One of the easiest ways to be able to afford to travel more is taking advantage of Rewards programs. They allow you to earn points as you use their services and redeem them later for free or discounted air travel, car rental or hotel stays.
IHG Hotel Rewards Program
I participate in the IHG Hotels Rewards Program. Since we are neither fancy folks or rich, Holiday Inn’s have always been go-to hotels for us. I do participate in other hotel programs, but Holiday Inns are everywhere and by focusing on one primary program, you can really get your points up there. If all we are looking for is a place to stay during our travels, Holiday Inn Express is perfect for us. Good rates, everything we need and a complimentary breakfast. Of course, they offer more hotel brands than just Holiday Inn:
- Holiday Inn
- Holiday Inn Express
- Holiday Inn Resort
- Holiday Inn Club Reserve
- Crowne Plaza
- Hotel Indigo
Each of these brands has it’s own character. You can keep it simple or get a little bougie. Whatever suits your travel style. For our next big trip in Europe, I am planning some luxury stays at their Intercontinental and a Crowne Plaza brands.
Anyone can participate in the IHG Rewards Program. You can earn points for your stays, for using partner services and by participating in promotions. If you apply for their credit card (which is not required to earn points it just helps you earn faster), you can receive a hefty sign on bonus after meeting a spend requirement and then earn 10x points on all your IHG Hotel stays when paying with your card.
IHG Card Benefits ($95 annual fee)
- 10 x points on stays booked on IHG and paid for with the card
- 2 x points on gas, grocery and restaurants
- 1 x points on all other purchases
- Anniversary Free Night
- 4th Reward night Free
- No foreign Transaction Fees
- $100 toward TSA Precheck/Global Entry every 4 years
By being part of the Rewards Club, you get notifications when they have Hotel booking discount periods (like right now there is a 20% booking discount) or when they offer targeted Free Nights Faster challenge opportunities where you complete a specific list of stays and/or stay types in a required time period for an additional Points Bonus. Each task on the list is worth a set number of points and if you complete the entire list they add a large bonus as well.
Most of the promotions are targeted to the Member and based on their past stay history. So my Free Nights Faster Challenge will probably be different than yours as will my Points Buy Up match percentage.
Quarterly they post a Points Break Hotel list. These hotels are offered up at reduced reward redemption for either 5,000, 10,000 or 15,000 points. Read the list right away and If you find a hotel on the list that you want to stay at, make your bookings immediately because they might sell out. Sometimes they aren’t very exciting locations, but their just might be a diamond in the rough waiting for you to snatch it up.
A few times a year, they offer Points Buy Up opportunities for you to buy more points and they will match a percentage of those points. This year I bought points at 100% match so I bought 30,000 points and they matched another 30,000 points for $300. By using my new IHG card for the purchase it helped me meet the spend requirement to earn my sign up bonus, plus I earned 10x points on the purchase. Winning!
Open Table is a Restaurant Reservations program. You enter in the city you are looking to dine in and a list of restaurants pops up that you can reserve tables from. If you use the Open Table site from the IHG app to make your reservation, you earn a 1st time bonus of 500 points. Each time you use it thereafter, is an additional 150 points. This is not to say that every restaurant in an area participates or is on the list, so if you don’t see what you like you may have to go another route. One restaurant near us is on the list, why not use the program to reserve a table each time we go in order to earn more hotel reward points.
Although you can redeem points for gift cards, magazines and merchandise, it is not the best value for your points. It is a much better deal to redeem for Reward stays. Each type of Reward program is different but most offer opportunities for you to transfer points between their program and other programs. Sometimes if you are trying to reach a goal this can really help you out, just make sure you are getting the best deal if you do this.
For example, I don’t stay at Best Western that much but I have some points there. I can transfer the points that I already have to my Southwest Airlines account and then set the Rewards preferences on my Best Western account to always post points to Southwest thereafter.
**Not all points transfers are 1:1 so make sure you fully understand the ratio before choosing to complete any transfer.**
For some people using a specific brand Rewards programs is enough, for others they may want a more universal rewards program that offers points that can be used many different ways. I am keeping it fairly simple. For now I am using the IHG program for most of my hotel stays but I also have Rewards Memberships with Marriott, Best Western and Hyatt. That way if I need to stay in one of those chains, I am still accumulating points.
January is the time to take a look at your travel from 2018 and see if there were any trends that illustrate a Rewards Program that may save you money this year. Don’t leave free money on the table! And if you use one hotel or airline the most, consider whether it would jump start your savings with them this year by adding their credit card to your wallet.
I hope this article helps you travel further, faster and cheaper in 2019!
FYI – I was not sponsored or paid by IHG for my opinions in this article.