What are the benefits of using loyalty programs for hotels?
Loyalty programs for hotel chains will give you the opportunity to earn points, similar to air miles. You can also earn a status with most hotel chains. So why get involved in these hotel programs?
The main reason to register to hotel loyalty programs is to earn points and use them to redeem free nights at hotels. If you manage to get a status, some hotel chains will offer you complimentary upgrades, free breakfast, lounge access and increased points earnings. Things will get interesting if you travel a lot for work and accumulate points you can use for leisure travel.
IHG Rewards Club is an example of a loyalty program for a hotel chain. The hotel chain contains several hotel brands such as Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza (Business oriented hotels), Intercontinental (Luxury hotel brand) and a few more brands.
IHG Rewards Club has 4 different Tiers. Club is the tier that is granted to you upon registration. Gold Elite will be earned after 10 nights or 10.000 Elite Qualifying Points (EQP), while 40 nights or 40.000 EQP is necessary to earn Platinum status. The highest tier, Spire Elite, can be earned after a whopping 75 nights or 75.000 EQP.
But why chase an IHG status? Depending on your status, you’ll be entitled for the following benefits:
Extra bonus points, room upgrades and late checkouts are the real main benefits for Spire and Platinum. IHG does not offer a lot to their highest tier members if you compare it to other hotel chains such as Hilton or Marriott. Those hotel chains offer free breakfast and lounge access to their members who stay 50 nights or more a year. However, you will understand why I first focus on IHG as first hotel status if you continue reading.
You may think that Spire Elite is out of reach, because you don’t sleep 75 nights at a hotel in one year. Good news for you, because when booking your hotel night, you can buy Bonus Packages for an increased price, which will be counted as EQP. This feature is unique to IHG and does not exist at other hotel chains.
But why would you pay more to reach Spire status every year for the fairly limited benefits? Well, there are different reasons for that. In 2018 I travelled a lot internationally and during the last quarter of 2018, I decided to buy Bonus point packages that gave me 5.000 and 10.000 EQPs. The reason I did this was to achieve Spire Elite. I then decided to enrol into a paid status that IHG has been offering for a while: Intercontinental Ambassador. This status costs you 40.000 IHG points or 200 USD each year and gives you exclusive benefits when staying at the Intercontinental brand. There is one secret that is unadvertised and makes the Ambassador status totally worth it if you achieved an IHG status: buying Ambassador will lock your IHG status as long as you keep the Ambassador status. This means that I managed to earn Spire Elite status only once with the help of bonus packages and that I will keep this status as long as I keep my Ambassador status active by paying 200 USD or 40.000 IHG points. I can enjoy the benefits as Spire Elite and Ambassador. Two for the price of one.
What is Intercontinental Ambassador status?
Ambassador status is a status that is earned by paying a fixed amount each year. In 2021, the status costs 40.000 IHG points or 200 USD and will give you some very interesting benefits during stays at the Intercontinental brand:
The room upgrade is a very nice benefit as it will grant you a bigger room or even a suite. The guaranteed late check out of 4 PM is one that is very important to me. If you’re on vacation you just don’t want to be kicked out of your room if you have a flight in the evening. Those little things all add up to a more relaxed way of travel. 20 USD credit for restaurant, (mini)bar is another nice extra.
The biggest benefit where you can manage to earn back your ‘invested’ 40.000 IHG points or 200 USD is the weekend certificate. This certificate allows you to book two nights for the price of one during the weekends (Friday to Sunday or Saturday to Monday). The complimentary weekend night is only eligible on the flexible rate and is booked through their Ambassador – Weekend Certificate Booking website. Therefore, if you usually book a flexible rate, you will save 50% which is basically one night free. If you usually book non-refundable rates, your savings will be more like 30%, as the non-refundable rate is always cheaper than the flexible rate. Booking a rate with breakfast and lounge access is the perfect way to get the best return of investment for your paid Ambassador status.
My complimentary afternoon tea in the lounge at the Intercontinental Hong Kong
How to earn more IHG points and how to spend them?
IHG offers different ways to earn extra IHG points. Every stay will earn you 10 IHG points per US dollar spent. IHG usually offers a promo every quarter. During the pandemic they haven’t offered much besides double points. Before the pandemic they used to have an offer named Accelerate on regular basis. You get certain tasks that will gain you extra points. If global travel starts resuming again as it used to be I am certain they will introduce Accelerate again.
Points can be redeemed for shopping, air miles and free nights at IHG hotels. The best value for your points is to redeem them for free nights. Take into account that points can only be used to book standard rooms. IHG points are valued at around 0,005 euro (or 0,5 cents). I recently had to book a last-minute airport hotel charging 100 euro a night. Thanks to my points balance I was able to book the room at the hotel for 16.000 IHG points. That’s a value of 0,625 cents per point I managed to get. Keep in mind that IHG points are easy to earn so they are prone to devaluation. IHG tends to increase their award booking prices. If you enter the game of points earning, you better follow the rule “Earn and burn“!
How do I join IHG Rewards Club?
That’s pretty straightforward. Read more about the loyalty program here.
How one hotel chain status opens the door to all hotel chains
One major benefit of holding a hotel chain status that hasn’t been discussed yet is the possibility to try and enjoy benefits from another hotel chain status. The secret: Status matches. A status match is a way to tell a hotel chain that you are a loyal customer for a certain hotel chain and that you are a potential client that might move his business to their hotel chain. This means that by showing proof of my Spire Elite IHG card to another hotel chain, I might be granted a matching status. It starts to get fun when you can status match with a status achieved through a status match! A website named Statusmatcher.com is a great source to give you an idea which chain or airline matches your status.
All large hotel chains own a loyalty program. Some tend to be more generous as others. I will only discuss 2 hotel chains that are worth to mention and that offer a status match frequently.
Hilton Honors: has regular status match promo’s to Gold and Diamond status.
Diamond status gives you guaranteed lounge access (if available) and free breakfast for 2 (in EU and Asia) which are huge benefits compared to other chains. Pitfall: the majority of Hilton hotels are outdated.
Hilton Bali Resort upgraded to private villa with pool after a status match to Hilton Diamond status
Marriot Bonvoy: has regular status match promo’s up to Platinum status.
This chain has a lot to offer but the benefits you get as a status owner contain a lot exceptions. The chain has a lot of brands and each brand has their own rules. As a platinum member you sometimes get lounge access (if available) and breakfast. Sometimes you get bar credit instead of breakfast. The full list of benefits and its rules can be checked on the Marriott Bonvoy website.
Lounge access with complimentary food & drinks at the Marriott Hong Kong after status matching to Platinum
Whether it is worth to invest the time and money is something you have to decide yourself. If you travel frequently I strongly recommend to invest some time and investigate which loyalty program suits the most with your travel pattern.