One way to cut down travel costs, specifically hotel costs, is to participate in different hotel promotions. All of the big hotel chains have a rewards program that allows you to earn points and redeem those points for free nights among other things. On top of that, they often offer different promotions that can expedite the earning of those free nights. Some promotions offer a free night after a certain number of stays, some offer extra points when you book certain rooms, and other ones are more complicated, but can offer really nice rewards. Combining these promotions with hotel stays you already have planned will speed up the earning of free nights, but in some cases, it might even make sense to add hotel stays to your plans because the reward outweighs the cost. Below, I detail one of the recent IHG promotions that I took advantage of, how I determined that the promotion was worthwhile, and my own experience attempting to complete the promotion. I also take a quick look at their next promotion, which takes place over the first 4 months in 2015.
Into the Nights Promotion Summary
IHG held a promotion for the last quarter of 2014 with the name “Into the Nights” that allowed a member of their rewards program (completely free to join) to earn either 50,000 points or 2 free nights after completing a certain number of tasks by December 31st. This was a semi-targeted promotion in that each person’s tasks were different, and you had to log in and register for the promotion to see what your individual tasks were. Some tasks required staying at a specific brand under IHG (IHG is the parent group for 9 different hotel chains), stay a specific day of the week, stay a certain number of days, or book stays through their website or mobile app. While the minimum number of tasks required to complete the promotion was 5, it was often possible to complete several at the same time with a single stay.
The individual tasks offered a small amount of IHG points, but the real prize was after completing the entire promotion for either 50,000 points or 2 free nights at any of their properties. The Intercontinental hotel chain is IHG’s most luxurious brand and they operate 5-star hotels in major cities throughout the world, so 2 free nights at one of those properties would normally cost hundreds of dollars per night. While I value the 2 free nights above the 50,000 points, there are situations where the points could be more valuable. The 50,000 points would only book you one night at IHG’s nicest properties, but could book 3 or 4 nights at some of their mid to low end hotels. If your travel is flexible, IHG offers PointBreaks every so often that allow you to book stays for as little as 5,000 points per night, and these PointBreaks hotels often include some of their top tier hotels. If the PointBreaks promotion fits with your travel schedule, the 50,000 points would stretch far beyond the 2 free nights. Overall, the value of the promotion relied heavily on what individual tasks were offered to you and how the time/money/effort required to complete them compared to the reward.
It’s also important for me to note that IHG had several technical problems when putting on this promotion. Some people’s individual tasks changed between logins, sometimes completed tasks wouldn’t show up on the promotion page, and customer service is barely able to correct any of the issues. Some of the technical issues smoothed out during the promotion, but others still persisted to the end. We will find out after the promotion officially ends whether or not anyone was blocked from completing it due to these problems, but this is a warning that you might have to jump through some extra hoops and contact customer service multiple times in order to get your reward for completing the promotion. Despite the extra effort required to complete this IHG promotion, the reward was too good for me to pass up.
My Personal Experience with Into the Nights
I learned about the Into the Nights promotion not long after it started in September, but was not an IHG Rewards Club member yet. As you had to log in to see the actual offer, I decided to make a free account and see what tasks I had to complete for the big promotion reward. My specific offer is shown below, but I believe this is the same (or at least very close) offer all new accounts got.
The 5 tasks to complete for the 50,000 points or 2 free nights:
- Stay 3 nights at any property
- Book 2 stays through ihg.com or the mobile app
- Download the IHG App
- Stay 2 Saturdays
- Stay at 2 Holiday Inn hotels
The first step to complete when deciding whether or not to pursue any promotion or offer is to evaluate the costs and benefits.
For this particular offer, because nights could count towards multiple tasks at the same time, it was possible to complete all 5 tasks by spending just 3 nights in IHG properties. The cost for these 3 nights would depend on which hotel I chose and when, but I estimated the cost to be between $100 and $150 per night for a total between $300 and $450. It’s important to remember that the “cost” isn’t just to complete the promotion, but also gets you 3 nights in hotels. The actual value of those nights can be difficult to determine though. If you get no value from the hotel room and are just checking in for the promotion (commonly called “mattress running”), the value is $0, but if you already had a trip planned and the hotel fits perfectly with your plan the value is almost identical to the cost. For most people (myself included), the value of the hotel nights falls somewhere in between.
For completing the tasks with the 3 paid nights, the reward is 4,500 points for the individual tasks, points for the actual hotel stays, and the 50,000 points or 2 free nights for completing the promotion. I have an upcoming trip later on in 2015 to New York, so I would definitely be able to get good value out of the 2 free nights. With the free nights, I would most likely stay in the Intercontinental in Times Square which normally costs over $500 per night! This would not be the hotel I would book with cash though, so would value the nights a little above the $350-450 total for 2 nights I would probably spend with cash. The extra 4,500 points in addition to the amount obtained naturally through the rewards program (10 points per dollar spent on the hotels) turns out to be around 8,000 points which is about halfway to booking a mid-range hotel. I would value the 8,000 points somewhere around $60 for that reason. In total, I value the benefits of completing the promotion somewhere around $450.
Making a Plan
After comparing the costs to the benefits and seeing pretty close numbers, I decided that if I could get value out of the 3 nights necessary to complete the promotion, it would definitely be worth it. So I started making a plan for completing the promotion which began by brainstorming with the fiancé for trip ideas. Both of us had time off work in December and we didn’t have any big holiday plans this year, so we decided to plan a little weekend trip to Portland. The city is only a few hours away driving, so transportation wouldn’t be a big cost, and after a quick search, we found several Holiday Inns in the Portland area that would qualify for the promotion.
We booked a stay via ihg.com for Friday and Saturday night which knocked out over half of the tasks needed. This one stay would give us 2 of the 3 nights needed including a Saturday, a Holiday Inn, and we booked via their website. That left only a single Saturday night stay in a Holiday Inn to complete the promotion. We weren’t able to come up with a great use of the night, so we decided to just book a room in the city we live in, Seattle, which would allow us to have a fun night downtown without having to worry about getting all the way home at the end of it. We booked a random Saturday in November at a Holiday Inn downtown in for around $130 in order to complete the promotion. We definitely got value out of the Portland nights because we would have taken a trip there at some point anyway, but the other night was just to complete the promotion and wasn’t worth much on its own.
Sweetening the Deal
As I’ve mentioned before, churning is a big part of how I am able to travel for cheap, and I was able to combine a new credit card with this promotion for extra benefit. The IHG Rewards Club Select MasterCard had been on my radar for a while because it offers one of the best annual benefits of any hotel credit card, a free night at any IHG property. While other hotel cards offer similar benefits, they are often restrictive on which hotels they can be used at. The card has an annual fee of $49 that is waived the first year, and the current public offer includes a sign up bonus of 60,000 points after spending $1000 in the first 3 months. There is also a non-advertised 80k offer that can be found on the FlyerTalk forums, but that could change at any time. This card had my attention even before the Into the Nights promotion because the annual bonus far outweighs the annual fee and this meant I would probably hold onto the card for a long time.
After deciding to pursue the promotion, getting the IHG card at the same time made sense because I would be able to take advantage of some of the other benefits of the card during my stays. These benefits include IHG Platinum status, 5 points per dollar spent at IHG properties, and a 10% rebate on points used for reward nights. While I got the credit card in the mail before the first stay, my Platinum status had not yet activated, so I wasn’t able to take advantage of any of the perks that particular night. The wording of the credit card offer doesn’t tie the $1000 of spend to the Platinum status, but I was told my new status wouldn’t activate until after the spending was complete. I did manage to complete the spending on the card before our 2 night stay in Portland and my Platinum status activated just in time for the trip. In addition to increasing my base point earning on the nights by 50%, I was also able to take advantage of their complementary room upgrades to be moved into a suite at check in. The complementary upgrades are based on availability, so your success in getting them will vary, but luckily for us, the hotel we were staying at was fairly empty and the front desk was happy to upgrade our room.
Overall, the IHG credit card is a good card on its own, and even better if you normally stay in IHG branded hotels. My fiancé will probably add this card to her collection soon so we can combine the annual “free” $49 nights to cut down hotel costs on future trips.
A Small Road Bump
One of the tasks needed for me to complete the promotion was to download the IHG app and sign into it. Despite doing this the day after registering for the promotion, I was never given credit for doing so in the promotion dashboard and it still shows as incomplete. I contacted IHG through their Customer Care form on the website to ask about the problem and was informed it would be resolved within 10 business days. After not receiving a response for 15 business days, I contacted them again and was told it was still being worked on. Another month went by without any change, so I messaged their Facebook page about the problem. I did receive a quick response from their Facebook page though, and while they said they couldn’t update the promotion dashboard for technical reasons, they did credit my account the 500 points and informed me that I would still receive the final bonus of 2 free nights if the rest of the tasks were completed.
As I mentioned above, IHG’s Customer Service leaves things to be desired, but overall the promotion is still worth it despite the extra hassle in my opinion. My first stay credited successfully to the dashboard without any action needing to be taken on my end and I am hoping my second does the same (I just finished the second stay at the time of writing this, so I won’t know for sure until a week or so from now). Hopefully they worked out several of the bugs throughout this promotion, because they seem to be sticking with the promotion format, at least for now.
I’m very happy with how this promotion worked out (assuming everything credits correctly), and I think I got a lot of value for the money spent. Let’s go over the final numbers (judging value is difficult and varies by person, so only use these as approximations):
|Total spent for 3 paid nights||$386.24|
|Value of 1 Seattle night||$20|
|Value of 2 Portland nights||$230|
|Value of 2 free nights (to be used in NYC)||$400|
|Value of 9,280 IHG points earned (task points + paid nights + platinum bonus)||$70|
Assuming I don’t run into any problems redeeming my 2 free nights (and I don’t expect to), completing this promotion almost doubled the value I got out of my money. I didn’t take into account the credit card points earned on the money spent, but that would add some additional value on top of the other benefits. It would have also been possible to simply book the 3 cheapest nights we could find that fit the restrictions instead of working them into our travel schedule and simply checked in. If we found rooms for around $50, it would have been like pre-paying 2 flexible hotel nights at a really nice property for $150.
My current churning goal is to minimize the airfare and hotel cost of our upcoming 8-night trip to New York and this promotion was a big step in the right direction. I already used my United miles from their credit card offer to cover both of our round trip airfare (50,000 miles + $22.40), and these 2 free nights plus the 80,000 IHG points earned through the credit card signup bonus will cover over half of the hotel nights. I’m currently looking at a couple other hotel cards to potentially cover the rest, but haven’t committed to any yet.
IHG’s Next Promotion “Set Your Sights”
Unfortunately, it is too late to take advantage of the Into the Nights promotion, but you may be interested in their next promotion that has a very similar structure, Set Your Sights. This promotion stretches from the beginning of January to the end of April and offers very similar tasks to Into the Nights (at least for me). Once again, you have to log into your IHG Rewards Club account and register for the promotion to see what individual tasks you have to complete for the reward. Register at https://setyoursights.ihg.com to see your own personal tasks.
This promotion’s reward structure isn’t as good as Into the Nights, but can still be worth a lot of value if you have hotel stays coming up or highly value IHG points. Instead of giving the choice between 50,000 points and 2 free nights after completing the tasks, the 50,000 reward points have been evenly split between the tasks themselves and a 25,000 bonus for completing all of them. This is a pretty heavy downgrade from the 50,000 points or 2 free nights in addition to the task points (even though they were relatively small), but still valuable depending on your travel plans.
You can check out my personal offer below, which is almost identical to my Into the Nights offer. The entire thing can once again be completed with 3 paid nights, but I haven’t yet decided whether or not I will pursue this one. If we do something similar to last time and spend between $300-$400 dollars for the 3 nights, we can use the 50,000 points to book a couple nights at a mid-range hotel near NYC that would more than cover the cost of normal nights. If we were going to pay standard rates, doing the promotion would be an obvious choice, but it might be more cost effective to get the nights a different way, possibly through some new hotel credit cards. I will definitely do a more detailed post in the future about my upcoming New York trip and how I was able to cover the travel costs.