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Why I often choose IHG and Choice hotels, despite limited elite perks

Nov. 13, 2020
10 min read
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Many travelers have one or more preferred hotel loyalty programs. When you ask travelers which loyalty program is their favorite, most will say World of Hyatt, Hilton Honors or Marriott Bonvoy. After all, these hotel loyalty programs offer great elite perks and usually provide a quality stay even at lower-end properties.

I even earned Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status earlier this year for the perks. But, I've spent many nights with Choice Privileges and IHG Rewards Club over the last couple of years. And I plan to continue doing so in the future.

Many travelers often don't understand what I see in the Choice and IHG loyalty programs, though. So, today I'll explain why I keep coming back to IHG and Choice.

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Great redemption value

I'm a budget traveler at heart. So, while some travelers see Marriott Bonvoy Category 8 redemptions at Al Maha or St. Regis Bora Bora as some of the best redemptions you can make, I also value less expensive redemptions that provide great value.

There are admittedly some tremendous low-category Marriott Bonvoy redemptions to be made. But today, let's focus on how I've been able to get outstanding value redeeming with IHG and Choice.

Redeeming with Choice Privileges

The adults-only pool and building at Emotions Puerto Plata, which is bookable as an Ascend Hotels Collection property (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

The Choice Privileges program is unique in that each property offers award nights at a set cost. But, this set cost can differ for weekday versus weekend nights. And the cost changes every few months.

For example, consider the award night pricing for Emotions Puerto Plata all-inclusive resort, which is bookable through Choice Hotels' Ascend Collection:

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Reward points currently required to book a night at Emotions Puerto Plata, bookable through Choice Hotels' Ascend Hotel Collection (Image courtesy of Choice Privileges)

This award night pricing style often allows me to find excellent deals when visiting a destination during its off-season. For example, I lived at the Emotions Puerto Plata all-inclusive for a month last summer for just 8,000 Choice Privileges points per night during hurricane season.

I've also snagged some impressive Choice Privileges redemptions in New York City, Tokyo, Osaka, Frankfurt, Munich during Oktoberfest and Beaver Creek during ski season. Plus, it's sometimes possible to book an elevated room type for no extra cost when redeeming Choice Privileges points.

But, some Choice hotels may be too basic or poorly rated for you. For example, my inexpensive award stay at a Choice property in Sydney, Australia, put me in a tiny room with poor insulation and uncomfortable beds. And, despite its 6,000-point weekday rate, I decided not to book the centrally-located Econo Lodge City Central in Auckland, New Zealand, after looking at property photos and reading reviews.

I recommend checking Choice Privileges redemption options whenever you're planning a trip. In doing so, I've found some sweet spots. But, since reward night rates change every couple of months, most sweet spots don't last forever. And, as I noted above, it's a good idea to research the property before booking.

Related: 6 ways Choice Privileges should improve its loyalty program

Redeeming with IHG Rewards Club

I redeemed IHG points for a four-night stay at the Hotel Indigo Birmingham Five Points South – UAB. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

I was pleasantly surprised to see that IHG Rewards Club's switch to dynamic pricing earlier this year didn't immediately slash the value of my points. And, although some of the too-good-to-be-true award nights rates that appeared during the switch to dynamic pricing have disappeared, it's still easy to get more than TPG's valuation of 0.5 cents per point.

For example, consider a New Year's Eve reservation at the newly-renovated InterContinental Hotels Presidente Cancun Resort. You can use 35,000 points to book a room on this night. But, the going cash rate for the same room is $447. At this valuation, you're getting 1.27 cents per point.

If you have the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card or the IHG Rewards Traveler Credit Card, you can also take advantage of your card's fourth night free perk. With this perk, when you book a stay of three nights or longer using points, every fourth night costs zero points. So, I usually maximize my IHG Rewards redemptions by booking award stays in increments of four nights.

Whenever I'm booking directly with IHG, I compare the points valuation to the total cash cost. Recently, I've found it usually makes sense to redeem IHG Rewards Club points. However, if you are short on IHG Rewards points, you may want to save your points for four-night stays if you have access to the fourth reward night perk.

I expect the redemption value of IHG Rewards points will decrease as travel demand increases. But, I continue to earn and redeem IHG Rewards points for now due to the incredible value I can get from my points.

Related: 34 of the best IHG Rewards Club hotels in the US bookable for 10k points per night

Inexpensive paid nights

If you're looking for a relatively inexpensive stay, IHG's new avid brand may be a good option. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

There are two primary reasons why inexpensive paid nights are essential to me. First, since I've lived on the road as a digital nomad for over three years now, I don't have enough points to only stay on reward nights. As such, some of my nights need to be paid nights.

And, since I work remotely from hotels, I don't want to spend a lot of money to sit in my room and work. Second, as I'll discuss in the next section, inexpensive paid nights allow me to maximize current hotel promotions.

I can usually book reasonable-quality nights in the IHG Rewards and Choice Privileges programs for less than other hotel loyalty programs. Granted, your definition of reasonable-quality nights may differ from mine. And, I've learned to check recent reviews before booking some brands. But, I've generally been able to find hotels in these two programs that provide reasonable quality for relatively little cost.

Related: 6 ways IHG Rewards Club should improve its loyalty program

Easy-to-maximize promotions

The Comfort Hotel Osaka Shinsaibashi isn't aspirational, but it's usually bookable for 8,000 points per night. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

Choice Privileges and IHG Rewards frequently offer promotions. For example, IHG Rewards is currently offering the following promotions:

  • Unlimited Double Points: Earn double base points for qualifying stays from Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, 2020. Cardholders using an IHG Rewards Club credit card from Chase get an extra 10,000 bonus points on their first qualifying night.
  • InterContinental Ambassador enrollment offer: Enroll or renew between July 30 and Dec. 31, 2020, and then complete one qualifying stay at an InterContinental, Kimpton or Regent property by Jan. 31, 2021 to get a reward night worth 40,000 points or less that's valid until Apr. 30, 2021

And, Choice Privileges frequently offers a promotion that provides 8,000 points after every two stays. Based on TPG's valuation of Choice Privileges points at 0.6 cents each, 8,000 points are worth $48. That's not bad for potentially just two one-night stays. Although this stay-twice promotion's current iteration ends Nov. 15, 2020, the program also offers other promotions.

For example, you can currently take advantage of AMResorts' Free, Free, Free promotion when booking through Choice. When you book an eligible stay through this promotion, you can earn 50,000 Choice Privileges points if you spend $500 or more, get a guaranteed room upgrade at check-in, receive a $200 resort credit and more.

However, as with any promotion, it's essential to read the terms and conditions. For example, most promotions exclude some brands and rates. And some promotions require a minimum nightly rate. So, if you're looking to maximize a promotion, ensure that your booking will count.

Related: 25 promotions that will make your next hotel stay more rewarding

Valuable credit cards

Many IHG properties, including the beautiful InterContinental Phu Quoc, are bookable on most nights for 40,000 points or less. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Hotel credit cards can be worth keeping in your wallet even if you don't stay with the program all that frequently. Cards that provide an annual anniversary night, such as the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card, often provide enough value through just the anniversary night to justify the annual fee.

For example, I find that my IHG Premier is easily worth its $99 annual fee. Plus, card perks like automatic IHG Rewards Platinum Elite status encourage me to stay more frequently with IHG. Although Platinum Elite status doesn't provide complimentary breakfast or lounge access, it unlocks elevated earning rates and occasional upgrades.

I haven't been able to get the Choice Privileges® Visa Signature® Card yet. But I would like to get it. After all, the Choice Privileges card would let me earn 15x points at Choice hotels for a 9% return based on TPG's valuations. And, since the card has no annual fee, I could keep it just for use at Choice hotels. Plus, it would give me an easy way to earn more Choice points if I needed to do so for an upcoming redemption.

Related: Battle of the mid-tier hotel cards: Which card outshines the others?

Bottom line

The IHG Rewards and Choice Privileges loyalty programs don't provide the same level of elite perks as other popular hotel loyalty programs. But, especially if you like a good deal and are willing to stay at practical hotels for some trips, it's worth taking another look at the IHG Rewards and Choice Privileges programs.

I continue to stay with both programs for different reasons. Specifically, Choice Privileges offers excellent promotions and the ability to redeem at a great value in otherwise-expensive destinations. Meanwhile, IHG Rewards provides reliable accommodations worldwide and, despite dynamic pricing, still offers excellent value redemptions.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.