This series will serve as a complete guide to getting the most from IHG’s Rewards Club loyalty program. Each part will cover an in-depth topic on how to maximize its benefits and help you get more free hotel stays and rewards. In this post I will briefly go over some of the biggest perks of the program. In the past few weeks I've already written about the IHG credit card and Best Price Guarantee, so you can find links to those articles already in this post. The rest of the series will be soon to come.
IHG Rewards Club is the loyalty program for InterContinental Hotels which has nine major brands: Intercontinental Hotels, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hotel Indigo, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, Even Hotels, and Hualuxe. The last two are newer brands and less established than the rest.
Even though all of these hotels are included under IHG’s brand name, it actually has two separate loyalty programs. InterContinental has its own Ambassador program that is only valid at InterContinental hotels, for all other IHG brand hotels the loyalty program is called IHG Rewards Club. One major drawback of these distinct programs is that there is no reciprocity between them, meaning your IHG Rewards Club status does not get you anything at InterContinental hotels, and vice versa.
That said, you can earn IHG Rewards Club points and redeem them at any IHG hotel regardless of brand. Similar to all other hotel programs, you can earn and redeem points at any of their properties. This makes things simple on the points-earning end of things, however it gets a bit more complicated with elite status benefits.
Become a Club member just signing up for the program, which also means there are basically no benefits to speak of.
For all status levels, including Club, you will earn:
Stay 15 nights within a calendar year or earn 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points.
(Fast-track option: stay at 3 different IHG brands + 10 nights in a calendar year.)
Benefits in addition to Club status:
Stay 50 nights in a calendar year or earn 60,000 IHG Rewards Club Points.
(Fast-track option: stay at 4 different IHG brands + 40 nights in a calendar year.)
Benefits in addition to Gold status:
You can view the full list of benefits here.
Other ways to earn elite status include earning IHG points from various promotions, which can be done quite easily after a handful of stays using some of their promo codes or earning points during IHG’s Big Win promotion. Points earned from non-stay bonuses do not count towards elite status, but any points earned during paid stays will go towards status. You’ll earn points on all your stays at all IHG brand hotels.
Award nights also count towards elite status, so burning some points during PointBreaks for some cheap awards nights is a quick and dirty way to rack up nights.
You can get Platinum Elite status through the IHG co-branded credit card through Chase. The IHG Rewards Club Select MasterCard gives you automatic Platinum Elite status as long as you hold the card. There is a $49 annual fee. Another reason to have this card is that it offers a 10% rebate on redeemed points also gives you one free night certificate annually that you can use at any IHG hotel.
In the past IHG has allowed members match their status from other loyalty programs, but it was discontinued earlier this year. Hopefully we will see this return in the future, but in the meantime there are plenty of other ways to earn IHG status.
Clearly the biggest perk that Platinum Elite status gives you is complimentary room upgrades. Apart from that, there is little benefit--no free breakfast, no lounge access, no welcome gift.
What are the chances of getting a room upgrade? From my experience they really are hit or miss. I did get upgraded to a Corner Suite at the Holiday Inn Sisli in Istanbul, but only after reminding the receptionist that upgrades are a benefit of Platinum Elites. Granted this was an award stay, after quickly checking for availability I was given a room upgrade.
That said, it is extremely easy to earn Platinum Elite status, which may be why the benefits are not that great. Though it would be nice if IHG actually had a valuable elite status level that offers real benefits. For one, IHG’s top tier status doesn’t come close to many other hotel brands top elite status.
Once you earn Platinum Elite status you will have it for a year, but there is no lifetime status with IHG.
For good or bad, InterContinental has its own distinct loyalty program. None of the benefits with either program cross over, e.g. your Platinum Elite status with IHG Rewards Club to Ambassador and vice versa. Ambassador status benefits are only good at IHG’s top tier brand, InterContinental hotels. Note that there are only 170+ InterContinental hotels worldwide.
A unique feature about Ambassador status is that you have to buy it for $200 or 32,000 IHG Rewards Club points for one year. After the first year you have the option to renew at $150 per year. Since you pay yearly for status, there is no stay requirements.
RECEIVE EXCLUSIVE BENEFITS
ENJOY A MORE RELAXING STAY
EARN & REDEEM REWARDS
*Valid on the second night of a paid weekend stay on the Ambassador Weekend Rate and issued upon purchase and renewal. Weekends may vary by region.
Is Ambassador Status worth $200? Probably not for most people, but if you frequently stay in InterContinental hotels, then it may be. Remember, there are only 170+ InterContinental properties worldwide.
The fact that you don’t get lounge access or room upgrades to the best available room is a deal breaker in my opinion. With what benefits you do get, you maybe receive very little in value, and it’s a gamble at best with valuable room upgrades. If you get an upgrade from the lowest available room, you will likely get upgraded to an Executive room which in short is the same room with a different name. If it makes sense to spend a bit more you can always book a room level below the suite.
InterContinental Royal Ambassador status is only extended by invitation to the top 1% of members. The funny thing is that this threshold is ever-changing and is not published, but there have been reports that it hovers around 60 nights per year.
Royal Ambassador members also get one referral to give to another individual, so if you're lucky to know someone that has an extra try to take advantage of it! (as of May 2014 this is no longer a benefit).
Even though some people may pay upwards of $500 for a referral certificate on eBay, lets break this down. First off, room upgrades are hit or miss and you may only get upgraded to an Executive room which is basically the same room but possibly on a floor higher or corner. If you’re lucky you might receive a Club room.
One thing to note is that even this status does not give you free breakfast. So unless you are upgraded to a Club room with lounge access you can expect to pay for breakfast. And yes, you do get free drinks to the mini-bar but the terms state that they are “for in-room consumption by member only.” Not that they will check. but this perk is far below lounge access in my opinion.
Also, award stays are not eligible for any of these benefits which is a huge drawback for anyone that uses their points for award stays. At least if you get this status you can make a quick buck by selling your referral on eBay!
At the start of the year IHG made changes to give all members of IHG Rewards Club free internet. This includes most hotels worldwide, but disappointedly not in Europe. However, you will still get free internet in Europe as a Gold Elite or Platinum Elite member. The terms say that you are allowed this benefit even if you are not a guest at the hotel.
Comparatively to other major hotel programs IHG’s elite status is a notch below. Without breakfast or lounge access IHG will always fall short, and given that room upgrades are hit or miss there is no guarantee that you will get anything worth value during your stay.
On top of that you need to have a separate status at InterContinental hotels that you have to pay for. Ask yourself this: will you get more than $200 per year from having Ambassador status? Remember that there are only ~170 InterContinental hotels worldwide. Also keep in mind that IHG also makes it clear that they have no obligation to honor any elite membership benefits on award nights.
For me the IHG is a program for earning free nights. Points are easy to come by with their credit card bonus, they have some great promotions both for earning and redeeming points, and their Best Rate Guarantee is among the most valuable. Heck I have received more value (free breakfast, lounge access, and suites) from their BRG than I ever will with my Platinum Elite status.