IHG Rewards VS Hilton Honors – Which Hotel Loyalty Programme is Better?

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Many people prefer to be loyal to a single hotel chain due to its loyalty programme. I don’t think that’s the best approach, but most people have better things to do with their time than juggle multiple airlines and hotel chains as a full-on “travel hacker”. Choosing a hotel chain is more art than science, however. The right choice for any reader is also heavily dependent on individual travel patterns, preferences, budget, etc.

Number of Hotels in Portfolio

IHG has nearly 6,000 properties worldwide. Hilton has 6,200+.

Both chains are almost certainly going to offer one or more hotels anywhere you are likely to travel. They also offer brands across the entire spectrum from midscale to luxury.  Neither IHG nor Hilton are particularly renowned for their luxury options (although IHG’s addition of Six Senses and Mr & Mrs Smith and rapid expansion of Kimpton might eventually fill that gap), but if you’re looking for a reasonably-priced hotel offering free breakfast for the family, both Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express are likely to fit the bill.

Advantage: Too close to call

Value of Points

Base Points

Both IHG and Hilton offer 10 points per US dollar spent (so at time of publication about 14 points per £1). And although there is some uncertainty about IHG after their recent changes, both IHG and Hilton points are worth ~0.35p-0.4p each.

Mid-tier elite members do slightly better with Hilton, however. Gold members earn an 80% bonus, while Diamond members receive 100%. At IHG, Platinum members earn 50% while Spire members receive 100%.

Advantage: Tie

Spending Points

Hilton offers a fifth night free benefit to members with at least easy-to-get Silver status. IHG doesn’t currently offer anything similar in the UK.

Both IHG and Hilton are using varieties of dynamic award pricing, with a cap in place at many hotels. Hilton awards include any resort fees. At IHG you must pay resort fees to the hotel.

Of course, the points value outlined above captures this to some extent but nonetheless…

Advantage: Hilton due to fifth night free and no resort fees.


You can generally rely on Hilton having a promotion running at all times, with no gaps. Sometimes this will be a “points per stay” promotion that penalises expensive stays, but are great for cheap short stays. Sometimes this will be double or triple points, which big spenders love.

IHG used to be known for its lucrative Accelerate promotions. These now appear to be dead, with IHG running less-lucrative promotions with gaps in between.

Advantage: Hilton


I cannot possibly judge which hotel chain properties charge rates appropriate for the budget of every reader. But I can certainly rank the hotel chains by their generosity of paying rebates to those informed consumers who book via a cashback website such as TopCashback.

IHG usually offers a minimum of 6% cashback, with promotions taking this higher. You can also earn American Airlines AAdvantage Miles via the AA shopping portal, with their regular 500-1000 mile bonus offers.

Hilton usually offers a measly 1% to Honors members via a US-based cashback website, with frequent tracking problems as well.

Advantage: IHG

Elite Status

Earning Status

There is an obvious trade-off between the ease of reaching a relevant level of elite status (meaning that there are more elites competing for a limited number of up-gradable rooms) and the benefits associated with such status, but if you’re looking for a quicker route to elite status…

Hilton offers the a huge variety of options.

It’s currently easy to earn Platinum status with IHG, but top-tier Spire status is much more difficult.

Advantage: Hilton

Status Benefits

Outside of the USA, Hilton Honors (Gold and Diamond) offers free breakfast at all brands, after Waldorf Astoria finally joined in a few years ago. Guaranteed lounge access is for Diamonds only. Suite upgrades are not promised, but are definitely possible at generous hotels outside of North America and Europe.

IHG offers very little by way of elite status benefits. Spire and Platinum members might receive a room upgrade, but mostly you will receive a drink voucher or a few hundred points. The best benefit of Spire status is often the annual bonus of 25,000 points. 🙁

Advantage: Hilton

Lifetime Status

Hilton offers lifetime Diamond status after 10 years of Diamond and 1,000 nights.

IHG does not offer lifetime status.

Advantage: Hilton

Bottom Line

If it’s not even close – Hilton Honors is clearly the better loyalty programme –  then why do some people stay with IHG hotels? There are certainly some very loyal fans of Intercontinental and Kimpton out there – simply because they prefer the actual hotels (sometimes an aspect ignored by those of us sitting in an office and writing about loyalty programmes!)

But I think it also simply comes down to price. A Holiday Inn Express is often cheaper than a Hampton or Marriott Courtyard hotel. And a Holiday Inn / Crowne Plaza is usually cheaper than the mid-range alternatives offered by Hilton, Marriott, etc.  Add cashback and historically-better promotions to the mix, then the “I don’t eat breakfast” brigade can simply pay less for their hotel nights and receive a higher rebate in the form of free award nights.

Since old habits die hard, it might take a while for the “IHG has the best promotions” crowd to realise that IHG is offering far less than it used to, especially if you start calculating the costs of your morning coffee/breakfast or drinks / snacks you might otherwise get from an executive lounge.

What do you think? Any IHG fans want to share their reasons for staying with IHG? Let us know in the comments section…


  1. Rob Rixon says

    Excellent comparison Craig – thank you!

    I’ve had top-tier status with IHG since 2007 when I was working in Worcester and lived in the Holiday Inn Express at Junction 5 for the best part of a couple of years and just accumulated points through the stays and promotions. From then on, wherever I worked, I always looked for the closest / practical / economic IHG property and with that combination of stay points, promotions, upgrades and lounge access at some Crowne Plaza locations (and when I discovered cashback), it was hard-wired that my first search was always IHG.

    I’m one of the non-breakfasters, so not having a free breakfast outside of the HIE properties wasn’t a concern and for a long period of time, IHG did have excellent promotions. I started to notice in 2018 that the promotions had worsened and even at the locations, the penny-pinching started. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Luton Airport for about 8 months in 2019 and at first, the non-points amenity was a free drink and snack and you could choose any drink and snack, which was great. Over time, this changed to any drink and no snack to a selected drink only to finally no drink but a selected snack which was a ramekin of peanuts from a big jar behind the bar.

    It’s been quite rewarding over the years and we used up the last big balance of points in February last year staying at the Palazzo (but paying the resort fees was a bit of a kick in the teeth as it wasn’t value for money). With the 25,000 points benefit this year, my account stands at 55,000 points which I will use, but will probably no longer have the opportunity to add to, as clients are saving money by not having (needing) us on-site.

    In my situation, if work travel were to make a return, then I would likely not look at IHG as a long-term prospect for hotel stays as the points opportunities and benefits are comparably better with other loyalty programmes.

  2. John browell says

    Craig, genuine question from someone who should know better; does booking through cashback sites still earn all the usual points for a stay? I thought I had read somewhere well before lockdown that if you didn’t book direct then you would not get the points.

    Very thought provoking article thanks. I was a big IHG fan several years ago when I managed to get to Spire through affiliated credit card send as well a a good number of stays.
    But since I earned Hilton Diamond following an inside flyer article about fastback qualification, I was always booking Hilton properties for work stays before Covid kicked in. Had some great suite upgrades at a few Edinburgh hotels.

    • Craig Sowerby says

      Yes you get cashback AND points / status because you are still booking direct, simply routing via a link that sends some of the marketing commission back in your direction…

      • Rob Rixon says

        I can confirm this from my experience too. Although once I didn’t get the points once from a stay (Holiday Inn Luton Airport again!) and when I checked with them the following week, that booking was showing as a ‘Third Party Booking’ instead of direct. When I showed the confirmation had come from IHG, so proving I had booked direct, they sorted it out for me and I never had a problem with points for stays after that (never an issue with cashback). Trying to get the Green points from HI Luton Airport for not having the room serviced for the week was another story, but perserverance paid off.

        On another note with the hotel rates and cashback, something else I used to do was to book as far in advance on the Best Flexible Rates through the cashback site with the best rate and then a week before the next stay started checking what the Advance Rate looked like and worked out if it was cheaper to book that rate (plus the prevailing cashback rate) versus the Flex Rate plus the original cashback rate, as by then I would definitely know if I was going to make the stay. And of course in-between, keep an eye on the cashback rates too. At various points IHG used to offer 10% and 12% which would then trigger a whole load of booking and cancelling admin!

        It was always a bit of a faff and not an unknown technique by any means. But for a long period of time I was staying in hotels for a good 75% of the year, so the returns were worth it.

        • Joe Deeney says

          With that sort of stay pattern, definitely worth the effort! -Although keeping track of everything must have been a bit a job.

          Re “3rd party stay”, I had the same problem, but at The Met in Leeds. The thing was, the entire reason I was staying there was to get a free night certificate from one of the IHG promos at the time, so DEFINITELY had booked direct… All sorted in the end, and might have been to do with the fact The Met was in the middle of transitioning onto the IHG platform – even now, they don’t seem to have found a brand for it.

          • Rob Rixon says

            I think I did the same two separate nght stays from (I believe) your post about The Met to get the free night certificate. Checked in on a Sunday afternoon before travelling elsewhere, ruffled the bed and pillows, snaffled the biscuits and let them automatically check me out on the Monday morning. Thankfully no issues for those forays, but the free night certificate was worth it for the small amount of admin (earlier train into Leeds!) for the Sunday stay rate.

          • Joe Deeney says

            Nice – I think I ended up using mine at the IC in Boston which was charging something ludicrous (£500+) at the time.

          • Craig Sowerby says

            Fairly regularly my IHG stays will post as ineligible. Sometimes I wonder if it’s done on purpose so that the hotel doesn’t have to pay for points to those members who aren’t really paying attention.

    • Joe Deeney says

      Do you have any recommendations for Edinburgh John? I was thinking just the other day that I might head up soon for a little bit, and have a decent number of Hilton Points and a doubletree certificate.

      • john browell says

        I have stayed at a few, and been lucky enough to get upgrades at all of them, and all provided great service. The Doubletree on Bread Street once automatically upgraded me to the King Junior Suite with Castle View, and I managed to request it again on a subsequent visit.
        The Hilton Edinburgh Carlton has an exec lounge which always tempts me; they also once upgraded me for free to a King Junior Suite, and I managed to request it on a subsequent visit.
        And if you don’t mind staying outside the city, the Doubletree at Queensferry Crossing has some great suite upgrades to a King Junior Suite with a lovely view of the bridge; I’ve stayed there multiple times for work before Covid and had 2 of those upgrades.

        • Joe Deeney says

          Cheers John! – All sound good to me. I might even hop around a bit actually. 15 Stays to keep Diamond, so worth making a bit of an effort.

  3. Andy says

    IHG status is super-easy to achieve with the Creation credit card, and also with bonus points packages. Hilton seem to offer more status matches.

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