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Could IHG Rewards Make Big Moves in 2022?

IHG Rewards is a hotel loyalty program that we haven’t historically paid much attention to. 

From a Canadian hotel points collector’s perspective, Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt are typically viewed as the “big three” hotel programs with a particular focus on Marriott due to their domestic co-branded credit cards, plus the occasional shout for Best Western Rewards thanks to their co-branded product from MBNA. 

Nevertheless, the IHG Rewards program has been building up towards an upcoming relaunch in March 2022, and there are reasons to be optimistic of the value that IHG’s new program might bring – especially at a time when many of IHG’s competitors appear to be headed on a downward spiral. 

IHG Rewards: The Basics

IHG has a fairly strong portfolio of nearly 6,000 properties around the world, and has expanded their presence of luxury hotels in recent years through the acquisitions of Kimpton, Regent, and Six Senses, while introducing new brands of their own in the limited-service hotel market.  

The IHG Rewards program allows members to earn and redeem points for free nights, issuing a few co-branded credit cards with Chase in the United States. The program had also issued a Canadian credit card with Capital One in the past, although this was discontinued in 2015.

The program uses a dynamic pricing model that tops out at 120,000 IHG Rewards points per night for the most aspirational properties.

InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso

In the past, this would’ve been a significant limiting factor to the program, but with many of the world’s other hotel loyalty programs also jumping on the dynamic pricing bandwagon, IHG Rewards is set to become just another apple among the bunch. 

Like with any other dynamic program, it’s important to compare against cash rates when redeeming points to determine the value you’re getting. Generally speaking, a redemption value of higher than 0.5 cents/point (USD) is quite competitive, especially considering that the program frequently sells points at 0.5 cents/point (USD). 

Unlike Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors, there’s no Fifth Night Free benefit on award stays. Instead, co-branded credit card holders get to enjoy an even stronger Fourth Night Free benefit, which can further elevate your redemption value.

Unfortunately, IHG’s biggest pitfall has been its elite status program, which has historically been very weak compared to Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt.

There are no free breakfast or suite upgrade benefits even for IHG’s top-tier members, so there has been very little incentive to remain loyal to IHG and focus on earning IHG points when you aren’t going to be treated well at the hotel compared to IHG’s competitors. 

IHG Rewards 2022 Elite Status Changes

Thankfully, IHG appears to recognize that the recent downward movements by Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt has given it an opportunity to compete on more level footing if it were to invest in its elite status offering.

The program has already indicated that a new elite tier structure will be introduced as of March 2022, which will look as follows:

IHG allows members to earn status through either staying a certain number of nights or earning a certain number of points (you earn 10 points per US dollar spent at most IHG brands). 

If you want to earn mid-tier status without having to stay so many nights at IHG hotels, the easiest shortcut is by getting the Chase IHG Rewards Premier Card, which confers instant Platinum Elite status for as long as you’re a cardholder.

As mentioned above, however, there hasn’t been much of a draw to pursuing IHG status, whether through organic stay activity or by getting the US-issued credit card. IHG now appears ready to address this weakness. 

In addition to the changes to elite status tiers in March 2022, IHG has also indicated that elite status benefits will be changing with the IHG Rewards relaunch as well, promising “new benefits” and that “when it comes to picking perks, the choice is all yours”.

Chase IHG Credit Cards

Before offering my thoughts on these upcoming changes, let’s take a moment to look over IHG’s US co-branded credit card offerings, which are also available to Canadians who can get US credit cards.

In addition to the upcoming IHG Rewards changes, IHG has also recently communicated some changes to its portfolio of credit cards as of March 2022, which have been mostly positive.

The flagship personal credit card is the aforementioned Chase IHG Rewards Premier Card, which will offer the following benefits once its March 2022 refresh is complete:

  • Regular strong welcome bonuses of 100,000+ IHG Rewards points, often with Free Night Awards
  • An anniversary Free Night Award worth up to 40,000 points, which can be topped-up with additional points for a more expensive award
  • Fourth Night Free on award stays
  • Automatic IHG Rewards Platinum Elite status
  • The ability to earn top-tier IHG Rewards Diamond Elite Status by spending US$40,000 on the card in a calendar year
  • 10x IHG Rewards points on IHG purchases
  • US$50 in United Travel Bank credit per calendar year
  • 10,000 points and a US$100 statement credit upon spending US$20,000 on the card in a calendar year
  • US$89 annual fee, rising to US$99 in 2023

Meanwhile, there’s also a no-fee Chase IHG Rewards Traveler Card, which comes with a smaller welcome bonus and will offer instant IHG Rewards Silver Elite status. In my view, the US$99 annual fee on the Chase IHG Rewards Premier Card is a very reasonable outlay for a much more comprehensive set of benefits.

Furthermore, IHG will also launch a co-branded Chase credit card geared towards small businesses at a US$99 price point as well, although they haven’t released any details on this new product just yet. 

I’ve personally been a Chase IHG Premier cardholder for a few years now, as a means of lightly diversifying into a new hotel rewards program through my US credit card presence.

I’d place a lot more weight on this card and in IHG Rewards as a whole, if it weren’t for the weak elite status offerings that make me choose other hotel chains for my regular travel over the very occasional stay with IHG – but the program’s upcoming changes might just alter my behaviour.

Could IHG Rewards Shake Up the Hotel Loyalty Landscape?

The last few years have seen major shifting winds in the hotel loyalty game.

Marriott Bonvoy has completed their consolidation with Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), and have slowly turned the screw on its members by devaluing the Bonvoy program one step at a time, knowing that its leading global footprint gives them latitude to make such changes while still winning the business of a majority of travellers.

Similarly, Hilton thinks it can squeeze out further profits by cutting elite breakfast benefits in the US, while Hyatt has taken the first step towards dynamic pricing with the introduction of peak and off-peak rates as of this March while implementing punitive award category changes.

Amidst the ups and downs, one enduring truth in Miles & Points is that loyalty programs tend to move in multi-year-long cycles. With Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt resting on their laurels, IHG Rewards has the opportunity to elevate its standing significantly with only a few adjustments. 

Six Senses Bhutan

For one, the elite program needs a big makeover, and I’m hopeful that we’ll see exactly that. At the mid-to-top-tier Platinum Elite and Diamond Elite levels, the option for complimentary breakfast has got to be a baseline expectation if IHG Rewards wants to be competitive.

I’m encouraged by IHG’s commitment to “choice” when it comes to “picking perks” – I’ve always thought that loyalty programs could do a lot more with customizable benefits tailored to each individual member, such as Marriott’s Annual Choice Rewards or Hyatt’s Milestone Rewards, and I’d love to see some real originality from IHG on this front.

Besides breakfast, another major perk that’s missing from IHG that I can count on as an elite member with rival programs is suite upgrades. In my few stays as an IHG Platinum Elite member, I haven’t been nearly as successful with “suite-talking” my way to an upgrade, because the program doesn’t specify that IHG elite members are entitled to suites at all.

InterContinental Toronto Centre

I hope IHG will take some cues from their competitors and introduce some type of suite upgrade instrument for elite members, like Marriott’s Suite Night Awards or Hyatt’s Suite Upgrade Awards. 

Unfortunately, even if IHG does take the step of giving elite members suite upgrades, I think it’ll take quite a bit of time for members to start seeing this happen in practice across their IHG hotel stays, given that the upgrade game is so heavily dependent on the entrenched service culture (whether good or bad) at individual properties. 

The other area where I’d love to see IHG making some waves is in the Canadian co-branded credit card market.

Again, things move cyclically in this space, and whereas we had about half a dozen strong hotel rewards cards among the major programs around 2014–2015, that’s been whittled down to just a small handful of hotel offerings in the present day.

With Canadians crying out for more competition among good hotel credit cards beyond the limited products by Marriott and Best Western, IHG has a real opportunity to make a splash upon returning to a market where they operate a fairly comprehensive footprint. 

Conclusion

With Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt appearing to be engaged in a race to the bottom, cutting costs and increasing award redemption rates left and right, the door is open for another hotel loyalty program to fight for market share among discerning travellers.

IHG Rewards has announced that changes are afoot to their elite program and US-issued co-branded credit cards as of March 2022. I’m quietly optimistic that these changes will deliver a much-needed dose of positive momentum for those of us playing the hotel rewards game, following what’s been a rather bleak start to 2022 in the landscape so far. 

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