Amex relationship at all before buying SPG, either here or in the US.

  4. Scottex says:

    If you regularly stay in the same properties, your IHG loyalty works a treat with sometimes welcome amenity points & a free drink on check in. Don’t be too hard on IHG, there are lots of freeloading individuals who would turn up to the opening of a fridge door if it meant something free inside.

  5. Hello. In your post yesterday. You said the credit card spending doesn’t count toward the Statius?

    • Genghis says:

      “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”

      • Jimbob says:

        The points you get from spending on the card count, but not the bonus points for spending £200 in the first 3 months

  6. Not often I disagree with your comments Rob and I’d agree with the UK ones, but I stayed at the CP Bruges last weekend (I’m currently Platinum), paid for a basic double room and was upgraded to a Junior Suite.

    Quite often in the USA I get upgrades to suites – HI Chicago Mart Plaza 2 x suite upgrades on points stays, Holiday inn Express & Suites brand in Wisconsin was memorable, I think I paid $70 for a king room and ended up in a 2 room suite with 3 TVs (one in the bathroom)

  7. Andrew says:

    I have no idea why IHG have an issue offering free breakfast to Spire menbers, like myself. The issue for IHG is that it influences my decision also being a Gold Hilton Honours member because if the properties are a similar price, I will always opt for the Hilton. There must be many more doing the same which surely can’t be good for IHG.

    As my elderly parents live in Weston-super-Mare we spend a lot of time at Cadbury House Hilton Double tree & they also give my wife & I free drink vouchers as well as a family room upgrade & free breakfast……just trying to get a free drink voucher for my wife at some IHG properties is like squeezing blood out of a stone!!!

    • Alex W says:

      Loved Cadbury house. Went for the Marco Pierre White redemption and it was great, really nice spa which was free.

    • the_real_a says:

      They really need to find a way to charge for breakfast when on expenses and free breakfast when on own money. Maybe a compromise is free breakfast on redemption bookings…

      • That is what is clever about Hilton ‘My Way’ for Golds. You can choose EITHER free breakfast or 1,000 points (worth £3!). Travelling on expenses, though, and it is smart to take the 1,000 points plus the points you get for paying for breakfast.

    • John O’Sullivan says:

      When we stayed at the IC park lane last Dec they gave us free breakfast. It was about £35 per person!

  8. Dougie Forde says:

    I currently have the free IHG credit card (and the Gold status that goes with it). If I upgraded to the paid card, would I be likely to receive an additional bonus?

  9. OT: Is it better to transfer Amex Rewards points to Hilton Honours or Starwood Preferred Guest (and then possibly to Marriot)? Is there any difference in the value?

    • Genghis says:

      It’s only valuable if you think it’s valuable depending on your travel goals. If you have lots of points in a variety of schemes, however, 1 MR->2 HHs = c.0.8p or -> 1.5 Marriots = c.0.75p as a rule of thumb but it depends on what you want – i.e. you might have lots of Marriotts and have identified a travel package…

  10. Drolma-la says:

    We’ve stayed now at a few ICs – Chicago, Monterey, New York Times Square – and I can only describe the experience as ‘faux’ luxury. There’s a penny-pinching feel to it. They have been very gracious, though, about accepting an additional night or two on points tacked onto an Ambassador weekend.The basic Ambassador weekend room-rate is considerably higher than their best IHG member rate, and at Monterey it made even a long stay with three free nights quite expensive. I appreciate IHG status benefits when racking up Accelerate stays at Holiday Inn Express properties in the States, where they are very good about suite upgrades in properties with more than just standard rooms.

    • Arnold says:

      +1 Getting lumped with a 12.5% service charge on top of a £5 tray charge for room service at IC o2 was pretty irritating.

  11. Arnold says:

    The bottom line is that I’d never consider paying for breakfast separately on a reward stay, it’s rarely worth the money and the cost defeats the point of a free stay. With Hilton it’s always free. Also, Hamptons have gyms, HIX don’t. The IHG website is pretty naff also and stays are frequently missed or take weeks to log. Hilton website much better. Hilton wins.

    • Lady London says:

      Hilton Garden Inns seem to have a gym too.

      I think I may be going through the same stages as Rob! But I’m not sure I will revert to IHG. IHG Accelerate offers, bar one, have been ridiculously unfulfillable and out of proportion to my historical spend for the past two years. Additionally Points Breaks, even with the option to pay 10,000 or 15,000 points just introduced (that’s a good thing btw!) has still overall been seriously downgraded. It’s very hard for me to book an IHG hotel right now as Hilton and Marriott are just looking more attractive. And there is SPG waiting in the wings with a decent credit card and nice promotions.

      Additionally IHG has sneakily repeatedly increased the points required for some pretty average or even below-average properties to the level where it’s simply not worth booking them on points. Those properties’ cash rates are more reflective of the quality. But by then I’m putting the same cash into a nearby Hilton property instead. Actually staying with IHG doesn’t give much.

      So unless Accelerate offers become reasonable and unless the Points Breaks at the 5,000 or 10,000 level improve next time round, I just can’t see myself booking anything other than Hilton properties in the mid-market level this year.

  12. capkor says:

    Currently staying at crowne plaza in hiroshima with pointbreaks and as a gold my welcome amenity had 2 options, free breakfast on the japanese restaurant or the buffet or acces to the lounge, so pretty good benefits, the best i have receives wver as a gold member

  13. Martin says:

    IHG offering free breakfast to Spire Elites would be a huge move on their behalf and it would come at minimal actual cost to them. The only thing that encourages me to stay more at IHG hotels over a Hilton is the cost of their redemptions which tend to be way less than at Hilton.

  14. Adrian says:

    I’ve moved over the years from gold to plat to spire and finally I’ve reached the top of the mountain, only to find that someone has nicked the flag!
    Sweet spot appears to be CP with lounge access and upgrades (some of the posts above say this isn’t so though). I have 500,000 points that I’m struggling to get value from, I’ll use them in the USA on HI and HIX, but I’m no longer actively looking to accumulate IHG points. Like a lot of people on here my spend this year is split between Hilton and Marriott (based on quality/price/location of individual hotels). Free breakfast is the biggest deal for me, lounge access is nice too.
    A classic example, OTP first class fare to PHX (thank you flyertalk) so we are going to have 2 days and a look around BUC. IC is 100e per night, so i enquired about lounge access, this was the reply
    “Greetings from InterContinental Bucharest and thank you for choosing our hotel!
    It is my pleasure to inform you that the costs for Club Lounge access is 50 Euro / person / day.”
    So i booked the Hilton Athnee palace, admittedly in the sale, for 90e per night and that rate included lounge access and we should then get an upgrade to a suite (next category).

    • Genghis says:

      What’s your spend price for IHGs? I redeem if I’m getting around 0.4p/IHG all in (taking into account value of breakfast etc at alternatives) otherwise I would never get rid of the points.

      • I want a bit more than 0.4p generally but I redeemed at that for the SFO IC a couple of weeks back. They comped the one breakfast we had. Don’t really know what that was about. They never asked if we wanted to pay for the lounge….we didn’t.

    • Down the Back says:

      Writing this from Hilton Phoenix airport as currently on OTP-PHX run. I can recommend Hilton Bucharest, stayed there on Thu night and Lounge was excellent, told me at check in hot food and alcohol was 6-8 but when I left at 9.30 they were still serving both. Top tip is take an Uber, 35 Lei (£7) to hotel and 30 Lei (£6) back to airport, traffic was very bad in the afternoon approx 50 mins to hotel but only 20 mins leaving hotel at 6.30am back to airport.

      DtB

  15. OT- Can I use my IHG points to book hotel accommodation for a distant relative and their family (four of them in one room)?

    • Yes (assuming you can find a hotel where a base room sleeps 4, London has a few). Easiest thing is to book for 2 adults and add the name of the 2nd guest – an option on the website – to be the real guest.

      • Though I have noticed that (some time last year) all the ‘sleeps 4’ rooms now seem to be coded to have max occupancy of 3 for some reason. The hotels seem absolutely fine with there being 4 of you, what with there being two double beds and all. Very odd.

  16. Suzanne says:

    Stayed at the InterContinental resort in Da Nang, Vietnam, for a few days last week. Luxurious private rooms, all sea facing with large terraces. Recommended.

    • Hi Suzanne this is a redemption I’m considering as the hotel looks fantastic. My only reservation is the weather as I’ve googled quite a bit and rain and/or overcast seems common all year round. How did you find it when you were there? I would appreciate your feedback thanks!

  17. This is interesting you are saying that as I was TWICE upgraded (being a Gold member) to a much better room (once to a Deluxe room and the other time – even to an Executive Suite which is bigger than my London flat!) at Holiday Inn Moscow Sokolniki. This included an upgrade to VIP breakfast while paying for a normal one.

    Also – at CP St Petersburg Ligovsky I received (again as Gold) both bonus points AND a voucher for a free drink and snack for three years in a row.

    Maybe, they are just more generous in Russia, I don’t know, but I should say that IHG properties in Russia are generally a notch better than in the UK or especially in the US.

    But there was another curious episode from November last year when I was in Moscow with a British colleague. I already had Spire Elite and he had NOTHING. But he got an upgraded room and access to a lounge while I received NOTHING. The Holiday Inn Moscow Lesnaya hotel receptionist just gave me access to the lounge out of pity when I complained – “in order for you to be able to join your colleague”, but not because I had status)

  18. Harry says:

    I’m amused to read the upgrade/perks in the above comments as I have to agree with Rob in the lacklustre IHG status perks. Been spire ambassador last few years, most stays are in major cities in CP/Intercontinental, hardly any real perks to mention. My stay nights are quite low relative to status, so I wonder if they take that into account.

    I travel mostly for leisure with family and I wonder if there could be a map out of “nice” IHG properties (I’m particularly interested in Home Counties/Southwest/midlands). Maybe nice places to take the family on a mini mattress run (during accelerate). The thing about IHG is there are some very dated HI/HIX properties to avoid. On the contrary I can’t say there are too many SPG hotels I’d say no to…

  19. Recent stays at CP Belfast and CP Basingstoke as Platinum have both attracted free club access. CP Belfast was when it was on pointsbreaks for 5k/night and I enquired in advance how much the supplement was for club access. They replied straight away saying it was complimentary due to status. CP Basingstoke (the old Hilton) proactively offered Club.

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