Intercontinental’s New Top Tier Elite Status Makes Me Want to PerSpire

In April IHG Rewards Club announced several key changes to their program.

  • Points, which previously did not expire, will have 12 month inactivity rules imposed. That’s pretty draconian, actually.

  • A new top elite tier, since existing IHG Rewards Club elite levels offer almost nothing (no suites, no club lounge, no breakfast, no late checkout) under the terms and conditions of the program. It will require 75 nights or 75,000 points earned and offer a 100% points bonus on paid stays and the ability to either take 25,000 bonus points or gifting Platinum status (the new mid-tier) to another member

Historically the program, that used to be called Priority Club, has been very generous with points promotions towards free nights but not very generous with elite status. They have a lot of hotels, many limited service. But the lack of benefits even extending to guaranteed late checkout (and excluding upgrade benefits on award stays) has been pretty appalling.

What we know so far of their new top tier status doesn’t do much to change that, even after 75 nights.

But it does have, we just learned, a rather interesting name: Spire Elite.

The New Level Falls Flat

IHG Rewards Club wants this new Spire Elite tier to be… poignant, even. From the press release:

To celebrate the launch, world renowned travel photographer Steve McCurry – who is best known for his 1984 photographic portrait ‘Afghan Girl’ – has joined forces with the world’s biggest hotel loyalty programme to capture how a moment of recognition is brought to life through three poignant photographs. Each photograph depicts that unique and treasured moment at which one person recognises another.

    She’s so happy to earn 25,000 bonus points after staying 75 nights this year at Holiday Inn Express.

The goals are:

  • Providing the chance to feel part of a special “club”
  • Identifying a guest as someone unique, who is “not just a number”
  • Remembering something about the individual; their likes, dislikes and preferences
  • Providing a reward, a “thank you” for achieving something

And yet all you get after 75 nights is more bonus points for your spending and a choice of either 25,000 more bonus bonus still (worth ~ $150) or gifting Platinum status that’s no longer even top tier and comes with fewer benefits even than Spire Elite (and is given already to all co-brand credit card holders).

What Could They Have Been Thinking With the Name?

This is how IHG Rewards Club describes the name of the Spire Elite tier:

‘Spire’ is derived from the old English word ‘spir’ – a shoot or a stalk of grass standing out amongst the others. It is awe inspiring, exceptional and a symbol of prestige. It conveys a sense of dedication and an aspirational attitude: going above and beyond; the sky is the limit. The name connotes a strong sense of prestige, elevated stature, and worthiness of admiration, along with a sense of dedication and an aspirational attitude, which is in line with how IHG Rewards Club sees its most loyal members who would qualify for this tier.

“Spire Elite” sounds like something you earn in Infinity MileageLands (the EVA Air program). It also sounds like Squire Elite, where you’re indentured for 75 ‘knights’ with the chain. The old English etymology only reinforces this.

A unique name needs unique benefits. This level doesn’t appear to have any. What would they give these members if they didn’t see them as elevated in stature and worthy of admiration… take them out and shoot them?

Instead, you’re caught in the IHG Spire Web. Is your spire sense tingling yet?

Will you stay with IHG de-spire the lack of elite benefits?

When the air conditioning window unit in your unrenovated Holiday Inn room doesn’t work, you perspire and your membership gets you moved to a new room.

This New Level May Also Make Intercontinental Royal Ambassador Status Harder to Get

Intercontinental’s super special Royal Ambassador status (free minibar, and the status that gave me the highest level suites regularly of any chain including Presidental suites, but that was incredibly inconsistent across properties) used to have unpublished qualification criteria.

My bathroom in the Presidential Suite at the Intercontinental Manila had a Sauna

My suite had a back yard at the Intercontinental Montelucia (now an Omni)

Generally you needed 50 qualifying nights with IHG and stays with at least 3 different Intercontinental hotels while an Ambassador member (a level that you have to pay to join).

Last summer they published qualification criteria and it was a bit stricter: 60 qualifying nights, at least 20 of which needing to be at at least 3 different Intercontinental properties.

Now that there’s a going to be a new top tier at IHG Rewards Club that requires 75 nights to earn, the criteria for Intercontinental Royal Ambassador status similarly goes up. According to the this Flyertalk thread it will require 75 nights, including 30 nights at a minimum of 3 different Intercontinental hotel properties, to earn the status.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You would think this level would at least include a free breakfast. The “goals” sound like something a marketing guy tells middle-management, not what the customer should be hearing.

  2. IHG need to do two things: 1) make their elite levels meaningfully competitive with other top tier programs (HHonors, Marriott Rewards, SPG, etc.) and 2) implement a training program for the properties and some kind of enforcement mechanism to ensure that hotels deliver on the minimum promised benefits. The experience that I will receive as a Platinum is always wildly unpredictable. At worst, when welcome amenity/points have not been offered and I kindly remind the clerk about the benefit, I’ve been told “you get free internet” at a property that gives free internet to everyone – gee thanks. At the top end (don’t mess with this generosity!) I’ve been surprised with suite upgrades or free full breakfast buffets. One of my most recent experiences was an upgrade to a bi-level suite (apartment-like) at an Intercontinental in a major world city, which was amazing and completely unexpected because ICs in general tend to view Platinums as a low tier status similar to “silver” in Marriott, Hilton, etc.

  3. Not a happy camper here. I am scheduled for 67 qualifying nights, and this is my qualification month. I am going to have to cough up $1,600 now to re-qualify. I would say to hell with them, but I am planning to stay 100+ nights at InterCons next year, so I really need my RA status. 🙁

  4. @Gene – interestingly while the higher qualification requirements were on the website, they’ve since been rolled out. My *guess* is that you’re ok for requalifying this month. I don’t see how they could really apply this retroactively. You’ve stayed on the basis of their published criteria. It was one thing when it wasn’t published. But they said 60 nights including 20 at a minimum of 3 different ICs, if you’ve done that seems like they have to give you the status.

  5. @ Gary — You are probably right. I am hoping we get clarification from the IHG folks on FlyerTalk before I potentially waste any $$.

  6. Seems like a bad move in a way. I’ve been Platinum for years (Ambassador on a few years). Most years because of earned points and number of stays but some years because of the credit card. In a good year I might stay at IHG 75 nights or hit the EQN points but not likely all years. I felt like I was on top of the world with my half million points stash and a top tier at the rural HIX’s I go to. Now I suddenly feel second class. As a like 20 year member is that good? All of a sudden Marriott is tempting me more. Gosh I wish Hyatt Place’s would expand more in my travel areas.

  7. Gary, I’m curious as to your thoughts on paying for Ambassador status and what returns I might get out of it. My wife and I are headed to Greece next month and staying at the IC Athens for a few nights, plus we’ll be getting our free night certificates from both of our IHG cards in September (which we’ll almost certainly use at IC properties). What’s the general success rate on getting upgrades and/or welcome amenities and the like, or does it really vary that wildly between properties?

  8. @andrew g – i expect a one category upgrade which varies by property (in other words what one category means/gets you), and that doesn’t have to be provided on awards though some hotels will give it to you. so often not valuable on a single stay though if the free weekend night is worth > $200 you’d otherwise pay then for sure it would be worth it even on the single stay

  9. IHG have lost the plot, not offering benefits, and drawing attention to the fact is marketing their own pathetic ineptitude.

    They need to bring in some executive directors on the board that have marketing experience, shareholders aren’t happy, customers increasingly aren’t, i look forward to a management shakeup, when Richard Solomons, the current CEO, a finance guy that fails at understanding marketing is pushed out, shareholder groups are already agitating, especially after the Kimpton transaction.

    Three executive directors only?

    Poor management, poor IT, poor marketing = IHG decline

  10. The ‘problem’ is that IHG Rewards Club still appeals to people like me, so there is little interest in making it better. What I mean is that I often travel to small towns where there are no big chains (e.g.: Hyatt, Sheraton, Hilton, etc.) and so I will always stay at the IHG branded hotel, typically a Holiday Inn Express, if nothing more so that I am staying at a chain hotel instead of a run-of-the-mill motel. Also, they have properties all over, so when I do go on that big trip, like next week when I am traveling through Asia, of course I will stay loyal and stay at the IHG hotels. And if I am going to a big US city, I can chose the area of the city (and thus, the price) since there are so many properties to chose from. I think IHG has a niche that appeals to the $75-$150/night a dozen or so stays a year people like me and while I would love to have more benefits, if I am comparing them to a Best Western or Choice Hotels, etc.; something not in that top range, they are the better option.

  11. @AndrewG- I had a similar travel schedule, and recently chose to buy Ambassador- this was my results-

    – I contacted the hotel in advance, and confirmed the upgrade I would get if I purchased Ambassador status. This was the IC Bali, but I think it would work as well or better with the IC Athens, given that business travel must be way down. Some report that they get better upgrades if they agree to purchase the Ambassador membership at the hotel.

    – I used 32,000 points to upgrade, rather than the $200. You get a 10% rebate on the points with the credit card, and 5,000 points for signing up to Ambassador, so a net cost of 23,800 points, so that is better value.

    – We then had a reward redemption weekend at the IC Bangkok, using our free nights. We did not get a room upgrade on the award nights, but in recognition of my Ambassador status, they offered me an option of either free cocktails for the two of us in the Club Lounge one night, or a free buffet breakfast. We took the breakfast.

    We’ll probably stay at a few more IC’s before my Ambassador membership is over, so I think it was worth it to purchase. Certainly better benefits than Platinum (or I suspect Spire), as IHG does little to recognize its regular elites.

  12. I was RA for 15 years. Never paid for anything, was always upgraded to suite, club level, breakfast, minibar, some dinners, afternoon tea, wine in room, gift, etc.

    This year was dropped to platinum for lack of travel. It’s still okay and I do have an IHG brand cc. Now I’m told to pay 150 just to remain ambassador status. If this is actually true, then it’s on to Hyatt where I am platinum as long as I keep their cc. Too bad. I really did love IC hotels.

  13. I am at the new tier level and used three free nights at the intercontinental in Lisbon in December 2015. They gave me a upgraded room plus club level access, which by the way was fantastic. They also gave me the free mini bar in my room. I was not the ambassador level, just Spire level. Have no idea if they are doing this at every intercontinental hotel but they sure did it in Lisbon. Will do it again in a few more days in January 2016 in San Francisco but with a paid night, not a free night. Will see what happens.

  14. Worse than all of the points in this story is the fact that it is increasingly hard to reddem reward nights. Over 50% of the time, when I want to use points for a stay, I am told that the property is “sold out” of reward nights, but they will gladly sell me a room for cash.

    What is the use of my 600,000+ points if I can’t use them? I asked. You should book further in advance I was told. BTW, I was booking a room that was 1.5 months out and it wasn’t in peak season. When I looked at the “Are you flexible” calendar, the hotel I was looking at had less than 3 available nights a month for the next 3 months and they were scattered (one night on this week, another lone night on another week, etc…) making it impossible to stay three nights in a row for months.

  15. As a previous Platinum member I would regularly get upgraded to an Executive or a suite where available. I reached Spire status early this year and have seen a couple of worrying trends:

    1. The lack of upgrades they all seem to have gone by the time I check in
    2. The quality of upgrades, some crowne plaza have introduced “Standard Plus” which has a larger bed – nothing else! I have also seen this in Holiday Inn Properties. They then have the cheek to charge £20 for a true upgrade to an Executive room.

    What is the point of Spire?

    Sad … thinking of jumping ship to another programme. Any recommendations for any programmes that offer an entry at an matching level ?

  16. British airways has three levels. Blue. Silver and Gold ! Silver and gold get you into the lounges even though if you are flying Economy. Platinum and Spire should get you into club lounges otherwise the benefits are poor

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