Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Is IHG Rewards Club the best hotel loyalty scheme? (Part 2)

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In my previous article, 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 solid, bonus point promotions make it easy to earn free nights, PointBreaks discounted redemptions, free Platinum Elite status with the £99 fee credit card, Regent and Six Senses acquisitions boost luxury footprint

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, points pricing getting toppy in some places

InterContinental Cannes

The longer version:

IHG Rewards Club was my dominant hotel loyalty programme for many years and my wife and I still have over 750,000 points between us, 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 reliant on elite benefits (late check-out, free breakfast, suite upgrades, club access) to make the most of your stay, IHG Rewards Club is not the best option for you.

Your elite card won’t get you much at an InterContinental anyway. You need to pay for their Ambassador membership scheme.

Crowne Plaza hotels are better, and you may (note ‘may’) get an upgrade and lounge access if you are top-tier 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 Honors Silver or Marriott Bonvoy Silver or Gold Elite – all equivalent tiers – don’t get you any real benefits at all.

The irony is that IHG Rewards Club Spire Elite status has become increasingly difficult to earn as IHG continually reduces the categories of points which are elite qualifying. You would need to spend $7,500 (£6,250) 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.

Reward nights are capped at 70,000 points – with the exception of the new InterContinental Maldives and a couple of casino properties – so luxury hotels tends to give a better ‘pence per point’ ratio than cheaper IHG brands.

Combined with the fact that InterContinental generally has good properties in the major ‘gateway’ cities, you can use the bonus points you earn cheaply to redeem at very smart hotels.  The recent additions of Regent Hotels and Six Senses – the latter not yet integrated into IHG Rewards Club – increase your options further.

(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 promotion150 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, be 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. There are some impressive new builds knocking around across all of the brands though – you only need to look at the four new Heathrow hotels opened in the last few months (Crowne Plaza T4, Holiday Inn Express T4, Holiday Inn Bath Road, Staybridge Suites Bath Road) to see that.

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 and these points no longer count for status.

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.

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 2019 I have been relying on Hilton Diamond, via their status match, and Marriott Titanium Elite (via the old ‘Platinum Challenge’) for the bulk of my chain stays.  This is reducing the time I spend with IHG despite my top tier status.  It is unlikely that I will retain either of these in 2020, though, and I imagine that I will be back with IHG for some of my business.

Comments (60)

  • Nick says:

    I’m spire and while it is a bit frustrating that none of the benefits are guaranteed, I nevertheless tend to get excellent benefits at CPs. IHG may need to think about this actually because provided a city has a decent CP, it makes more sense to stay there than it does at a IC. So I’ve moved my stays from IC to CP where feasible. With the exception of a recent airport hotel stay where I was travelling solo, I’ve always been given lounge access, breakfast and a significant doom upgrade at every CP- normally to a suite which is a real bonus as we have a toddler. So we tend to end up spending say £100 per night for a suite at a CP with breakfast and lounge included rather than £150-200 a night at an IC and normally paying extra on check in for a suite upgrade and club access. There is an element of “bookoiiik and hope” with it but it’s worked out well for us. The fact that they never seem to withdraw status once earned is very welcome too! I’d probably switch to Marriott as I was really impressed with their scheme that allows you to book a room before you have earned the points.

    • Caroline says:

      I agree with this. Having stayed in nearly every, if not all Hilton’s in Europe with a lounge, and the three DTs in Poland that show how lounges could be run, I find the CP lounges in general to be better than the Hilton offerings. I use the IHG scheme as CP oriented, and HI when necessary are generally better than Hampton or Hilton’s without lounge.

      • Nick says:

        A lot of the CP lounges I’ve been to are pretty limited but again- with a toddler, any lounge with fruit, cake, some sort of sandwich and a high chair is a massive positive and makes a hotel stay so much more manageable. Bonus points for anything (specifically, wine) beyond that really

  • Spurs Debs says:

    If I book a Hilton hotel through BA shop currently 8 points per £ will I also get the points from Hilton ? Or is it one or the other but not both?

    • Dev says:

      Although I have not tried it myself, I gather from a colleague that you get both BA Avios and Hilton points. Hilton is known to claw back the Avios if any upgrade is offered at check in.

      • Spurs Debs says:

        Thanks maybe I’ll give it a try as long as I get main points it will be a bonus if I get the others.

    • Peter K says:

      It’s worth a try but often any way to get out of paying the Avios, Hilton does, but no reason given to you.
      You do get Hilton status benefits while staying however so nothing lost in trying.

      • BJ says:

        I’ve only had a problem (excluding chasing) with two of my last 18 stays put through avios store, and never had the clawback people frequently report. It is not as simple as upgrades though as all my Hilton stays have been upgraded. I think it is just pot luck, I did have to chase my last 10 stays and it is anybodies guess on what basis that two were declined, no logical reason as far as I could make out.

    • Dave Barron says:

      I’ve generally always received my Avios via Gate365 as well as Hilton points (the Avios do take some time to credit following the stay – but provided you don’t use any kind of promotional code it’s not a problem in my experience). As a public sector worker entitled to use code PR11PN then the Avios don’t typically credit – or if they do they often get debited later on! If using Gate365 in conjunction with a standard rate or sale rate they always have credited in my experience).

      • Spurs Debs says:

        Thanks Dave I’m going to book a sale rate this week before it ends on Sunday. As it’s for a week at the Waldorf in Dubai there’s a few points to be had.

  • BJ says:

    OT datapoint: About a week or two ago somebody asked how long it took for points to be transferred between Marriott accounts after failing to see the points trsnsferred instantly. I can confirm that this has been my experience this morning too so perhaps instant transfers are no longer the norm. IIRC the other reader received them within a few hours so if that is now the norm it is not a huge inconvenience.

  • LKB says:

    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!

    • EwanG says:

      Creation customer care should be able to get their underwriters to take a manual look at your new application, particularly if you are willing to move the credit around. Would you offer to close the free card if you are going to be holding on to the paid card for any length of time?

      • JPa says:

        I have also been turned down for the black IHG card instantly on applying, even though I held it about a year ago. Again perfect credit score. I have a feeling that are actively trying to stop high spenders who pay every month from getting it (I believe this is the card that has been mentioned many times that they got the sums wrong with the EU cap, so are probably losing money on every transaction and even more so it you get the free night level of 10K spending).

        I put in a complaint and they are late getting back to me. I still hold the white card like you do.

      • LKB says:

        Thanks for the tip; good idea to try & have the team talk to their brokers. I’ll try that. As for the cards, yes, if I’m successful in securing a ‘black’ card I’d either ditch the ‘white’ card or massively reduce the credit limit and keep the card… just in case I decide to axe the ‘black’ card in the future… Cheers…

      • mvcvz says:

        I very much doubt that Creation customer care would be able to take a manual look at their own underwear without calling in their mothers to provide assistance.

  • Damien says:

    Any news on when we might see Six Senses on the redemption chart?

  • guesswho2000 says:

    For years Hilton has been my chain of choice, and I’m still Diamond, although likely to lose is next year. Diamond recognition, while still good, is less than it used to be, and points creep for redemptions is eroding the value of those too. If it weren’t for the ability to earn stacks of them via the Hilton CC, which will eventually disappear too, that’d be a show stopper.

    IHG on the other hand, as Spire Ambassador is treating me well at the moment. The free night voucher from the CC, the weekend night certificate with AMB (although the rate is higher than it otherwise would be, so it’s not 100% free) and the great promotions are giving me some good results. The ability to use the weekend night certificate on higher level rooms means that a recent IC stay, paid into a Club room, was upgraded to Harbour view. 2xHK$135 F&B vouchers (1x spire, 1x amb), plus 1xHK$70 voucher at a Holiday Inn, were all used and on things I would have paid for anyway.

    Yes, IHG elite status has little in the way of guaranteed, meaningful benefits, but overall the package works for me. Interestingly, there are some guaranteed benefits in Greater China, including lounge access at Crowne Plazas – this includes Hong Kong, which is a frequent destination for me, so works well. Granted, guaranteed benefits only in Greater China is a bit strange, and of limited value to a lot of UK members, I suspect.

  • Mark2 says:

    OT but IHG
    A week or so ago someone asked for advice about IHG in Stratford upon Avon viz. choice between Crowne Plaza and Indigo.
    The Crowne Plaza was built as a Hilton in the 1970s/80s. Some ago it changed to a Holiday Inn and probably 1-2 years ago it become a Crowne Plaza, the main change being the sign outside. It is within easy walking distance of the town and probably has a car park.
    The Indigo was called the Falcon for nearly 500 years. It closed for many months and was renovated at a cost in the millions and has just re-opened. The pictures on the IHG web site do not do the public rooms justice and do not show the exterior. We had our wedding reception there in 1975 and went for lunch last week on our anniversary. There is a very poor picture just before the one of reception but it does not show the wood-fired oven (like a proper pizza oven in Italy) where our shoulder of fallow deer for two was cooked. Probably not suitable for vegans.
    The difference in room rate is less than £5 per night.

  • Cee says:

    InterContinental Ambassador – Can anyone advise?
    If I was to pay and join the IHG InterContinental Ambassador scheme now, would I gain Ambassador status for InterContinental hotels already booked throughout October? (Already an IHG rewards member).