Some links to products and partners on this website will earn an affiliate commission.
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
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙁
Hilton offers lifetime Diamond status after 10 years of Diamond and 1,000 nights.
IHG does not offer lifetime status.
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…