IHG Rewards Club is the loyalty program of the Intercontinental Hotels Group. This program encompasses brands from long-term-stay value-options like Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites to mid-tier properties like Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza all the way up to Intercontinental, Kimpton, Six Senses, select Mr. & Mrs. Smith properties, and more While IHG Rewards Club tends to be light when it comes to on-property elite benefits and IHG Rewards Club points are worth less than some competitors, opportunities to earn and burn abound with a very large worldwide footprint and wide range of brands from which to choose. This post serves as a complete guide to the loyalty program.
IHG Rewards Club overview
IHG Rewards Club shares traits that are common to most hotel rewards programs:
- Earn points from paid stays (but not when stays are booked through online travel agencies such as Expedia).
- Use points to book free night awards.
- Those who spend many nights at IHG hotels booked either as free nights or paid stays (but not those booked through online travel agencies) earn elite status.
- Elite status levels range from Gold to top-tier Spire Elite status. The higher your status, the more perks you get.
- Branded credit cards can be used to earn points and to help earn elite status.
IHG also has a few traits that are unique:
- IHG no longer has an award chart. The number of points necessary to book an award stay is therefore variable / not easy to predict
- Elite status perks are more limited than competitors. Not even top-tier elites get free breakfast or lounge access.
- IHG offers a paid elite status tier called IHG Ambassador. This status costs $200 per year.
- There are two invitation-only status levels that are brand-specific: Intercontinental Royal Ambassador and Kimpton Inner Circle. These statuses are extended by invitation only and come with some unique perks for those highly loyal to those respective brands.
IHG no longer has an award chart. Hotels regularly range in price from 10,000 points per night to 70,000 points per night.
Award chart things to know:
- Award prices are good for standard rooms (each hotel defines “standard” differently).
- Points + Cash rates are a way of effectively buying points. When you book a Points + Cash rate, your cash co-pay buys the points for an award stay. If you later cancel a Points + Cash booking, you are refunded in the number of points that were necessary to book the free night award.
- Sales on Points + Cash rates can be good opportunities to buy points. IHG sometimes runs a sale on the cash portion of Points + Cash rates and when they do we sometimes see the cash portion buy points at half a cent per point or less.
- PointBreaks rates have been a recurring promotion that puts some hotels on sale for as few as 5,000 points per night (though IHG moved to a sliding scale where some sale hotels cost 10K or 15K points per night). We haven’t seen PointBreaks since prior to the pandemic and don’t know if or when they will return.
Those with the IHG Rewards Club Premier or IHG Rewards Club Traveler credit cards booking a 4-night award stay get 4th night for free. For example, if you book a 4-night stay at a hotel that costs 25,000 points per night, you would only pay 75,000 points since the 4th night is free.
This perk can be leveraged to even greater value at times when the 4th night is particularly expensive. Given dynamic pricing, the 4th night may cost more than the previous 3 nights — but cardholders get the 4th night free on an award stay even when the 4th night is more expensive. If your 4th night is a high-demand night like New Year’s Eve, this could result in a substantial savings. For more on this, see: New IHG Sweet Spot: Dynamic Pricing + 4th Night Free For Huge Savings
IHG has several elite status tiers:
- Gold Elite: 10 nights or 10,000 elite-qualifying points
- Platinum Elite: 40 nights or 40,000 elite-qualifying points
- Spire Elite: 75 nights or 75,000 elite-qualifying points
- Intercontinental Ambassador: $200 per year
- Intercontinental Royal Ambassador: By invitation only.
- Kimpton Inner Circle: By invitation only
Elite status things to know:
- Elite nights are earned with either cash or award stays. When booking a four night award, it makes sense to book 5 nights instead (thanks to 5th Night Free pricing) just so that you can get an extra elite night. Make sure not to check out after the fourth night.
- Elite nights are not earned with online travel agency bookings. For example, if you book through Expedia, you will not earn elite night credit (or points) for your stay. .
- Elite status can be earned based on spend. Each status tier requires qualifying nights in a hotel or elite qualifying points. These points are earned through paid hotel stays or spend on an IHG credit card (which earns 1 elite qualifying point per dollar spent).
- Limited on-property benefits. The most salient elite status benefit in IHG’s program is the ability to earn more points on paid stays. On-property benefits are limited to things like late checkout and early check-in. Room upgrades are subject to availability and suites are not guaranteed even for top-tier Spire Elite members.
- Missing stay: If a stay was not properly credited to your account, you can fill out a missing stay request online:
- If you book multiple rooms for the same dates, you’ll earn elite night credits for only one room. That said, you will earn points on up to nine rooms. This can make IHG a great choice of you regularly plan travel for a group.
The Ambassador program offers solid value that can be worth paying for, but only if you make good use of the free weekend night certificate. Guaranteed room upgrades and 4pm late checkout can also be quite valuable under the right circumstances. I also like the fact that the new $20 per stay food & beverage credit can be used on award stays. This makes our points and free night certificates just a wee bit more valuable.
How to join Intercontinental Ambassador Status
The InterContinental Ambassador elite status program has two levels: InterContinental Ambassador and Royal Ambassador. Royal Ambassador is invitation only. InterContinental Ambassador is a pay to play program: pay either $200 or 40,000 IHG points for 12 months of membership. If you pay with points and you have the old IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card (no longer available to new applicants), you’ll get 10% of your points back for a net cost of 36,000 IHG points.
You can join InterContinental Ambassador online here. Benefits are available instantly upon joining. Benefits are not available at InterContinental Residences.
Ambassador Status Benefits
InterContinental Ambassador elite status benefits
InterContinental Ambassador now offers complimentary IHG Platinum status. This status offers benefits across all IHG brands. Other than IHG Platinum status, the following benefits apply only to stays at InterContinental Hotels & Resorts:
- IHG Platinum status: Great for those who don’t have an IHG credit card which offers this automatically.
- Free weekend night: Valid on the second night of a paid weekend stay on the Ambassador Weekend Rate (“AMB Certificate”) at InterContinental Hotels (excludes InterContinental Alliance Resorts). The free night is available immediately upon enrollment in the Ambassador program. Only one free night certificate is issued per 12 months. Valid only for the member who has InterContinental Ambassador status. The weekend is defined as Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, except in the Middle East where hotels may define the weekend as Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. TIP: Use this link to check for free weekend night prices and availability before joining the Ambassador program (h/t Loyalty Lobby)
- Guaranteed room upgrade: Guaranteed one category room upgrade on paid stays. Upgrades include suites, but exclude lounge access unless you booked a room with lounge access from the beginning. Room upgrades are not guaranteed on award stays.
- 4PM late checkout
- $20 food & beverage credit per stay: Can be used at most InterContinental hotel restaurants, bars and minibars. Not applicable to in-room dining (weird).
- Complimentary mineral water
- Complimentary internet service
- In greater China only:
- Complimentary breakfast for one, each night you stay (Valid in Mainland China only)
- 15% discount at restaurants and bars
- Welcome fruit platter for Platinum & Spire Elite members
- RMB120 credit for restaurants and bars for Spire Elite members only
Royal Ambassador elite status benefits
Royal Ambassador (invitation only) offers all of the benefits listed above, plus the following:
- Guaranteed two category room upgrade
- Complimentary Club InterContinental lounge access (or free full breakfast for two)
- Free Night at an IHG Hotel: Good for any hotel that costs up to 70,000 points per night
- Guaranteed Early check-in of 10 a.m. on day of arrival
- Minibar credit of $50 per night, up to $200 per stay
- In-room welcome amenity choice of fruit, sweet or savory snack on day of arrival
- Waived Amenity or Destination fees
- Single-room rate for double occupancy
- Guaranteed room availability for member’s room with 24-hour advance reservation
Ambassador Benefit Guarantees
IHG backs up Ambassador benefits with cash, credits, or points if they are not able to offer certain benefits during your stay:
Kimpton Inner Circle Status
Kimpton offers a special level of status by invitation-only to its most loyal guests called Kimpton Inner Circle. Benefits of this status can be awesome for those selected and include:
- Inner Circle Amenity (A personalized treat on arrival. Anecdotal reports indicate that this is usually pretty nice and often fits preferences well.)
- Complimentary Chef’s Taste
- Complimentary Night at New Hotels (When Kimpton opens a new hotel, you can reserve a free night for a limited time. This can be a huge benefit if you’re able to take advantage of it).
- VIP Dedicated Phone Line
- Guaranteed 1 category room upgrade
- Early check in | late check-out: Guaranteed 10am check-in and 4pm check-out
- Waived amenity fee: this includes amenity/destination fees, but does not waive resort fees
- IHG Spire Elite Status
How to get Kimpton Inner Circle status
Kimpton Inner Circle status is by invitation-only, but it requires a member to earn IHG Spire Elite status with 75 nights or 75,000 points and show particular loyalty to Kimpton by staying at Kimpton hotels often (this isn’t defined). Invitations go out in January each year by email.
The main elite status perks of the IHG Rewards Club program are increased earnings on paid stays:
- General member (no status) = 10x points per $1 on paid stays with most brands / 5x points per $1 at Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites)
- Gold status = 10% bonus on points earned (11x / 5.5x)
- Platinum status = 50% bonus on points earned (15x / 7.5x)
- Spire status = 100% bonus on points earned (20x / 10x)
In addition to amplified earnings on paid stays, elite members enjoy a few other perks:
- Points do not expire for elite members. Ordinarily, IHG points expire if a member has no activity for 12 months. However, points never expire for elite members.
- Welcome Amenity: All elite members get a welcome amenity. This is typically a choice between bonus points or a snack or drink. Those with higher status may receive more points or a better amenity, but this varies by property.
- Late checkout. This isn’t guaranteed, but program terms indicate that elite members are eligible for late checkout, so they theoretically have increased odds of scoring late checkout.
- Early check-in: Spire Elite members can get 10am check-in when it is set as part of their stay preferences. At Kimpton hotels, this is only guaranteed for Kimpton Inner Circle members and based on availability for Spire Elite members
- Complimentary upgrades. Platinum Elite and Spire Elite Members will be offered a complimentary upgrade, though upgraded rooms are defined by the hotel might inlcude something like a more recently renovated room or a room on a higher floor or with a better view. Program terms explicitly state that hotels are not required to upgrade members to suites.
- Choice benefit: Spire Elite members get a “choice benefit”. Upon reaching 75 nights or 75,000 elite-qualifying points, Spire elite members can choose either 25,000 bonus points or the ability to gift Platinum Elite status to one friend or family member.
- 72-Hour Guaranteed Availability: “When contacting the IHG® Rewards Club Customer Care Centre directly and guaranteeing the reservation with a valid credit card, each Platinum Elite or Spire Elite Member will be guaranteed one guest room for personal use, for reservations made at least 72 hours prior to the date of arrival, except during special events that result in extraordinary room demand, as determined solely by the hotel, or on Reward Night reservation. The Member will not be charged more than the prevailing rate for the accommodation requested, and the Member is not entitled to a rate less than the prevailing rate. Once made, Platinum Elite or Spire Elite Guarantees may not be dishonored for any reason.” Frequent Miler’s explanation: If you want to stay at a particular IHG hotel, but it is sold out for your desired stay, they’ll let you book the stay anyway, but at standard rack rates. While it says that this type of reservation can not be dishonored, terms do not indicate any compensation if it is not met.
There are three main shortcuts to IHG Rewards club elite status: credit cards, credit card spend, and point transfers.
Those who have the IHG Rewards Club Premier credit card (or the older and no-longer-available IHG Rewards Club Select card with a $49 annual fee) get automatic IHG Platinum Elite status.
Spending on an IHG credit card can reduce your path to elite status since each dollar spent will earn 1 elite qualifying point. This means that IHG Rewards Club Traveler cardholders could earn Gold status with $10K spend, Platinum status with $40K spend, or Spire Elite status with $75K spend. IHG Rewards Club Premier cardholders get Platinum status as a card perk but could spend $75K for Spire Elite status. Note that elite qualifying points from spend can be combined with elite qualifying points earned from paid stays, so credit card spend can be used to fill the gap to reach an elite status level.
Note that in many cases, point transfers to IHG are also elite-qualifying. For example, points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards to IHG count as elite-qualifying points. A member could therefore transfer all or part of the 75,000 points necessary for top-tier Spire Elite status. This would not generally be advisable since IHG Rewards Club points are typically worth far less than Chase Ultimate Rewards points (and IHG points can often be purchased for well under 1 cent each). However, it could be worth making a small transfer to meet the next elite status tier in some cases.
Once you earn elite status this year, your status will be good for the rest of this year, all of the next, and through February of the year after that.
Things to know about elite status shortcuts:
- Earning one level of status doesn’t help you get to the next. For example, if you have Platinum status from the IHG Rewards Club Premier credit card, you are just as far from Spire Elite status as someone with no status at all.
- Unlike competitors, IHG has no lifetime elite status so there is no disadvantage to shortcuts in terms of lifetime credit lost
|Status||Points per $ at most brands||Points per $ at Staybridge Suites & Candlewood Suites|
|Club (no status)||10x||5x|
The chart above shows point earnings for stays. The middle column shows the number of points earned per dollar at most brands. The next column shows the points earned per dollar at long-stay brands Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites.
Points are not earned with online travel agency bookings. For example, if you book through Expedia, you will not earn points for your room charge.
You can earn points on up to nine rooms at once. If you book nine rooms with the same IHG Rewards Club account number, you’ll earn points on all of the rooms but you’ll earn elite night credits for only one room.
IHG Rewards Club points can be transferred to more than 30 different airline loyalty programs, albeit at a poor rate of 10,000 IHG points to 2,000 airline miles in most cases. That is generally a poor deal unless you’re topping off an airline account for a valuable redemption and/or draining orphaned IHG points before expiry.
Unfortunately, this can not be done online and typically takes a few weeks. You must contact IHG Rewards Club over the phone to make a transfer.
IHG allows you to transfer points to another member without limits for a fee of $5 per 1,000 points. At a cost of 0.5c per point to transfer, that’s a horrible deal. IHG frequently sells points for the same price, so you’re better off waiting for a sale and simply buying points rather than paying to transfer them unless you’re looking to just top up an account for a specific award and points aren’t currently on sale.
To transfer IHG points to another member, see this page. I’m not positive whether or not the transfer is instant, but for half a cent per point it sure better be.
Points expire after 12 months of inactivity. Fortunately, almost all points activity will reset the clock. Points remain alive and available as long as you earn or use points at least once every 12 months.
Points do not expire for current IHG Rewards Club elite members (including those whose status comes from holding the IHG Rewards Club Premier credit card).
If you have earned Spire Elite status by completing 75 nights at IHG hotels through the calendar year or by earning 75,000 elite-qualifying points, then you are eligible to pick a “Choice Benefit”. You can choose either 25,000 bonus points or to gift Platinum Elite status to a friend or family member. In most cases, taking the points probably makes more sense since they won’t expire as long as you maintain elite status and your friend or family member could get Platinum status through a credit card. The points are generally worth more.
Below you’ll find information about each currently available IHG credit card:
|Card Offer and Details|
In addition to redeeming points for award nights, it has also been possible in the past to redeem points for experiences. These include things like backstage concert tickets, impossible to get sports event tickets, dining with famous chefs, etc. Some experiences have fixed award prices, but most are setup as auctions. In either case, you may or may not get good value depending upon circumstances. Note that there are currently no auctions available. It is unclear as to whether these will make a return after the pandemic.
IHG Rewards Access auctions (click here to visit website)
- Search by: location, category, date range, keyword, points range
- Fixed Price & Auction
- When to start looking: Events start to appear ~3 months in advance. 2 months seems to be the sweet spot.
Pros (where IHG Rewards Club is better than average):
- Large mid-tier footprint
- High point earnings from paid stays
- Automatic credit card elite status (Hilton also has this and Hilton is arguably better since you can get either Hilton Gold or Diamond status from a credit card and those statuses include free breakfast)
- Points don’t expire for elite members
Cons where IHG Rewards Club is worse than average):
- IHG charges resort fees on award stays (Hilton and Hyatt do not)
- Elite benefits are mostly limited to increased point earnings; nobody gets free breakfast or lounge access based on elite status
- IHG credit cards don’t offer great value for spend, but may be worth keeping for perks like 4th night free on award stays or an annual free night certificate
Top IHG Redemptions
If you’re looking to stay at luxurious properties, the best use of IHG points tends to be for Intercontinental and Kimpton properties. As more Six Senses and Mr. & Mrs. Smith properties become bookable with points (and as travel opens back up and more members can take advantage of those partnerships), we will likely find more hidden gems.
In the near term, those looking for boutique luxury in North America may want to check out the following post: Best Kimpton Hotels in the United States and Canada.
Q: If I have the old IHG Rewards Club Select credit card ($49 annual fee) which offers a 10% rebate on award stays, can I stack that with the 4th night free if I also get the IHG Rewards Club Premier or Traveler card?
A: Yes. These benefits stack.
Q: If I cancel a Points + Cash stay, will I receive a cash refund?
A: No. When youn cancel a Points + Cash stay, your refund will be entirely in points. This can be advantageous as it is sometimes possible to buy IHG points indirectly via Points + Cash for less than IHG charges when they sell points
Q: I completed a stay but it hasn’t credited to my account. What can I do?
A: First, wait a bit. It’s not unusual for a stay to appear on your account about a week after checkout. Next, if the stay still hasn’t appeared, you can fill out a missing stay request online: https://www.ihg.com/hotels/us/en/customer-care/forms/missing-points
Q: If I book multiple rooms for the same stay will I earn rewards on all of them?
A: You will earn points for up to nine rooms, but you’ll earn elite night credit for only one room.