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Review: 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.

The full series of articles can be found here:

The 10-second summary:

Strong points – excellent global coverage at all price points, InterContinental hotels in key gateway cities usually solid, Milestone Rewards are attractive and easy to earn, free breakfast now finally available with top tier status, voco and Vignette conversion brands are promising, regular status matches in recent years, Regent and Six Senses boosted luxury footprint, suite upgrade awards now valid on redemptions

Weak points – introduction of revenue based redemptions is a backward step, no UK credit card, no Amex Membership Rewards transfer partnership, limited ‘experiences’ rewards, lost Mr & Mrs Smith properties, has lost a surprising number of upscale London hotels in recent years

IHG One Rewards review

The longer version:

IHG One Rewards was my dominant hotel loyalty programme for many years and my wife and I still have 500,000 points between us. This was despite the fact that – by a huge margin – it had the worst elite benefits of any hotel scheme until 2022.

I made it work because, whilst the loyalty programme had few benefits, you could get good 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. As an extra bonus, Ambassador gets you free Platinum Elite status in IHG One Rewards too.

The new loyalty scheme has been transformational

Suddenly, however, IHG One Rewards turned itself from one of the worst loyalty schemes – in terms of benefits – to one of the best.

The new Milestone Rewards introduced in 2022 – click below to enlarge – are genuinely good.

IHG One Rewards milestone rewards

Do 20 nights and you can take a Confirmed Suite Upgrade (confirmed from 14 days before check-in, Best Flexible cash bookings or reward 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 annual 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.)

IHG One Rewards review

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 and Six Senses helped too, although the loss of Mr & Mrs Smith to Hyatt was a blow. 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 the pandemic 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 and Rome in recent years and Chantilly is coming soon. That said, losing the long-promised InterContinental Venice property to Radisson showed 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, Chester, 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. Hotel Indigo Coventry opened this week to add to the list.

IHG One Rewards review

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 between member and programme. 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.

The sweet spot used to be Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotel redemptions, with the redemption value fixed at 0.6p per point vs the cash rate, but these were withdrawn last year.

IHG One Rewards review

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 (it is a HSBC Premier partner but at a terrible conversion rate)
  • 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 a fresh attempt is now being made to build up momentum here, for eg with the new Six Nations partnership
  • 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

Conclusion

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.

Ironically it has made me worse off – I don’t do enough nights to earn Milestone Rewards and luxury redemptions are now far more expensive than they were – but I accept that the programme is now attractive to the people that IHG wants to encourage.


IHG One Rewards update – February 2024:

Get bonus points: IHG One Rewards is not running a global promotion at the moment, but some members were sent targeted offers for their stays in February and March

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.

IHG One Rewards is offering an 80% bonus when you buy points by 7th March 2024. Click here to buy.

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 (53)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • NorthernLass says:

    Remind me, if I re-qualify for Diamond this year, would it last to the end of 2025? I’m undecided though, as the lounge benefit may well make up for loss of Diamond, as mentioned, plus I’ve seen some really reasonable cash rates recently at (e.g.) Indigo properties where breakfast was only £10ish extra for 2 people.

  • xenole says:

    I like the IHG scheme.

    Do get some upgrades as a diamond.
    Free breakfast as my amenity choice at say the HI MAN saves me £17.50.
    Plenty of choice in some places. Manchester has 1 Doubletree at the airport and near Piccadilly, and not much else. A HIX, HI and CP to choose from at MAN.

    Quite a few £50+ HIX prices at present, so easy to rack up a few cheaper nights towards status. Hiltons tend to often attract a bit more of a premium and don’t tend to offer that much more in my opinion, with locations not always being that great when I’m driving (and feel too cheap to pay at least £20/night to park)

    Hilton wise, only really stayed in these at airports around the world and as with most airport hotels, they’re functional. A few stays in cities in the past to be honest.
    Do find their redemptions to be far higher than IHG. 50k takes me a while to earn with Hilton, whereas faster and cheaper with IHG.
    (Cheapest I’ve been able to buy points in the UK as part of a stay is 5k for £20, so £4/1k points. Seen a few redemptions in HIXs for 13k a night or £72+, so spending £52 on points might be decent enough. Few times recently at MAN, the HIX on Thorley lane has been 15k, with the HI next to T2 being 18k or 19k – well worth the extra 3k especially if they upgrade you to a room with a fridge / free mini-bar of sorts)

    Accor, Marriott etc. are very infrequent stay wise. Ibis Budgets earn nothing even though it could be £80-£100 that night and more than say a Premier Inn.
    Only Marriott I can honestly say I’ve stayed in was at Seattle airport and that was due to BA putting me up in it after arriving 5hrs late and missing my connection.

    Hyatt etc. No real UK options.
    Radisson – overpriced a lot of the time and little choice.
    Strawberry for Norway and Sweden. Not masses of choice there, so a few points here and there do add up and might eventually yield something.

  • Lady London says:

    Can anyone remind me where can I find the Ambassador email address please? needing to email them urgently….

  • Errol says:

    I still think Accor pips IHG due to having a marginally better (albeit still poor) footprint in Africa and Latin America where I do at least 50%of my stays. Hilton, Marriott and Radisson are just hopeless in terms of footprint outside North America, Europe and hotspots in Asia.

    I do prefer Intercontinentals over Accor’s higher end properties though. I find Sofitel quality varies hugely from great to appalling. Intercontinental is generally great.

    The Intercontinental Miramar in Luanda is a great addition to IHG’s portfolio.

  • AlanC says:

    IHG Diamond Line. 01950499397.
    As posted in yesterday’s comments. Since making Hilton Lifetime diamond and the IHG changes I have used IHG much more.
    Last week the IC Dubai marina. 40k a night. Lounge access and junior suite with milestone awards and restaurant breakfast as diamond. Cheapest Hiltons with lounges 70k a night .minimum.
    Singapore coming up. IC Roberson Quay at average 38k points a night. Already in a junior suite with the Suite upgrade award.
    Hilton hotels with lounges again 70k points per night.

    • Kev says:

      Thanks for the number 🙏

    • Robert says:

      Do you just book the basic room for 40k per night at IC then ring them and tell them you want to activate your Suite Upgrade voucher? Trying to find somewhere to use mine. Also wondering if it’s worth paying $200 for Ambassador so I can get free breakfast included.

  • Shiela says:

    Individual hotels are supposed to give room upgrades “if available.” Code for hotel to lie about availability. Noticeably, there are never rmeaningful room upgrades available. Only worthless room upgrades like a better view. And if you get to milestone “reward” for the lounge necause the hotel will never give you an upgraded room, They will only give you lounge access. and say it is also your room upgrade. It’s not worth dedicating loyalty to IHG when they allow hotels discretion to decide availability and dont know the difference between an upgrade” and the lounge access milestone “reward.” For example, IHG website offered room upgrade for more money to a suite, which was the next room size.. But Crowne in Harrogate UK said upgrade to room with club lounge access only not the suite as shown on IHG website. Then lied to IHF rewards center saying no suites were available for a room upgrade even though you could book a suite online. Essentially,, platinum status room upgrade and late check out, etc. is worthless when left up to individual hotels to et
    determine availability of upgrades and late checkout, includingapplicationof milestone rewards. Not worth dedicating so many nights to IHG for platinum status or milestone rewards when better hotels are available at a lower cost.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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