6 ways IHG Rewards Club should improve its loyalty program
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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
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:
- Up to 25x points at IHG hotels stays and resorts (5% return based on TPG’s valuations)
- 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants (1% return)
- 1x points on everything else (0.5% return)
- Platinum Elite status
- Fourth reward night when you redeem for any stay of four nights or longer
- Anniversary night each account anniversary year valid for a night costing 40,000 points or less
- TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee credit every four years (up to $100)
- No foreign transaction fees
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.
Competitive elite perks
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:
- Stay 40 qualifying nights per calendar year (30 nights in 2020)
- Earn 40,000 elite-qualifying points per calendar year (30,000 points in 2020)
- Have the IHG Premier
- Join the InterContinental Ambassador program
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
Instill confidence in the value of points
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.
Bring back PointBreaks
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.
Revive Accelerate promotions
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.
Full inclusion of all brands
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.
Improve select brands
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.
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 of the InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.
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