IHG Rewards – great international reach, easy to get status perks!

The Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) is one of the largest hotel companies in the world and their IHG Rewards Program has 100 million of members. It became a favorite of mine in years of business and leisure travel – yet it doesn’t get much love in the blogosphere. With great international coverage at any budget, easy to earn status and generous promotions and a great credit card, it’s one of the hotel rewards programs I recommend most to friends and family! Read on to find out if it is the right program for you! 

This review of the IHG Rewards program is updated in 2017, using the latest hotel numbers, points categories, earning and redemption rates, points value and status levels!

Who are they? IHG Rewards Club is the reward program of the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG). They are one of the largest hotel chains in the world with more than 5,000 hotels in almost 100 countries in the world. That gives them leading reach in the industry. They have 75% of their hotels in the Americas, but that still gives you more hotels in Asia and Europe than Starwood, Hyatt or Carlson have worldwide! And if you travel off the beaten path, it might well be the only chain hotel you will find….
The majority of their hotels are mid-scale properties – the Holiday Inn and HI Express brands makes up 72%. But it also includes almost 250 upscale  hotels, with many aspirational city hotels and destination resorts! Want to know more – check out the IHG Facts & Figures!

Why should I care? IHG Rewards Club became my key program for very simple reasons: worldwide coverage, easy access to status, a great credit card and fantastic aspirational properties. While Marriott has passed IHG in the number of hotels outside the US with the acquisition of Starwood, there are still many places of the beaten path where IHG is the only major chain hotel you’ll find!
IHG also offers easy access to elite status and the associated perks: You can get Platinum Status by signing up for the IHG Rewards card from Chase bank! And the many stays at mid-level hotels opened up the opportunity to stay at some fantastic properties. One of the best-ever hotel stays in my life was at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa – staying in an over-water villa with direct lagoon access, on reward points, can certainly spoil you for life…

Earning Points: IHG Rewards Club members earn 10 points per US$ spent at the majority of properties and 5 points per US$ at the extended-stay properties Candlewood and Staybridge Suites, that make up 12% of all IHG properties. Gold members earn an additional 10%, Platinum members (and IHG RC credit card holders) earn an additional 50%. The recently added Spire level earns a 100% bonus! You need to spend $6,000 at IHG hotels to earn a free night at 90% of their hotels – that’s a good spend-to-earn! IHG RC members can also earn points for car rentals and with a few other partners. You can choose to earn airline rewards miles with one of 50 airlines instead – giving IHG one of the longest list of airline partners. US Residents can also earn IHG points is via the Chase Credit card, IHG Rewards MasterCard. Chase is frequently offering 60,000 bonus points for sign-up, 5 points per US$ spent at IHG properties, 2 p/$ for bonus categories and 1 p/$ for everything else. IHG is frequently running promotions to earn additional points or free nights, making it possible for infrequent guests to earn enough for free stays. The tailored promotions IHG has been running recently seem to adjust the stay requirements to previous stay patterns, making them less attractive for frequent guests, but great for infrequent travelers!

Redeeming Points: The best choice for redeeming your IHG points, like for most hotel programs, is to redeem for hotel stays. IHG Rewards Club is using 11 categories ranging from 10,000 points/night to 60,000 p/n:

While this is a very broad range of points needed for one night, IHG Rewards Club makes access to these rewards easier than most chains. You can redeem a free night for as little as 5,000 points during the quarterly PointBreaks promotion!15,000 points will give you access to 27% of all hotels and 30,000 points will give you access to more than 90% of all hotels in the categories 1 through 5! This compares very favorably to other chains who advertise the low point numbers needed for a reward night – but have the majority of hotels in the upper categories, making them unattainable for many (looking at you, Hilton Honors!)! Similar to the other chains, IHG has gone through a number of devaluations, moving large numbers of hotels up in category each year. Therefore, I have reduced my evaluation of IHG Rewards Points to 0.5 cents per point!
IHG also allows you to book nights at Points & Cash rates, giving you a chance to basically purchase 10,000 points for US$70 to fill-up your account. There are also frequent promotions to purchase points for as little as US$0.0055, so you can top up your accounts for a longer reward stay.
In addition, you can book hotel, flight or car using points through the IHG booking portal or purchase merchandise and gift cards. I made a few comparison searches and found redemption values of around 0.3 US cents per point, making it a bad redemption option. Like with most rewards programs, you should stay away from using the points for merchandise, gift cards or pretty much anything but the main purpose of the program, hotel nights in this case! IHG Rewards Club points don’t expire, so you are not in a rush to use them or loose them!

Membership Levels & Benefits Like in most hotel rewards programs, there are several IHG Rewards Club membership levels with increased benefits the higher your elite level. In addition to the four levels (Club, Gold, Platinum, Spire) applicable to all hotels and achievable through stays, IHG also offers a paid level for its InterContinental Hotel brand (that includes Platinum benefits for all hotels) and an invitation-only level for IC, Royal Ambassador. I have included these for comparison purposes:
IHG Rewards Benefits TableI am currently a Platinum member myself (thanks to the IHG Rewards MasterCard) and was an Ambassador member for a while. The IHG Rewards Club has won its share of awards as “best program” over the years – and at the same time gotten lots of bad reviews by travel bloggers. I believe a lot of that is due to the difference in “on paper” performance and actual experience by members.
That’s partly due to the lack of free breakfast or lounge access that’s offered by competitors like MarriottHilton or Accor! I have held high-level status in each of those programs and enjoy those perks – the free breakfast or happy hour at the lounge can be great value, especially in expensive city or resort destinations!
As a Platinum member, I have received real room upgrades on many of my stays, including Suites or rooms with amazing views. I have also received welcome gifts, free parking, drinks at the bar or other surprises at the discretion of the hotel. While those benefits are not guaranteed, they are nice perks that make your travel better – just by holding the affiliated IHG Rewards MasterCard

Who should sign up? The broad international coverage, great promotions like Accelerate or PointBreaks and easy to achieve Platinum elite status via the  IHG Rewards MasterCard. make IHG Rewards Club a good hotel program for anybody getting into the world of miles & points!
Even if you are not a frequent traveler, you can make your travel a little better and spend a lot less through this program!
UPDATE: You can currently earn 80,000 points by signing up for the IHG Rewards MasterCard – that’s an increase of 20,000 points over the typical bonus. Find out the details here!

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