What is the best hotel scheme? – IHG Rewards Club – The Opinion

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.

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