IHG Rewards Club, reconsidered

[edit 8/7/17: updated charts to reflect 60,000-point top-tier IHG Rewards Club properties. Conclusions left unchanged.]

Easily the reaction I least expected to Tuesday's post on credit card auxiliary benefits was the passionate defense that emerged in the comments of IHG Rewards Club.

I have always dismissed IHG Rewards Club more or less mechanically: their credit card doesn't offer high enough unbonused or bonused earning rates to justify manufacturing spend on it, and IHG Rewards points have so little value that it's extremely expensive to combine them with the credit card's annual free night certificate for stays of more than one night.

IHG Rewards Club offers a good rebate on paid nights for co-branded credit card holders

But what about using IHG as your primary hotel loyalty program? How would a top-tier elite fare in each of the biggest hotel loyalty programs? Fortunately, this information was at my fingertips thanks to the calculations I'd already done for Chapter 6. Here are the results, showing the amount of hotel spend required to earn sufficient points for a free night award at low-, mid-, and top-tier properties with each program:

Next, It's worth pointing out that this comparison, in which IHG Rewards Club has a strong showing compared to the other two programs, is in fact deeply unfair to IHG. That's because IHG Rewards Platinum elite status is trivially easy to earn: all you have to do is carry their Chase co-branded credit card.

To earn top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond status you need to spend $40,000 on one of their premium co-branded credit cards or complete 30 stays or 60 nights (award stays and nights count), and to earn Marriott Rewards Platinum status you need to spend an ungodly amount on their Premier co-branded credit card or stay 75 nights.

Comparing IHG Rewards Club Platinum status to the much more fair Hilton Gold or Marriott Silver status (which come with their co-branded credit cards), the comparison suddenly shifts sharply in IHG's favor:

While low-level properties are still slightly easier to earn with the Hilton and Marriott co-branded credit cards on paid stays, earning stays at mid-level and high-level properties is easiest with IHG Rewards Platinum status and their co-branded credit card. That's true whether you use a co-branded credit card to actually pay for your stay or not.

IHG Rewards elite status isn't worth much

If your goal is to earn award nights as quickly as possible on reimbursed paid stays, IHG offers a very strong value proposition for co-branded cardholders. On the other hand, Hilton Honors Gold status and Marriott Rewards Gold status both come with free breakfast, while IHG Rewards Club Platinum status doesn't come with...anything.

Whether having breakfast included on your stays is worth a lot, a little, or nothing is entirely up to you — I've seen good arguments on all sides of the question. But if you're going to make IHG Rewards your primary program for paid stays, you should be aware of what you're getting.

IHG Rewards Club offers frequent, potentially lucrative promotions

While the other big hotel loyalty programs have fallen into a tired habit of offering double or triple points promotions every quarter, IHG Rewards Club has done a pretty good job of maintaining a steady tempo of promotions which, if you have enough paid stays during promotional periods, can spin off a phenomenal number of points.

While it's hard to quantify, by aggressively targeting paid stays during relevant promotions you can increase the rebate value of your participation even further.


So, this has been my reader-inspired reconsideration of the value of IHG Rewards Club. My revised conclusion is that it's an extremely strong program for co-branded credit card holders who have lots of paid or reimbursed stays, and who are not concerned with the limited benefits available to those with elite status.

While Hilton will remain my primary hotel loyalty program as long as it remains so easy to manufacture Honors points (and Diamond status) in bonused categories, I have a renewed appreciated for IHG Rewards Club, and I have only my readers to thank for it.