Last updated: 9th March 2017
This is part 2 of my Beginners' Guide to Hotel Points series. In this post we take a look at Intercontinental Hotel Group's “IHG Rewards” programme, and try to help total beginners to get up to scratch.
Intercontinental Hotels Group consists of 9 well established brands and two new ones. They are: Intercontinental Hotels, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hotel Indigo, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, and the two newer ones: Even Hotels, and Hualuxe.
IHG is an odd ball because they operate two distinct programmes, the IHG Rewards Club and the Intercontinental Ambassador programmes valid only at Intercontinental hotels, the latter being a paid membership. Whatever your status on the IHG Rewards Club, it will not be recognised at Intercontinentals, and vice versa. However, you can still earn points on all your stays at all IHG brand hotels.
IHG makes it clear they have no requirement to honour any membership benefits on reward nights, though only recently did they add free internet from 1st July 2013. But if you get any upgrade then you should count yourself lucky. This rule is especially annoying if you are an Ambassador or Royal Ambassador because those are the ones with the best perks!
The membership tiers for IHG Rewards club are:
- Club (basic level) — 0 nights / 0 stays per year
- Gold — 10 nights / 10 000 Elite qualifying points /
- Platinum — 40 nights / 40 000 Elite qualifying points. If you stay above 40 nights but fail to qualify for platinum then the surplus nights will be rolled over and count towards status for the following year.
- Spire — 75 nights / 75 000 Elite qualifying points. Nights above the 75 required to qualify will roll over to count towards status for the next year.
Until July 2013, it used to be that any points earned in your account counted towards status. Now it's only the Elite Qualifying Points, which makes gaining or maintaining status a lot harder.
But in a special category of its own, Intercontinental Hotels have a distinct loyalty programme, and has two levels
- Ambassador — This costs $200 per year and has no stay requirements.
- Royal Ambassador — This invitation-only level is given to a lucky minority of Ambassadors, and the thresholds are never formally revealed. It is rumoured that around $10k minimum spend per year is required to obtain/maintain this status though this is not confirmed by IHG.
Do award nights count towards elite status?
Yes they do.
Shortcuts to higher levels
- If you hold middle or highest tier with competing chains, IHG offers Gold or Platinum status for the remainder of the calendar year by a status match.
- You can register for a special code and you will be granted Gold after your next stay.
- If you buy Ambassador status from Intercontinental then you will also be automatically upgraded to IHG Gold.
- It is also possible ask around nicely for Royal Ambassador referrals, or try to befriend a high-spending, frequent Intercontinental Hotel stayer. They might have a spare referral certificate they'd be willing to give you!
- If you live in the UK, Barclaycard offer an IHG branded credit card which also gives Platinum status for as long as you hold the card. There is a £99 annual fee, and the Platinum status is not a published benefit, so be prepared if they one day rescind this!
There isn't a lifetime status on IHG Rewards club unfortunately.
Staying at hotels (the normal way!)
The base rate is 10 points per USD on your room rate, so your billing currency is something other than USD will need to do a currency conversion. Gold members earn a 10% bonus, and Platinum members earn a 50% bonus on top of the base rate.
The $70 per 10 000 points trick.
IHG lets you buy 10 000 points for $70 USD if you are just short of points for a reward night. Except it’s possible to do this over and over again, with a maximum of X transactions per day.
But the beauty of this is that, unless you require paying cash to trigger promotions or for elite membership, you know that you should not pay more than the following for rooms in following in following categories:
- Category 1 — $70
- Category 2 — $105
- Category 3 — $140
- Category 4 — $175
- Category 5 — $210
- Category 6 — $245
- Category 7 — $280
- Category 8 — $315
- Category 9 — $350
Here's how to do it:
Step 0: (Only required if you have fewer than 5000 points in your account. If you have more, then skip this step) You need to have at least 5000 points in your account. You'll have to buy them at rack rate of $13.50USD per 1000 points. Make sure you take this cost into account when considering whether it's worth doing this route. Take a look at the picture below to see how:
Step 1: Find a cheap Holiday Inn and look for a date in the distant future. You need to find one where the full points rate is precisely 15 000 points, like this room in Slough, UK in the middle of October 2013.
Select the rate of 5000 points plus $70USD. In 99% of cases the rates are cancellable without penalty. Check the final booking screen to check for cancellation terms…I'm saying this as a disclaimer if one day someone screws this up. I won't be held liable! Go ahead and purchase the rate.
Step 2: Cancel your booking after it's been confirmed. You are in effect buying 10 000 points for $70USD. That's two nights at Points Break rates. When you cancel you won't get your $70 back, but your account will be 10 000 points richer.
Step 3: Find your desired Points Break room and you'll see that it costs only 5000 points. I've taken an example from an old Points Break room (Holiday Inn Nicosia, Cyprus). Be sure to choose one that's on the current list though.
And once it's booked, you can sit back, relax and enjoy your room when the day comes. If you play it right, you'll have booked a room at 10-20% of its rack rate. You won't be earning any points on these reward nights, but this is a case where cash is king.
Once in a while IHG runs large promotions, such as the recent “Accelerate” promotion. These are great opportunities for some to net over 30 000 – 50 000 points in a single promotion. You will need to do the sums, check the value proposition and assess whether it's right for you.
IHG points are not recommended to be spent for anything other IHG hotel nights, because of the poor conversions to other partners.
Normal Reward nights
IHG devalued their programme slightly in early 2013 to align the value of their points to market rates. This came only a year after they had another round of devaluation in early 2012.
Points Break was one of IHG’s brightest ideas introduced a couple of years ago. Every couple of months a range of hotels across the world have their rewards nights discounted to 5 000 points per night. Given how ridiculously easy it is to earn that number, it can make staying at an Intercontinental hotel (normally 50 000 points per night) a very cheap affair. If you use the $70 per 10 000 points trick above, you effectively get a room for $35.
Here is the link of the latest hotels on offer under the Points Break promotion.
Friends and Family discount
Friends and family members of IHG employees get offered discounted rates, but sadly are not eligible for points. But hey, we're all friends of Doug Castor right?
Though if you don't want to use the link above, you might find you know at least one eligible employee somewhere, as they have to be a full or part time employee of the IHG group or franchise. Aside from the obvious hotel connections, just a little dig through their corporate website reveals they own following restaurants and bars:
If you REALLY don't know anyone who works at the above, maybe if you tip the waiter or waitress and ask for their name, they'll offer to be your nominee for the Friend and Family rate!
Best Rate Guarantee
IHG have the most competitive Best Rate Guarantee out of all the hotels I know. If you can beat their price on their terms and conditions, then you will get your first night free. Perfect for 1 night stays!
Simply look on a search engine like expedia.com and find a cheaper rate. Do beware that every tiny detail has to be identical between your IHG room and the room you found elsewhere, like smoking/non-smoking, Queen bed/Double bed etc.
Though if you play it right you can score enormous discounts. I managed to stay at the Junior Suite in Intercontinental Amstel Amsterdam, which on an expensive night can cost around €700!
I see IHG simply as a way to stay at hotels on the cheap, and never bother to maintain any status with them. I happen to be a Gold member though I certainly won't be aiming to requalify. Given how easy it is to earn tens of thousands of points with them, it can really be worth your time spending at least one night per year in an IHG property to trigger these bonuses.
Other parts of the Beginners' Guide to Hotel Points