Loyalty Programs Behaving Badly: IHG Devalues PointBreaks

Jan 31, 2018

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At TPG, we like to focus on getting the most value out of loyalty programs as they currently work. There’s no value to readers for us to pine over the possibilities of the past. However, sometimes loyalty programs make such negative changes that we have to take a step back to discuss. In the first part of this overdue series, we call out IHG Rewards for making consumer-unfriendly changes to its PointBreaks program.

Years ago, we anxiously awaited the release of each new PointBreaks list, waiting to see which gems would be bookable for just 5,000 points per night over the next few months. While much of the list would understandably be low-category hotels in off-season locations, we could reliably find a couple of InterContinental hotels along with other tempting properties or locations. I’ve heard from some TPG readers who would wait to see where they would vacation until the PointBreaks list was released.

But, recently, each PointBreaks list has been a disappointment: Each new list includes fewer hotels in generally less-tempting locations. In our efforts to share the best options with readers, we were left highlighting hotels like the Staybridge Suites in Fort Worth and Candlewood Suites in Nashville.

Call me naive, but I was hopeful when IHG announced its “new and improved PointBreaks promotion,” revamped to add more levels while doubling the total number of hotels on the list. I figured that this could be a great way for the program to still keep the same ~100 uninspiring hotels it’d otherwise include at 5,000 points each while adding more tempting options at 10,000 and 15,000 points. Sure, the days of getting the InterContinental Phnom Penh at 5,000 points would be over, but this would be a way for IHG to give us the opportunity to book that hotel at 10,000 points per night.

Instead, IHG used this revamp to devalue the list further. Rather than the 100+ hotels it used to include at 5,000 points per night, it listed just 33 hotels at the previously standard rate. That’s a drop by over two-thirds. While IHG did double the number of hotels on the previous list — which itself was a low water mark — that was accomplished by adding 116 hotels at 10,000 points per night and 54 hotels at 15,000 points per night.

Hotels like the InterContinental Kiev made their return to the PointBreaks list. Previously listed at 5,000 points per night, it returns at 3x that price. That’s not “new and improved.”

When looking at the hotels included at 5,000 points per night, you can see how much the program has dried up over time:

Date Launched Hotels at 5,000
points per night
at 5,000 points
Crowne Plaza
at 5,000 points
Jan 29, 2018 33 0 6
Oct 30, 2017 100 0 10
July 31, 2017 106 1 7
Apr 24, 2017 100 0 5
Jan 30, 2017 129 2 9
Oct 31, 2016 127 1 14
July 25, 2016 135 2 8
Apr 25, 2016 140 0 10
Jan 25, 2016 171 0 21
Oct 26, 2015 190 1 20
July 27, 2015 162 1 7
May 26, 2015 145 1 12
Feb 25, 2015 149 2 12

For those wondering if there’s a seasonal element to it, here’s the total hotel offerings broken out by quarter:

Hotels at 5,000
points per night
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
2018 33
2017 129 100 106 100
2016 171 140 135 127
2015 149 145 162 190

The IHG Credit Card is Still Worth It

One commenter expressed his frustration with the newest IHG PointBreaks devaluation, saying he’d made a mistake signing up for the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card. While I agree that the devaluation of PointBreaks — and the recent widespread IHG category inflation — has been irritating, that doesn’t mean that the card isn’t still one of the best deals in travel.

Sure, the points that you earn from the sign-up bonus and spending aren’t as valuable as they once were. However, the IHG Rewards Card’s benefits still make it well worth the $49 annual fee. Even if you use if for nothing but the free anniversary night, you can get multiples of the annual fee in value from that free night. Plus, you can even save on gas by just having this credit card — even if you use another card for the gas purchase.

Having the card will also generally give you an easy task of “Spend on Your IHG Rewards Club Credit Card” on your quarterly Accelerate promo — requiring just one hotel stay paid for on the credit card to score additional points.

But, my favorite perk of the card is the free Platinum Elite status. While that status might not get you much at US hotels, it regularly scores me suite upgrades, complimentary mini-bars, handwritten welcome letters and many fruit plates in hotels all across the world. Indeed, just this week I was upgraded to a kitchenette suite on the top floor of a hotel in Vancouver just for having status through this credit card.

Bottom Line

I’m disappointed in IHG for making yet another devaluation to its once-great PointBreaks program, especially as it touted an “improved” program. While IHG is discounting more hotels than before, it drastically slashed the number of hotels available at its marquis 5,000 rate.

Plus, this comes just weeks after the loyalty program increased the redemption rates on 499 hotels by an average of 6,844 points per night, offset by dropping just 192 hotels by 5,000 points per night. This one-two punch has us really giving the IHG Rewards program some side-eye.

Thankfully, there’s nothing inherently permanent about these changes. Both the reduction in 5,000-point PointBreaks hotels and continuing inflation of hotel categories is a trend that IHG Rewards can reverse going forward. Until then, it’s on our list of loyalty programs behaving badly.

If you have a nomination for the Loyalty Programs Behaving Badly series, shoot an email to tips@thepointsguy.com. Please limit your nominations to issues affecting many travelers, not just one-off issues.

Feature photo courtesy IHG

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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