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Maximizing IHG Rewards Card For Free Nights

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card

Today, TPG contributor Jason Steele explains how to maximize the IHG Rewards Card to redeem for free nights at their properties. 

Credit card users have become accustom to earning some sort of anniversary bonus, especially from Chase cards. For example, their Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit cards offer cardholders 3,000 or 6,000 points each year, depending on if they have the Plus or Premier versions, and the Hyatt card offers a free night each year, but only in a category 1-4 hotel.

IHG brands range from budget properties to the high end Intercontinental and Indigo boutique hotels.
IHG brands range from budget properties to the high end Intercontinental and Indigo boutique hotels.

The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card also offers a free night certificate, but this one can be used at any IHG property, except those that have all-inclusive meal plans for all guests, making it perhaps the most valuable annual renewal benefit available from any credit card.

Other benefits of this card include:

  • Great sign-up bonus with low minimum spending requirement. The current offer for this cart has been increased from 60,000 points to 70,000 points after $1,000 spent within the first three months. However, there is another offer still available for 80,000 points.
  • Good bonus categories. Cardholders receive double points for charges at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants, and 5x for spending at IHG properties.
  • 10% rebate on IHG point resumptions. Up to 100,000 points back each year.
  • Automatic Platinum Elite status. Although this top tier status isn’t as great as other programs, it still gives you priority check-in, room upgrades, and a 50% bonus on points earned for paid stays.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Waived first year annual fee. This card does have a $49 annual fee, but it is waived the first year.

How this certificate works

One year after you open your account, you will be billed for the $49 annual fee. Within a few days of the annual fee being billed to your account, your annual free night certificate will appear online. In fact, you can verify that it has been deposited into your IHG Rewards Club account by logging in and then clicking on this link.

Chase’s terms indicate that “All reservations that will utilize the Anniversary Free Night can be booked by calling the IHG® Rewards Club Service center at 1-888-211-9874.”  Nevertheless, IHG has added a way to book these online, so these terms appear to be outdated.

The Carlton Intercontinental in Cannes France sells for about $750 a night, but you can use your free night certificate.
The Carlton Intercontinental in Cannes France sells for about $750 a night, but you can use your free night certificate.

Restrictions

  • Validity. The terms of the certificate indicate that it will be valid from the day it is issued for stays up until one year following issue.
  • Capacity controls. The use of these certificates appears to correspond with the availability of award nights booked with points. IHG, like Marriott and some other major chains, boasts no blackout dates on awards but does impose capacity controls, just as most airlines do with frequent flier miles awards.

Tips for maximizing these certificates

1. Stay at the top brands. IHG has hotels under a dozen brands, and you will want to use these certificates for the most valuable luxury hotels at resorts and major cities, not for the Holiday Inn Express or Candlewood Suites by the highway. Their top tier luxury brand is Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts, which currently has 180 properties in 60 countries, with 51 more in various stages of planning and construction. I also find it fascinating that Intercontinental was originally started after World War II by Pan Am, in order to have a luxury hotel for its passengers and crews to visit.

I’ve been blown away by the handful of Intercontinental properties I have stayed at, but have also had good experiences at Crowne Plaza and their Indigo boutique hotels.

The lobby of the historic Willard hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.
The lobby of the historic Willard hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.

2. Booking free nights after the certificate expires.  According to the terms and conditions of this offer, “Anniversary Free Night is valid at hotels in the IHG® Rewards Club Family of Brands and must be redeemed, and stay must be completed, within 12 months from date of issue.” (emphasis mine).

It, it turns out though that this stated term of the certificate’s validity is not actually enforced. There are numerous reports of people being able to book a free night during the certificates period of validity for a stay after the certificate has expired. In these cases, the reservation confirmation shows it as being “Free,” which should back you up in the unlikely event that it is questioned. Just be aware that once the certificate has expired, you will be unable to make changes to that award without losing the certificate. Yet so long as the certificate is still valid, it can be cancelled within the hotel’s cancellation policy, and the certificate is immediately able to be re-used.

3. Combining free nights. Two certificate holders can simply book two reservations for adjacent nights, and simply inform the front desk at check-in that they have two reservations. At worst, the hotel might need to re-activate their room’s key card the next day. Furthermore, the de facto ability to use a free night after it expires allows cardholders to combine two of their own free nights into one stay, and potentially four or more free nights when multiple guests accumulate two certificates each. But at a minimum, each cardholders will have to wait two years after each being approved for a card before they will both receive their second free night certificate.

Here are the exact terms and conditions of the annual free night certificate, but cardholders report that these terms are not enforced in some circumstances.
Here are the exact terms and conditions of the annual free night certificate, but cardholders report that these terms are not enforced in some circumstances.

4. Securing award nights. Like airline loyalty programs, the IHG rewards program can frustrate travelers by restricting award availability at peak times and at popular destinations. By all accounts, IHG’s capacity controls aren’t nearly as bad as most airlines, but it can be a factor for many travelers.

Thankfully, it appears that you can reserve a free night with points, in order to secure the scarce award availability during high demand periods, while waiting to receive the certificate. A contributor to FlyerTalk found that cancelling an award booking with points immediately resulted in the room being available for a free night award using the certificate.

5. Card membership not required for certificate use. Finally, cardholders will receive their certificate when their annual fee posts. Just like awards of mile and points from credit card issuers, the certificate is irrevocably transferred from the bank to the travel provider and is not conditional on continued card membership. Furthermore, Chase allows cardholders to cancel their cards and receive a credit for the annual fee within 60 days of being billed for it.