IHG Rewards vs. Hilton Honors – Which Hotel Loyalty Program is Better?

Many people prefer to be loyal to a single hotel chain due to its loyalty program and co-branded credit card. I don’t think that’s the best approach, but many people have better things to do with their time than juggle multiple airlines and hotel chains as a full-on “travel hacker”. Choosing a hotel chain is more art than science, however. The right choice for any reader is also heavily dependent on individual travel patterns, preferences, budget, etc.

Number of Hotels in Portfolio

IHG has nearly 6,000 properties worldwide. Hilton has 6,200+.

Both chains are almost certainly going to offer one or more hotels anywhere you are likely to travel. They also offer brands across the entire spectrum from midscale to luxury.  Neither IHG nor Hilton are particularly renowned for their luxury options – although IHG’s addition of Six Senses and Mr & Mrs Smith and rapid expansion of Kimpton might eventually fill that gap – but if you’re looking for a reasonably-priced hotel offering free breakfast for the family, both Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express are likely to fit the bill.

Advantage: Too close to call

Value of Points

Base Points

Both IHG and Hilton offer 10 points per US dollar spent. And although there is some uncertainty about IHG after their recent changes, both IHG and Hilton points are worth 0.4-0.5 cents.

Mid-tier elite members do slightly better with Hilton, however. Gold members earn an 80% bonus, while Diamond members receive 100%. At IHG, Platinum members earn 50% while Spire members receive 100%.

Advantage: Tie

Spending Points

Hilton offers a fifth night free benefit to members with at least easy-to-get Silver status.  IHG offers a fourth night free benefit to credit card holders.

Both IHG and Hilton are using fully dynamic award pricing, with a cap in place at many hotels. Hilton awards include any resort fees. At IHG you must pay resort fees to the hotel.

Of course, the points value outlined above captures this to some extent but nonetheless…

Advantage: Tie (if you have the IHG credit card)

Promotions

You can generally rely on Hilton having a promotion running at all times, with no gaps. Sometimes this will be a “points per stay” promotion that penalizes expensive stays. Sometimes this will be double or triple points, which big spenders love.

IHG used to be known for its lucrative Accelerate promotions. These now appear to be dead, with IHG running less-lucrative promotions with gaps in between.

Advantage: Hilton

Cashback

I cannot possibly judge which hotel chain properties charge rates appropriate for the budget of every reader. But I can certainly rank the hotel chains by their generosity of paying rebates to those informed consumers who book via a cashback website such as Topcashback.

IHG usually offers a minimum of 6% cashback, with promotions taking this higher. You can also earn AA miles via the AA shopping portal, with their regular 500-1000 mile bonus offers.

Hilton usually offers a measly 1% to Honors members.

Advantage: IHG

Credit Cards

Both chains offer a dizzying number of credit card options in the United States, each with their own bonus categories to consider. But when it comes to hotel spend, you can generally earn:

  • Hilton – 14 points per US dollar spent
  • IHG- 10 points per US dollar spent

Hilton’s Aspire card comes with top-tier Diamond Status. The IHG Premier Card fom Chase offers Platinum status.

Advantage: Hilton

Elite Status

Earning Status

There is an obvious trade-off between the ease of reaching a relevant level of elite status (meaning that there are more elites competing for a limited number of upgradable rooms) and the benefits associated with such status, but if you’re looking for a quicker route to elite status…

Hilton offers the 4-stay to Gold MVP Fast Track. Diamond status is available with the Aspire credit card (in the US).

IHG doesn’t make it nearly so easy. You can get Platinum status from Chase’s Premier Card, but you would need to stay 75 nights or earn 75,000 Elite Qualifying Points (in normal years) to reach Spire status.

Advantage: Hilton

Status Benefits

Outside of the USA, Hilton Honors (Gold and Diamond) offers free breakfast at all brands, after Waldorf Astoria finally joined in a few years ago. Guaranteed lounge access for Diamonds only. Suite upgrades are not promised, but are definitely possible at generous hotels outside of North America and Europe.

IHG offers very little by way of elite status benefits. Spire and Platinum members might receive a room upgrade, but mostly you will receive a drink voucher or a few hundred points. The best benefit of Spire status is often the annual bonus of 25,000 points. 🙁

Advantage: Hilton

Lifetime Status

You might never require lifetime status if you hold on indefinitely to a Hilton co-branded credit card offering Diamond status. But the requirements for lifetime status are 10 years of Diamond and 1,000 nights.

IHG does not offer lifetime status.

Advantage: Hilton

The Bottom Line

If it’s not even close – Hilton Honors is clearly the better loyalty program – then why do some people stay with IHG hotels? There are certainly some very loyal fans of Intercontinental and Kimpton out there – simply because they prefer the actual hotels (sometimes an aspect ignored by those of us sitting in an office and writing about loyalty programs).

But I think it also simply comes down to price. A Holiday Inn Express is often cheaper than a Hampton or Courtyard hotel. And a Holiday Inn / Crowne Plaza is usually cheaper than the mid-range alternatives offered by Hilton, Marriott, etc. Add cashback and historically-better promotions to the mix, then the “I don’t eat breakfast” brigade can simply pay less for their hotel nights and receive a higher rebate in the form of free award nights.

Since old habits die hard, it might take a while for the “IHG has the best promotions” crowd to realise that IHG is offering far less than it used to, especially if you start calculating the costs of your morning coffee/breakfast or soft drinks / snacks you might otherwise get from an executive lounge.

What do you think? Any IHG fans want to share their reasons for staying with IHG? Let us know in the comments section…

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