An Introduction to IHG
In terms of free nights, IHG Rewards is perhaps the best hotel rewards program around. In the last year we have spent 133 nights in IHG properties, and spent an average of $32 a night on hotels. If that’s not reason enough to pay attention to this guide… I’m not sure what is.
This guide will start out going over our specific stays- dollars and points on every IHG hotel stays we’ve done in the last year. Then we’ll break down the concepts and tactics.
This is what you’ll read about and learn in this complete guide:
Our IHG Stats
How we did it…
Most of our hotel stays have been at InterContinental hotels, but since we keep track of and post every dollar we’ve spent in the last year, we’re able to give specific stats:
– 93 free nights
– 40 paid nights
The $4,298 includes the $49 annual fee from the credit card, but otherwise it refers to paid stays. Because of the $4,298 in paid stays, we got 872,500 points and 133 nights out of it. That means…
We spent an average of:
The way we have gotten such great value out of our paid stays is simple.
IHG Rewards Club is the rewards program for the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG).
With nearly 5,000 properties around the world, IHG is one of the largest hotel chains in the world.
IHG has many brands under its umbrella. Here are the brands (with a few notes):
And there are a couple new brands I haven’t gotten the chance to visit yet:
At any of these hotels, IHG points can be earn and used.
The best of IHG Rewards is the earning aspect. First, we’ll lay out the fundamentals of earning and then dive deep into maximizing these rewards.
You earn 10 points per dollar at all properties except for the “suites” properties
Of course there are other ways to earn…
IHG Credit Card
The best publicly advertised offer is a credit card that gives 60,000 IHG points upon spending $1,000 in 3 months. However, there is a thread on flyertalk (found here) that discusses an active 80,000 point version of the card.
The 80,000 point offer is a great deal. While I find miles way more valuable than hotel points and therefore recommend airline cards first to newbies, for someone who is set on miles and needs a hotel card, this is a great place to start.
The card now has no foreign transaction fee, and it gives 5 points per dollar at IHG properties, 2 points per dollar at gas/grocery/dining, and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. 5 IHG points per dollar probably isn’t worth more to me than the 2.14 Chase points per dollar given from a Chase Sapphire Preferred or a similar card. Not a great daily spender as the points just aren’t as valuable to me, but still a great hotel card for me.
Free night every year
The annual fee is waived for the first year, but starting on month 13, it does have a $49 annual fee. However, this is one of the very few cards we find worth keeping because it comes with a free night certificate good at any hotel. In expensive cities like London, Paris, Sydney, and Geneve, you could stay at a $400+/night hotel for $49.
After you pay the annual fee, the award night will post under “My Account” once you login to IHG.com. On the left you’ll see “Free Night Status”.
10% of your points back
Another main feature of the IHG rewards card is that it gives 10% of your redeemed points back. Just by having the credit card, this passive benefit gives 10% of your used points back to your account.
There is a secret way of purchasing points on the cheap… that isn’t so secret. And then there are two more traditional ways of purchasing points.
1) Purchasing through IHG.
IHG sells points at a premium, in 1,000 point increments:
We have never found this to be a great deal, but periodically IHG has sold points with a 100% bonus, and it would be possible to buy points for $11.50 per 2,000 points (instead of 1,000). This would allow you to buy 5,000 points for $28.75.
Check here to see if there is a 100% bonus.
2) Daily Getaways
DailyGetaways is a sale of travel deals. Like groupon, but it generally has hotel points for sale at a discount. In the last few years, IHG has had multiple sales on there, offering to sell points for a better deal than normal… but not quite as good as the 100% bonus that IHG periodically offers.
3) Cash + Points + Cancel
It’s not quite as good of a deal as buying during the 100% bonus, and it’s not exactly kosher… but it does post the points a lot more quickly. The trick is to book with cash + points.
If you go to book a room on points, you can book for 5,000 or 10,000 less points than the full points-price and choose to pay a bit in cash. Pay 5,000 less points and pay $40 cash. Or, pay 10,000 less points and pay $70 in cash.
The trick is that when you book with cash and points, it charges your credit card immediately. Then when you go to cancel the reservation, it will refund completely in points. In other words you pay in partial cash and partial points, but get the reservation refunded completely in points.
Bonus Points Package
Most hotels now offer an upsell on a paid night for bonus points. This is based on the “best flexible rate” and each hotel has an option to add a different amount of points per night.
Packages are generally 1,000 points per night, but you can often find 5,000 point packages. Doing a quick search I found a hotel that gives 1,000 points for $5 extra a night, and another 5,000 points tends to go for $15 extra a night. I was lucky enough to see one for 15 Thai Baht (THB), which is about $0.50… but I think that was a mistake.
Are these packages worth it?
Use common sense? Would you buy 1,000 points for $5, (the same as buying 5,000 points for $25). Would you buy 5,000 for $25? But don’t deceive yourself.
In general, I prefer to chase promotions and earn that way, but as we’ll discuss, getting 5,000 points quickly when the PointBreaks list comes out can be important.
The key to earning on paid stays with IHG, is that there are plenty of stackable promotions. There are big promotions (like the Big Win) and small ones, like what I call “earning IHG Rewards points on steroids”. Each of these promotions are stackable, and my best one night stay earned me over 30,000 points.
There are many promotions that go on, but they seem to change seasonally so there isn’t much point in detailing a promotion that’s dead and may never come back again. But it is definitely worth keeping an eye out for promotions on the IHG Rewards Club offers page.
Earning on Steroids
IHG sends out promotions to people all over, offering a few thousand points for your next weekend, or your next stay, etc. Each of these promotions has a 4-digit code that gets shared on flyertalk.
A few things to note.
First, there are a ton of codes, and at most around 20 codes that will work. In other words, if you were to go through all of the codes, you would get a ton of errors notifying you of your codes being ineligible. You could focus on more recent codes in the wiki, or you could go through the thread starting with the most recent post in attempt to skip codes that are likely to be ineligible.
Many of these bonuses are listed with the details of the promotion. Most are a bonuses (1,000 to 5,000 points) on your next stay, next two-day stay, next weekend, or something similar. So you won’t be able to plan out exactly how to optimize the promotions, but instead, just register for as many promotions as possible before whatever stay you would have made anyway.
These codes are also one time only bonuses. After using them, you won’t be able to register again. To register for more codes, you’ll most likely need to wait for more promotions and more codes to come out. Given that, earning is very heavy towards your first stays.
A note of caution…
Lastly, I should note that recently IHG has shut down a few accounts because of this. Apparently they closed account for applying for ineligible promotions… which doesn’t make any sense, because they have the ability to decline codes based on a profile. However, I can verify that most accounts are completely unaffected. No one we know personally has had an account closed. And personally, we haven’t changed a thing. Still, if you’re worried about getting an account closed, and you have a valuable account (RA status/tons of points), don’t use these codes.
Adding it all up
Earning from a paid stay:
Getting points without a paid stay:
IHG has some of the most fair redemption prices of all the hotel chains. There are great redemptions on the top and bottom as the prices are only 10,000 to 50,000 points a night. Plus there are great promotions for using points. IHG unlike any other chain, focuses on having promotions not only for earning, but for redemptions.
Check out: Best IHG Rewards Category 1 & 2 Hotels. Even without any promotions there are a number of great hotels that are only 10,000 points or 15,000 points a night. You’ll find many great deals, like a Holiday Inn in central Lyon, France for 10,000 points and a Holiday Inn in downtown Krawkow, Poland for 15,000 points.
For 50,000 points, there are a number of very high end hotels that would otherwise cost close to $1,000 a night. Like:
Better yet, there are a number of hotels that are 25,000 points a night and still high end:
Booking/Canceling Award Nights
Browsing award prices and booking awards online is super easy. Start by going to IHG.com and under the rate preference dropdown, select “Rewards Nights”. When you book an award night, the points are instantly deducted.
But the other thing to know is that reward nights are easily cancelable. The cancellation time may vary by location, but in general, reservations will be cancelable up until 4pm of the day before checking in. Sometimes it’s the same day, and sometimes it’s multiple days, but you can easily find this when booking your room under the “rate details”.
When you cancel, your points will instantly be put back into your account.
Debatably, IHG’s PointBreaks is the best hotel promotion around.
Every two months (usually) IHG picks about 150 hotels to make bookable for the next two months for a special rate of 5,000 points a night. Given that you can buy 5,000 points for $35 (with the cash + points trick mentioned above), this is always a great deal, and sometimes it’s incredible. On PointBreaks, we’ve stayed at the Intercontinental Kiev, a Holiday Inn in Paris, the InterContinental Athens and many more for 5,000 points a night.
The key is that each hotel only allows so many rooms to be sold for 5,000 points. So when the booking opens at the beginning of the two month period, some of the nicer hotels have all their rooms go from the PointBreaks list quickly.
Thus, three things to know about booking:
Only the hotel and IHG know exactly how many rooms are bookable for 5,000 points, before going back to regular price. But again, you can guarantee that the really nice hotels (if/when they are on the list) will go within the first day, and sometimes within hours. And unlike regular award availability, once gone from the list, the hotel won’t be placed back onto the list if reservations are canceled. In other words, that availability won’t “open back up” once booked.
There is no way to predict which hotels are going to be on the list either, however, if a hotel has joined pointbreaks during a particular season one year, that is probably the same season you’ll see them participate again another year. But IHG often posts a preview (found here) of the list a few days before booking is officially possible.
Last minute rewards is one of the other discount redemption lists. It’s a number of hotels that are 50% off the first weekend of the month.
IHG has one of the most complicated status systems, mostly because they have two different programs.
IHG Rewards has its typical status system including:
These statuses apply to all IHG properties.
Then, InterContinental Hotels – which is the high-end chain within the IHG family – has its own status system.
Both Ambassador and Royal Ambassador status are only good at InterContinental hotels, and they are the top statuses at InterContinental properties. In general, Ambassadors are treated better than Platinum members at Intercontinental Properties.
Club members get:
Gold members get:
Platinum members get:
These demonstrate the least beneficial rewards program around in terms of membership perks. The only difference between signing up and Platinum is 50% bonus points and “upgrades”. And my experience with “upgrades” is hit/miss… and more “miss” than “hit”.
At my many Crowne Plaza stays, we’ve never gotten Club Lounge access or breakfast as Platinum members. It’s a bit of a joke… but every bit helps.
Requirements for achieving status
And a sidenote, one unique change to IHG is that rewards nights count as qualifying nights.
Weekend Certificate (BOGO Cert)
The weekend Ambassador certificate is known as IHG’s “BOGO cert” because it’s a “buy one get one” free that can only be used on the weekend. Specifically, you can be checking in Friday, or Saturday and the following night will be free (except in the Middle East, which includes Thursday as a weekend). The BOGO cert can be used at any IHG property, and on any room that’s for sale. Basically, the BOGO rate will be the “best flexible rate”.
Booking with your BOGO: Book online here, or by calling the Ambassador Service Center.
You need to give the original certificate to the hotel upon checkin.
Overall, it’s a lot of fluff. But you get what you pay for. 4pm checkout, fruit, and no breakfast, and no guaranteed lounge access.
Royal Ambassador status:
Overall, it’s a lot fluff. There are barely any added benefits, and it’s still missing guaranteed access to the lounge, and free breakfast. Lounge access and breakfast is a top tiered benefit of every hotel chain except IHG and InterContinental.
Royal Ambassador status is the only hotel rewards program that discourages using points at InterContinental hotels by not giving any benefits at the hotel when using points.
That being said, they do sometimes give upgrades to suites and club rooms. It’s extremely hit/miss, but we have had some excellent suites and lounges because of Royal Ambassador status. And while you may not get lounge access, you can have drinks from the mini-bar to make up for it.
Another small bonus of requalifying for Royal Ambassador status is that you get a couple of the Ambassador perks again. You get another 5,000 points and another weekend (BOGO) certificate.
You used to get a referral certificate, to refer a friend to be a Royal Ambassador, upon qualifying. This was taken away recently and now there is no way to trade or buy Royal Ambassador status.
IHG Best Rate Guarantee
IHG has a guarantee that if you find a lower rate on a competitor site after booking on IHG.com, then you’ll get your first night free… even if your stay is only one night. In the last year, we’ve gotten 4 completely free nights out of this at high end hotels.
Here’s the process:
1.)Find a lower rate on Kayak or another site
2.)Book a cancelable rate on IHG.com
3.)Fill out their claim form, which will state where the lower rate is
They may deny the claim because their terms and conditions are pretty strict. This is why I always advise booking a refundable rate. If they deny your claim, then you can just cancel. If they approve your claim, then you get a free night!
IHG Best Rate Guarantee Rules
There are many minor details for why IHG will deny a claim. Here are a few of the important things to know:
If you’d like to learn more, read How to find a free night with IHG’s Best Rate Guarantee, or check periodically on sites like Kayak.