Is IHG One Rewards the best hotel loyalty scheme? (Part 2)
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In my previous article yesterday, I outlined ‘the facts’ of the IHG One Rewards loyalty scheme. This article is my personal opinion, highlighting areas where I think you might want to focus. Our previous review of Accor Live Limitless is here and our review of Hilton Honors is here.
The 10-second summary:
Strong points – loyalty programme finally has good benefits worth earning, excellent global coverage at all price points, InterContinental hotels in key gateway cities usually solid, regular status matches in recent years, Regent, Six Senses and Smith partnerships boosted luxury footprint
Weak points – introduction of revenue based redemptions is a backward step, UK credit card no longer available to new applicants, no Amex Membership Rewards transfer partnership, limited ‘experiences’ rewards, has lost a surprising number of upscale London hotels in recent years
The longer version:
IHG One Rewards was my dominant hotel loyalty programme for many years and my wife and I still have over 650,000 points between us. This was despite the fact that – by a huge margin – it had the worst elite benefits of any hotel scheme.
I made it work because, whilst the loyalty programme had few benefits, you could get these benefits via other routes. Anyone can book via a dedicated luxury travel agent like our partner Bon Vivant for the same price as booking direct. You will get free breakfast, upgrades, guaranteed club access (selected hotels) and guaranteed late check-out at InterContinental, Kimpton, Regent and Hotel Indigo. You can learn about IHG’s luxury and lifestyle programmes here and the InterContinental hotels which give free lounge access via Bon Vivant are listed here.
I was also happy to pay for their Ambassador membership scheme for many years, which got me a free weekend night, an upgrade and late check-out at InterContinental hotels. It worked for me.
The new loyalty scheme has been transformational
Suddenly, however, IHG One Rewards has turned itself from one of the worst loyalty schemes – in terms of benefits – to one of the best.
The new Milestone Rewards – click below to enlarge – are genuinely good.
Do 20 nights and you can take a Confirmed Suite Upgrade (confirmed from 14 days before check-in, Best Flexible cash bookings only), some food and beverage credit or some bonus points.
Get to 40 nights and you can choose an annual club lounge pass. This has huge value if you regularly stay at upscale IHG hotels with lounges.
Arguably, putting 40 nights per year to IHG to get one Confirmed Suite Upgrade and the lounge pass is one of the more compelling hotel rewards out there.
You can even get free breakfast now courtesy of Diamond Elite status, albeit that this requires 70 nights.
Nights is the only realistic way to get status, not stays or spend
One downside from the 2022 changes was that the ability to earn status via spend instead of nights was diluted. Not only did the spend equivalent shoot up from $7,000 to $12,000 for Diamond – with the nights equivalent remaining at 70 nights – but you wouldn’t earn Milestone Rewards if you qualified with a handful of hugely expensive nights.
There is also no abililty to earn status based on STAYS instead of NIGHTS. For example, Hilton Diamond needs 60 nights – almost comparable to IHG Diamond – but can also be done on 30 stays. For someone doing a one-night stay once per week, it is easy to earn Hilton Diamond and impossible to earn IHG Diamond.
(You see …. picking the most useful hotel scheme can even change depending on whether your stays are usually for one night or for multiple nights. It’s a complex game.)
Bonus point packages are one way of supercharging your status
Whilst there are no easy routes to status via stays (instead of nights) or modest levels of spend, you CAN push yourself along by booking bonus point packages.
Many IHG hotels, during the booking process at ihg.com, will offer you the chance to buy 3,000 or 5,000 bonus IHG One Rewards per night for an additional fee of around 0.5 cents. This is roughly a break-even figure – you won’t lose money when you redeem at this level – and, importantly, points bought in this way count towards elite status.
There are some good properties in the IHG estate
The strength of its global network, across all price points, is what attracts many people to IHG.
InterContinental generally has good properties in the major ‘gateway’ cities. The additions of Regent Hotels, Six Senses and Mr & Mrs Smith increase your options further. The Kimpton roll-out in Europe is finally gathering steam and the new Vignette brand will see independent luxury hotels become bookable via IHG.
In terms of their estate, 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 IHG brands though – you only need to look at the four new Heathrow hotels opened in the last few years (Crowne Plaza T4, Holiday Inn Express T4, Holiday Inn Bath Road, Staybridge Suites Bath Road) to see that.
My last hotel stay before covid was InterContinental Porto. This is an example of what the brand does best – an expensive conversion of a historic city centre building into a luxury hotel which works for both business and leisure. We have seen the same pattern in Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille etc in recent years. That said, losing the long-promised InterContinental Venice property to Radisson shows that all is not necessary well.
In the UK, Hotel Indigo is carving out a good position as your best option in 2nd and 3rd tier cities. If you are in, say, Durham, Stratford or Exeter and want a modern and reliable four star hotel with a bit of style, the Indigo will usually be your best bet. I was at the new Hotel Indigo Bath shortly after it opened and it was very impressive.
Revenue based redemptions strip away a lot of value
From the redeeming point of view, IHG One Rewards is a mess. Without any cap to reward pricing, it is impossible to know how many points you need to earn to get a certain reward.
We had Holiday Inn Express hotels at over 150,000 points in London during Summer 2022 – it wasn’t so many years ago that IHG’s most expensive InterContinental hotels only cost 30,000 points. A friend of mine once moved into Holiday Inn Wembley for a period because, at a fixed 10,000 points per night, it was cheaper than renting. You can’t do that now.
Removing caps has removed outsized value from the programme. There are no good deals when you hit that combination of an expensive city on an expensive day.
Not knowing what a reward will cost in advance also seems to be breaking the implicit agreement. IHG wants you to give it your business, but it won’t commit to telling you in advance how many points you’re going to need when you come to spend them.
Flexible reward pricing isn’t all bad
We have done the maths in various HfP articles and flexible reward pricing hasn’t, oddly, moved the average value per point. It remains around 0.4p.
In the past, when reward charts were fixed, the range may have been from 0.2p per point (cheap off-season night at a hotel in an expensive points band) to 1p+ (a peak night at a hotel at the top of its pricing band) with an average of around 0.4p.
Today, the range is more like 0.3p to 0.6p, with an average of 0.4p. The average person is no worse off, but the person who holds back on redeeming until they get a blockbuster deal suffers. Unfortunately, these people are usually your best customers.
Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotel redemptions are currently a sweet spot, with the redemption value fixed at 0.6p per point vs the cash rate.
Where does IHG One Rewards have issues?
The new IHG One Rewards benefits have transformed the programme and given it credibility in the eyes of heavy business travellers.
There are still a few loose ends though:
- the lack of a UK credit card or even the ability to transfer in from American Express Membership Rewards
- the inability to earn or redeem at many of the new Six Senses resorts – a huge shame, as arguably Europe’s best resort, Six Senses Douro Valley, is now part of IHG
- the failure to keep up with Hilton and Marriott in offering ‘experiences’ rewards, although these are being trialled again at present
- the contact centre in the Philippines is known to struggle to resolve queries at times, although Ambassador members get a dedicated email address which I have always found to work well
- from a personal point of view IHG does not engage much with the media, although this carries its own punishment as the lack of IHG reviews on HfP shows. We only cover IHG hotels when we are paying for them out of our own pockets.
The new IHG One Rewards, launched in 2022, was probably the biggest ‘zero to hero’ change I have ever seen from a travel loyalty programme.
I go into 2023 sitting on Diamond Elite status (free breakfast at all hotels), Ambassador status (with a free weekend night voucher to use) and with a Confirmed Suite Upgrade voucher to use as a 20-night Milestone Reward earned last year.
This is not a bad place to be, and I expect to be increasing my IHG stays as a result.
IHG One Rewards update – March 2023:
Get bonus points: Click here for our article on IHG’s ‘2k Every 2 Nights’ promotion, which runs from 9th February 2023 to 14th April 2023. You can register here.
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.
You will receive an 80%-100% bonus when you buy IHG points by 21st March 2023.
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.