The travel world has been abuzz with Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) program changes and a new credit card – here’s why I’m not as enthusiastic.
How Does The New Program Compare?
It has one more tier. That’s it. That’s all that’s been announced and that more details will be coming in March but earning elite stays and nights will count toward whatever the new benefits look like whenever they are announced.
For reference, I was a Spire elite (highest published tier outside of paid Ambassador status) for a couple of years. I had an extended stay and the only reasonable property in the rural town was a Holiday Inn. That property upgraded me to a decent suite, one that’s absent at most other Holiday Inn properties.
During those years, I never got a free breakfast, rarely got a late checkout or early check-in yet was required to achieve more than with either Hilton or Hyatt. In fact, depending on the stays I could have qualified for Hilton Diamond status twice for less than the amount required for IHG Spire.
Regardless, the travel world may be swooning for a refreshed IHG program simply because it’s been such a non-factor over the years and has such a large footprint. I have more confidence in my peers than chalking it up to a slow news day, so perhaps they know more than I do.
As it sits now, there’s nothing special about IHG and no reason to believe that it should improve just because they said it would. Even if the program is drastically improved, the luxury sector of the chain is relatively small when compared to the overall behemoth of roadside motels and Holiday Inn Express properties. Of the 6,031 hotels here’s the split:
- (19) Six Senses – 0.3%
- (7) Regent – 0.1%
- (15) Hualuxe – 0.2%
- (75) Kimpton – 1.1%
- (205) Intercontinental – 3.4%
- (0) Vignette – 0%
- (400) Mr. and Mrs. Smith – 6.2% (these are not IHG properties and do not fully participate in the program but can be booked with IHG points much like the SLH partnership with Hyatt)
There are a number of mid-tier products like Indigo, Even, and business hotels like Crowne Plaza but these still number less than 10%.
Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt all offer a number of select-service properties too but they have far more proportionately at the top end of the market than IHG. However, IHG’s reward chart has spiraled out of control jumping from a top-level of 50,000 points from just a couple of years ago to as high as 120,000 points per night during the pandemic (before rescinding that level.) The few properties that are truly aspirational are so expensive that only true enthusiasts can find value.
Ooooh: The Credit Card Is “Improved”
Some IHG credit card changes have other bloggers dazzled. I’m not so impressed. Yes, bloggers often rely on credit card sales to supplement their income through referrals – for what it’s worth, credit card referrals account for less than 0.1% of revenue for LiveAndLetsFly and we both have other primary roles. However, assuming that it’s simply amazing benefits that have peers wowed – just what’s so exciting about the new card ($49 annual fee)?
Most of the excitement seems to center around the ability to spend more points to improve the limited value of its free night certificate. The certificates are valid for up to 40,000 points per night, but if a guest wants to spend more points to use it toward a free night they can add to it.
Cool. Except then Miles to Memories found out that those cards won’t allow the top-up points for the free night certificate for the lower annual fee cards. So the biggest deal turns out to be a bust. Like I said, cool.
Anything else? Yes, in fact, the annual fee is offset by a $50 United Travel Bank credit which is great if you were already going to spend money on United but is worth zero if you don’t book United flights.
There was the promise of bigger bonuses but in a currency that devalues faster than the Venezuelan Bolivar (not true literally, but it feels that way) does a bigger bonus really do anything?
Will IHG Suddenly Appreciate Its Elites?
No. Never forget that IHG hates its elites. I mean, if they altered course this would be a nice change but it’s unlikely for a few reasons.
First, if they suddenly started to treat their elites better it’s unlikely they could even get up to parity with the rest of the hospitality world. For its top level, Spire, soon to be renamed Diamond Elite (™) (so original given that Hyatt had this and Hilton still does), currently requires 70 nights/year which is five stays fewer than Titanium at Marriott, 10 nights more than Hilton requires, and 10-15 more than Hyatt – they’d have to give suite upgrades with some commitment language. They’d have to add a breakfast benefit of some sort (full = Hyatt, partial = Hilton, win some/lose some = Marriott.) Waived fees like parking or resort fees on award stays would also be part of the mix.
And that’s just to come even with current benefits offered elsewhere for fewer nights.
Second, is implementation. Convincing Holiday Inn Express employees to offer and honor additional benefits especially properties across Europe would be a substantial challenge. I doubt that hoteliers would gladly implement benefits like late check out at a time when hospitality staff is woefully light on employees.
In essence, with perfect implementation (doubtful) and matching benefits with other top-tiers, IHG would still require more nights with the brand despite fewer premium properties to spend reward nights on. Seems like a stretch.
As it says on the tin, these IHG changes are much ado about nothing. We literally know nothing of what the new tiers will or won’t provide. We can only speculate (in some cases incorrectly) about what those benefits might look like only for the dim glimmer of hope that value exists in the program to be shut down by the brand’s corporate relations team. In other news, perhaps one way to find out if there is any value in the program whatsoever, perhaps we publicly accuse them of new benefits so they can come out and deny them and start the process of elimination.
What do you think? Are you stoked about these unannounced IHG changes? Does a $50 United credit for a $49 annual fee card light your fire? Feel free to speak about it enthusiastically in the comments.