IHG, the hotel chain behind InterContinental, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo etc, has launched IHG One Rewards.
This is the long awaited relaunch of IHG Rewards (nee IHG Rewards Club, nee Priority Club etc).
In summary, I am very impressed and it moves IHG alongside Hilton Honors, Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt. In some ways, IHG One Rewards is better than those programmes.
This is Part 3 of our analysis, which looks at the brand new concept of Milestone Rewards. Part 2, looking at IHG One Rewards and its status benefits, is here. Part 1 on how to earn points and status in IHG One Rewards is here.
‘Milestone Rewards’ – real value for those who do ‘heads in beds’
This is where the real magic in IHG One Rewards is happening.
What I like about IHG’s new Milestone Rewards is that it is a way of bringing together their disparate brands.
Do 20 nights in a Holiday Inn Express and you get a guaranteed (see the small print below) suite upgrade for a 5-night stay at any hotel, including top InterContinental properties. You can’t argue with that.
Let’s look at how the Milestone Rewards work. Existing nights to date in 2022 will count towards your Milestone Rewards target once the programme launches in June.
Before you read this, remember that IHG One Rewards has to cater for disparate groups of people:
- those who exclusively use the ‘select service’ brands (Holiday Inn Express etc)
- those who exclusively use the full service brands
- those who switch between the two, either through choice or because they behave differently on business vs leisure trips or long vs short stays
This is what you get:
Let’s explain how these elements work. You have 90 days from hitting each milestone to make your selection. Because some benefits are time limited you may want to delay making your choice.
- Bonus points – this is relatively clear. We value IHG One Rewards points at 0.4p each so 10,000 points are worth £40. On this basis, the food and drink vouchers are more valuable, unless all your stays are for work and your employer pays.
- Food and beverage rewards – these are worth £15 or equivalent. They are valid for 12 months. You can use multiple vouchers against the same restaurant or bar bill. You cannot use them against ‘market place’ charges where the hotel has a mini mart. They are non-transferable.
- Annual lounge membership – this is very valuable if you stay at full service hotels with lounges. It is valid for the current AND following calendar year, so you could get 20+ months out of it if you did 40 nights early in the calendar year. It is valid for you and a guest. IHG has confirmed that reward stays will be included in this benefit.
- Confirmable suite upgrades – see below
How do the confirmable suite upgrades work?
You can trigger these at 20 nights, 40 nights and 70 nights (x2) for a maximum of four per calendar year.
They are valid for 12 months once selected.
One suite upgrade award is good for one stay of up to five nights.
You can confirm your suite upgrade by ringing IHG One Rewards 14 days before arrival. If a suite is available for cash, it will be made available for your suite upgrade award.
(Based on how Hyatt works, suites may be marked online as either included or excluded for this benefit. Larger suites will be excluded. The rules allow certain sorts of premium rooms to be offered as well as suites, which is fair enough if the room is large – I am currently in a junior suite in a Hyatt which is only 6 sq m bigger than a deluxe room.)
Reward nights are not eligible for suite upgrades. There is a hope at IHG that this can be changed in the future.
‘Advance Payment’ bookings are excluded from suite upgrades. There is no element of misinterpretation here – it is made very clear in the terms. This means that, if you normally book Advance Purchase rates, you will need to pay a little more for the opportunity to upgrade.
Suite upgrades cannot be used at Mr & Mrs Smith and other niche operations where IHG does not have full control. Six Senses is excluded because it is still not part of IHG One Rewards, in the main.
Suite upgrade awards will be returned if a room booking is cancelled.
Are IHG’s suite upgrades better than Marriott’s Suite Night Awards?
Yes, I think so.
- The Marriott upgrade process is opaque – a hotels can refuse to release a suite for upgrade if it thinks it can sell it. IHG says that if a ‘regular’ suite is available for cash, you can have it.
- 50 nights at Marriott gets you 5 x one-night Suite Night Awards. 40 nights at IHG get you 2 x ‘up to five night’ suite upgrades – and you only need 20 nights to earn your first one.
- However, Marriott will let you upgrade a reward stay to a suite, or indeed any cash rate including pre-paid rooms
A lot will come down to your personal stay patterns – using a suite award for a one night IHG stay is a bit of a waste.
There is a risk of abuse with the IHG plan of course. Nothing stops you, or a friend, booking a suite and then cancelling it 15 days before your trip. You can ring up the next day and confirm your upgrade into that suite.
What are the best Milestone Rewards options?
If you have multiple stays across the entire IHG portfolio, I would list the value of the options in this order:
1# Annual lounge pass
1# Confirmed suite upgrade
3 F&B voucher (unless your employer reimburses all your stays)
The ‘sweet spot’, I think, is doing 20 nights to trigger the first Confirmable Suite Upgrade. If you can use this for a long stay (it is good for a stay of up to five nights) at a high-end hotel you could have a very pleasant time.
At 40 nights, I’d probably lock in the lounge pass rather than take another suite upgrade, especially as the lounge pass is valid for the rest of the current year AND all of the following calendar year.
What happens to Ambassador, Royal Ambassador and Kimpton Inner Circle?
It’s not clear.
In many ways, those schemes become redundant with the IHG One Rewards changes. If you can get a confirmed suite upgrade at InterContinental Paris Le Grand, plus access to the lovely lounge, what use is Ambassador with its comparatively weak one level upgrade and $20 food and drink credit?
The new IHG One Rewards structure, as we’ve shown, rewards nights and not spend.
Last year I earned Diamond status in Accor Live Limitless from a 5-night stay in Barbados, helped by the fact that Accor counts spend from multiple rooms towards qualification. I could earn Diamond status in IHG One Rewards with a 10 night stay at InterContinental Maldives but I wouldn’t earn a single Milestone Reward.
There is a contradiction here which will need to be resolved.
It is the owners of IHG’s luxury hotels who will take the hit from guaranteed lounge access and guaranteed suite upgrades.
Will these owners see much of a benefit from increased business via IHG One Rewards, if spending at luxury hotels doesn’t earn Milestone Rewards?
There is real value here, I think.
In truth, there is no simple answer to how good the new scheme is. Even if you only stayed in Holiday Inn Express hotels, however, 40 nights over a year would trigger 9 x £15 food and beverage vouchers as Milestone Rewards. Those 40 nights would also trigger Platinum status.
The bottom line is that IHG is suddenly a player. We can now discuss IHG One Rewards in the same breath as Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt.
Even if you’re not an IHG fan you will be a winner, because these changes will ensure that the other three programmes keep competitive.
I can’t promise anything about Accor LIve Limitless or Radisson Rewards though …..
The terms and conditions for the various member benefits are here.
We have closed comments on Part 2 and Part 3 to consolidate all of the discussion in one place. Please comment under Part 1 here.
IHG One Rewards update – September 2023:
Get bonus points: IHG One Rewards is not currently running a global promotion.
New to IHG One Rewards? Read our overview of IHG One Rewards here and our article on points expiry rules here. Our article on ‘What are IHG One Rewards points worth?’ is here.
Buy points: If you need additional IHG One Rewards points, you can buy them here..
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.