How to Use and Maximize Free Nights from the IHG Credit Card
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card
One of the best features of the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card is the free night you'll earn after your account renewal date. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen explains how to use and maximize this perk.
There are many reasons to carry travel rewards credit cards in your wallet beyond the first year. Some offer lucrative bonus categories while others provide a number of value-added benefits that can more than cover the card's annual fee. One product that clearly fits into the latter category is the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, and today I'll highlight the card's key benefit that earns it a place in my wallet each year. How do you use and maximize the annual free night certificate you'll get when you renew the card?
The sign-up bonus is worth $420 based on TPG's most recent valuations but regularly reaches 70,000 points (most recently in April of this year) and has even hit 80,000 points in the past. You can boost that even higher by adding an authorized user and making a purchase in the first three months, which will net you another 5,000 points. The complimentary Platinum Elite status may not be the most valuable hotel elite status available, but it can help make your stays a bit more comfortable, and the $49 annual fee is among the lowest out there. Other benefits not listed include no foreign transaction fees and a 10% rebate on both hotel and non-hotel award redemptions (up to 100,000 points per calendar year).
However, today's post will focus solely on the second bullet point above: "Enjoy a free night each year of cardmembership at over 4,900 hotels worldwide." This seems relatively straightforward, but here are the full details of this perk from the card's application page:
"Anniversary Free Night will be available for redemption on your account renewal anniversary date each year. (“Anniversary” is the date that is twelve months after your enrollment date, and the same date each twelve months thereafter.) Annual fee applies after the first year. For pricing details, please see Pricing & Terms. Chase may close your credit card account or suspend your right to use your credit card account, at any time for any reason, including account inactivity. You must maintain a current, valid email address in your Member Profile and opt in to receive IHG® Rewards Club e-communications in order to receive communications regarding your Anniversary Free Night. 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. Anniversary Free Night is valid for one standard room night rate and applicable taxes only. Rooms are limited, subject to prior sale and availability of allocated resources and may be unavailable during high demand periods. All reservations that will utilize the Anniversary Free Night can be booked online at ihgrewardsclub.com or by calling the IHG® Rewards Club Service center at 1-877-318-5890. Anniversary Free Night may not be transferred, extended beyond the expiration date, redeemed for cash, or re-credited for points. Individual hotel’s cancellation policy applies to the use of the Anniversary Free Night. Cancellation fees apply if cancellation is made outside of the hotel’s cancellation time period. Anniversary Free Night rules and regulations are subject to change. Chase is not responsible for offer fulfillment."
There are many key bits of information included in these terms and conditions. For starters, it's important to note that this free night only comes once you pay the second year's annual fee (and then each subsequent year thereafter). I've read reports of individuals expecting to utilize it during their first year of cardmembership, but that isn't the case.
In addition, the certificate will appear in your IHG Rewards Club account on your account renewal date each year, and it's valid for 12 months from the date of issue. Note that you must book and complete your travel by then, so in theory there's no way to combine these certificates from back-to-back years for a two-night stay, as your 2016 certificate should expire the day your 2017 certificate posts to your account. However, as you'll see below, you may have a bit of overlap between the two.
Finally, you can use the free night for a standard room at any participating IHG hotel, and the reservation can be made online. From what I've encountered, this inventory is the same as regular award nights using your IHG points. If there's a room available using points, you should be able to use the free night certificate. Unfortunately this means that the program can restrict award availability during periods of high demand, despite a published "no blackout dates" policy.
How do you use the free night?
Once you've reached your account anniversary date, how do you actually make a reservation using the free night certificate? If you're like me, you don't want your inbox filled with marketing emails from IHG, so you probably have e-communications turned off. In this case, you won't get a notification of when the free night posts to your account, but once the $49 annual fee appears on your credit card statement, it's safe to assume that the free night is there.
Here's how to verify this and make a reservation using the free night:
1. Log in to your IHG Rewards Club account, then click on your name at the top right.
2. Click on the Free Night Status link on the left-hand side.
3. Review the details and click Book Free Night when you're ready to start the search process.
Note that my free night actually extends for 10 days beyond the published 12-month window of time, so in theory I could make a one-night award reservation for the night of May 8, 2017 and then use next year's certificate as soon as it posts to my account for the night of May 9, 2017. However, that's cutting things very close, and you run the risk of standard award inventory being gone with just a week's worth of notice.
4. Once you click Book Free Night, you'll arrive at the Make a Reservation page, and the Rate Preference box will be pre-populated with Chase Anniversary Free night. Enter your search parameters (be sure to select just one night), then click Find a Hotel.
5. Select your hotel, then click Check Rates.
6. Find the applicable room(s) for your desired property, then click Book This Room.
7. Review the reservation details, accept the terms and conditions, then click Confirm Reservation.
Note that the search engine will allow you to search for multiple nights initially, but when you go to finalize the reservation, you'll get an error message indicating that you don't have enough free nights to cover the length of your stay. However, if you do want to stay longer than one night, you can always make a separate reservation at the same hotel and include a note in the comments section to link the two bookings.
Maximizing the free night
Now that you've seen the exact booking process for this free night, what are some ways to make the most of this redemption?
1. Book a hotel with a rate over $49. — This first one should seem pretty obvious and likely won't be challenging at all, as even the lowest-tier Holiday Inn properties likely charge more than that anyways. Nevertheless, make sure you're getting at least the value of the annual fee, as I did with the above redemption (155 euros, or ~$170 at the time of writing).
2. Look at higher-tier, expensive properties. — The great thing about this free night is that you can choose any IHG brand for the redemption (again, as long as there's standard award inventory available). Though the 4,900+ properties may not be the most luxurious portfolio of hotels out there, you still have some great options, especially with InterContinental locations (unfortunately this doesn't include Kimpton as of yet). These properties tend to have very high revenue rates and thus make for a valuable use of the free night. For some inspiration, check out my post on 10 IHG Properties that Make for Awesome Award Redemptions.
3. Combine with regular paid or award reservations for a longer stay. — Once you've reserved the free night, consider adding additional nights either beforehand or afterward. These can be paid stays, but if you're like me, you'll keep the sign-up bonus in your account until you get the first free night certificate. We're staying two nights at the InterContinental in Lisbon, with the second night setting us back 35,000 points (half of the sign-up bonus I earned last summer). You also have the option of Points & Cash reservations to extend your points even further. Just be aware that 12 months of inactivity will cause your points to expire, so be sure to earn or redeem points before reaching that point.
4. Consider a staycation. — If all else fails and you just don't have any trips scheduled before the certificate will expire, consider a quick one-night local vacation with your spouse and/or kids. An interstate Holiday Inn Express may not seem like a big deal, but take a look and see what's around. With nearly 5,000 hotels around the world, chances are there's at least one within driving distance of your home, and even a less-than-luxurious property can seem like a million bucks when it's totally free.
The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card is a particularly attractive card thanks to its array of benefits, and one of the most valuable is the free night you get every year when you renew the card. You're basically paying $49 for a free night at any IHG property around the world, and if you plan correctly, you can easily get hundreds of dollars of value from this single perk. Some believe that it's too good to last, but for now, it's a fantastic benefit. Hopefully this post has given you some guidance both on how to use and maximize this free night!
For more information on the IHG Rewards program, check out the following posts:
- Historic IHG Hotels That You Can Book With Points
- Transferring Ultimate Rewards Points to IHG
- 7 Low-Level IHG Properties that Make for Awesome Award Redemptions
- Where Can I Use the IHG Rewards Club Free Night?
What are your experiences with the free night perk from the IHG credit card?