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When I first jumped headlong into the award travel world, IHG was the hottest thing on the market as far as hotel programs. Sure, SPG had it major following as well. But my thinking was influenced by the amazing things I was reading you could do with IHG points, mainly in posts I found over at Travel is Free. However, the program has not aged well the past few years, and I can state with confidence that it no longer represents the same value it did back when I first jumped into hotel loyalty programs.
Then and now: 2015 Canada trip case study
My wife and I first each picked up the Chase IHG Mastercard in spring of 2015, our sights set on using the points for free travel during our trip to Canada that summer. I used my 70,000-point bonus to book a weekend in San Francisco. We used her bonus to book four different IHG hotels: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Buffalo Airport (25,000 points), Holiday Inn Sydney – Waterfront (10,000 points), Holiday Inn Express Deer Lake (10,000 points), and a Holiday Inn in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia (15,000 points) that now appears to be a DoubleTree.
If you check the current award chart, every single one of these hotel now demands 25,000 points per night. I can’t get an exact price for the one near Halifax, as it is no longer flagged as a Holiday Inn. But given the price of the other IHG hotels in the area, 25,000 points is a perfectly fine guess. Where we originally had 10,000 points to spare after using my wife’s sign up bonus for all of these stays, now we’d be 30,000 points short. That’s a net difference of 40,000 points in just 4 years, or an overall devaluation of ~40%. This is almost exactly in line with the original value I had for IHG points then (1.0 cent) and now (0.6 cent).
Annual devaluations, weak elite program, gutted PointBreaks
The 150% award price increase at the hotels we stayed at for 10,000 points back in 2015 didn’t happen overnight. It happened fairly quickly, though, in multiple back-to-back award chart and tier changes that IHG seems intent in rolling out year after year.
Here is a table of nine IHG properties with 2015 prices through the changes that took effect for 2019:
IHG Devaluations Over Time
|Property||2015 Price||2016 Price||2017 Price||2018 Price||2019 Price|
|Intercontinental Hong Kong||50,000||60,000||60,000||70,000||70,000|
|Holiday Inn Express and Suites Eureka||25,000||25,000||30,000||40,000||40,000|
|Holiday Inn Resort Aruba||25,000||30,000||35,000||40,000||40,000|
|Holiday Inn Express and Suites Victoria - Colwood||20,000||20,000||25,000||35,000||35,000|
|Intercontinental London Park Lane||50,000||60,000||60,000||70,000||70,000|
|Holiday Inn Ft. Lauderdale Airport||25,000||30,000||35,000||35,000||40,000|
|Holiday Inn Express Deer Lake (Newfoundland)||10,000||20,000||25,000||25,000||25,000|
On the whole, it is pretty awful. This is just a smattering of properties, some of which experienced the worst devaluation, but the average of these nine is a terrible 153% increase over 4 years. That equates to 38% per year!! If you were eyeing any of these properties a few years ago, I hope you burnt your points on them.
I might be able to forgive IHG on their point-earning and redeeming rates if they had a strong elite program. But their elite program is right in line with their award chart: weak. The old $49 IHG Mastercard offers mid-tier Platinum status, which I haven’t found good for much besides earning additional IHG points. Even their top-tier status is pretty lame. It doesn’t even offer free breakfast at all properties. My upgrade experience for the year I held IHG Spire status wasn’t anything to write home about, either.
To heap on yet another injury, the most amazing thing about the program was gutted as well: PointBreaks. IHG releases a quarterly list of hotels at which you can redeem your points at 5,000 points per night. No matter the property, this is anywhere from a good deal to a downright amazing deal. Back in 2017, however, IHG PointBreaks were changed to a tiered structure, where the discounted rooms cost anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 points. The bulk of the properties are now not in the 5,000-point tier. And the properties on the PointBreaks list are arguably getting worse. Points with a Crew does keep an updated map of all PointBreaks properties each quarter.
Stop mocking Hilton. Mock IHG.
When Hilton made huge changes to their award chart several years back (I think it was 2013?), they took a lot of heat. Hotels started costing huge numbers of points. People laughed at the top-tier properties that demand nearly 100,000 points. But what people didn’t initially realize is that the Hilton earning structure still fits the price structure. Sure, hotels costs seems really high at face value, but do you realize how quickly you can earn Hilton points? The Aspire and Ascend cards earn 7x and 6x Hilton points on restaurant and grocery spend, respectively. Even the base earning rate is 3 points per dollar. Plus, there are numerous credit card product sign-up bonuses that yield Hilton points, either directly or indirectly.
IHG has none of this strength. What does the IHG card earn? Still one point per dollar. What is the transfer ratio from Chase? Still one IHG point per Ultimate Rewards point. This is terrible. At least the new card earns 10x IHG points on IHG stays, up from 5 on the old version of the Mastercard.
The Hilton elite program outshines IHG as well in nearly every facet. Upgrades are more consistent, from what I’ve experienced, and mid-tier Gold status with Hilton (that you can get simply by holding their credit card) gives you free breakfast. Hilton also waives resort fees on award stays.
IHG’s entire loyalty program is laughable, which is something I’ve written about before (SEE: 3 reasons why IHG doesn’t have a REAL hotel loyalty program). With the recent unannounced changes that took effect last month, it’s just that much worse. They acquired Kimpton, which some may see as an improvement. But it was to the complete chagrin of Kimpton Inner Circle members.
Things can’t go on this way. If IHG continues with their devaluation rate, there won’t be much of a program to speak of in a few years. It’s a program that I have no problem gaming, and they seem intent on designing it that way. Even after writing all this, I’m still thinking about trying to maximize my massive 97,000-point “multibrand” promotion offer (SEE: Figuring out how to maximize my 97,000-point IHG offer), since there are so many points on the table.
But 97,000 points really won’t be all that much when every hotel I want to stay at eventually costs 50,000 points per night. At that point, I’d rather have Radisson points.