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