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Hilton Honors versus IHG Rewards Club for frequent travelers

As I spend over 200 nights per year from home, I spend a lot of time in different hotels. The last 2 years, I have focussed on spending my nights in either IHG properties (Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn, Crown Plaza, Indigo Hotels, Kimpton) or Hilton properties (Hilton, Hampton by Hilton, Doubletree by Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Canopy, Conrad). It sounds all great – getting free upgrades, drinks and collecting points you can redeem for even more awesome stays – but how does all of this add up? Here’s my personal experience – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

Before I start, how I got to IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

Currently, I have Hilton Honors Diamond status and IHG Spire Ambassador and Kimpton Karma status (which pretty much means I am IHG Spire Elite, paid for Ambassador, and spent some nights in Kimpton properties like the De Witt Amsterdam).

For years, I had used Booking.com as my go-to site for finding and comparing hotels. Over the years, I got really good in finding sub-€70 or even sub-€50 hotel nights away (I booked over 500 stays with Booking.com). But after one customer service case too many where the Booking.com team did no effort whatsoever to help me, I decided to change my hotel stay strategy radically – I went all-in on hotel loyalty programs.

The first year I focussed on IHG properties (Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn, Crown Plaza, Indigo Hotels, Kimpton), but after achieving Platinum status rather easily, I decided to start adding Hilton properties (Hilton, Hampton by Hilton, Doubletree by Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Canopy, Conrad) as additional options. Both to have an alternative when IHG properties are crazy expensive, but also to maximize point benefits (as I will show later, both programs have accelerate programs that help you collect points or other benefits).

So, here’s my personal experience with both loyalty programs / reward programs.

I looked at both programs from different perspectives:

Comparing IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

Champagne at the Hilton Brussels
Champagne at the Hilton Brussels

Becoming elite member – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

Becoming an IHG Rewards Club Spire Elite, IHG Rewards Club’s highest tier level, takes 75 qualifying nights or 75,000 points.

Becoming a Hilton Honors Diamond takes 30 stays, 60 nights or 120,000 Hilton Honors Base Points. As I tend to stay in lower-tier properties (Hampton by Hilton, cheap Hiltons, etc), it only took me a few months to become a Diamond member, based on stays. Interestingly enough, this system also seduces people to maximize the number of stays rather than book multiple nights at the same property.

On top of that, there are several shortcuts (see the comprehensive overview by Points Guy), including Gold fast track promotions by Hilton in which you can become a Hilton Gold in as little as 4 stays, Hilton offers a status match, where you can easily and different credit cards that offer instant access to Gold or Platinum/Diamond statuses.

Additionally, I have decided to buy Intercontinental Ambassador status, more on that in a separate post.

Staying elite member – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

IHG Rewards Club has rollover stays and rollover nights that help you get to elite status the next year. E.g. if you need 75 stays to stay Spire Elite and have 80 stays in one year, you will have 5 qualifying stays for the next year.

Hilton Honors also has rollover stays. As said above, the possibility to qualify based on stays, nights and points, makes it quite achievable to keep your elite status.

The value of being elite member – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

With your elite status, some perks apply, ranging from free room upgrades to bonus points (for the same stay, you could get up to 2* the number of points you would normally get compared to an entry-level frequent hotel guest), free breakfast, free drinks, etcetera.

In my experience, and balancing out my stays in non-upgradable properties (Holiday Inn Express, Hampton by Hilton), I have gotten way more upgrades in Hilton properties, even including suite upgrades (never experienced that with IHG).

What I really appreciate in the Hilton Diamond status is the free breakfasts (you already get with Gold). Hotel breakfasts are usually rather expensive – getting this for free is a convenient start of the day.

For reference: The legend Points Guy valuates IHG Rewards Club Spire Elite at $2,615, mainly based on room upgrades and bonus points, and valuates Hilton Honors Diamond at $1,915, mainly based on room upgrades, bonus points and free breakfast.

Delighting customers – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

I am rather disappointed in both hotel groups when it comes to delighting their guests. Even for loyal customers, the relationships seems to be -above all- rather transactional. Apart from the occasional handwritten cards (which also often feel scaled rather than truly personal), the really personal gestures are rather limited.

Just a small example – my sad birthday experiment, in which I had booked two separate stays at two properties (one Hilton, one Crown Plaza), hoping to see their full capabilities in delighting guests on their birthday. Sad trombone. Nothing happened.

Earning points – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

Base points are calculated based on the dollars spent. E.g. $113.17 means 1132 points. These are multiplied based on your tier level. Spire elites earn double points. On top of that, IHG Rewards Club has Accelerate programs, usually 2 or 3 times per year, that let you earn extra points based on staying a specific number of. nights, staying at specific properties or booking via the app. That can help to earn up to 75,000 extra points (approx 3 stays at lower-tier properties).

Hilton has a similar structure but has less refined accelerate programs. Hilton offers extra points after a specific numbers of nights (e.g. 40.000 points when you stay 60 nights) and often has it’s double points program, where you get double points for your stays.

Overall, earning points is similar between two groups, although some accelerate programs by IHG will boost your points massively with a relatively limited number of stays.

Redeeming points – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

This is an easy one. While IHG has rather fixed rates for their properties (ranging from 20.000 to 60.000, depending on the city/brand – e.g. I will pay 50k for Kimpton DeWitt, 35k for the Crown Plaza in Copenhagen and 25k for my stays in Jordan) and even has occasional offers when properties start as low as 5.000 points, Hilton properties point rates are connected to the hotel price, which makes them usually higher than IHG properties. Additionally, it is quite hard to tell upfront how much points you will pay for Hilton properties.

Customer Service issues – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

Dirty couch in hotel
Dirty couch in hotel

I have had far more issues with IHG than I had with Hilton. From writing my name, contact details, country of origin of company wrong (at a specific moment, more than 70% of my last 30 stays had incorrect contact details) to extremely dirty hotel rooms and from a serious data breach where another person’s email account was connected to my stay to quite regularly forgetting to attach points to my stay. In comparison, I only had an issue with Hilton once.

Then maybe, my worst experiences for both programs:

  • IHG Rewards: another guest’s email address was connected to my account/stay (!) – customer service didn’t react, Privacy Office failed miserably. Coffee (?) stains the size of my couch.
  • Hilton Honors: dirty toilet paper in the corner of one of my bathroom.

Customer Service quality – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

This one is easy as well. Probably the IHG service is amongst the worst I ever experiences. They often don’t reply, reply well out of their response promise, don’t give an answer to your questions or give a standard answer. This is even the case when escalated to supervisor or even their privacy office. When there’s an issue with IHG, you’re pretty much screwed.

Hilton Honors -in my experience- tends to reply much faster and tends to take the time. When escalated, the supervisor in place will make sure the case is handles with care.

Upgrades – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

As stated before, in my experience, and balancing out my stays in non-upgradable properties (Holiday Inn Express, Hampton by Hilton), I have gotten way more upgrades in Hilton properties, even including suite upgrades (never experienced that with IHG).

Favorite properties – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

Kimpton De Witt in Amsterdam - one of my favorite hotels ever
Kimpton De Witt in Amsterdam – one of my favorite hotels ever

IHG has some of my favorite properties with the Indigo hotels (e.g. Indigo Hotel Antwerp City Centre), Kimpton hotels (e.g. Kimpton De Witt) and the recently opened QO Amsterdam. Besides that, Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn, Crown Plaza aren’t particular favorites of mine.

I have only stayed at Hilton, Hampton by Hilton and Doubletree by Hilton properties of which I liked Doubletree best. I haven’t had the opportunity to stay at Waldorf Astoria, Canopy, Conrad or other more premium Hilton brands, which have less of a presence in Europe, where I spend most of my nights.

Locations – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

View over NDSM Wharf from the Doubletree by Hilton NDSM Wharf
View over NDSM Wharf and Amsterdam Central Station from the Doubletree by Hilton NDSM Wharf

Location quality depends on where you need to be. With most of my stays being within Europe and often in Brussels, London and Amsterdam, IHG group tends to have better coverage of the cities. Not even the view from the Hilton Doubletree NDSM wharf can change that.

Final verdict – IHG Rewards Club versus Hilton Honors.

It amazes me to see that we’re 2018, close to 2019 and that the relationship both hotel groups choose to build is overall transactional. It would be great if they really started treating loyal customers as people rather then loyalty card numbers. It’s just difficult to understand that they aren’t able to build truly personal relationships and that they even fail to surprise guests on their birthday.

Upgrades, customer service and becoming elite member would speak for Hilton, but IHG wins in earning/redeeming points, locations and favorite properties. Would IHG fix their customer service, they would really be a good group overall. The fact that it’s more difficult to earn and redeem points with Hilton properties and that they have less coverage in areas I travel the most, make I have to give the overall win to IHG.

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