IHG Rewards Club – Bigger AND Better…

The Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) is one of the largest hotel companies in the world and their IHG Rewards Program has millions of members – yet it doesn’t get much love in the blogosphere. Why, you might ask?
I have updated my review of IHG Rewards Club – find the latest review here!

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 4,900 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-level properties – the Holiday Inn and HI Express brands makes up 76%. But it also includes almost 200 upscale InterContinental Hotels, with many aspirational city hotels and destination resorts! Want to know more? Check out my IHG Overview!

IHG Rewards Program TableWhy should I care? IHG Rewards Club became my key program for very simple reasons: worldwide coverage, access to status, a great credit card and fantastic aspirational properties. When my business travel changed from being mostly in the US to being global, I frequently found myself in places without Starwood, Hyatt or even Hilton and Marriott properties. I had a choice between independent hotels, local/regional chains – or IHG. Because I wanted to focus my spend on one chain to achieve status and collect points, I found myself staying frequently with IHG, even though the individual hotels were often not the best hotels in town. The choice became even easier when I applied for the IHG Rewards card from Chase bank: I received instant Platinum Status, freeing me from the need to qualify through stays. In addition, I received a generous sign-up bonus and a free night every year, a much higher value than the annual fee! 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…

IHG Rewards Earn TableEarning 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 11% 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. While I’m pretty sure that was not the intended outcome, it is an unfortunate reality right now: After frequent business stays at IHG hotels, the promotion targets became unattainable for me. As a result, I stopped staying at IHG hotels all together for a year. Long and behold, the promotion targets became much more reasonable again.

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 9 categories:

IHG RewardsCategoryTableWhile this is a very broad range of points needed for one night, IHG Rewards Club makes access to these rewards easier than most chains: Category 1 is not a “teaser” category like in some programs, but includes more than 10% of all properties. 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! 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. Because your points are often worth more than US$0.007, this is a good way to stretch your points. On top of those affordable rates, IHG runs one of the best promotions in the industry, PointBreaks, offering a selection of different hotels each quarter for only 5,000 points/night – or $35, a great value! 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 most hotel rewards programs, IHG Rewards Club offers several levels of membership with increased benefits the higher your level. In addition to the four levels (Club, Gold, Platinum, Spire) applicable to all hotels and achievable through stays, it 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. On (digital) paper, the program benefits at the higher levels are limited, for example upgrades are not guaranteed for Platinum, there are no suite upgrades and no free breakfast. Other programs “guarantee” upgrades and offer top level elites free breakfast and/or lounge access. My personal experience is that most IHG hotels will go far above and beyond the required benefits documented above. I have received real room upgrades on most of my stays as a Platinum, including Suites or rooms with amazing views. I will take that over a “guaranteed” upgrade at a Starwood hotel from a standard room to an identical room on the “SPG floor” any day! I have also received welcome gifts, free parking, drinks at the bar or other surprises at the discretion of the hotel. I’d rather have a pleasant surprise on 90% of my stays then having to fight for a “guaranteed” benefit at a Sheraton or Hilton, like some bloggers seem to do regularly… Overall, the IHG Rewards Club is a nice way to upgrade your travel experience, as long as you view them as a benefit rather than an entitlement…

Who should sign up? If your business travel takes you to far-flung places, you don’t travel very frequently and want to focus on one chain, the Intercontinental Hotel Group makes for a great go-to hotel rewards program. This applies even more so, if you are a US resident, willing and able to apply for the IHG Rewards MasterCard. It gives you access to the top elite level and a free award night at any hotel for a modest annual fee. If your business travel program allows stays at upscale hotels and your travel is mostly in the US, other hotels might be a better fit for you. If you stay so frequently that you can achieve status easily, the IHG RC program can be a good back-up program secured via the credit card.

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