Maximizing IHG Rewards Club for Family Travel

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Today, TPG contributor Jason Steele continues his series on family travel options in the most prevalent hotel brands with a look at IHG Rewards.  Check out his earlier posts on Family Travel with Starwood, Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott.

The InterContinental Hotels Group, better known as IHG, features over 4,600 properties in over 100 countries. Other than InterContinental, its most prominent brands are Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Hotel Indigo. In addition, they offer some budget brands such as Holiday Inn Express, Candlewood Suites, and Staybridge Suites.

Holiday Inn Resorts seems to be the most family friendly brand within IHG.
Holiday Inn Resorts seems to be the most family friendly brand within IHG.

Advantages of IHG Rewards for families
IHG Rewards, formerly known as Priority Club, offers a fairly straightforward rewards program, awarding points and elite status based on spending and the number of nights. Here are some of the ways that IHG properties cater to family travelers:

1. Sheer number of properties. While Hyatt, Starwood, and Club Carlson all offer great value in terms of rewards per dollar spent on their credit cards, families frequent come up short when searching for properties at their destination within these much smaller brands. IHG Rewards club members have no such problems, and can often find several different hotels at various price points within the IHG brands in a given location.

2. Kids stay and eat free at Holiday Inn. Children 12 and under enjoy a free meal at Holiday Inn restaurants when traveling with an adult in the US, Canada, and Europe. Hotels that charge extra for additional guests also allow children up to 19 years old to stay for free. Charging extra for kids is not common in the United States, but it happens all the time in Europe, so this policy can provide good value when traveling abroad. You can find more details here.

Kids Stay Free and Eat Free at select Holiday Inns in the US, Canada, and Europe.
Kids Stay Free and Eat Free at select Holiday Inns in the US, Canada, and Europe.

3. Free Internet access. If you think that this is more of a business amenity, you haven’t traveled much with kids and their gadgets lately. Sure, most of us have Internet access on our phones in the United States, but Internet service can be very expensive in other countries, so it’s nice that IHG hotels all include basic Internet service to all members of the IHG Rewards Club.

4. Holiday Inn Resorts. Of all the IHG brands, the Holiday Inn resorts seem to be the most family friendly. Many include water parks for kids, and activities such as cooking classes, arts and crafts, and a kid’s club.

Some Holiday Inn Resorts feature kids clubs.
Some Holiday Inn Resorts feature kid’s clubs.

5. Decent credit card sign-up bonus. Earning free nights through credit card spending is a vital feature for families and leisure travelers who don’t rack up as many points on paid stays as business travelers.The IHG Rewards Club Select Visa from Chase offers 60,000 points as a sign-up bonus after spending just $1,000 within three months. It also features a free night each year on the cardholder’s anniversary. Finally, it offers a 10% rebate on redeemed points, taking a little of the edge off the steep prices on the IHG award chart. There is a $49 annual fee for this card that is waived the first year. Note that there is also an 80,000 point Mastercard offer available through this thread on FlyerTalk; while the landing page doesn’t specify the number of points, many people have reported getting the larger sign-up bonus.

6. Holiday Inn Kids Suites. Many Holiday Inn properties offer special family rooms with Kids Suites. These can be as simple as a small partition with a separate television and Xbox for the kids, or as elaborate as an entire separately themed bedroom. These look really great if you can find them!

The Kids Suite at the Holiday Inn Phuket, Thailand
The Kids Suite at the Holiday Inn Phuket, Thailand

The downsides of IHG Rewards for families
In several ways, IHG Rewards doesn’t compare very favorably to competing brands for families, or other travelers for that matter.  Here’s why:

1. Gold Elite status offers few benefits. To earn Gold Elite status, you must do one of the following:

  • Stay 15 qualifying nights, which include reward nights.
  • Earn 20,000 elite qualifying points.
  • Stay 10 nights including at least one night at three or more of their different brands.
  • Obtain the no annual fee version of the IHG Rewards Club card from Chase.

In exchange, you merely get priority check-in and a 10% bonus earning on top of base points. There are no free breakfasts (which Hilton offers both Diamond and Gold elite members at its full service properties), and no complimentary room upgrades (which just about every other hotel loyalty program offers).

2. Platinum Elite is uncompetitive for a top tier status. Moving up to their Platinum Elite status requires one of the following:

  • 50 qualifying nights.
  • 60,000 elite qualifying points.
  • 40 nights including at least one night at four or more of their different brands.
  • Obtaining the IHG Rewards credit card from Chase.

So this is the only program that essentially offers 50 night stay credit just for having their co-branded credit card, with no annual spending requirement. At that level, you do get:

  • Complimentary room upgrades
  • Guaranteed room availability on paid stays with 72 hours notice.
  • 50% bonus earnings.
  • Elite rollover nights (which is moot for those who have the credit card with the $49 annual fee).

These benefits might hold some value to business travelers, but other than the room upgrades, they offer very little to family and leisure travelers. In contrast, other programs offer late checkouts, welcome gifts of food and beverages, or access to a club lounge.

Galveston mascot
This kids benefit is at the Holiday Inn Resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

3. Reward nights have capacity controls. The IHG Rewards program boasts “no blackout dates,” but that policy isn’t very helpful, as hotels can simply limit the number of rooms available for an award (the same way airlines limit award seats). The result is that families may not find their award points usable at popular vacation destinations during peak times, exactly when they need them most.

4. Credit card points are hard to earn. Their credit card offers just one point per dollar spent on most purchases, yet their award chart tends to require far more points than other programs for a free night stay. That’s why the IHG card did poorly in my recent look at Which Are The Best Hotel Credit Cards For Free Nights. Again, this program appears to offer more to frequent business travelers on paid stays rather than family travelers and other award travel enthusiasts who rely mostly on points earned from their credit card.

The credit card offers a good sign up bonus and valuable benefits, but poor value for spending.
The IHG card offers a good sign-up bonus and valuable benefits, but poor value for spending.

Finally, another problem I have with many IHG properties is that rollaway bed charges may apply. It would be nice if hotels made this inexpensive amenity available to families at no cost. Thankfully, many IHG properties in the US seem to do so, but it’s not uncommon to find IHG properties overseas charging outrageous prices for what amounts to the use of a spare cot.

Conclusions
Like Marriott Rewards, the IHG Rewards program seems oriented towards business travelers who accumulate most of their points based on paid stays. Unfortunately, many families and reward travel enthusiasts rely on credit cards and other promotions to earn points, and this program is not particularly attractive in that regard. Nevertheless, their most family friendly properties do seem to offer plenty of amenities to keep kids (and their parents) happy.

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