What does beer have to do with hotels? InterContinental Hotels Group as a hotel company has a history awash in beer suds.
When discussing InterContinental Hotels Group, beer is the background of this 21st century global corporation. Bass Brewery to be exact. Fast forward from 1777 when Bass Brewery started in Burton-on-Trent in the Midlands, England to 1988-1990 when Bass, one of the largest brewers and pub owners in the UK, purchased an American hotel chain called Holiday Inn.
Why does IHG operate two loyalty programs with IHG Rewards Club and InterContinental Ambassador?
Legislation in the UK forced Bass to liquidate some of its pub holdings in 1989 and the cash rich company poured money into the hotel industry. In 1991 Bass launched the Holiday Inn Express brand. In 1994, Bass launched the Crowne Plaza upscale hotel brand. In 1997 Bass launched Staybridge Suites for the upscale extended stay North America traveler. In 1998 Bass bought InterContinental Hotels, the luxury hotel brand originally launched in 1946 as a global hotel brand of Pan American Airways, the airline giant that folded in 1991.
In 2000, Bass changed its corporate name to Six Continents PLC for the hospitality segment of its businesses. On April 15, 2003 the Six Continents PLC became InterContinental Hotels Group PLC and was listed on UK and US stock markets.
In 2003 IHG acquired Candlewood Suites, incidentally founded in 1995 by Jack Deboer, founder of Residence Inn (Marriott) and Summerfield Suites (now Hyatt House brand). In 2004 Hotel Indigo launched as an IHG boutique brand.
EVEN, a lifestyle fitness focused brand and HuaLuxe, an upscale mainland China brand are two new IHG brands to open in 2014.
The reason for the school history lesson on IHG as a hotel corporation is to assist understanding as to why IHG Rewards Club and InterContinental Ambassador are two different loyalty program entities for one hotel chain. Primarily, two loyalty programs are the remnants of the historical development of acquisition of existing hotel brands and the launch of new hotel brands acquired by one giant beer company in the process of changing from brewery investments to hotel industry investments over the past 25 years.
Many of the changes to the hotel loyalty program for IHG in 2013 were due to a loyalty program reconstruction of Priority Club Rewards for the ten year anniversary of IHG as a corporate entity. IHG Rewards Club is a hotel loyalty program redesigned in a move to evolve for the 21st century hotel customers.
InterContinental Ambassador is a mainstay from the old style program for the luxury brand. Think of it as similar to Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards. Luxury travelers need their own loyalty program just to feel a bit more special. At the end of this post the benefits of InterContinental Ambassador are listed.
InterContinental Hotels Group and IHG Rewards Club in 2014
IHG stands for InterContinental Hotels Group with hotel brands of Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza, InterContinental Hotels, Hotel Indigo, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites. The company has global headquarters in Denham, UK with regional corporate centers including Atlanta for the Americas region.
The IHG Rewards Club hotel loyalty program for InterContinental Hotels Group, the largest hotel chain worldwide measured by number of hotel rooms, has had many changes over the past 13 months. This is an old and mature program on a hotel loyalty timeline that never seemed to unify as new hotel brands were acquired and launched over the past 15 years.
2014 is the year the new IHG Rewards Club emerges with a full year of new benefits.
Free Internet for IHG Rewards Club members
IHG Rewards Club made changes effective January 1, 2014 including free internet for all loyalty members at most hotels worldwide (not Europe), even if not a guest at the hotel.
Free internet at hotels in Europe is limited to IHG Rewards Club elite members.
To start, we’re offering free Internet globally to Gold Elite and Platinum Elite members in July this year. During 2014, all members will receive this great benefit. As a member you will be able to access the Internet for free at all of our hotels, whether you’re staying with us or simply stopping by for a coffee.
IHG Rewards Club 2013 webpage announcement
IHG Rewards Club General T&C #24:
Internet Access for Members: Beginning January 2014, standard internet access will be available to all IHG® Rewards Club members at no additional cost at all IHG hotels located in the Americas, Greater China, Asia, Middle East and Africa with or without a hotel reservation and/or qualifying stay. Furthermore, IHG® Rewards Club Elite members will be provided standard internet access at no additional cost at all IHG hotels in Europe. Internet availability and accessibility in common areas vary by hotel. Internet accessibility, speed, and connectivity in common areas and guest rooms vary by hotel. Details regarding a property’s internet accessibility will be available at the hotel’s registration desk. Please note that The Venetian® and The Palazzo®, an InterContinental Alliance® Resort, do not offer the Free Internet Access benefit, which is instead included in the daily resort fee.
IHG Rewards Club Global Membership Terms & Conditions (accessed from website Jan 6, 2014).
IHG Rewards Club Reward Nights
IHG Rewards Club made major changes in 2013 with a shift from brand level award nights at fixed rates to a worldwide nine-category system for hotel award nights ranging from 10,000 points for a free night at category 1 hotels to 50,000 points per free night at category 9 hotels.
IHG does not offer any points discount for extended stays like a 5th night free award found with Hilton, Marriott and Starwood loyalty programs.
IHG Rewards Club PointBreaks Awards, Points & Cash Awards , Flash Sales on Award Nights, and Last Minute Reward Nights.
There are several opportunities for discount reward nights with IHG Rewards Club points.
PointBreaks are hotel nights for 5,000 points per night. New properties post about every 10 to 12 weeks and usually offer around 100 hotels globally from all hotel brands. There are usually about 3 to 7 InterContinental Hotels at 5,000 points per night in places like the Middle East, mainland China and Colombia and Central America. Usually more than half the hotels are located in the USA. The past couple of years I have been redeeming about 10 nights annually using PointBreaks.
Points & Cash offers the option of paying $70 for 10,000 points for a hotel award night or $40 for 5,000 points. This is a way to conserve points when making award reservations. The Points & Cash award points option to purchase points at the rate of $70 for 10,000 points is only available at time of booking an award stay. There is a posted daily limit of $280 in purchased points through Points & Cash reservations. Points & Cash award stays cancelled result in purchased points being redeposited into the member’s account. This is what is known as “The Trick” in IHG Rewards Club for buying discount points at the rate of $7 per 1,000 points.
Flash Sales for Award Nights offer up to 75% off Standard Reward Night Rates
This is a new promotional offer IHG Rewards Club launched in late 2013 whereby a selection of hotels has discounted award nights, mostly from 25% to 75% off for a one day booking sale.
My parents landed Crowne Plaza Asheville, North Carolina in November for 7,500 points per night when the standard rate was 30,000 points and the room rates were over $200 per night.
Last Minute Reward Nights are a 50% discount rate on award nights only offered for the three days of the first full weekend of each month beginning on the Friday night on the calendar date sometimw between the 1st and 7th of the month. Friday, January 3, Saturday Jan 4, and Sunday Jan 5 were the three dates this month. The participating hotels are generally posted on the Tuesday before the sale and reservations must be booked by Thursday before the weekend. The short planning time makes these discount awards not very useful unless one of the hotels happens to be where you are that weekend.
IHG Rewards Club Elite Members
IHG Award Nights Count for Elite Qualification as of July 1, 2013 and other Elite Member Changes
Several of the 2013 changes to IHG Rewards Club pertain to elite membership.
IHG Rewards Club Gold Elite = 15 nights in a calendar year or 20,000 EQP elite qualifying points. There is a fast-track route for 10 nights + stays in 3 different IHG brands in a calendar year.
IHG Rewards Club Platinum elite = 50 nights in a calendar year or 60,000 EQP. Fast-track route for Platinum elite is 40 nights + stays in 4 different IHG brands in a calendar year.
Elite membership ends on December 31 of the calendar year if requalification criteria not met.
Elite rollover nights for IHG Platinum members allows nights over 50 nights in a calendar year to roll-over to the next calendar year for a jump-start of the 50 nights requirement. Elite rollover nights are only valid for one calendar year.
One of the negative changes in January 2013 was changing the way IHG Rewards Club counts points for elite status. Hotel points are either elite qualifying or elite non-qualifying.
Elite Qualifying Points:
1. Base points earned from Qualifying Rates paid for hotel stays,
2. points collected from partner transactions,
3. IHG® Rewards Club Bonus Points Packages
4. Meeting Rewards are considered Elite Qualifying Points and counted towards membership elite status.
Non-Elite Qualifying Points:
All other point earning transactions, including
- promotional points (includes elite bonus points)
- points vouchers (InterContinental Ambassadors receive 5,000 points voucher annually).
- points purchase
- points transfers
- points deposits.
The bottom line is an IHG Rewards Club credit card will grant Platinum elite status, but Platinum status on hotel spend will take $6,000 unless you reduce that rate booking room rates with bonus points packages.
IHG Rewards Club is a good program for a US member to have the IHG Rewards Club Select Visa credit card. It offers a 10% rebate on redeemed points and confers elite status. Another benefit is one free night certificate annually, good at any IHG brand hotel worldwide. The link is not a credit card affiliate link that pays me.
InterContinental Ambassador loyalty program for InterContinental Hotels
InterContinental Ambassador is a separate loyalty program for elite member benefits at InterContinental Hotels. The program has an initial membership fee of $200 or 32,000 IHG Rewards Club points for one year. Renewal rate is discounted to $150 per year.
RECEIVE EXCLUSIVE BENEFITS
- Guaranteed room upgrade: enjoy an immediate upgrade to a superior room* (one category higher than purchased) each time you stay.
- Fresh fruit upon arrival
- Mineral water in room, replenished daily
- In-room gift
- Single-room rate for double occupancy
ENJOY A MORE RELAXING STAY
- Extended checkout—up to 4pm
- Dedicated Ambassador check-in area
- Complimentary pay-TV film per stay
- Complimentary newspaper, delivered daily
- Instant checkout
EARN & REDEEM REWARDS
- Complimentary weekend night certificate*
- Elite status in IHG® Rewards Club
- 5,000 bonus IHG® Rewards Club points
- Redeem points for rewards, including free nights
*Valid on the second night of a paid weekend stay on the Ambassador Weekend Rate and issued upon purchase and renewal. Weekends may vary by region.
Earning points in IHG Rewards Club has some little alterations from other major hotel loyalty programs and the next follow-up post on IHG Rewards Club will examine how points are earned and why IHG hotel stays are some of the most points rewarding of all hotel chains.
Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.
Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests.