What it’s like staying at an IHG hotel with Diamond status as the hotels unveil new elite benefits

Jun 10, 2022

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At The Points Guy, we have long been critical of IHG’s loyalty program for lacking the necessary benefits to compete with other chains. But with the rollout of IHG One Rewards this year, that all changed.

Top-tier Diamond Elite members get free breakfast at full-service hotels, and there are suite upgrades and awards for hitting a certain number of nights. These changes make IHG a true competitor with Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott. The company has a wide footprint of hotels. Yes, many are limited-service ones like Holiday Inn Express — but IHG has also added some marquee luxury properties to its collection, notably Six Senses and Regent. Personally, I’ve always loved Kimpton.

With the program live as of Wednesday, TPG decided to test it out. I had earned top-tier Diamond Elite status last year, in part, by hosting a big group event at the Kimpton Surfcomber Hotel in Miami Beach, so I was the likely choice to check in to a hotel and see about upgrades and the free breakfast. But there was a hitch: Wednesday was my wedding anniversary and I already had plans to celebrate with my wife. As much as I love testing out travel perks for our readers, there was no way I was going to risk her wrath. The test would have to wait one more night — which would also give the hotel’s staff one more day to adjust to the changes.

For all the details about the changes, please read Katie Genter’s detailed story. Also note that my stay was just one stay: We want to hear from you about your experiences with the new program. You can email us at tips@thepointsguy.com. But here’s what we found:

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In This Post

Our IHG elite status test

Hotels in New York City are full again. Very full. And expensive. We wanted to pick a full-service hotel with a good breakfast and a chance of a suite upgrade. A few options were completely sold out of suites, so we crossed them off the list. Others didn’t have the best breakfast options.

Enter the InterContinental New York Barclay.

InterContinental New York Barclay
(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

As the hotel says on its website, it has “welcomed well-heeled guests in Midtown Manhattan” since 1926.

Being “well-heeled” does not come cheap. The base rate was $407.55 for the one-night stay on Thursday. But hold on, there is also a “daily amenity fee” of $35 plus tax — it comes to $40.16 per night — that included a $25 daily food and beverage credit and a $20 per stay laundry credit. All in, including over $60 in taxes, the stay would cost $511.32.

InterContinental New York Barclay amenity fee card
(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Like any new benefit, we weren’t 100% sure what the Diamond Elite breakfast would offer. IHG says Diamond Elite members will get hot breakfast for the member and one guest registered to the same room at full-service brands when the member selects breakfast as their welcome amenity. The terms and conditions say the breakfast benefit should include one main menu item with unlimited nonalcoholic beverages — or the full buffet with unlimited nonalcoholic beverages — per person. But, the company is leaving it up to individual hotels to decide for themselves exactly what that means.

We’ve seen all sorts of free breakfast options over the years. Some Marriott brands, like JW and Autograph Collection, offer a $10 credit domestically to Platinum Elites and higher. But at resort versions of those brands, you can get a full breakfast. Marriott’s rules are so confusing that we have an entire guide and flow chart to understand the benefit. Last year, Hilton removed its free continental breakfast benefit in the U.S. for Gold elites and higher, replacing it with a food and beverage credit of $10 to $25 per person, depending on the brand and market. Hyatt offers its top-tier members a very generous breakfast benefit, with some hotels even allowing it via room service.

So, of course, we wanted to see what IHG would offer us at The Barclay. The online breakfast menu included two options: the continental buffet for $34 per person or the “Quintessential American Breakfast Buffet” for $44 that also included hot items such as no-nitrate bacon, pork sausage and roasted fingerling potatoes.

Related: Comparing 4 top hotel elite status levels — and how to earn them in 2022

Suite upgrade

At 5:13 a.m., I had two identical emails in my inbox saying: “Your stay just got even better! As part of your IHG One Rewards Diamond Elite benefits, we’ve upgraded your room at InterContinental New York Barclay for your visit starting June 9, 2022.”

Yeah!

Email from IHG One Rewards about my upgrade
(Screenshot of an email from IHG One Rewards)

But there were no details about what type of upgrade it was. And when I logged into my account on my phone and on my laptop, it still showed me in the Premier King room I had booked.

In fact, IHG was still offering me various paid upgrade options online.

Upgrade offers at InterContinental New York Barclay
(Screenshot from ihg.com)

When I arrived at the front desk, the agent told me I was assigned a — you guessed it — Premier King. Hmmmm.

I questioned that, saying that I had received a note confirming an upgrade. After passing my phone displaying the email over to the agent, he upgraded me to a slightly larger Executive King room — Room 559, right next to the elevators. I could have booked that room initially for $19 more or upgraded to it via the online offer for $15 more. So this was hardly an aspirational upgrade — but also not bad for a night when the hotel was near capacity.

It would have been nice to get a bigger suite. By 3 p.m., the hotel was still showing three of its one-bedroom Deluxe King suites available for sale at a base rate of $858.80 and five of its one-bedroom Premier King suites at a base rate of $953.80.

At 10 p.m., those eight suites for sale had dwindled down to six still on the market. I doubted the hotel would sell them.

IHG One Rewards now allows for upgrades to such suites if you are a Platinum Elite or Diamond Elite. But either the hotel wasn’t feeling that generous when I checked in early in the afternoon — hoping to still sell them — or was still working out some of the kinks with the new program. Remember, it was only the second day that IHG was offering the new IHG One Rewards benefits.

Suites still for sale at InterContinental New York Barclay
(Screenshot from ihg.com)

Early check-in and late checkout

As any frequent traveler knows, early check-in and late checkout can make or break a trip. Sometimes, you need that extra time on one end or the other.

And, of course, at TPG we tried to see just how willing a hotel was to make an elite member happy.

I tried to mark down an early check in via the IHG app but could only ask for 3 p.m. Platinum Elite and Diamond Elite members can now request an early check-in, but there is no guarantee; just a hope that the hotel will do its best.

After trying the app, I decided to call the front desk. A hurried staffer told me she could accommodate me “probably around 2 o’clock” — then quickly thanked me and hung up before I could add that I had status and ask if anything earlier was possible.

So, I grabbed my bag and walked over to the hotel, arriving at 1:15 p.m. To my surprise, I was told my room was ready — and the a bit of back and forth over an upgrade (mentioned above), I was on my way to my room.

That night, I decided to also try my luck with getting a late checkout. IHG now allows for a 2 p.m. late checkout but doesn’t guarantee anything. Top-tier members get priority, but again, this is at the hotel’s discretion and not a guaranteed benefit. By contrast, Hyatt guarantees a 4 p.m. checkout for its top-tier members at most properties.

A quick call to the front desk was met with a prompt and firm: “The latest we can do, without penalty, is noon.”

Was that “without penalty” bit really necessary?

I cleared my throat, and in my nicest voice asked: “Even as a Diamond member?”

After a brief hold, the agent granted me a 2 p.m. departure time.

The process could have been much easier, but at least I got 24 hours and 30 minutes in the room.

Related: Breakfast, upgrades and more: 3 TPG staffers reveal their favorite elite status perks

Free breakfast

After getting my room at check-in, I asked the agent about my free breakfast.

He looked at my reservation and said I did not qualify for the free breakfast benefit, that it was only an option if I hit a certain milestone and if it was already in my IHG wallet.

The new IHG One Rewards program does reward members with milestone rewards, starting after spending 20 nights with the chain in a year. Among the new milestone rewards options are food and beverage credits, suite upgrade certificates and bonus points. (You can read this post for more details.)

However, free breakfast is not tied to any nightly milestone — just status. Anybody who obtains Diamond Elite status gets it. (Besides nights, somebody could have spent a lot on an event at a hotel — like I did — or starting this year, spend $40,000 or more on the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card or the IHG Rewards Premier Business Credit Card.)

I asked the front desk agent to check again, saying I was pretty sure it was tied to status and not any of my milestones. He said no, so I headed up to my room.

About 20 minutes later, my phone rang and it was the same front desk agent explaining that he was mistaken and I was supposed to get breakfast for two. I returned to the lobby and picked up a voucher granting me two “The American” breakfasts. It noted that premium beverages and a la carte items were excluded.

InterContinental New York breakfast voucher
(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

The next morning, I arrived at the lobby restaurant and showed the voucher to my server. He’d never seen the card before but showed me to the buffet — the only menu option currently offered at the hotel. There was no bill, no tax added and nowhere to leave a tip. (Luckily, I had some cash on me and just left the tip on the table.)

The buffet was generous, with everything you could imagine from eggs to sausage to fruit and cheeses. The “deep dish” style pancakes were a nice treat and I just might have helped myself to a mini doughnut.

Bottom line

It’s great that IHG has caught up to other programs by finally offering top-tier members a free breakfast and the chance at a suite upgrade.

This is the first week of the new program and this was just one test. But I was happy with the results. There were a few hiccups, especially over the free breakfast. But in the end I was given a slight room upgrade and lots of extra time in the room.

It would be nice to see IHG make more technology improvements so a traveler can more easily request the early check-in and late checkout. And it would be better yet if there was a guarantee of a 2 p.m. late checkout.

While I got a nicer room for free, there was nothing spectacular or aspirational about it. Most TPG readers would not consider it a true upgrade unless the new room was a suite with a separate living room, preferably with a door closing it off from the bedroom.

The free breakfast was generous and really solves one of the key things that had been missing from IHG’s program. Different hotels are likely to roll out this benefit at varying levels, but given the industry’s unique ownership structure, that is only natural.

Hopefully, hotel employees will learn all the ins and outs of the program in the next few weeks.

Based on my own experience, I will probably consider booking a few more nights at some of IHG’s full-service hotels moving forward.

Featured image by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy.

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