I’m excited about… IHG?! [On Greg’s Mind]

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I’m excited about IHG!  What?!  I’ve never spoken or written that before.  But, yesterday we learned about a number of positive changes coming to IHG credit cards, including the ability to add points to your 40K free night certificates in order to book more expensive hotels.  That is awesome, but it’s only a part of why I’m excited about IHG…

New IHG Rewards

IHG had also previously announced that they’ll be updating their rewards program in March.  When I first learned about that I was only mildly hopeful.  Compared to other big programs (Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton), IHG’s rewards program has always lagged way behind.  IHG’s elite status benefits are extremely weak, and even those are applied inconsistently across brands.  Plus, the few things that I previously liked about IHG went away over time.  For example, their credit cards used to offer uncapped annual free night certificates, but they’re now capped at 40K points; and they used to adhere to a fixed award chart (making it possible to get outsized value at high end hotels), but they’ve mostly scrapped that in favor of dynamic awards (they still offer fixed award prices at some properties, but most are dynamically priced).  My point is that IHG hadn’t done much in recent years to make me expect that they’re interested in making customer friendly changes to their program.

While my expectations for IHG’s rewards program have gone down over the years, my interest in IHG properties has gone up.  In recent years, IHG has acquired and/or partnered with some exciting hotel brands: Kimpton, Six Senses, Regent, and most recently, Mr & Mrs Smith.  IHG members have access to some great brands, but with limited elite benefits.

The positive credit card news has me rethinking my biases.  By allowing us to use points to supplement 40K free night certificates (without capping the supplement the way Marriott intends to do), IHG has shown a willingness to make truly customer friendly enhancements to their rewards program.

New IHG elite benefits

IHG Rewards status tiers
This chart shows the elite tiers that will be coming in March, but there’s no info yet about what benefits each tier will offer (other than the ability to earn bonus points on stays).

We don’t yet know what elite benefits IHG’s updated program will offer, but to get an idea of how bad the current elite benefits are, I’ll simply repost Stephen Pepper’s own words:

While I love the value we can get on award stays, where IHG has always fallen down is elite member recognition. It’s simply terrible. For starters, they’re non-committal about room upgrades – we’ve stayed 190 nights at 32 different IHG properties since 2018 and I can literally count on one hand the number of times we’ve gotten a room upgrade.

There’s also no such thing as a free breakfast unless you’re staying at one of their brands that offers free breakfast as standard for all guests (e.g. Holiday Inn Express and Staybridge Suites). If you stay at a Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, etc. you’ll be paying out of pocket for breakfast unless the hotel is unexpectedly generous and offers free breakfast anyway.

There are no suite upgrades, no free parking, no guaranteed 4pm (or even 1pm!) late checkout, etc. IHG Rewards can therefore be great for award redemptions but poor if you want any kind of elite recognition during your stays.

In that same post, Stephen wrote that he was “mildly optimistic” about upcoming changes.  That’s where I was too.  I mean, it would be hard for them to make the elite program worse, so I was optimistic that it would get better, but I was far from confident that it would actually become “good”.

Now, though, the credit card announcement has led me to be more optimistic than before.  I realize that IHG may have simply borrowed the idea of topping off certs from Marriott, but still it’s a great enhancement.  Maybe they do want a world class loyalty program after all.

I’m now hopeful that they’ll add meaningful elite benefits to their program.  Here is my wish-list of benefits I’d love to see:

  • Equal benefits across brands: Today there are different rules for Kimpton hotels, Intercontinental hotels, Regent hotels, etc.  The one exception I’d understand keeping is with Mr and Mrs Smith properties since they aren’t formally part of IHG (they have a partnership similar to Hyatt and SLH).
  • Waived resort & destination fees:
    • All members should get waived resort fees on award stays.  Hilton, Hyatt, and Wyndham already offer this benefit to their members.
    • Diamond elites should get waived resort fees on paid stays too.
  • Free breakfast: IHG should offer free breakfast (at all brands) for Diamond elites (take that Hilton!)
  • Late Checkout: IHG should offer guaranteed 4pm late checkout for Platinum Elite and higher (and 2pm for Silver and higher).
  • Room upgrades:
    • IHG could leapfrog the competition by allowing high level elites (Platinum and above, perhaps?) to upgrade to a higher category room at the time of booking.  How awesome would it be, for example, to guarantee an ocean view room from the get-go when paying for a standard room?
    • Upgrade all elites at the time of check-in to the best available room.
  • Suite upgrades:
    • Diamond elites should be automatically upgraded to a standard suite at check-in, when available.
    • IHG should offer a way for members to earn suite upgrade certificates that can be applied and guaranteed at the time of booking.  For example, these could be Choice Benefits available to those who earn Diamond Elite status.
  • Extra credit (i.e. more goodies I’d love to see):
    • Guaranteed early check-in
    • Free parking
    • Welcome amenity (At high-end hotels, I love getting a cheese tray and bottle of wine, for example)

No, I don’t think it’s at all likely that IHG will implement all or even most of the above suggestions, but I am more hopeful than before that some may come true.  IHG has a real opportunity here to leapfrog Marriott and Hilton (both of which are on a downward trajectory, in my opinion) and maybe even to be discussed non-ironically in the same breath as Hyatt.  I’d love to see that!  And this would undoubtedly lead many of us to frequently choose IHG hotels over the competition.  And I’m sure IHG would love that.

What do you think?  Will IHG make meaningful enhancements to their elite program?  Comment below.

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Points Adventure

My favorite no-longer-exists IHG feature was Point Breaks. Got to do some great things b/c of it.

veeRob

Oh the memories for me as well. Remember Priceless Surprises?

[…] Improvements With IHG Rewards Program:  Of all the major hotel loyalty programs, IHG ranks near the bottom.  They don’t offer the same perks as Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, etc.  Then their free night certificates were capped which made things worse.  Well it seems they’re making some improvements to sway you to reconsider. […]

FNT Delta Diamond

The problem with IHG offering elite status benefits is many properties simply couldn’t comply. Even at a nominally full-service Holiday Inn. What kind of cheese and wine do you think the Holiday Inn Marquette is going to give you as an IHG diamond amenity? You’ll probably get processed cheese cubes and Barefoot wine. That’s the problem. Most of IHG’s properties are low-end brands. At best, IHG’s Kimpton is comparable to Renaissance in Marriott and Intercontinental with Westin and maybe some JW Marriotts. But Kimpton and Intercontinental properties are few and far between outside big cities. Even Crowne Plaza, which is pretty much like a dumpy old Sheraton, aren’t in many cities.

A guy named Mike

IME, Crowne Plaza has been anywhere from an okay business hotel in A-/B+ condition with good conference rooms and decent hot food down to basically what you describe. The brand consistency is pretty bad.

FNT Delta Diamond

Like many brands, many of the best properties in the Crowne Plaza brand are international. I think of the Crowne Plaza at Singapore’s airport, which is like a Ritz-Carlton compared when compared to say the recently de-flagged Crowne Plaza in downtown Detroit. Pre-pandemic, the Crowne Plaza in Plymouth, England, had a nice top-floor restaurant as well as a club lounge with access included for IHG platinums.

Another big problem with IHG is customer service. Even as someone with Spire status, I can’t get any meaningful help from corporate.

Still, IHG is the only big brand that has been de-flagging its worst properties.

A guy named Mike

That is a good point on de-flagging. The worst CP I had to stay at has subsequently gotten the boot.

FNT Delta Diamond

IHG and Best Western are the only chains that, to my knowledge, have de-flagged hundreds of properties over the past 10 or 12 years. Of course, IHG also lost 100-ish properties in 2020 after the owner took them to Sonesta.

Meanwhile, Marriott just keeps throwing money at dumpy old Sheratons.

FNT Delta Diamond

But for me, IHG’s Intercontinental and Crowne Plaza brands are never a consideration. Just like Hyatt’s Hyatt, Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt or Hyatt Regency brands.

In many places I go for work, there’s no Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza or full-service Hyatt. I do about 30 nights a year with IHG because often the only chain options (besides Country Inn & Suites by Radisson; a Ramada Inn, or maybe, if I’m lucky, a Hampton Inn) are a newish or recently renovated Holiday Inn Express with free breakfast or an older Holiday Inn with a bad restaurant and no free breakfast.

Terry Quinn

The CC points show an issue i have as a Canadian with RA status. IHG has not had a Canadian CC for a few years now and that limits the points i can build for rewards. I hope they build in a few more perks for us in absence of a CC.

Michael E

I find that if I need a late checkout for any reason, I go with Marriott or Hyatt. IHG has some good values, but most Express have checkout at 11am. As a Spire I have to beg sometimes to get noon. So 100% if I have a reason I don’t want to check out early, IHG loses that booking. If they change only that I am more likely to book them more often. At this point I would be shocked if we even get as lucky as a 1pm option. 🙂

Mark b

I like if the stop making sign paper. Marriott & Hilton check-in is fast and no paper . Added to the T&C s when I book the darn room and speed up the check-in. My 2cents

dizzy

Great changes altho I already was a fan of IHG- they simply have more and better priced properties where I want to go. Hyatt is basically useless, Marriott is only so-so with locations and the prices are super high with points most of the time. I don’t know why people complain about IHG as much- I routinely can get .7-1cpp value out of them, sometimes more, and almost always there’s a reasonable free breakfast and late checkout. I was going to go for a churn of the premier card but may or may not based on how the biz card is.

Laura

I was so close to changing my loyalty to Hilton… maybe I’ll stick around and see what happens!

A guy named Mike

Hilton status has been so devalued in the US since the Aspire handed out Diamond, that it doesn’t really mean anything. Unless there is an executive lounge, you basically get more Hilton pesos and a water bottle.

Scott

Hilton golds and diamonds both get breakfast. I think more likely the qmex plat and 95 a year Hilton contributed to it much more than the aspire.

A guy named Mike

Didn’t Hilton just announce that the move away from free breakfast toward the credit is permanent?

It kind of feels like Hilton is overcharging for breakfast, then giving you a credit that doesn’t cover the cost and calling that a ‘benefit’.

Paul

The ability to supplement the 40K award is great! I hope this puts pressure on the Marriott and Hyatt card awards to do the same.

A guy named Mike

Hasn’t Marriott already announced that they will let you add up to 15k points to a certificate once their next round of changes is complete?

Elizabeth

I see so many disgruntled posts about Hilton and Marriott it seems an opportunity for IHG to buy some loyalty if they upped their game. They don’t have the same footprint of Marriott, but they have some very nice properties. In the Hampton Inn/Fairfield Inn/Holiday Inn Express category I think Holiday Inn Express is very reliable and plentiful. I’m one “blow all my Hilton points and free night certs on an epic trip” away from abandoning Hilton, and Marriott isn’t too far away either. Just wish this pandemic would make the prospect of international travel more certain. The testing to get back in to the country worries me too much.

Last edited 10 months ago by Elizabeth
Reno Joe

Regarding Hilton and Marriott, Bo says Just Do It. Regarding IHG, don’t expect anything different. It doesn’t matter which chain we’re talking about, the property owners are petty individuals who find every method and reason to deny benefits to members. You’ve been told.

slaven

what are some examples of high-end IHG properties where one can get great redemption values?

Reno Joe

You’re kidding, right?

Scott

Do we know what Thalasso is at? Also aren’t they dynamic? How can you figure out the fixed cost?

Michael R Karpiel

I redeem my FNC’s at Kimpton, Indigo, IC primarily. Same with points stays and have been able to get some very nice properties. On points redemptions I’m able to get an average of 1.1-1.2cents per point.

huey judy

Like everyone else, I’m not holding out much hope. IHG Rewards has always been ‘OK’ and often useful. I am getting very weary of Hilton’s astronomical points requirements per property, so have been looking at IHG more closely. I love their CrownePlazas and InterContinentals, and your basic Holiday Inns are reliable, mostly. There’s never a feeling of specialness in being an IHG Platinum, and I’m surprised at how much I care about that. Seems that all I do these days is plan, book and cancel trips, but I’ll not give up and crawl under the couch. This surely seems like the time for IHG to swoop in and scoop up all the disgruntled Marriott peeps, so perhaps March will bring us some excitement at IHG. .

Terry D

It’s odd reading this article and the comments. As a Royal Ambassador, I’m treated like royalty, both on phone support and check-in. I insure my double room upgrade when making the reservations. I’m met with a nice amenity, plus free breakfast for two and a food/drink credit should the minibar be empty. Am I just lucky?

Brutus

I’m confused. You have an invitation-only elite status and you’re surprised that your experience is above average?

Terry D

Sorry, wasn’t clear, but I was responding to the posts of other elite members who said they were not recognized for their status.

Reno Joe

And CKs, D360s, and GSs are surprised when they’re greeted at the plane.

WR2

Get used to disappointment. I’m not ready to sacrifice a 5/24 slot or an opportunity to get CIC/CIU 75k, in order to invest in hope for the IHG program. I’ll wait and see what the program changes and CC offers are, but I doubt that it is possible to make the rewards program cheaper for hotel owners and still leapfrog Hyatt, Hilton, or even lowly Marriott.

ActualMichael

I’m surprised you didn’t mention the idea of lifetime status with IHG. Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott all have a path to some kind of lifetime status, and I believe that drives a lot of loyalty to those programs, especially Marriott. If IHG wants to steal those road warriors away from Marriott, they’ll need to offer some kind of carrot for those people when they retire and aren’t traveling 100 days a year anymore.

Reno Joe

So someone can be denied benefits for life? Think about what you’re saying.

chris

Hopeful too, I would concur their award benefits are a joke. Platinum member here and dont even get a thank you for being a loyal platinum member when checking in.

Steve

I’m Spire Elite and haven’t been thanked once last year or this year :/

Lukas

Surprised that you didn’t mention IHG business card that will save a 5/24 spot and allow to combine the old personal card with fourth night free benefit and 10% points back.

jeph36

Is there a magic number for “too many” Chase cards? I think I am at 7 personal and 2 business, this new business one might be interesting to pair with my OG $49 card.

Gene

@ Greg — Don’t hold your breath. IHG won’t add anything exciting. We’ve been Royal Ambassador 17 years, and they never improve anything

Nathan

Honestly, I used to put in 75 nights a year at IHG on average. And for the last four years…. ZERO nights. Your wish list, if passed, would get me back in their hotels.

Brutus

This list reminds me of your “Venture Ultimate” post. I guess it never hurts to dream.

Scott

@Greg I love you my guy but you must be smoking something if you think IHG is going to go meaningfully in this direction. Hasn’t IHG corporate said to owners that the new program will cost them LESS??? You may say “how can they make it worse?” Ooooh they’ll find a way. Also, doesn’t IHG make a distinction between points bookings and cert booking in terms of availability? I’ve Also seen a lot of 41k and 42k points per night in the past year. Finally, one thing absent from your post is something about black out dates or minimum inventory.

Brutus

To be fair, I generally see a number of 35-39K points options as well.

Scott

I’ve been shafted too many times, I’ll reserve any change in opinion until I see the details AND more importantly how ihg corporate enforces it.

T. Jones

I sign up for the IHG card last year because I was reconsidering my loyalty to Marriott. Weird. I know, but last year’s road trip put me at a Holiday Inn Express in one of those “off the beaten path” locations, and it was a remarkably nice stay
Anyway, I’m looking forward to my first free night certificate. I guess the question I have is why borrow from the Marriott idea of topping off certificates? Why not just borrow from Radisson and offer a straight-up 40K points? Subtle difference for sure, but puzzling nonetheless.
In any case, I’ll certainly be giving IHG more serious consideration in the days ahead. This may just be their year.

Brutus

Not puzzling at all. It’s called breakage. Most people will redeem those certificates for less than 40K. After all, it’s hard to find a night that’s exactly 40K. That’s why being able to top off an award night certificate is a big plus. Just giving out the points is more expensive for the program, since they can all be relatively easily redeemed.

A guy named Mike

This and giving people 40k points gets around the one year expiration (another breakage point).