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Is IHG Rewards Club the best hotel loyalty scheme? (Part 1)

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This article is part of our overview series of the main hotel loyalty schemes. Each scheme will be covered over two article. 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 5,600 hotels globally.  It operates primarily under the InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, voco, 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 and Six Senses was acquired in early 2019The 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.

IHG Rewards Club

Do I use them?

Yes, but less than I did since I gained Marriott Titanium and Hilton Diamond status in the past year.  Those status levels offer specific benefits (guaranteed lounge access, guaranteed 4pm check-out with Marriott, a more reliable chance of a good upgrade) 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.  The recent Regent and Six Senses acquisitions show a deliberate push to grow the high-end segment.

Whilst status benefits are admittedly weak, even for top-tier Spire Elite members, I used to 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, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf etc.  I let it lapse in 2019 but will probably go back once my Marriott and Hilton status falls away.

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.

Is IHG Rewards Club the best hotel loyalty scheme?

Elite membership levels in IHG Rewards Club

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.

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.  I remember a Holiday Inn getting excited about giving me a drinks voucher AND an orange Jacob’s Club biscuit once ‘because it’s Christmas’ (which it was).

All guests at IHG hotels receive free internet – it is not an elite benefit.

Platinum Elite and Spire Elite members can roll over their additional elite nights into the following year to aid requalification – details are here.  Gold, Platinum and Spire Elite 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

How do you earn IHG Rewards Club 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 no longer count for status – they did until mid-2018 but no longer

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

This article looks at exactly which sorts of IHG Rewards Club points count for status and which do not.

IHG Rewards Club is generally very aggressive with bonus point promotions, especially the quarterly ‘Accelerate’ offers.  Our ‘Top Hotel Bonus Points Offers‘ page contains details of current promotions.

If you can hit your targets, you will probably find IHG Rewards Club more rewarding in terms of pure points earning than any other scheme – but far worse in terms of status and recognition.

How do you spend IHG Rewards Club points?

Historically, redemption rates for hotels run from 10,000 points in Category 1 (the cheapest Holiday Inn Express properties) to 70,000 points in Category 13 (the higher end InterContinental properties in London, New York, Bali etc).

The new InterContinental Maldives was been priced at 100,000 points per night.  This will hopefully not set a precedent.

In 2020, IHG Rewards Club started rolling out revenue-based pricing.  Whilst the old caps remained in place, rooms are reduced in points price on nights when the cash rate was lower.  At the time of writing (August 2020) this is still a work in progress and has not been rolled out to every city.

There are no discounts for extended stays.

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 70,000 point redemption would typically require a Gold member to spend just over $6,000. However, because of the heavy number of IHG bonus point promotions, the actual spend required would be substantially less.

InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam

Do IHG Rewards Club points expire?

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.  I wrote a full article on IHG’s expiry rules here.

Can you upgrade using IHG Rewards Club points?

No.

Some hotels put multiple room categories up for redemption on quiet nights, for example Standard and Deluxe Rooms.  A few are even more generous – Holiday Inn London Camden Lock puts its Penthouse Studios up as a redemption, for example, at the usual 45,000 points per night.

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 $140 to reduce the number of points required by 20,000 points, or $70 by 10,000 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).

IHG occasionally runs promotions which sees the cash element of ‘cash and points’ tweaked.

Can you convert IHG Rewards Club points to airline miles?

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. 4,000 points gets you a £5 online e-code for Amazon etc. You will never get better than 0.125p 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.

IHG Rewards Club mastercard

IHG Rewards Club UK credit card partnerships

Can you get elite status with a UK credit card? Yes, the free IHG Rewards Club Mastercard (see my IHG Rewards Club Mastercard 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.

Purchasing and transferring IHG Rewards Club points

You can buy IHG Rewards Club points from $10 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.

What is my personal opinion of IHG Rewards Club?

Part two of this article – click here – covers my personal opinion of IHG Rewards Club.

Comments (30)

  • TGLoyalty says:

    The do actually have a beach IC in the ME

    Doha.

  • the_real_a says:

    IHG credit card still seems to be auto-declining anyone who has held the card previously…

  • Andy says:

    As always, HFP gets the gist of it right.

    Nevertheless, I feel the article underestimates the value of Ambassador. It gets you free Platinum Elite status. It is essentially free if you use the weekend voucher smartly. And it gets you 10% rebate on point redemptions (including at non-IC properties) from year 2. That rebate is valuable as IHG is a points-driven program and it’s all about earning and burning.

    • Rob says:

      I had Ambassador for about 10 years! Was just getting harder to use the voucher although the ability to buy bigger rooms / suites should not be underestimated.

  • LKB says:

    I have an existing IHG ‘regular’ card (with a substantial credit limit) and just tried to upgrade it to a ‘premium’ card… My credit-score is also perfect! I called IHG/Creation beforehand to clarify how to go about doing so, and was told it’s a ‘simple’ case of just applying for the uprated card – even though I have an existing IHG CC! Wrong! Their external reference agency (obviously) takes account of existing credit limits and declined my application!!! IHG/Creation can’t or won’t tell me why it was declined! It certainly isn’t because of the credit-score! I was just told to apply again in six months time! I asked if I could massively reduce the credit-limit on my existing card to see if that helps, but they can’t tell me one way or there other; so I’m between a rock and a hard place! If I feduce the credit limit; there’s no guarantee of it being increased again if I fail in another application!!! Not a happy bunny!