When booking hotels, you have many choices available to you. Why you pick one over another might be based on location, price or reviews. If you are a points and miles geek, you also have to consider if you can use points to pay for the room or if staying there will earn you a nice stash of points for your next stay.
So with all of the major brands to choose from, which one have I found to be best to fit our travel needs? Hilton? Sheraton? Hyatt?
Nope. Holiday Inn.
IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) is the company that owns 12 brands, including the iconic Holiday Inn. They also include names like Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Staybridge Suites and Intercontinental Hotels.
Their loyalty program allows you to redeem points for free nights or lets you combine cash and points to make your points go farther. I’ve found it’s rather easy to find a room with availability on points if planning in advance.
So why do I end up staying at IHG hotels so much? There are several reasons. The first is that they simply have hotels everywhere. At last count, IHG has over 5000 properties in over 100 countries around the world. So if you are traveling, it’s more than likely you will find one of their hotels wherever you visit. I can’t think any other hotel chain, at all different price levels, that I’ve used more for different types of hotel stays than IHG.
I also like to stay at IHG hotels because they occasionally run really good promotions. There was one a few years ago where if you stayed X number of nights you could earn enough points for 3-4 free nights. I was only 1 night short of reaching the promotion requirements from our regularly planned travel but didn’t have any more trips coming up before the promotion ended, so I paid for a 1 night stay at the Crowne Plaza Orlando (note: we live in Orlando), checked in so the stay “counted,” and then went home. Sure, I had to pay cash for the 1 night but that extra stay earned me enough points for a 3 night stay in California. There are also extra promotions like the time Sharon and I each wrote 188 postcards to get free points.
I’m eventually going to get to the elephant in the room when talking about points and miles, so I might as well start here. Sign up bonuses for credit cards are probably the easiest way to rack up a huge amount of points and miles in a short amount of time. IHG offers a credit card through Chase for which I signed up and got the bonus, but I hardly ever use it as a credit card – it just isn’t that valuable for earning points. Granted, the initial bonus is pretty good; it gives you 60,000 points for signing up and spending $1,000 in 90 days (personally, I used those miles to spend 2 nights at the Hotel Indigo Kensington, in London). The annual fee of $49 is also waived for the first year and I’ve still kept it even though I had to pay the fee each year. How come? Because the card gives a free night at ANY IHG HOTEL every year, anywhere, as long as it’s available to book with points. This is the most generous offer of any co-branded hotel credit card, bar none. I’ve used my free night to book a room for my dad at The Willard in Washington D.C, for Sharon and I to stay for a night at the Holiday Inn Express in Ft. Pierce when visiting friends in the area (which is amazingly expensive in the winter), and for an upcoming night at the Crowne Plaza in Times Square. Since the annual fee for the card only costs $49, we’ve more than made our money back on each of these hotel stays. Another perk of this card is that you get a 10% rebate on award redemptions up to 100,000 points returned per year (f you have 1 million points to spend, that is). The card also gives you automatic Platinum status with IHG. When checking in this can give you a better room and an amenity gift (or at least not the room over the dumpster). While this is a nice perk, I don’t give it a whole lot of value since in some of the hotels we have stayed, the upgrade wasn’t worth much. One example was the “club” room we were given at the Holiday Inn London Mayfair which I couldn’t imagine being much better than a regular room.
There are great values available however, if you are able to catch one of the IHG PointBreaks promotions. These offers come out every quarter and are for a VERY limited amount of hotels. If you can manage to snag one of them, you are able to stay at an IHG hotel for only 5000 points a night. Even if you are buying points at 0.7 cents, that means the hotel is only costing $35 a night. I can’t think of a decent hotel that would cost less, under any circumstances. I’ve only been able to take of advantage this deal ONCE and it was for staying a night at a Candlewood Suites in El Paso, TX. The hotel was out of the way and it was clean for the equivalent of $35, but nothing writing home about.
I’m also partial to IHG’s program because IMHO I’ve gotten my best redemption ever by using their points. I used some tools by Wandering Aramean to find a room during Desert Trip in Palm Desert, CA so we could see Paul McCartney, The Who, The Rolling Stones and some other classic rock and roll acts. I still can’t believe the deal I got considering most people value IHG points to be from 0.5¢ to 0.7¢ each (those decimals are intentional – less than a penny each) and this redemption was worth almost 3x that.
@WandrMe AWESOME! Thanks to Hotel Hustle alert, I grabbed a $400 room for a concert weekend in Palm Desert, CA for 20K IHG points/night.
So while IHG hotels may not be the most aspirational point redemptions out there, they can be amazingly functional and a great value, particularly if you have the IHG credit card. I’ve read many bloggers write about stays in suites at Hyatt or Starwood properties using upgrade certificates but for us normal travelers, a simple Holiday Inn Express often fits the bill just fine.