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Is IHG Rewards 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 articles. One will list the basic facts of the scheme – basically ‘How does IHG Rewards work?‘ – whilst the other will be my subjective view of what is of particular merit.

Our other articles looking at how Accor Live Limitless works, how Hilton Honors workshow Marriott Bonvoy works, how Radisson Rewards works and how World of Hyatt works are here.

IHG Rewards is the loyalty programme for over 6,000 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 home page is here.

Is IHG Rewards good?

What is the geographic spread?

Excellent. IHG has a substantial presence 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 couple of years. 

Why? Because these statuses offer specific benefits (guaranteed lounge access, guaranteed 4pm check-out with Marriott, a more reliable chance of a good upgrade) which are sometimes invaluable. Nothing is guaranteed with IHG status.

The key benefit of IHG Rewards is that it allows me to earn points quickly at mid-market hotels, especially with their regular bonus promotions, and then redeem them for luxury properties.  The recent Regent and Six Senses acquisitions show a deliberate push to grow the high-end segment, as does the ability to book certain hotels from the Mr & Mrs Smith group.

Whilst status benefits are admittedly weak, even for top-tier Spire Elite members, I get around it by buying InterContinental Ambassador status each year which has guaranteed benefits such as 4pm check-out at InterContinental, Kimpton and Regent properties.  InterContinental has high quality hotels in the big cities I tend to visit the most – London, Paris (2nd photo below), New York, Hong Kong, Boston, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf etc.

The acquisition of Six Senses has also brought arguably the best resort in Europe, Six Senses Douro Valley in Portugal, into the IHG fold for redemption.

Is IHG Rewards Club the best hotel loyalty scheme?

Elite membership levels in IHG Rewards

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 benefits are NOT great at InterContinental hotels as they favour Ambassador members.

The three elite tiers in IHG Rewards 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 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 does not offer lifetime status.

How has IHG Rewards adjusted its qualification levels in 2021 due to coronavirus?

IHG’s coronavirus policies can be found here.

Status qualification rates have been reduced for 2021. In addition, IHG Rewards rolled over elite nights earned in 2020. The new thresholds are:

  • Gold Elite – 7 nights or earn 7,000 base points
  • Platinum Elite – 30 nights or earn 30,000 base points
  • Spire Elite – 55 nights or earn 55,000 base points

How do you earn IHG Rewards 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 points count for status and which do not.

IHG Rewards has historically been aggressive with bonus point promotions although it has gone off the boil a little recently.  Our ‘Top Hotel Bonus Points Offers‘ page contains details of current promotions.

If you can hit your targets, you will probably find IHG Rewards more rewarding in terms of pure points earning than any other scheme although the gap is narrowing. It is definitely far worse in terms of status and recognition.

How do you spend IHG Rewards points?

Historically, redemption rates for hotels ran 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) with the new InterContinental Maldives priced at 100,000 points.

During 2020 and 2021, IHG Rewards has been rolling out revenue-based pricing.  This has not worked well.

When Hilton Honors introduced an element of revenue based pricing, it retained a cap on what each hotel could charge. Properties got cheaper off peak but remained the same at peak dates. Everyone won. IHG has not imposed caps, leading to crazy redemption pricing at some properties. There is also little logic to the way that redemptions are priced, with the points cost jumping around from day to day even if cash pricing is unchanged.

On average, you will still – despite revenue based pricing – get around 0.4p per IHG Rewards point on a typical redemption. The removal of caps at peak dates was offset by reducing redemption pricing at cheaper dates. Redemptions at Mr & Mrs Smith hotels seem to have a fixed 0.4p per point redemption rate based on the prevailing cash price.

There are no discounts for extended stays along the lines of the ‘5 for 4’ deals offered by Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors.

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 points expire?

IHG Rewards 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 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 used to put its Penthouse Studios up as a redemption, for example, but this now seems to have stopped.

There is no additional points cost if a hotel chooses to make higher room categories available for redemption.

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 points to airline miles?

IHG Rewards 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, your only option is cashing out for UK retailer gift cards. 4,500 points gets you a £5 online e-code for John Lewis etc. It is very poor value – you will never get much better than 0.1p per point this way compared with 0.4p 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 points. However, you must still be a member of IHG Rewards in order to do this.

IHG Rewards Club mastercard

IHG Rewards UK credit card partnerships

Can you get elite status with a UK credit card? Yes, the free IHG Rewards Mastercard (see my IHG Rewards Mastercard review) gives you automatic Gold status.

Is IHG Rewards an Amex Membership Rewards partner?  No. You could transfer your Amex points to Virgin Atlantic and then on to IHG Rewards but this is poor value – one IHG point per Amex point is not good.

Purchasing and transferring IHG Rewards points

You can buy IHG Rewards 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 points at a ratio of 1:1. You can also transfer Finnair miles to IHG Rewards at a ratio of 2:1.

What is my personal opinion of IHG Rewards?

Part two of this article, click here, will covers my personal thoughts on the good and bad points of IHG Rewards.


IHG Rewards update – July 2021:

Get bonus points: The current IHG Rewards promotion is ‘Triple Your Points’ – our full article is here. It runs from 15th May to 16th August. You receive double base points on your second stay and triple base points on your third and subsequent stays. You can register on this page of ihg.com.

New to IHG Rewards?  Read our two-part overview of IHG Rewards here and here and our article on expiry rules here.

Buy points: If you need additional IHG Rewards points, you can buy them here.

There is a 75% bonus when you buy IHG Rewards points by 13th August.

Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from IHG and the other major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.

Comments (18)

  • Aston100 says:

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

    Why do some places seem to think free internet is such a novelty?

    • ChrisW says:

      I would not stay at a hotel where you had to pay extra for internet!!

    • Super Secret Stuff says:

      Baffles me too! Same with some trains

    • Rob says:

      I was once charged €180 for a 30 minute telephone call to the UK from InterCon Le Grand in Paris, using the room phone. This is pre internet so probably €250-€300 in todays money.

      This is why anyone over 45 still needs to be told that internet is free because they remember paying €180 for a telephone call at some point in the past.

      • Alex B says:

        I remember paying $200 for about 10 minutes of hotel calls in from the US to the UK in 2015.

        It was urgent and was trying to get hold off someone (hence just not using skype) and I there was a huge connection fee so everything I got through to a voicemail it cost a fortune.

        That stung.

        • C says:

          Some of us remember the days of using dial up modems to connect to the Internet from hotels, and being quite pleased with a flat fee for 1-800 (or 0800) connections….

        • HAM76 says:

          On 9/11 the Sheraton I was staying in charged me $35.18 (plus taxes, of course) for a long distance call that didn’t even connect. Just dialog 011 for international calls was sufficient to trigger the hefty connection fee.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Never heard of a phone card though lol

  • Berneslai says:

    Not sure if the statement of “cash and points is always available” is correct. The option is always selectable but some hotels never show a points+cash rate (predominantly Kimptons) no matter the dates selected.

  • Anna says:

    I don’t know if it was strictly true but we’re in a junior suite at the Kimpton Fitzroy having been told that the hotel is full but we’re getting a (double) upgrade due to being Spire! First booking via Emyr which has actually come off and a fantastic advert for his services 😃

    • Paul Pogba says:

      I know the general rule if you only earn hotel (IHG, Bovoy) points if booking direct with Emyr being the exception but are there any others? Do BA Holiday or any other agents/holiday companies bookings count?

      • Rob says:

        BA Holidays does occasionally, based on reader feedback, but always best to assume no.

  • barnaby100 says:

    I imagine there are quite a lot of people hacked off with IHG as their ambassador nights were unable to be used and so lapsed.

    • Olly says:

      I’ve not just had the Ambassador night drop but am also missing my free night Creation CC from this year and despite two calls to CS see no likelyhood of getting it. The old problem of IHG I.T. still lingers.

  • ANTHONY HUTSON says:

    I’m currently Platinum with IHG but do not think that I will requalify this year for 2022 and even requalifying for Gold seems unlikely. IHG needs to consider carrying status levels over as they did last year. Until last month leisure stays we’re not permitted under UK law and still overseas leisure visits are severely restricted. For me and I’m sure many others we will lose our IHG status. Other than to use up our points, why would we then bother to continue staying with IHG when we will be liberated and be able to start over and earn status with Hilton, Marriott, Radisson, Accor All, or any one of the many brands available. IHG members in the USA have been able to stay and earn and not have this problem. Come on IHG give your European leisure travellers a break!

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