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When I first got into the travel hacking world, I gravitated toward two hotel programs: SPG and IHG. This may seem really odd, as they are pretty much polar opposites. But I guess that is exactly why. The holes in one program are filled by the other. SPG provided high-value points that took a little more effort to accrue. IHG handed them out like candy and has this awesome Point Breaks (well…maybe I should use past tense there – SEE: I’ve got a bad feeling about thew new IHG Point Breaks) list.
With IHG in particular, I went my merry way earning and redeeming points for multiple trips in 2015 and 2016. My wife and I each nabbed the IHG Mastercard with an increased sign-up bonus of 70,000 points, which gave us enough points for several nights. I read up on all the tips and tricks that I could find. In some people’s opinion, it was the best program out there.
But the longer I have been a member of IHG Rewards Club, the more disenchanted I have become with their program. The last two years have been particularly grim, as some hotels have experienced massive devaluations (SEE: Ouch. Book now before the massive IHG devaluation!). The latest devaluation of Point Breaks is the final nail in the coffin. IHG as a real loyalty program is basically dead, and here’s why:
Top tier elite status means almost nothing
With most hotel chains, top tier elite status is something that is quite rewarding. With Hyatt, you get free breakfast, great room upgrades, and a number of other perks, such as waived parking fees and resort charges in some cases. Marriott and SPG offer great room upgrades and good treatment to elites from most reports. I’ve also had good experiences as a Hilton Diamond, but this doesn’t seem to be quite in the same league as the other hotel top tier elite statuses (or maybe it is because most of my stays are domestic at Hampton Inns, Hilton Garden Inns, and Doubletrees).
With IHG, their top-tier Spire Elite status gives….well…hmmmm. I don’t really know. There is no free breakfast. There are no guaranteed room upgrades (and they don’t offer them on award stays!). There are a lot of perks laid out on the IHG Rewards Club page, but it is mostly filler. After being Spire Elite for a year (due to a fluke where my credit card signup bonus still counted toward the status), I realized it wasn’t really different than being a basic member, aside from the points earning bonus. We’ve received one nice, but pretty useless, upgrade to a two bedroom suite at a Staybridge Suites where my wife and I were basically crashing for the night and just needed a bed. All of our other room “upgrades” have been marginal. Sometimes I wonder if the front desk is just feeding me some hogwash.
So, with a pretty useless set of elite “statuses”, there is not point to being loyal to IHG. Aside from the $49 night with the card, my association with the program is mainly to earn points as cheaply as possible during Accelerate and use them for reasonable value. But that has its own woes…
Devaluation after devaluation
Sure, all hotel programs go through devaluation. I suspected the Hilton program would experience what I’ll call the “Delta effect” after doing away with their award chart. Thankfully, this hasn’t appeared to be the case from what I’ve observed, and I find the Hilton program is solid in general. Not so, IHG.
Rather than a creeping devaluation, IHG is seeing a flat out obliteration of its value. Some hotels, such as the Intercontinental Park Lane London, Intercontinental Hong Kong, and other nice ICs in major destinations have seen 40% price increases in just 2 years. This is pretty outrageous. There are other hotels that have seen nearly 150% price increases, such as the Holiday Inn Sydney (in Canada). My wife and I stayed there in 2015 for just 10,000 points, which was a nice deal. Now it is 25,000 points. I wouldn’t ever pay that.
If IHG keeps this up, I will dump the program entirely. It’s teetering on the verge.
Just not enough quality hotels
If I could spend 35,000 points on a night at a nice property, I might take the low value of the points in stride. But when a vanilla Holiday Inn Express is charging the same amount, it’s insulting. Especially when cash prices are often super low.
(SEE ALSO: Man IHG points really ARE worthless)
Sure, a Holiday Inn Express has the essentials and it’s an adequate property for our family’s needs. But forking over 40,000 points for a night? No way. That’s not how I want to spend my points. I’ll look for cheaper places.
Add to this the fact that there are many Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza hotels that are super tired and in need of a renovation. I’ve stayed at a couple great Holiday Inns (SEE: Holiday Inn Old Sydney Review), but also some very lackluster ones. Dan can’t stand the brand (SEE: Holiday Inn North Phoenix Review – why I hate Holiday Inns). Hotel Indigo seems like a good brand, but I have yet to stay at one. The only midscale brand I am keen on in the IHG portfolio is Staybridge Suites.
(SEE ALSO: Staybridge Suites SFO airport review)
There is really nothing to love about IHG hotels aside from some Intercontinental properties. But now so many of the nicest properties cost an obscene number of points.
One bright spot…for now
The only facet of the program I am excited about for 2018 is the fact that Kimpton hotels have finally been brought fully into the fold. Sure, they are at the higher end of the points spectrum, but at least they have some more character. There are a couple bloggers who have loved being Kimpton Karma members (Lee @ BaldThoughts comes to mind).
I hope we can visit a few before IHG decides all of them will require 80,000 points per night. After everything else that has happened, I wouldn’t put it past them.
In a nutshell, I’m done with treating IHG like a real hotel loyalty program. In my experience with Starwood and Hilton, they actually can foster some loyalty through how they treat you. IHG doesn’t even try. So why call IHG Rewards Club a club of anything? Unless they mean clubbing their members every chance they get.