InterContinental Hotels Group is one of the largest hotel companies in the world — they own or manage nearly 5,000 properties and easily Hilton and Marriott. But their main loyalty program, IHG Rewards, generally disappoints.
It’s not that the points aren’t worth anything. Reward nights are capped at 50,000 points for even the best hotels, and it’s not too difficult to earn them. You can even buy more points through a trick that involves booking and canceling points and cash reward nights. But elite status at these hotels means little more than a plastic card. Anyone with an IHG credit card gets top-tier Platinum status, and so it’s no surprise that it means very little at most properties.
Yesterday IHG announced plans to introduce a new elite tier at 75 nights and decrease the qualification requirements for the Platinum tier from 50 to 40 nights. The Gold tier will remain unchanged at 10 nights. This new tier will have as-yet unannounced benefits that might finally turn IHG Rewards into a program worth your attention. One perk that has already been announced is 100% bonus points. Another is a lump sum of 25,000 bonus points or the choice to give Platinum status to another member.
This preview is worrisome. Many people maintain an active IHG Rewards account given the ubiquity of its hotels and the ease of earning points. More bonus points isn’t necessarily an improvement. At some point frequent customers will run out of time to stay at hotels, even if they’re free. What’s needed is a way to make those stays, the paid ones and the free ones, more enjoyable as a customer. Here are some benefits I’d like to see added to this new elite tier and which IHG currently does not offer:
- Complimentary breakfast
- Suite upgrades that can be confirmed in advance
- Alternatively, a guaranteed suite upgrade if available at check-in
- Status recognition during reward stays
- Waived resort fees
Check out my comparison of hotel loyalty programs (updated in February) for more ideas of how other chains compete for their most valuable customers.
One other noticeable change is the addition of a points expiration policy. This is not unusual and is spreading to many airline and hotel loyalty programs. You must have activity — earning or redeeming points — at least once every 12 months. This could be as simple as using an IHG credit card or buying a non-hotel reward through the online mall.
Worth remembering is that the high-end InterContinental brand still operates a separate program that lets you buy Ambassador status or earn Royal Ambassador status. These tiers can be more valuable. The problem is that the number of hotels is much more limited. There is still no news how the Ambassador program will be integrated with the new IHG Rewards.