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IHG Rewards Club has announced a slew of changes that will go into effect starting in July (for elite status) and through May 2016 (points expiration) that are more in line with what the program says its members are looking for.
As a reminder, IHG Rewards Club was formerly known as Priority Club, and is the points program of all the IHG-brand hotels including Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo and Staybridge Suites, and more.
Though not the most lucrative of programs, it does have some selling points, including some decent earning opportunities, 4,800 properties worldwide where you can redeem points, and a 1:1 transfer partnership with Chase Ultimate Rewards if you have the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus.
First, the bad news. IHG points don’t expire now, but starting in May 2016, accounts that do not have any earning or redemption activity within the prior 12 months will have all their points expire. To keep points active, you must earn or redeem with a stay within each 12 month period.
On the plus side, elites will not be subject to points expiration. If you are earning elite status, clearly you are staying enough to earn points fairly often, so I don’t see this as much of a positive element. However, if you are currently an elite, and then lose elite status, the 12-month expiration clock starts when your elite status expires, so that buys you a little extra time.
This move makes IHG Rewards one of the most stringent hotel programs out there when it comes to points expiration, matching Hilton and Starwood with a 12-month policy. Others like Club Carlson, Hyatt and Marriott give you 24 months, and some, like Best Western, never expire. Though if you are an active traveler it shouldn’t be heard to keep your points balances active, it still adds an extra layer of thought you have to put into your points strategy.
New Elite Requirements and Top-Tier Level
IHG Rewards currently offers three status levels: Club, Gold and Platinum. This is actually one of the areas where IHG lags behind the competition with fewer concrete perks.
All members enjoy free internet worldwide, and earn IHG points on stays.
To earn Gold status, you must stay at least 15 qualifying nights or earn 20,000 elite-qualifying points, or fast-track by staying 10 elite-qualifying nights at three of their brands within a calendar year. Gold members get priority check-in, a 10% bonus on base points and a Gold customer service phone line. Once the new changes go into effect, those requirements are being lowered so members can earn Gold status with just 10,000 qualifying points or staying 10 qualifying nights. You earn 10 points per $1 at most IHG brands, so Gold status will be achievable with just $1,000 spent on stays.
Platinum Elite status currently requires 50 nights or earning 60,000 elite-qualifying points, or you can fast-track with 40 nights at 4 IHG brands in a calendar year in the Americas and Europe or 3 IHG brands in other regions. Those requirements are being lowered to a version of the fast-track, though, and will require just 40 nights or 40,000 points in a calendar year. Platinum perks include all the Club and Gold-level perks plus complimentary room upgrades subject to availability, 72-hour guaranteed room availability, a 50% bonus on base points and an elite phone number. Not terribly impressive – especially the upgrade benefit – but not terrible. After the new qualifications go into effect, you will be able to earn Platinum Elite status with just $4,000 spending on hotel stays each calendar year.
Come July 2015, however, IHG Rewards is adding a new top-tier elite level that does not yet have a public name, which will be earned at 75 nights or 75,000 qualifying points. There will be no fast track to this level. The perks associated with this new level include 100% bonus points on qualifying stays and a Choice Benefit of either receiving 25,00 points or upgrading a friend or family member to Platinum status. There is no mention of other benefits such as room upgrades, free breakfast, welcome amenities, club lounge access, etc. To earn those 75,000 points, you’ll have to spend $7,500 on stays in a year.
I don’t have too much to say about these changes until we see their real impact down the line. I’m against points expiration, so I wish IHG were not instituting that. However, with a little diligence, and a points transfer or two from Chase if need be, it should be easy to keep those points active.
As for the elite status changes, I’m not terribly impressed. I think it’s good news that there is a new, higher tier than Platinum, where you can earn 100% bonus points and get a Choice Benefit each year you requalify, but I hope that IHG Rewards is going to follow-up with some better benefits such as guaranteed room or suite upgrades, early check-in and late check-out, club lounge access or something like a free breakfast, like elites in other programs have come to expect.
One way to ensure your elite status, and thus waive the stay requirements and points expiration policy, is to get the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card. It is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months, and comes with automatic Platinum elite status (the equivalent of having to earn 40 nights/40,000 points each year!). Best of all, its $49 annual fee is waived the first year, and you get an annual free night to use at any IHG property worldwide, including some very expensive Intercontinentals.
So getting the card, could be a great way to stay on top of these changes without much effort. For more analysis, check out Jason Steele’s recent review of the card and its benefits.
What are your thoughts on these changes? Share your comments below.