IHG Rewards Club is a sometimes overlooked program because, let’s face it, the Holiday Inn Express is not normally on your list of aspirational award redemptions. It has also become harder to maximize the value of this program as it continues to become more revenue-focused.
Even so, IHG has expanded its high-end offerings with the acquisition of Kimpton, offers a relatively easy path to elite status, and is among the most ubiquitous chains. Whether it’s the InterContinental or, yes, that Holiday Inn Express, sometimes IHG is not just the best option. It can be the only option in many areas around the world.
I ended up booking a stay at the Holiday Inn at West Yellowstone last summer. It was comfortable, convenient, and affordable. Everyone should keep IHG in their back pocket even if it isn’t your preferred chain.
Brands and Size
IHG stands for InterContinental Hotels Group (the original InterContinental chain was started by Pan American Airways). It now has over 5,200 properties with about a dozen brands (or “flags”).
- Holiday Inn
- Holiday Inn Express
- InterContinental Hotels
- Crowne Plaza
- Kimpton (including Hotel Monaco and other boutique names)
- Hotel Indigo
- Candlewood Suites
- Staybridge Suites
- Even Hotels
The InterContinental brand is important to keep in mind because they operate their own loyalty program, called InterContinental Ambassador. This costs $200 per year, and you can be invited to Royal Ambassador based on your spend at InterContinental properties only. Typically that threshold is around $10,000 per year.
You can still earn IHG Rewards Club points and status for stays at InterContinental, but you’ll find that the Ambassador program is much more rewarding. This post will focus primarily on the IHG Rewards Club program. For more information, I recommend you visit the InterContinental Ambassador enrollment page above as well as this thread on recent changes to the benefits for Royal Ambassador members.
IHG Rewards will award 10 base points per dollar on most stays (assuming you book through IHG or the hotel directly, as most reservations through online travel agencies do not earn points). Any reservations at Staybridge or Candlewood Suites will earn only 5 base points per dollar. Gold elite members, the lowest tier, earn a 10% bonus. Platinum status is easy to get with a credit card and offers a 50% bonus. Spire elite status includes a 100% bonus on earned points.
You can also purchase points, and I don’t just mean through the ordinary “buy points” option you see with most loyalty programs. IHG Rewards Club will readily sell you as many points as you want at a price of 0.7 cents each (5,000 for $35). The only catch is that you need to already have at least 10,000 points in your account. It will cost $13.50 per 1,000 points to get you started.
Purchasing discounted points is an option whenever you try to book an award night but don’t have enough points already. You can still complete the booking with a Points & Cash award. The cash is used to buy the remaining points, and from then on it’s treated like a traditional all-points award night. If you later go to cancel the reservation, the cash portion will not be refunded. You will receive your original points and the points you purchased back in your account.
There are 13 award categories, from 10,000 to 70,000 points per night, as well as occasional PointBreaks awards that start as low as 5,000 points per night. You can use the backdoor trick just mentioned to purchase as many points as you need at a rate of 0.7 cents each. Just make a dummy booking, buy the extra points with cash, cancel, and repeat. Eventually you’ll have enough points to book the stay you really want.
Because of this, you should never pay more than the following amounts for an IHG hotel. Buying points would be cheaper than paying the published room rate (assuming, of course, that award space is available).
|Award Category||Points Amount||Maximum Cash Price|
All IHG Rewards Club members start out with Club status, and there are three elite tiers beyond this that are earned at either 10, 40, or 75 qualifying nights per year. Award redemptions do count toward these qualifying nights.
You can also qualify with elite qualifying points, which are the base points you earn (10 points per dollar) on your stay. Any bonus points that come with status do not count as qualifying points.
Finally, purchasing Ambassador status from InterContinental Hotels will come with automatic IHG Rewards Club Platinum Elite status. But otherwise, remember that these are separate programs with their own criteria and benefits, even if the same chain participates in both.
All members are promised no blackout dates on award nights (meaning if a base room is available, you can book it with points), an exclusive “Your Rate” for being a member, and complimentary WiFi internet at the hotel.
Gold Elite (10 nights or 10,000 points)
- Priority check-in, subject to availability
- Late check-out, subject to availability
- 10% bonus points
Platinum Elite (40 nights or 40,000 points)
- Elite rollover nights, allowing any additional nights beyond 40 (or 75) to be rolled over to the next year’s qualification requirement
- Complimentary room upgrades, subject to availability
- Guaranteed room availability with 72 hours advance notice
- 50% bonus points
Spire Elite (75 nights or 75,000 points)
- Early check-in as early as 10 AM, subject to availability
- Exclusive “Choice Benefit” upon receiving status, which is the option to receive either 25,000 bonus points or give Platinum Elite status to a friend
- Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Five Star status upon receiving status
- 100% bonus points
There is only one credit card, the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card issued by Chase, that is available to new members. Some people (like my wife) may have been grandfathered into the older Select credit card. Both include Platinum Premier status and a free anniversary night each year. This used to be redeemable at any hotel but now can only be used on award nights that cost 40,000 points or less.
The new Premier credit card earns 10 points per dollar at IHG Rewards Club hotels (automatically doubling the 10 base points per dollar, plus whatever you get with your elite status) and 2 points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants. All other purchases earn just 1 point per dollar. It can be worthwhile for the status and the free night each year even if you aren’t a big spender. Another unique perk is that cardholders can redeem points for three nights and get the fourth night free. This is much better than the fifth night free that most competing hotel programs offer.