Last year IHG rebranded its loyalty program IHG One Rewards, meant to unify all of the chains brands and give customers a reason to stay loyal. They introduced whole new suites of benefits including top tier Diamond status with free daily breakfast, and benefit choices like confirmed suite upgrades, club lounge access, and food and beverage spending credit to use on property.
One of the most compelling changes was the introduction of confirmed suite upgrades.
- Earned as a choice benefit starting after just 20 nights. Members can select one as a choice benefit at 20 and 40 nights (the 40 night benefit can be selected twice), and select two at 70 elite nights (the 70 night benefit can be selected twice) each year. Each is valid for up to 5 nights.
- Convert a regular room reservation to a suite reservation between 14 days and 24 hours prior to check-in
- This is in addition to space available upgrades at check-in, including to standard suites, if available.
However there were some rates excluded from this new confirmed suite benefit. You could not confirm upgrades on prepaid rates or on points redemption stays.
They’ve made improvements on both of these fronts.
- Some prepaid rates actually can be upgraded. On the back end the agent is basically taking an existing reservation the customer has, cancelling it, and then booking a new reservation at the original rate into the upgraded room category. This presents complications in some cases, which is why they initially excluded prepaid rates entirely, but it’s actually possible to do upgrades on some prepaid rates where deposits haven’t been taken.
- Award stays can be upgraded. Four months ago the Senior Vice President in charge of the program told me this was coming. Loyalty Lobby reports that it is live. This is a huge improvement in the value of points for those staying with IHG at least 20 nights per year, since their redemptions can be to suites.
IHG is also working on offering members the ability to electronically confirm their suite upgrades, instead of having to call, and on offering the ability to spend more points on a better room when redeeming a free night award like Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott offer.
It remains an open question, I think, what happens to the dedicated Intercontinental Ambassador program, to Regent’s program, and to the unpublished top level retained from Kimpton’s program as they’re trying to unify loyalty across IHG brands (renaming the program IHG One Rewards). But staying 20 nights at Holiday Inn Express properties, and redeeming points and then confirming suite upgrades at Intercontinentals and Kimptons represents huge value.
IHG now has, in my view, the second best elite upgrade program behind Hyatt – which allows confirmed upgrades at booking to suites, and allows them more often for their heaviest stay guests – but whose confirmed upgrade benefits only start after 50 nights. Marriott allows confirmed upgrades based on availability (and only into capacity controlled suite inventory) starting 5 days prior to check-in for elites after 50 nights. And Hilton doesn’t require hotels to upgrade elites to suites at all.