As you may know, Carrie (my wife) publishes everything we spend publicly, as well as monthly summaries, which are much easier to read. It doesn’t matter if it’s cash or points, we keep track of it all. It actually really helps to see the value in different programs or promotions.
And when it comes to IHG, we have plenty of data. Unbelievably we’ve spent 158 nights of the last 14 months in IHG hotels. Actually these numbers are from July 2, 2013 to Sept 16, 2014. Which is 14.5 months.
Over half of those nights were in InterContinental Hotels, which is their 5 star luxury hotel brand. 84 nights to be exact.
And of those 158 nights at IHG hotels, 116 were free.
Averaging the Cost of All IHG Stays
The truth is that it hasn’t been that hard. Basically, we did 42 paid stays that earned enough for 116 nights on points.
To be exact again, we spent $4,249 on paid stays. Which sounds like a lot of money but considering what it got us, it was totally worth it. So of our paid nights, we spend an average of $101 a night on hotels. Generally speaking, these are cheaper hotels like Holiday Inns. Then we use the points wherever it makes sense.
So if you take the grand total of $4,429 spent on paid stays, and divide that by all stays, you get average cost of $26.89 a night for all stays. If you think about it, that’s really what I’m paying per night since paying for hotels is my strategy for getting points for later redemptions.
As I outlined in my example of a completely free trip to Latin America, you can get hotel points for free. However, I need hotel stays year round and while credit cards can fund my free flights, I don’t normally bother with hotel credit cards.
In other words, if your goal is a free two weeks, go ahead and try to earn your hotel points for free. But if you’re in hotels full time, like us, you need to have a strategy that scales much larger. And since we always have the opportunity to stay at hotels, we just try to maximize when we’re in areas with cheap hotels.
Average Points Stay
I should also mention that we’ve only done a few non points stays for free nights:
- 4 BRGs (Best Rate Guarantee)
- 1 Free night cert (from the credit card)
- 2 BOGOs (buy one get one free)
If you’re not familiar, IHG has a best rate guarantee that says if you find a lower rate at a competitor hotel, you get your first night free… even if the stay is only 1 night. I assure you these were at nice hotels like the IC Dusseldorf and IC Vienna.
If interested, read more: Complete Guide To Best Rate Guarantees
Then we used two BOGO certificates, which came with the status I had at the time. These certs give a free night when you buy a free weekend night.
If interested, read more about IHG Status: Complete Guide To IHG Rewards
Lastly the credit card gives a free night every year. Technically I should go back and add that $49 fee, but it would change my average paid night rate. So know it would slightly bring up my actual cost of a free night from $26.89, to $27.20. Not a big deal, I guess. The rest of the free nights were from points. The points were earned from paid stays.
From Actual Points:
The strategy of paying for nights during promos has netted us a lot of points. So if we had 116 free nights and 7 were from BRGs, BOGOs, and the cert… we’re really talking about 109 nights actually on points.
Specifically, of the 109 nights we used points, we ended up using a grand total of 897,500 IHG points. Although truthfully, 160,000 points came from semi-recent credit card applications and those credit cards give us 10% of our points back.
But still, we’ve essentially redeemed 897,500 points for 109 stays. An average of 8,233 points per stay. This is number has lowered a lot because of our recent trip to Latin America on PointBreaks, but I see more and more value in IHG’s PointBreak sale for us. And we definitely like to stay places at least a week at this point, and PointBreaks provides a very cheap way of doing that.
Either way, 8,233 points for an average stay is very low considering that we’ve stayed at multiple hotels that cost a lot of points, because they’re in expensive areas. We stayed at the InterContinental Paris, the InterContinental Davos, the InterContinental Hong Kong and more. These hotels ran 45,000 to 50,000 points a night. However, they weren’t long stays and I tend to do my longer stays at PointBreak hotels, bringing down the average a lot.
Length of stays & other random facts
We only stayed at 56 different hotels. So, an average of 2.8 nights a hotel. But…
We spent 82 nights at 25 different InterContinental hotels, which is an average of 3.28 nights per stay. Not a big difference, but IC’s tend to be more redemptions and longer stays.
But there are so many one night stays on layovers, family trips, BRGs, hotel hopping… all bringing down the average. 3 nights is not my ideal length of stay for a city or hotel stay. Yet, somehow that’s my average. I think what happens is that when there’s someplace I really want to go I pick 8 nights, and that doesn’t exactly pick up my average length of stay. So 8 nights when we like a place and then a number of 1 night stays to get there.
Also, of our 56 hotel stays, 17 came with breakfast and 21 with lounge access. Yes, lounge access comes with breakfast, but the 17 refers to breakfast in the restaurant, not the lounge. Although 8 stays overlap, as we got lounge access with breakfast in the restaurant as an option.
Unfortunately, these days have come to an end as I lost Royal Ambassador status and IHG is the only hotel chain to not offer breakfast or lounge access as a top tier benefit, so it was hit/miss in the first place.
Lessons and Conclusions
What I realize more and more is that I should save my points for great redemptions. Use Hyatt, Radisson, or free night certs for hotels in expensive cities, but save points for lower level redemptions. This is opposite of the traditional advise I hear, and I’m slowly unlearning that. As a full time traveler, points can be very valuable for long stays at great redemptions.
50,000 points could potentially be 10 stays. Or with my average, it could be at least 6 stays. So I should just pony up and pay for the night in the expensive city. Because my average night ends up costing me $27 a night, I should be willing to pay $161 for one night of saving 50,000 points.
$161 doesn’t sound like a lot of money in Paris or Hong Kong, but it is actually more than enough. I quickly found a 4-star Novotel for $126 in Hong Kong. But there are a few other details around that.
1) I could use this an opportunity to pay for a night and earn points. So save my points and lower my average redemption. So I’d be coming out ahead on that end. And while it’s a little above my average paid night, it’s not that much more.
2) You can use other points. Hyatt is the best example. A top end Hyatt might be 3 to 6 times the cheapest Hyatt possible, while nice hotels with SPG and Hilton are often more than 10 times more than the cheapest hotels!
In my opinion, Hiltons, IHG, Club Carlson, and SPG have their best uses at lower category hotels. Free night certs always have their best uses in the expensive cities, to save this debate. SPG should really be used for miles. And Hyatt consistently has well priced points hotels in expensive cities, with very few options at the low end. Making Hyatt a justifiable choice for high-end hotels.
This may not seem like the strategy for everyone, but it could be. First of all, if you don’t need to pay for hotels at all, don’t! Don’t get me wrong. I do travel more than most and run out of free night options, or energy to search for BRGs 300 nights a year. No way.
But still, most people end up paying for nights. If you know your average hotel cost, you should always be willing to pay to save points under that cost. If my average hotel is $26 a night, I should always be willing to pay $25 or less for enough points for a free night. Therefore I should be willing to pay $100 to save enough points for 4 nights or more. Does that make sense?
That’s my logic at least. However, it takes enough stays to know what your average value actually is, and not what you think it is. I have a lot of data on how much our nights actually cost, and thus I should be able to make the frugal decision every time. But paying for hotels in Paris would still feel like a crime. Maybe it enforces the value of free night certificates… like with the Into The Nights promo. Just because I shouldn’t be paying 50,000 points for my next hotel in Paris doesn’t mean it can’t be a free points stay one way or another.