IHG have made a strong push in 2022 towards competing with the big boys in the hotel loyalty space. It started with the group overhauling and rebranding its loyalty program from IHG Rewards Club to IHG One Rewards early in the year.
Then in May, they came out with their first status-match promotion offering free IHG Platinum status. More recently they took things further by offering free IHG Diamond status until the end of the year. In both instances they also offered members an easy pathway to retain their status until the end of 2023.
Like many people, I have been curious to see how well the individual hotels have embraced the revamped program and whether it’s worth pursuing the status in 2023 and beyond. So armed with my newly minted IHG Diamond status, I recently spent a night at the InterContinental Sydney to road-test the status.
Before I talk about my experience, couple of important points:
- This is NOT a review of InterContinental Sydney, rather, how well they acknowledge, understand and apply perks and benefits of IHG Diamond status.
- My experience at 1 property does not define the elite recognition at the group level. Hotels in Australia & North America are known to be stingy and cut corners. On the other hand, properties in Asia go above and beyond to cater to their guests, in particular the top-tier elites.
Earning IHG Diamond Status
Under the now discontinued IHG Rewards Club, the tier’s topped-out at IHG Spire elite status which came with staying 75 nights at IHG properties or earning at least 75,000 qualifying points.
With IHG One Rewards, the IHG spire elite has been replaced with IHG Diamond. You can earn IHG Diamond status by:
- Staying a minimum of 70 nights with IHG, or
- Earning 120,000 qualifying points. The standard earning rate is 10 points per US$ 1, meaning you need to spend at least US$ 12,000 in a year which is quite steep IMO.
Benefits of IHG Diamond Status
IHG Diamond and Platinum are the two highest tiers of IHG One Rewards Program. While there is a lot of convergence of benefits at this level, there is 1 main distinction. As an IHG Diamond elite, you are able choose breakfast as your welcome amenity.
Here is the table showing full IHG One Rewards member benefits.
As you can see, the table is quite extensive and claims to offer all sorts of benefits. To my mind though, the benefits that are practical and offer most value are:
- Early check-in & late check-out
- Complimentary Room Upgrades
- Choice of Welcome Amenity
- Reward Night Discount
and this is how my experience was at InterContinental Sydney in relation to the above 4 benefits.
Early check-in & late check-out
All IHG One Rewards members (including those at Club level) are eligible for early check-in and late check-out. Note that unlike say Marriott or World of Hyatt programs, both of which offer a Guaranteed 4pm late check-out to elites, at IHG One Rewards this benefit is subject to availability and cuts out at 2pm. Standard check-in and check-out at InterContinental Sydney is 3pm and 11am respectively.
As I arrived at the property closer to 5pm, I did not need to request an early check-in. I did inquire about a late check-out which was flatly denied. The staff attending to me said that the latest she could offer was 11am, the reason given was that the hotel does not offer late check-out on weekends.
If you leave aside the fact that 11am is actually the standard check-out time, what was worse was the way she tried to spin it. I mean if you are not going to be helpful, at least be honest.
Now I realise that hotels are incredibly busy these days, more so on the weekends. But a 4 hour turn-around leaves just enough time for the properties to squeeze in an extra hour for the guest. More than the denial, what grated with me was the staff’s less than honest response and the manner in which it was conveyed.
Complimentary Room Upgrades
I had initially booked a Standard King Room. A day before my arrival, the IHG app showed that it had been upgraded to the King East Harbour View Room.
I knew that suites were available as the hotel was still selling them on the day, so at check-in I asked if there was a possibility of an upgrade into one of the suites, this was flatly denied. The staff said that upgrades were subject to availability (rightly so), were limited to 1 category only (wrong) and explicitly excludes suites (wrong again).
For clarity, below is a blurb on Upgrades from IHG One Rewards Members Benefit Table, you can see the full details on IHG’s website via this link.
As you can see, the words 1 category only or excluding suites are not there, in-fact suites actually form part of complimentary upgrades. I asked the staff whether these exclusions were hotel’s own policy or the loyalty program itself, she said it was the latter.
There was little to be gained by prolonging the discussion with someone unaware (or deliberately misleading?) of the rules, so at this point I was ready to pick up the keys and bolt. But, she then tried to sell me the upgrade at a discounted price.
I should add that throughout the check-in process she was extremely loud and condescending which I had ignored up to this point. When she tried to sell me the upgrade, I knew I had to step-in.
From this point on, our discussions went like this;
Me: So you are unwilling to offer the suite as a complimentary upgrade even though I am eligible for it, but are happy to sell it for extra money?
Her: MR GUPTA, YOU ARE NOT ELIGIBLE FOR SUITE UPGRADE, ONLY FOR 1 CATEGORY UPGRADE.
Me: I am sorry, but that’s not what IHG One Rewards rules say, you should read the rules again so you do not give out incorrect information to the guests.
Her: MR GUPTA, I KNOW THE RULES. SHOW ME WHERE IT SAYS IHG DIAMOND ELITES MAY BE UPGTRADED INTO A SUITE.
I proceeded to show her the rules, unperturbed she asked me to wait while she jumped on the phone to someone, a desperate attempt to seek validation of her own incorrect interpretation of IHG One Rewards program.
I am not sure what the other person conveyed, but suddenly her voice went from loud and brash to little more than a whimper. Once off the phone, she did an about-face and said that it wasn’t the program, but the hotel’s own policies that prohibited suite upgrades. She said she wants to apologise for any misunderstanding.
I have a hard time believing this was a sincere apology, I mean there was no misunderstanding on my part. If you really want to apologise, do it for being rude and for not knowing your own rules🤷♂️
Let’s just say, the check-in experience was less than stellar.
Choice of Welcome Amenity
IHG Diamond members are offered a choice of 3 welcome amenities from which they can pick 1, these are:
- 600 IHG One Rewards Points
- US$ 10 drink/snack credit per stay
- Breakfast for Member and one Guest for each night of stay
I picked Breakfast as my welcome amenity and am pleased to report that this benefit was offered and honoured on expected lines. Breakfast at Intercontinental Sydney is in the form of full-buffet and is ordinarily priced at A$ 42 per person for adults and A$ 25 for children aged between 6-12.
The offering was more than acceptable on the morning I dined here, it was standard breakfast fare consisting of bacon, eggs, pastries, cereals and so on. While you could help yourself for all the buffet items, tea, coffee and made to order eggs were ordered directly with the staff who delivered it to the table.
Overall, I had a good breakfast experience. Unlike many properties who offer complimentary breakfast to guests, but nickel and dime them for coffee and other speciality beverages, everything at InterContinental Sydney was included which was nice.
Reward Night Discount
IHG One Rewards operate dynamic pricing for reward nights. This means that the number of points required for a free night (at least in theory) are linked to the cash rates at the property on the given night. Higher the cash rate, more the number of points needed.
One of the benefits that IHG Diamond and Platinum elites receive is discounted reward pricing. Note that this isn’t an ongoing benefit, the idea is that from time to time IHG will offer this as a limited time offering. The discount isn’t fixed and is at IHG’s discretion.
Matter of fact, we have just had one of these offers last week that came with 15% discount.
Given that IHG has dynamic pricing and some of it’s most aspirational properties can cost in-excess of 100,000 points per night, I wouldn’t say a 15% discount is earth shattering. But it’s better than nothing, and lets hope we see bigger discounts in future.
I had a mixed experience as an IHG Diamond elite during my stay at InterContinental Sydney. What’s good was good, what’s bad was really ugly.
I fully acknowledge the tough time the industry has seen during the 2 years of Covid lockdown and disruptions. I also realise that hotels have lost a lot of experienced, well-trained staff during this time, and are still struggling to fill-up positions due to manpower shortages.
But even if that was not the case, I wouldn’t hold any grudges against InterContinental Sydney or the IHG Group. I mean if I am going to be blogging and reviewing hotels, this is part and parcel of the job. So no complaints.
I will say this though, if IHG are hoping to take away market share from industry leaders such as Marriott, that’s not going to happen simply by doling out free status. Unless the elites feel valued, acknowledged and sufficiently rewarded, they will milk the status while they have it but probably won’t return.
Some discretion to individual properties is fine, but IHG don’t have the size, scale or even brands to challenge the big boys if they allow hotels to act and operate as if they were law unto themselves, the way Marriott or Hilton do.
Do you stay with IHG? Leave a comment below.