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6 ways IHG Rewards Club should improve its loyalty program

Sept. 08, 2020
13 min read
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A lot of TPG staffers love Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt. And, I can see the value in these hotel loyalty programs. But, I spend most of my hotel nights with IHG Rewards Club.

After all, many IHG hotels provide an attractive combination of consistency, quality and modest pricing. And, even with the recent switch to dynamic pricing, my IHG Rewards Club points still offer a lot of value.

But, I do have a wish list of program improvements. So, today I'll begin with what I love about the IHG Rewards Club program. And, then I'll describe six ways IHG should improve its loyalty offering.

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What I love about IHG Rewards Club

The InterContinental Bora Bora is perhaps the best value points redemption you'll find on Bora Bora. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

Three main things keep me staying with IHG. First off, I'm generally able to get higher than TPG's valuation of 0.5 cents per point when redeeming IHG points. And, even with the switch to dynamic pricing, IHG points have continued to provide high-value redemptions domestically and internationally.

Second, many IHG brands provide a consistent experience worldwide at a reasonable price. As I'll note later in this article, some IHG brands are more consistent than others. But, IHG has been my go-to program while living as a digital nomad. This is primarily because I can expect a basic level of quality worldwide without paying a high price.

Finally, Chase and IHG offer some excellent cobranded credit cards. For just an $89 annual fee, the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card provides some great perks. For example, these perks include:

But, although I love the IHG Rewards Club program, it can certainly improve. So, now I'll describe some improvements the program could make to enhance traveler loyalty.

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Related: Why I'm happy to pay the annual fee on the IHG Premier

Competitive elite perks

A nice suite upgrade at the Hotel Indigo Birmingham Five Points South (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Let's be honest: IHG Rewards Club elite status isn't all that valuable. Sure, it's easy to earn the second-highest status, Platinum Elite status, when you do one of the following:

But, Platinum Elite status only offers modest perks. In particular, the most valuable perks are 50% bonus earnings and space-available upgrades. And, IHG doesn't require hotels to upgrade elites to suites and specialty rooms. So, as a Platinum Elite, IHG hotels usually don't upgrade me unless I inquire about an upgrade at check-in.

Unfortunately, top-tier Spire Elite status doesn't yield many additional perks. Specifically, IHG hotels don't provide free breakfast, lounge access or guaranteed late check-out even to Spire Elite members. Plus, Spire Elite status is more difficult to earn. To earn Spire Elite status, you must do one of the following:

  • Stay 75 qualifying nights per calendar year (55 nights in 2020)
  • Earn 75,000 elite-qualifying points per calendar year (55,000 points in 2020)
  • Join Kimpton's invite-only Inner Circle

So, I'd like to see IHG Rewards Club provide better perks for Platinum Elite and Spire Elite members. For example, the following changes would improve my loyalty:

  • Guaranteed late check-out until a set time
  • Better-defined upgrade benefits, ideally to the best available room with restrictions based on elite tier
  • Free breakfast and/or lounge access for Spire Elite members

Related: Best top-tier hotel elite status for your family — from free breakfast to confirmed suites

Instill confidence in the value of points

With dynamic pricing, award night costs at the Hotel Indigo Austin Downtown-University vary greatly. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy).

Until earlier this year, IHG used standard pricing. This meant you could plan how many points you'd need to stay at a hotel regardless of your dates. But, we'd known dynamic pricing was coming since early 2019. And, in early 2020, IHG slowly moved its hotels to dynamic award pricing.

Frankly, I'd expected my point value to plummet when dynamic pricing began. But, this wasn't the case. Soon after dynamic pricing started, I was able to snag some truly great deals. And, even now that IHG has fixed several bugs, it's still easy to find redemptions that provide good value. So, IHG's move to dynamic pricing has been positive for me for far.

But, I don't expect this to last. The problem with dynamic pricing is that you can't know how much a stay will cost until you book it. And, it's difficult to detect devaluations without an award chart or standard pricing. As such, I'd love to see IHG find a way to assure travelers that their points won't lose a lot of value overnight. But, in the absence of this assurance, I plan to avoid hoarding IHG points.

Related: How to earn and redeem points with IHG Rewards Club partners

Bring back PointBreaks

The InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort was my favorite PointBreaks redemption. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

PointBreaks is what initially made me care about the IHG Rewards Club program. The PointBreaks promotion initially allowed travelers to book rooms at select hotels each quarter for just 5,000 points per night. And, according to TPG's valuations, 5,000 IHG points are worth only $25. To make this worthwhile, the PointBreaks list usually included a few InterContinential and Crowne Plaza hotels.

Until January 2018, this list included over 100 hotels that you could book for just 5,000 IHG points per night. Then, in January 2018, IHG devalued PointBreaks. In particular, IHG added 10,000-point and 15,000-point PointBreaks hotels and decreased the number of hotels bookable for 5,000 points per night. And, in January 2020 IHG failed to release a new PointBreaks list.

For years, I eagerly awaited the new PointBreaks list each quarter. And, I made travel plans specifically to visit hotels on this list multiple times. So, it's an understatement to say I miss PointBreaks.

IHG hasn't released a PointBreaks list since October 2019. But, the IHG Rewards Club membership terms and conditions still discuss PointBreaks. So, perhaps it's not an unreasonable request for IHG to restart PointBreaks. Even with dynamic pricing in the mix now, PointBreaks still has a place. After all, PointBreaks could get travelers excited about new hotels and fill rooms that wouldn't otherwise be sold.

Related: Here's what hotel loyalty programs might look like after coronavirus

Revive Accelerate promotions

Accelerate promotion tasks took me to the Crowne Plaza Beijing Wangfujing once. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

Until 2020, IHG offered Accelerate promotions that nudged travelers toward particular behaviors. For example, Accelerate would often encourage me to stay with specific brands, book a Points & Cash rate or stay longer. And, similar to PointBreaks, Accelerate encouraged me to include IHG hotels in my travel plans.

Sure, IHG still offers promotions. But, these promotions aren't all that exciting or lucrative. For example, up to 4x bonus points on stays sounds good. But, this promotion hasn't encouraged me to stay with IHG instead of another hotel program for any stays. So, I'd like to see IHG revive the Accelerate promotion once the coronavirus pandemic ends. Doing so could encourage travelers to get back on the road with IHG.

Related: 23 promotions that will make your next hotel stay more rewarding

Full inclusion of all brands

Only a few of the overwater bungalows at the InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso are bookable with IHG points. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

IHG acquired Six Senses in February 2019. And, in September 2019, IHG partnered with Mr and Mrs Smith. However, the two Six Senses hotels in Singapore that were bookable with IHG points are no longer in the program. So, it seems that currently, no Six Senses or Mr & Mrs Smith hotels are bookable with IHG points.

The award night costs will likely be high for Six Senses and Mr & Mrs Smith hotels. But, I'd like to see IHG add these hotels as redemption options. Especially if these hotels are bookable for close to 0.5 cents per point, luxury travelers may become more loyal to IHG.

It's also worth noting that a few of the most aspirational hotels have minimal availability when booking with points. This is particularly a problem at hotels that only offer a few of the lowest room category. For example, as of writing, I only found nine nights bookable with points at InterContinental Hotels Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa. And, no IHG Army Hotels are bookable using points. So, I'd like to see IHG require its hotels to offer a minimum percentage of rooms on points.

Related: You'll want to save your IHG points for these Six Senses properties

Improve select brands

The Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport isn't one of the best hotels for a layover at LAX. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Hotels across most IHG brands are surprisingly consistent. Whether I stay in a Holiday Inn Express in Germany, Los Angeles or Japan, my stay is relatively similar. I've noticed this same consistency in some other IHG brands, including Hotel Indigo and Staybridge Suites.

But, some IHG brands could use improvement. For example, some Candlewood Suites hotels are modern, while others feel run down. And, although IHG describes Crowne Plaza as an upscale brand, I've often found the service and room quality lacking. Finally, some Holiday Inn hotels need to be renovated.

So, I'd like to see IHG improve quality and consistency across these brands in particular. I'd be more loyal to IHG -- and more likely to stay at these brands -- if my stays were more consistent.

Related: How to pick the right hotel chain for you

Bottom line

IHG Rewards Club points can provide a lot of value, especially if you have the IHG Premier Card and mainly redeem points for stays of four nights or longer. And, I've found that most IHG hotels provide a good baseline of quality. This is important because I don't have to worry about Wi-Fi quality or cleanliness when staying with IHG.

But, I've been shifting some of my loyalty to Marriott recently. After all, mid-tier Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status offers many of the perks that are missing in IHG's loyalty program. So, depending on how hotel loyalty programs evolve during the coronavirus pandemic, my hotel loyalty may change.

Featured image by Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
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  • Intro Offer
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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more