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 5,600 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.

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, 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.

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. You can 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.  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 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 ‘Hotel Promos‘ 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?

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 70,000 point tier was only introduced in 2018.

Slightly worryingly, the new InterContinental Maldives has been priced at 100,000 points per night.  This will hopefully not set a precedent.

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 31st August.

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.

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. 4000 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 UK 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.

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.

My opinion

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

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Comments

  1. I have set up my IHG account to auto-convert to Avios. Any idea how to cancel that? I could not find this option on their website

    • I’m not quite sure what you mean by autoconvert. However if you mean earning IHG points for stays instead of airline miles/avios, you can set this:

      sign in to your account
      preferences
      earning preferences
      IHG rewards club points

  2. Scottydogg says:

    OT , but im hoping someone can help me
    i used to use a website that i had saved in my favourites for finding hotel points pricing from all the major hotel schemes . It wasnt 100% accurate but it was helpful .
    It was just a world map and you could set it to say Hilton anf then set the slider to 20,000 and see where you can find a hotel .

    Was saved as a favourite on my old laptop that died

  3. At our recent stay at Staybridge Suites near Heathrow my partner and I got a bottle of cider and a pack of kale crisps as a welcome gift which we thought was a good deal (RRP about £6) instead of 200 points

    • Alex Sm – did you happen to take the free bus there?

      If so, do you remember how far it was from the bus stop on both sides of the street and was there a safe way to cross the street with luggage for the return bus to Heathrow?

      It would be good to know for future trips, For all its faults, the old Holiday Inn Ariel does have traffic lights and a safe pedestrian crossing right outside it. This is what stopped me from trying the new Staybridge / Holiday Inn after a late flight when Rob recommended them.

      • The hotel complex is on the north side of the Bath Road. The bus stop for buses to Heathrow Central (Terminals 2 and 3) is a short walk away on the same side of the road. However, for Terminal 5 (and onwards to Terminal 4 if required), the bus stop is a little further away on the other side of the road, and you will have to cross in two uncontrolled hits – near pavement to central reservation, central reservation to far pavement. Suggestions on a postcard to Hillingdon London Borough Council and the Greater London Authority …

        • Thanks MarkZ. Suspicions confirmed since it is the T5 bus we need and it is always an overnight before long haul flights which means luggage. Will probably stick to the devil we know for now.

  4. There is a further brand specific scheme, although I doubt anyone this side of the pond benefits from it. It’s a left-over from the integration of Kimpton Inner Circle. There is something called Kimpton Inner Circle, with unpublished qualification criteria, but it seems you basically have to be Spire and do a lot of Kimpton stays, even if they don’t quantify this.

    FWIW I’ve been treated very well at Kimptons in the US as a plain Spire. The Salt Lake City property is great.

  5. Actually IHG currently run 3 loyalty schemes. You do not mention Kimpton Karma, which a number of RA’s this yea received top Inner Circle status in and which offers a variety of guaranteed benefits including early check in and check out and some of the best hotel upgrades I have ever had.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Karma is now part of IHG rewards but inner circle does exist as a status.

      Royal Ambassador and Kimpton Inner Circle aren’t loyalty schemes but rather invitation only additional status in the IHG scheme. I feel eventually there will be one for all of the top end brands (Regent, six senses, IC and Kimpton)

      It’s like Bonvoy Colbolt an additional tier rather than a different scheme.

  6. On the recent ihg status match does anyone know how many status points are required to keep Spire Elite without the 10 stays in 90 days?

    This was an option, but can no longer find the figure.

  7. I’m thinking about getting the £99 credit card but it doesn’t mention anywhere about the 20,000 bonus points is that still a thing ?

  8. Lady London says:

    It sounds like IHG would be very unwise to take any steps towards being revenue-based as the IHG scheme is already very uncompetitive in what it offers compared to the benefits offered by other chains.

  9. TGLoyalty says:

    The do actually have a beach IC in the ME

    Doha.

  10. the_real_a says:

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

  11. 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.

    • 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.

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