Is Elite Status With IHG Rewards Club Underrated?

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I recently had a few quick trips to Bratislava, Vienna, Paris (and Leeds…) and was reminded of something I have been meaning to write about for a while now – is elite status with IHG Rewards Club underrated?

Club Lounge at the Crowne Plaza Bratislava

Now, before everyone starts typing “no, IHG status is rubbish!” (I can already hear the clatter of keyboards…), give me a chance to explain:

  1. “Underrated” is an admittedly imprecise term and I’m not arguing that Rewards Club is utterly amazing. My point is that the benefits can be a lot more competitive than you might think.
  2. I’m focusing on top-tier Spire status (which is occasionally available to everyone for ~£250).

I should also quickly mention that IHG runs quite a peculiar loyalty set-up, with IHG Rewards Club (the programme for stays at the vast majority of IHG brands) being technically separate from the ‘Ambassador’ programme that applies specifically to stays at Intercontinental branded hotels. In this article, I’m concentrating on Spire status.

What does IHG Spire status get you (in theory)?

Spire members receive the following benefits at IHG’s non-Intercontinental brands:

  • Free Internet
  • Extended Check-Out
  • Priority Check-In
  • Complimentary Room Upgrades
  • Guaranteed Room Availability
  • Exclusive Choice Benefit Upon Receiving Status
  • Exclusive Hertz Gold Plus Rewards® Five Star® Upgrade Upon Receiving Status
  • Early Check-In

You also receive 100% bonus earnings on top of base points from your stays.

Compared to top-tier status with Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt, the benefits listed might not seem very attractive – the other big chains all offer breakfast and lounge access, as well as frequent suite upgrades. Many of the benefits that IHG does offer (late checkout, upgrades at non-Intercontinental hotels, etc) aren’t even guaranteed anyway.

But that really isn’t the full picture…

What does IHG Spire status get you (in practice)?

IHG brands like Holiday Inn Express (where the rooms are normally all standard and everyone gets breakfast included anyway) can’t offer guests with elite status much in terms of extras, but the same is true for the other hotel programmes’ limited service brands too. With IHG, I’ve consistently found that you do at least get a free drink and snack at the bar and I’ve never had a problem arranging late check out, even at Holiday Inn Express hotels.

The real ‘sweet spot’ for IHG elite status though is with the Crowne Plaza brand. 

Crowne Plaza hotels often have Club Lounges and Spire members are (usually!) granted access, either as a welcome amenity option, or as a result of being upgraded to a Club Room.

Lounge offerings vary immensely depending on the specific hotel, but the vast majority will at least include breakfast and some sort of evening drinks/canapes. Take, for example, my stay at the Crown Plaza Bratislava, which provided the following:

As you can see, snacks, soft drinks and beer were available throughout the day. In the evenings, there was plenty of food for a light dinner and a full (self serve) bar for 3 hours:

Breakfast was good too, with a variety of fresh dishes available to order, as well as the usual buffet items:

Obviously the Crowne Plaza Bratislava is just one example, but my experience at European Crowne Plazas over the last few months (since I got Spire status) has been consistently good. If the hotel has a Club Lounge, I have been granted access – though on one occasion I did need to proactively request it when checking in.

When I’ve booked multiple rooms on my account, the people I have been travelling with have also received lounge access too, although I haven’t got a big enough sample size yet to know is that’s just been luck so far rather than a broader policy.

Great, why don’t people like IHG Rewards Club then?

I think the main frustration a lot of people have is that IHG elite benefits (and particularly upgrades/lounge access) aren’t guaranteed. At first glance that’s a very fair criticism – but I’m not convinced it’s actually that big a deal in reality.

A quick email or phone call to a hotel before you book is all it takes to know whether Spire members do receive lounge access, for example. That might sound like an irritation, but it doesn’t take more than a few seconds longer than checking to see whether a Hilton/Marriott/etc hotel even has a lounge.

There is no point having “guaranteed” lounge access as a Hilton Diamond/Marriott Titanium/etc member, if the hotel doesn’t have a lounge. In the last few weeks I’ve stayed at two DoubleTrees and a Hilton, none of which had lounges – it’s a fairly common issue.

In fact, for one recent stay, I even switched my booking from a DoubleTree to a Crowne Plaza, because I wanted lounge access. If you just followed the published benefits of the programmes, (as a Hilton Diamond member) that would seem quite mad, but I knew that the Crowne Plaza offered lounge access to Spire members and that the DoubleTree didn’t have a lounge…

Bottom line

The elite member benefits offered by other hotel loyalty programmes are only truly ‘guaranteed’ if the particular hotel you are staying at actually has a Club Lounge, plenty of suites for upgrades, etc. In practice, I don’t see a huge difference between that and the situation with IHG – at least at Crowne Plaza hotels.

As I made clear at the beginning, I’m not trying to argue that elite status with IHG Rewards Club is brilliant – it’s not. I do wonder though if some people are too quick discount it based on a theoretical view of the benefits it offers, rather than the reality.

When you also consider that IHG frequently has the most generous promotions out of the major chains, it can be a surprisingly compelling option overall.

What do you think about elite status with IHG Rewards Club? 

Comments

  1. Craig Sowerby says

    Unfortunately my experience with Crowne Plaza isn’t quite so jolly. Particularly galling was being upgraded to the “Executive floor” but being told I still couldn’t use the lounge. Not just once but twice…

    But considering that you can buy Platinum for $200 / £150 via Ambassador or of course use Curve and the credit card for Spire 😉 , IHG is certainly a valid option for those who can’t obtain status from chains with better guaranteed benefits.

        • john browell says

          Thanks Craig, that makes sense now. And that’s how I achieved Spire for the last 12 months, spending everything on the IHG Credit Card, some with and without Curve assistance.

    • Joe Deeney says

      Haha, that’s harsh! Was it recent and as Spire? Judging from a few other data points it seems that things might have improved at some point last year. I only got Spire in the Autumn and have been genuinely surprised at how useful it’s been (I was Plat for years).

    • Bob says

      I’ve stayed in pretty much nearly every Hilton and Conrad in Europe with a lounge. Crowne Plaza lounges tend to be either better than the average Hilton [Athens, Porto. Bratislava] or significantly worse [Reading]. Bratislava CP is a bit unique in its lounge offering [as are the 2x Hiltons just up the road in Prague]. With regard to CP lounges: I just fire off a quick email beforehand. It helps if there is a Hilton or Marriott nearby. No lounge access: no business. Simple.

    • Robin Kniwles says

      I hold platinum status and I love it. I always get upgraded and often to a suite. You just have to smile and be nice. I use the linked credit card and always get a free night every year, often a suite. They also do frequent offers that give mega bonus points. I swear by IHG

  2. Andrew M says

    I think I remember reading somewhere, possibly on Flyertalk, that a memo had gone out to hotels from IHG headquarters to say that Spires shouldn’t be given lounge access. Apparently IHG elites were annoyed at the inconsistencies of lounge access between different hotels so the solution was to deny lounge access to all! At the end of the day it’s up to the individual hotels what they do in practice. I’ve booked a Holiday Inn with an executive lounge in Delhi next month which I chose with the hope that I might get lounge access. Nothing is guaranteed but it’s also worth noting that some Holiday Inns also have lounges.

    • Joe Deeney says

      That does sound like classic IHG to be honest, so could well be true. The thing is, the reality seems to be the opposite (at least at the moment) – 8 out of 8 different hotels in 3 different countries in the last couple of months is likely more than just luck.

      My main point though was that it takes 60 seconds to send a quick email to a hotel asking whether Spire members receive lounge access. That’s not really much harder or more time consuming than remembering to check whether a Hilton/DoubleTree/Marriott/Renaissance/etc actually has a lounge.

      Good point re Holiday Inns – back in the says before Spire existed, I definitely remember a few HI stays where I got lounge access as a Plat.

      • Pangolin says

        Maybe they know you’re a world famous travel blogger and so comp you lounge access on that basis 🤣😉

        • Joe Deeney says

          Haha! – I doubt that even if I was the The Queen herself that IHG would possess the organisational competence required…

      • Andrew M says

        Eight out of eight is an excellent success rate! Maybe there is hope for IHG Rewards Club status to be taken seriously in future. That’s a good tip about emailing the hotel. I wouldn’t have thought of that. How far in advance do you email them?

        • Joe Deeney says

          Exactly!

          If lounge access is an important factor when deciding where to stay, I’ll email before I book, or at least make sure it’s refundable if I book before emailing. But, for the majority of my recent stays I didn’t really mind about the lounge (obv nice option to have, but not important on some stays) so didn’t bother emailing and was still offered it when checking in.

          Now, the quality of some of the lounges is perhaps a different question… 😉

      • Sam says

        I think it also depends on what your samples are Joe. If you pick 8 IHG hotels in the UK, France and the US, this also makes up 3 countries and I can assure you can easily receive no upgrades, no club access across all stays, and this is also the reality.

        It is unfair to say it only takes a 60 seconds to write an email to know because you have to wait, and you never know when you will hear back from them. A lot of hotels just never reply to emails, whilst business trip decisions are usually made in a few days in advance. As a business/leisure traveller I’d rather spend this 60 seconds to get my Hilton booked.

        I get your point but I would end up sticking with a Doubletree because a DT would offer me a suite upgrade and a Crowne Plaza wouldn’t. When you have meal allowance that can easily substitute a lounge access, a better room (aka. a better sleep) is all that matters.

        • Joe Deeney says

          Sample size is a very fair point and I should probably go back and make that clearer. Since I’ve had Spire, I suppose I can only really refer to European Crowne Plazas specifically re lounges (in the UK, France and Slovakia) – but I think 8 out of 8 from personal experience (and more second hand), at least within the region (and over a relatively short period) is statistically significant.

          I do normally find that hotels (from all major companies) are quite good at replying to emails these days to be honest – I can only remember 1 recently that didn’t and it wasn’t an IHG hotel. But, it’s certainly true that as most of my travel is leisure, if I do email, it’s usually at least a week in advance of the stay.

          If travelling on business with a per diem, I completely take your point. If you’ve got time/energy after work, I’d always much rather have a walk and go to a restaurant than a hotel lounge to eat, though I’m personally not really bothered about a suite on those sort of trips either.

  3. Sam says

    Rather than underrated I’d say IHG SPIRE is OVERRATED.

    Example: Using my matched Spire status I stayed at a Kimpton and a Holiday Inn over the last few months. I HAVE NEVER HAD AN UPGRADE with my spire status, with one having the suite available and the front desk EXPLICITLY said rooms were sold out and suite upgrade would not be offered as the upgrade would be ‘too many categories’. This never happened on me at Hilton when there is suite availability. Hilton’s upgrade policy is rather strict but I never encountered any occasion a Hilton hotel actually used the policy to refuse an upgrade. IHG doesn’t even have a proper upgrade policy because they don’t even know what a room upgrade is.

    Also, rather than ‘usually’ granted access, how about a GUARANTEE lounge access for Hilton Diamond and Marriott Titanium? Life has too much to worry about and I have enough with all these uncertainties and disappointments at IHG.

    • Joe Deeney says

      I actually really like Hilton Honors (as Diamond), and have been upgraded to some really lovely suites on occasion, but I’m afraid the whole ‘we can’t upgrade you to THAT’ thing crosses pretty much all the brands in my experience. I believe Hyatt is better at that side of stuff, but I’ve never personally had Hyatt Globalist status.

      The limitations of the ‘guarantee’ thing was really the point I was trying to get across – it’s great as Hilton Diamond/Marriott Titanium IF the hotel has a lounge, but there are plenty of supposedly full service Hiltons/Doubletrees/Marriotts/etc that don’t. I genuinely don’t see a huge difference between a 60 second email and 30 seconds of googling to find out if there is a lounge/whether Spires get access.

  4. J says

    Christ. Imagine going to Bratislava and eating the shite they offer at the hotel instead of having some special meals and drinks in town. This is a case where maximising your travel hacking leaves you well worse off.

    • Joe Deeney says

      Aye, always something to be aware of – particularly I think for people getting started with elite status. I was happy to grab a snack and a drink while working before heading out though and breakfast was decent.

      Some lounges are genuinely good – I certainly enjoyed the food/views/drinks/service at the IC Vienna on the same trip, although of course still went out for plenty of food/drinks as well!

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