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IHG Rewards: More Value for the Frugal Traveler

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IHG Rewards Program

With modest pricing and more than 5,200 properties worldwide, the InterContinental Hotels Group, or IHG, loyalty program may be your best bet if you’re a more frugal traveler who wants plenty of options. Here’s what you should consider before signing up.

IHG Rewards Club: The basics

To advance in the IHG program, all you need to do is stay at hotels in the IHG portfolio. That includes several affordable venues, such as the Holiday Inn. The loyalty program is split into three tiers, ranging from Club to Platinum Elite. Here’s what you get at each level:

Club – Just sign up

  • Earn 10 base points per eligible dollar spent at Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn Express hotels and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts
  • Earn 5 base points per eligible dollar spent at Staybridge Suites or Candlewood Suites
  • Earn 2,000 points, 1,300 points or 600 points per qualifying stay at ANA partner hotels

Gold Elite – 10 Elite Qualifying Stays (EQSs) or 10,000 Elite Qualifying Points (EQPs)

  • 10% bonus on base points
  • All the benefits of the Club membership and more

Platinum Elite – 40 EQSs or 40,000 EQPs

  • 50% bonus on base points
  • Roll over your extra nights toward next year’s qualification
  • All the benefits of the Club membership and more

Spire Elite – 75 EQSs or 75,000 EQPs

  • 100% bonus on base points
  • Rollover nights
  • Complimentary room upgrades
  • Guaranteed room availability
  • Exclusive choice benefit upon receiving status
  • All the benefits of the Club membership and more

Complete details on these benefits can be found in IHG’s terms and conditions.

Cards that earn IHG points

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

  • $0 for the first year, then $49
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
  • Earn 5 points per dollar spent at IHG hotels
  • Earn 2 points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants
  • Automatic Platinum Elite status as long as you’re a cardholder

How to get more IHG points

Aside from staying at hotels in the IHG portfolio and spending with the company’s many partners, you can also get more points by purchasing them for 1.15 cents to 1.35 cents each. Since NerdWallet values IHG points at 0.7 cents each, purchasing these points is a splurge but could be a worth it if you’re just a thousand points short of a free stay. Occasionally, these points are offered at a discount.

How to redeem IHG points

IHG offers several redemption choices, but if you want to optimize your points, you may be better off steering clear of certain offers.

Good redemption options

To get the most out of your IHG points, use them to book hotel stays. NerdWallet values IHG points redeemed for IHG hotel stays at 0.7 cents each, much more than when redeemed for airline miles or gift cards. You can stretch your points even further if you redeem them internationally instead of domestically, though the difference is only about 0.1 cents per point.

When booking through IHG, you’ll notice that the number of points required for a stay correlates with the tier of the hotel, not the list price of a room. You can land an especially good deal if a list price at a certain hotel is expensive compared with rooms in the same tier. For example:
  • If you got a $250 room for 25,000 points, you’d get a great deal when paying with points ($250/25,000 points = 1 cent per point). In general, it would be better to use points instead of cash for a stay like this (although you wouldn’t be able to earn points on your rewards stay).
  • If you got a $100 room for 25,000 points, you’d get a worse deal when paying with points ($100/25,000 points = 0.4 cents per point). You might be better off paying in cash in this instance.

Paying for a hotel stay with a combination of points and money is also a high-value choice. You can either reduce the points needed by 5,000 by paying $40, or by 10,000 points by paying $70. For the former, you’d be only be paying 0.8 cents a point, and for the latter, 0.7 cents per point. That’s roughly equal to NerdWallet’s valuation of these points, making it a much better deal than buying points through IHG’s website.

Bad redemption options

While IHG points offer a fair value for hotel stays, that value decreases dramatically when you redeem them for other things, such as gift cards or flights.

The airline booking tool on IHG’s website allows you to book with more than 200 airlines with no blackout days, but redeeming this way can ding the value of your points by 30% or more. Transferring your points to airline miles also offers a poor value, which we’ll cover later.

Redeeming points for gift cards is also a bad deal. At best, it’s hard to get more than 0.26 cents per point when using rewards this way. That’s less than half the value you’d get cashing in your points for hotel stays.

Transfer partners

Transferring IHG points to miles is probably not worth it. Among IHG’s many airline partners, most give you only 2,000 miles for 10,000 IHG points, tanking the value.

Take Delta, for example. You can trade in 10,000 IHG points for 2,000 Delta SkyMiles. But considering that NerdWallet values IHG points at 0.7 cents each, and Delta SkyMiles at 1.9 cents each, you’d essentially be trading in $70 for $38 and getting a value of 0.38 cents per point.

Now consider United Airline’s MileagePlus miles, which NerdWallet values at 1.6 cents each. If you traded in 10,000 IHG points for 2,000 of these, you’d be trading $70 of value for $32 and getting a value of 0.32 cents per point.

You can elect to earn airline miles rather than IHG points, too, by changing your user preferences, but you’ll get a similar earning ratio as you would by transferring your points, giving you much less value per dollar. If you want to rack up more frequent flier miles, consider focusing most of your loyalty program energy elsewhere.

Fine print

  • All points will expire after 12 months of inactivity. To keep up your activity, earn or redeem points at least once every year.
  • An EQS (Elite Qualifying Stay) is defined as consecutive nights at a hotel booked through IHG; an EQN (Elite Qualifying Night) is defined as night spent at a hotel booked through IHG.
  • You can’t earn rewards retroactively, that is, if you stayed at IHG before signing up for the rewards program, you couldn’t report it once you joined.
  • You won’t earn points on rewards nights, but you can earn points on in-room purchases during your stay.

Top cards that earn IHG points

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

Providing automatic Platinum Elite status to all its cardholders, the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card offers members high value at minimal cost. It also comes with a generous sign-up bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

You’ll also earn 5 base points per dollar spent at IHG hotels in addition to the points you’ll earn as a member, plus the 50% bonus on base points from the Platinum Elite status. That accelerates your earning power considerably. For just a $100 stay at the Holiday Inn, you could get 2,250 points, worth about $15.75, according to NerdWallet’s valuation of IHG points. Think of it as getting a 15%+ tip from your hotel!

Its $0 for the first year, then $49, makes the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card a relatively affordable rewards card. Assuming you earn the maximum of 22.5 points per dollar on IHG purchases with the member benefits and Platinum bonus, this card would be worth its annual fee if you spent more than $311 at IHG hotels per year. That’s a pretty manageable amount for even the most casual of vacationers. If you want to save money owhile traveling, this could be one of the best ways to do it.

›› MORE: Reviews of major rewards programs

Methodology

The calculated value of these points is based on an estimated redemption rate, not a credit card rewards earn rate. Therefore, you may notice that these numbers don’t match the rewards rates on our credit card finder tool. Read on for how we estimated these points values.

We sampled IHG portfolio hotels ranging from 10,000 points to 50,000 points in five domestic cities and five international cities, based on availability and data from Booking.com and Expedia. Choosing a high-tier and low-tier option for each city, we used a sample weekday date, April 5, 2016, and a sample weekend date, April 9, 2016, to measure prices. We looked at:

  • Los Angeles
  • Orlando, Florida
  • New York
  • Dallas
  • Las Vegas
  • Toronto
  • Mexico City
  • London
  • Paris
  • Tokyo

International stays netted an average of 0.8 cents a point when redeemed on weekdays, and 0.6 cents a point when redeemed on weekends. Domestic stays got an average of 0.7 cents a point when redeemed on weekdays and 0.6 cents a point when redeemed on weekends. Overall, NerdWallet values IHG points at 0.7 cents each.

Last updated October 9, 2015

Claire Davidson is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @ideclaire7 and on Google+.


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