It’s time for a new IHG credit card strategy

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IHG has been in the news over the last week, incredibly making Rewards Club seem almost…exciting? First, they announced revamped perks on the Chase IHG Traveler Card and the Chase IHG Premier that make each card signifcantly more attractive.  Alongside the improved credit cards, there is a re-tooling of IHG Elite Tier levels and benefits as well as an extension of some Ambassador benefits (and a nice promotion) for the very desireable Kimpton and Six Senses brands.  Add it all together and it’s had me asking the question…what’s the best IHG credit card strategy moving forward?

Is IHG Rewards Club on the rebound?

What’s Changed

Chase IHG Premier (changes starting 3/24)

  • Earns 1 “free” night per year valued up to 40,000 pts.  Starting in March, cardholders will be able to use their certificate for properties above 40k by paying the difference in points.  Unlike Marriott’s changes in this direction, there is no top-up limit.
  • New bonus categories of dining, travel and gas earn 5x (or ~3% back based on our IHG reasonable redemptions value)
  • $50 of United Travel Bank cash each cardmember year – DOC is reporting that this will be twice-yearly $25 credits that will expire 6ish months after issue and are not bankable.  This would be a significant blow to this benefit.
  • No change to fourth night free benefit that allows a cardholder to book 4 nights for the price of 3
  • Increased Annual fee from $89 – $99

Other IHG cards

The no-fee IHG traveler is also getting some increased bonus categories (3x on utilities streaming and dining) that are a good value for a no annual fee hotel card. IHG will be launching a new business card that apes 95% of the Premier card features, including the ability to top up the free night certificate, but with no 5/24 impact.

It’s worth noting that the old IHG Select Card (that many of us have chumming around with the dust-bunnies in our sock drawer) is unchanged.  It will still have a $49 dollar annual fee, 10% back on award bookings (up to 100k back) and a 40k anniversary free night certificate.  There are two key, and somewhat under-the-radar differences:

  • The anniversary 40K certificate from the Select Card WILL NOT be able to be topped up.
  • Starting March 24th, Chase will impose a “family rule” for IHG Select cardholders, meaning if you already have a Select you WILL NOT be able to be approved for a Premier and vice-versa.  I’m unclear as to whether the family rule applies to people who hold Traveler or the Business Card but not the Select. (h/t MtM)

Now, whether or not IHG has the IT chops to properly execute these restrictions is TBD, but that’s the official word on the street.

Intercontinental Ambassador

Ambassador, Intercontinental’s paid elite status, also confirmed how their higher-end brands Regent, Kimpton, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Six Senses will be treated by the program:

  • Ambassador complimentary weekend night will be usable any night of the week at Kimpton and Regent until 12/31/22
  • Ambassador benefits will apply at Regent until 12/31/22
  • Ambassadors will receive a welcome amenity and room upgrade at Mr. and Mrs. Smith properties
  • Ambassador benefits will apply at Six Senses Resorts

Six Senses is the most exciting IHG brand in my eyes, and it has by far the best Ambassador recognition including:

  • Complimentary breakfast for two in the main restaurant each day
  • Signature Amenity of either a complimentary 50 minute Six Senses Spa massage for two or local “experience (once per stay)
  • Complimentary one category room upgrade (subject to availability)
  • Extended check-out of 4PM (subject to availability)
  • Early check-in of 10AM (subject to availability)
  • Complimentary internet access
  • Wellness Platter on day of arrival

Six Senses has some absolutely beautiful resorts that are a pretty distinct cut above the rest of IHG’s portfolio.  Being able to recieve these benefits on award stays in combination with the 4th night free AND the ability to top-up free night certs has me looking for someone to put an “I❤️IHG” tattoo on my chest.  Greg has the Six Senses Laamu on his bucket list…and for good reason:

Six Senses Laamu Lagoon Water Villa. IHG points book directly into this room type. This villa offers both an upper deck and lower deck, and a glass sunken bathtub. Image courtesy of Six Senses’ website.

With new rules and Ambassador status, you can book a water villa (that retails for around $1,100-$1,500/night) for a 40K certificate and a 60K topup and get free breakfast for two, a room upgrade and a free massage.  Wow.

A couple words of caution are warranted.  Since Six Senses has been added to IHG, I’ve only seen a couple of examples of someone using Ambassador there, so we don’t yet have broad confirmation that these benefits are being honored as stated at each resort (although they should be).  Also, IHG’s pricing is now dynamic, so there’s absolutely nothing keeping them from jacking up all of the award prices once the changes take effect. I think that’s unlikely, but the possibility exists.

So now what?

My wife and I have had both the Premier and the Select for years and love the ability to stack the Premier’s 4th night free benefit and the 10% back on bookings from the Select.  During the pandemic, the 40K certificates have built up because of extensions.  At the same time, I have been finding it increasingly unwieldy to use them for optimal value (especially with so many properties pricing themselves at 41,000 pts).  So right before the new changes were announced, I downgraded our Premiers to the Traveler to avoid the annual fee.  I’ll absolutely product change them back up once the changes take effect.  The question is what to do with our two Select cards.

Previously, I’ve never considered upgrading the Selects. The $40 difference between the annual fees of the Premier and Select wasn’t worth it, especially since we would lose the 10% award booking refund.  Now, assuming that the top-up-ability of the Premier doesn’t transfer as IHG says it won’t, those certificates become waaaay more valuable to me and I think it makes upgrading at least one a good option.  But, we’ll keep at least one Select open so that we can continue to take advantage of the award credit.  That gives us three “super-40K” certificates each year and we still keep 10% back on points spend.

Using the Six Senses Laamu as an example, it would allow us to book 7 nights for 432K (270K for 4 nights using 4th night free and 10% back + 3 certs + 162K top-up for the certs with 10% back) or 61K/night, somewhere between 1.7-2.5 cents per point.  That’s the kind of aspirational value that’s always been missing from the program and I’m very excited to play around with it.

If I was in 1-player mode and just had the Select, this would make the Premier card worth a sacred 5/24 slot for me…before March 24 in case IHG/Chase is able to prohibit Select cardholders from adding a Premier like they intend to.  Then, I would wait until AFTER March 24th to find out if indeed the Select certs aren’t able to be topped up before deciding whether or not to upgrade that as well.  If I didn’t have any IHG cards, I’d probably wait until the Business card is launched, get that first (to keep a 5/24 slot open), and then pick up the Premier as the personal card.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been able to get very good value out of IHG Rewards over the years, primarily because I’m a National Parks nut and often find myself spending the night in middle of nowhere America.  It’s never been exciting though.  Until now.  IHG Rewards Club and the associated cards are more appealing than ever due to the combination of brand additions and credit card re-tooling.  It’s worth taking a look at the entire combination before the changes happen at the end of March in order to maximize the potential upside.

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Boney M

does the “family rule” mean now you should be able to product change to the $49 AF card?

Ken

I have both the Select and Premier. Would it be crazy to cancel the Premier card and try to reapply to get the bonus again before can not get again while having the Select in March or not enough time? Maybe it would be better to downgrade to Taveler and then apply before March 24 for a new Premier. Any thoughts. Thanks

Last edited 4 months ago by Ken
Dave Hanson

Aren’t there reported data points of IHG Premier approvals for > 5/24?

Also, if one downgrades to Traveler, and then gets denied for Premier, how long until one can immediately upgrade their new Traveler back to Premier?

Soren

I have an anniversary free night expiring in 2 weeks. I called IHG a week ago and asked the rep for an extension, or take points in lieu.
Rep was ignorant of Points in lieu. Said he had to escalate up the chain for direction and said if I don’t hear back call in again.
Feel like I am getting the run around. Do we have any more info on getting points in lieu, or a better number to call in on. I was using IHG rewards # 800 465 4329.
Thanks for any info. Great site and podcast Thx
S

Soren

Thx for reply. I spoke at length with rep and was declined in the end, in spite of offering several arguments and citing anecdotal evidence of successes.
IHG – Disappointing.

Gwen

Does anyone know long does it take for the free night to post after upgrading from the Traveler to the Premier?

Gwen

Thanks Tim.

mbh

Does 5/24 apply to the new biz card?

Tyler

But, we’ll keep at least one Select open so that we can continue to take advantage of the award credit. That gives us three “super-40K” certificates each year and we still keep 10% back on points spend.”

How would only one of you having the Select allow both of you to get 10% back? I thought IHG did not allow point sharing (without paying 0.5cpp, about their RRV), and I can’t imagine Mrs. Steinke would get a 10% rebate on her redemption because Tim has the Select.

Bear

P1 & P2 have both the Select and the Premier and P1 is Spire Elite Ambassador. Guess I will wait and see about the Biz card! We’ve made very good use of our free nights, and have always been upgraded very nicely if there was any decent upgrade to be had (obvs doesn’t work if suites are sold out).

whocares

thanks for this detailed post Tim!

Was considering canceling the Premier card soon, and reapplying in future…but that would be a no go since I have the Select according to your article.

The Super 40k cert is only a deal if you actually have points to upgrade the certs.

If the Select cert is un-upgradeable, yeah, that would suck….only would have 1 Super 40k cert. then.

My IHG point balance is quite low. Could always buy them I guess….maybe that’s the strategy going forward. When I do run out of points, buy them to upgrade the annual Super 40k cert as necessary.

Finding a use for a regular 40k cert usually hasn’t been an issue. There’s always some IHG property somewhere / year.

whocares

Premier doesn’t renew until much later in the year, so yes, I will just wait.

Definitely get more than $90 value out of Premier. Used 4th night free lately (with 10% stack).

Upcoming redemption will get several hundred dollars value. But that’s definitely an anomaly for 40k I think. That place may go over 40k soon, or maybe already has. Dunno.

Not sure if I can replicate that every year..but usually $150 value at a minimum seems doable for a cert/

As it stands now $150/year for 2 nights at hotels up to 40k is good.

AbeRom

I could not find in the terms and conditions regarding ambassador benefits at Six Senses…do you mind sharing where you got that list of benefits from?

Frank

In my case P1 and P2 each have the $49 card, with annual renewal in a few months. What would you suggest? I could perhaps upgrade either to the $89 card now but would lose the 125K sign-up bonus (and NOT lose a 5/24 slot). Or I could apply for the $89 card and get 125K bonus and features but will lose a slot. I am assuming at present I can have both cards – and for both P1 and P2. Then there’s the new business card and but I may be denied for having so many cards.

Or I could forget the $89 card and just wait for the Business card. I don’t want to get rid of the $49 Select cards as they are almost the oldest we have and help keep our FICO scores healthy.

What would you recommend in my situation?

Frank

Tim, I notice that you and I seem to be agreeing on quite a few things. I’ll have to stop by one day and try your wine when I’m next up your way visiting my son. Perhaps also share some card game strategies. I’m in a 2 player situation where P2 is a silent partner. Been doing this for about 10 years.

Jeremy

Hey Tim, thanks for this post, the email I got alerted me to this. My wife and I both have the Select and while these past few years have been tough to get value of the free night with COVID, it was great for years. I too have had this card for 8 years, so not wanting to cancel. Problem is will probably be applying for a mortgage in the next 3-6 months (though maybe longer). Scores are in low 800s. Anyway leaning towards just grabbing one of the Premiers before 3/24…my wife can keep her select for the free night, I’d have the 10% stack with Premier I suppose. Thoughts?

I recently had my oldest credit card (a Citi card formerly dividend select which they converted years ago to a crappy free thank you card) closed by Citi for nonuse. Never warned about it. I could have reopened it with a credit check but decided not to do that because of the possible mortgage and it being a sock drawer card. I hate Citi.

Last edited 4 months ago by Jeremy
Larry K

So, I’m in one player mode. I have Select and Traveler. I’m over 5/24. I think the right move is to upgrade Traveler to Premier before the family rule goes into effect? And who knows, maybe the certs that I currently have that were earned with select will be upgradable if I have Premier?

Anything I’m missing here?

Dick Bupkiss

There are two other wrinkles that have not been mentioned. Regarding the “complimentary one-category room upgrade”…

First, it is definitely “subject to availability” which means you won’t get the upgraded room you were hoping for if none of those rooms are empty when you check in (the upgrade happens at check-in time, not when you book it months in advance), and they are definitely not going to bump a paying customer to upgrade us freeloaders. Also <b>they may decide they would rather pay you off for denying the category upgrade to you</b> — the fine print says the hotel can deny you the room upgrade if they compensate you (IIRC) US$50 per stay (not per night) or 10,000 IGH points per stay, which is pretty small compensation, and provides the hotel a big incentive to deny you unless they are completely empty. This definitely happens (it happened to me in the past, as a Spire Ambassador with oodles of paid stays).

Second, the definition of the “category upgrade” is very squishy: I’ve seen reports that there is an <i>undocumented</i> “extra” category, which essentially means that there are “better” or “lesser” rooms in the lowest category — eg one room looks out over a parking lot, another looks out over a “nicer” vacant lot….so your “upgrade” can be simply getting that lowest-cetagory room, but the one that has a “nicer view” (that doesn’t look out over a parking lot). I don’t know how true that is, or how often it might happen, but I’ve seen reports on FT that seem credible.

I’m in a very similar situation as you, @Tim Steinke. Me and P2 currently have about 4 IHG cards between us, and we’ve enjoyed decent value in the past, not so much since they jacked up that 40K threshold. I’m looking at what the best strategy looks like going forward. I’m still moderately skeptical about getting room upgrades at the higher end properties, but I do agree that the upcoming changes looks like actual enhancements (for us at least), I’m looking forward to them, and regarding the IHG program with more optimism than I had previously.

Dr. Jay

Tim, Does the Select to Premier upgrade seem to be pretty much a guarantee? I’m in the same boat with 2 of each and would like to upgrade 1 as well.

Anonymous

Are you saying the Select 10% back benefit can be applied to Premier 4th night free bookings? How?

Brands

Yes, if you have both cards, the 4th night free benefit automatically applies when booking, and the 10% points rebate is automatically refunded within 30 days based on my experience.