IHG has rebranded its loyalty program as IHG One Rewards, and announced all-new elite benefits. This is a vast improvement for existing IHG elites. There’s now a free hot breakfast benefit for IHG Diamond elites, which is potentially better than what Hilton and Marriott offer. There’s a confirmed suite benefit that members can earn via nights stayed (14 days prior to check-in, no capacity controls). And there’s a club lounge benefit that members can earn via nights stayed as well.
This is huge, and begins to address the key weakness in the IHG Rewards program. However in other reporting on these changes I haven’t seen a crucial detail that I covered. And that’s that confirmed suites are not available on award stays and that club loung access may not be – the chain says it is, but the terms and conditions suggest otherwise. (Update: IHG will update its terms to clarify that club lounge access should be available on award nights.)
Here I did not just rely on my briefing with the hotel chain, I read the terms and conditions on the new benefits. Since I haven’t seen this discussed elsewhere I think it’s important to point out,
- The IHG credit card earns status, but not nights. That means elites via credit card do not have access to confirmed suites or club lounge.
- When you redeem your points you cannot confirm a suite or perhaps access club lounges, even if you’ve earned these benefits based on nights stayed in the program.
What’s more, IHG still lacks an option to redeem for better than a base room when spending points. That means someone staying on a ‘reward’ is less rewarded than when they’re paying cash, and the changes aren’t great for primarily points travelers. The program is still better than it used to be! But our expectations need to be tempered quite a bit.
And that’s apart from issues of the relatively small number of hotels where suites and club lounges are going to be a meaningful benefit out of the chain’s 6000 hotels (though they certainly do have nice properties where this will be a fantastic benefit).
The Points Guy writes “The IHG spokesperson confirmed that elite tier benefits apply to paid and award stays equally.” What’s confusing is that club lounge and confirmed suites are not tier benefits they are Milestone Rewards you can claim based on number of nights stayed, rather than benefits provided earning a status tier. The terms of the confirmed suite upgrade awards require paying an eligible rate.
Confirmable Suite Upgrade can only be applied to stays that are on an eligible rate, e.g., Best Flexible, Member Discount, Government, and select Corporate and package rates.
Not valid on bookings that require advance payment
TPG also says,
We confirmed with IHG that members with an annual lounge membership could get lounge access on award stays.
That’s what they told me too: “if a member selects Club Lounge access, they can use lounge access on any stay, assuming they book directly through IHG. This is true, even on an reward night.” It’s also not what the terms of the benefit suggest. The club lounge benefit requires staying on a ‘qualifying rate’.
Annual Lounge Membership available on Qualified Stays only
IHG has always provided the guidance that “A qualifying room rate is a rate that is eligible for IHG® Rewards Club points or airline miles. A non–qualifying room rate is not eligible for either.” Reward nights have been explicitly non-qualifying, and there’s no published change that would now suggest otherwise.
This is still a great program for someone who stays 20 nights (including 20 nights on points, since those count towards earning Milestone Rewards). Claim a confirmed suite upgrade and use that on a splurge stay at at a premium full service property. But make sure to pay for that stay – don’t redeem for it.
To be clear: the program changes are a huge improvement. Members are better off than before, and many members will prefer this program over others. And there aren’t benefits being taken away, either. I’m excited by this move by IHG! But there’s a real blind spot.
While this new program is much more rewarding for chain loyalists, whether at 20 nights a year or 70, they haven’t applied these improvements consistently to treat reward nights rewardingly, so they aren’t yet treating members who earn benefits as valued when they’re cashing in their hard-earned points. Hopefully IHG will see this as a weakness and address and improve it. Terms and conditions matter when expecting hotels to comply, or addressing non-compliance with customer service. If this isn’t what the program intended, they’ll update the terms and conditions of these benefits accordingly.