“Special Offers” can make IHG worth another look

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Between now and Sunday, I will be buying IHG points; the only question is how many will I buy? In my case, I am buying IHG One Rewards points in part because of our 3 Cards 3 Continents challenge. However, the real story is that I am also buying IHG points for myself. That’s because in the planning stages for my trip, I have been surprised to find again and again and that IHG properties are yielding such strong value as to make it well worth buying the points to book a room. While there are still plenty of opportunities to get mediocre value, I am finding myself impressed with the fact that IHG is often beating Hilton and Marriott in terms of value per point — particularly since they are once again selling points from just half a cent per point.

Is IHG Rewards Club on the rebound?

I’m going to kick off this list with the one that first surprised me: Istanbul. I was surprised by Istanbul for several reasons: first, hotel prices at the moment in Istanbul are far higher than I would have expected. I remember Istanbul being famously cheap just a couple of years ago. That just isn’t the case anymore (or at least it wasn’t during dates I was checking). I couldn’t find an Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts property within close enough reach of my Platinum card’s prepaid FHR credit to make it an option worth considering. Surprisingly, neither were cash or award prices at most properties attractive. Prices fluctuate, so I have no doubt that there are times of year when Istanbul is more of a value destination than the days I was examining, but nonetheless I found an easy opportunity to score great value with IHG points in Istanbul when hotels were otherwise more expensive than I’d expected.

Take for example the Crowne Plaza Harbiye. On a random night I checked, I found a cash rate of 132 EUR.

However, the search result number is a bit misleading — that’s the nonrefundable rate before taxes. Personally, I hate booking a nonrefundable rate because plans can change, I could miss a flight, an amazing deal could pop up elsewhere, etc.

The cheapest flexible rate for that same date, tax inclusive, is 157.14 EUR ($159.69 at the time of writing).

However, this hotel has a special deal going on. I know that it has a special deal because I originally ran my search on my phone in the IHG app. Unlike the screen shot above showing the 132EUR cash price, I noticed that in the app this hotel was flagged with an orange tag saying “special offer”.

I have come to realize that the “special offer” tag (at least sometimes) means “good deal using points”. In fact, I’d argue that this hotel is a great deal using points for this particular date at just 10,000 IHG points for the same night, which comes with the same flexible cancellation policy shown for nearly $160 above.

That’s a terrific deal when you consider that IHG points are currently on sale for half a cent per point. In other words, rather than paying $160 for the night shown above, I could pay just $50 by purchasing IHG points on sale — a savings of 68.75% off the retail price of the hotel. Do note that in order to get the best rate for purchasing points, you need to buy at least 26,000 points + 26,000 bonus points (spending $260 in the process). If you really only wanted to buy the 10,000 points necessary for one night here, you’d pay $67.50 in the current sale.

I should further note that you may have other discounts available to you for that property or others shown in this post. For the sake of simplicity, I’m comparing the best flexible rate without adding any special corporate codes or deals.

These “Special Offers” aren’t only available in the app – the same award pricing is available on desktop, but for some reason IHG isn’t labeling it as a special offer on desktop. For that reason, these are easier to spot in the IHG app, but they are available either way. And “Special Offers” aren’t limited to far-flung overseas destinations. Take this Intercontinental in Saint Paul, MN as an example. While the app initially showed a cash rate of $153 per night, the total came to more than $195 with taxes and fees.

Alternatively, book the same room as a “Special Offer” at 25,000 points — which you could effectively buy for $125 with the current sale.

Keep in mind that these deals I’m showing may get even better if you’re an IHG Premier or Traveler cardholder and you get the 4th night free on award stays (assuming you would stay for four or more nights).

Let’s go to the House of the Mouse on a weekend in December (I went to Disney World during the Christmas season a couple of years ago and despite the fact that I’m far less enamored with all things Disney than many people, I have to admit that it was pretty magical at that time of year). With a late arrival or early departure, you might want a room at the Holiday Inn Orlando Airport. On a random Saturday in December, this property came to $188.10.

Within the app, the “Special Offer” was 16,000 points per night (which can currently and frequently be purchased for $80 — more than half off the price of the flexible rate — assuming you’re buying 26,000 + 26,000 or more).

You would be forgiven for supposing that this is only happening at properties at the “value” end of the price spectrum, but not only did I find a number of good Intercontinental deals like the Saint Paul example above, I also found similar deals with Kimpton. Anyone up for Valentine’s Day in Paris?

You’d pay $350 per night for the points you’d need to redeem for the Kimpton St. Honore Paris. That isn’t cheap, but it will save you almost $100 over the cash rate of 440 Euro.

At this point, you’re probably ready to accuse me of cherry-picking the best deals, so let’s go to cherry blossom season in Washington, D.C. The Internet tells me that peak bloom is usually the last week of March into the first week of April, so how about the InterContinental Hotel The Willard Washington, D.C. on March 29th? The best flexible cash rate comes to $640.98.

But the “Special Offer” price is 88,000 points. While that doesn’t feel special when you consider the fact that IHG’s award chart topped out at 70K points per night not that long ago, it still means that those purchasing points could save $200 and buy just $440 worth of points to book the same room.

Keep in mind that not all hotels with “Special Offers” are very special. In some cases, buying points would be only a very slim deal (and perhaps no deal at all if you had a good corporate code to bring the cash rate down). However, also keep in mind that you’ll also find deals through IHG that aren’t labeled “Special Offers”. This post just includes a selection that jumped out at me on test searches after accidentally stumbling across a number of “Special Offers” in cities I intend to visit on my 3 Cards 3 Continents trip. [Spoiler alert[ No, I won’t be going to Minneapolis or Orlando on my trip, but chances are very good that I’ll be redeeming some IHG Rewards points.

Bottom line

During my weeks of obsessive searching for hotel deals for our 3 Cards 3 Continents challenge, I have stumbled across one situation after another where IHG would be my best bet thanks to frequent opportunities to get north of 1c per point. That obviously isn’t the case at every property at every time of year. In fact, I wouldn’t even say that you get “many” situations where IHG points will be more valuable than 1c per point. However, I’ve found such situations far more often than I expected. Before putting time and research into this competition, I’d have generally ignored IHG; in my personal travels, I don’t always think to check and compare Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt against IHG because I haven’t had a lot of luck with IHG in recent years. That has made it all the more surprising and exciting to see IHG giving the other major chains a run for their money on award stays for this trip. Given the size of the IHG footprint, I think I’m going to have to move them back into the rotation on a regular basis when searching for award stays — and I’ll be buying some points before the current sale is over with some confidence that they will come in handy sooner rather than later.

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Hibiki

Yes, I’ve been noticing as well, only exception that I can remember is Honolulu, where cash semi flex rates were lower than pts at 0.5cpp, even after taxes and fees.

I bought enough points last month to lock in all planned stays with current rates. They throw another points sale this month, I didn’t mind buying even more speculatively, but they Bonvoyed and removed lounge access from upgraded rooms, only after a month with revamped elite benefits: I’ve lost faith in them, I’m wait-and-see mode, I won’t be buying points speculatively.

I agree, Istanbul hotels were much cheaper, even a few months ago. I should’ve locked in for my visit in November, but I’ve been busy. While all IHG (and most others) hotels in Istanbul are charged in EUR, so I don’t go speculatively book, but off the beaten path hotels in Turkiye are quoted in TRY, which has a good chance devaluing even further, so I made some speculative bookings. If it appreciates a lot, I can simply cancel if I don’t find any better deals.

Japan used to have rock bottom rates (about same level as current Bangkok rates), too, until a few months ago. I booked them for December last year and May this year, but as you guessed, I had to cancel. my next attempt is September, but I see rates gone skyrocket, despite recent weak yen, I guess the domestic tourism has recovered.

I uninstalled IHG app, because when I try to earn rebates from TCB, the app tries to start instead of web browser.

Last edited 5 days ago by Hibiki
Alfred

Don’t forget to use Cashbackmonitor to go through a shopping portal as well. AND, you can purchase these with a VGC or MCGC.

I had a $500 VGC from a Meijer promo waiting to be used.

So that was an extra 5% grocery bonus, plus an extra 2% from Topcashback

So $465 (or less) for 100,000 IHG points.

Jan W

Great reminder! Looks like a trip to Staples for no-fee VGCs might be in order! And I see 6% CB at Topcashback right now. Good to know IHG points will trigger that offer as well.

Alfred

TCB is 2% for IHG, because it’s through points.com.

In order to get the .5 cents, you have to spend at least $260, so you need a card with at least that much balance.

I don’t believe you can break up the transaction into two 200 cards

Stvr

I agree you’re finding good stuff and there is good stuff out there. I disagree that the “special offer” tag has ANYTHING to do with it.

JohnB

I have routinely purchased IHG points when there is a point sale and I have the need. I have a trip to Japan next March, all 14 nights of hotel are on points. I just purchased a small amount of points for $200 because the hotel that I need to use is $180/night. With the purchased points, each hotel night costs $70. And, if the trip is a no go, because Japan isn’t letting tourists return, I can easily cancel my award reservations at no cost.

WR2

Yeah sure, they’re worth a look…and if you’re lucky you might even get to stay on the same floor as people who get access to the club lounge!

TravelerMike

I just recently returned from a family trip up north where we needed an airport hotel. At first glance, I was looking at prices around $300/night – apparently there was a concert in town that night. Luckily, I stumbled upon the HI (as I recently acquired the IHG premier card), and the points cost was only 20,000 points for over 1.5 cents / point in value!

Raylan

These special offers seem like a spiritual successor to the old (and very popular) PointBreak offers IHG used to run.

Obviously not nearly as good as the PointBreaks, but nor are these prices horrible!

Grant

Hey Nick, don’t forget about the old IHG Select 10% rebate on award stays to drop the prices even more 🙂

Also, do these special prices only work on points stays or do cash + points stays also get the deal?

Neal

The thrust of this article seems to be to look for the “special offers” designation as they offer excellent point redemption value. In my experience you don’t need this designation to get a great point value. I’ve been buying the maximum number of points at .5 cents a point for the past few years and have gotten great value out of point arbitrage at properties all across the spectrum (budget to luxury). For example, in Saint Paul, on the same date you used, the Holiday Inn St. Paul downtown does not have the “special offer” designation – there the flexible rate is $151 versus 19,000 points (or less than $100 if buying points).

I’m not sure what the “special offer” designation is (perhaps just a paid marketing tool used by individual properties) but I’d argue the takeaway from this article should be that IHG points very often offer excellent arbitrage opportunities without regard to whether or not there is this “special offers” designation.

Stvr

Second this. No correlation between special offer tag and great deals.

Edward Carp

Nick:

I’d be interested in knowing if you think IHG’s Ambassador program is worth the $200 they want for it? I’ve done it for the last two years, but honestly get very little value from it. I don’t believe I’ve ever gotten an actual or consequential “guaranteed room upgrade” and they make it virtually impossible to use the free weekend night certificates they offer. there are never any redeemable hotels for where I would want to use them. so what’s the point? if it included free breakfasts, I’d do it in a heartbeat, but they don’t even offer that….perhaps you could do a separate piece on that?

https://www.ihg.com/intercontinental/ambassador/us/en/enrollment

Alex

Great to know. I’m not entirely clear though – are these special offers only available on the app or do they pop up on desktop as well?

Brian

Will look into this. Does buying points count towards Amex msr?

Fahad Anjum

Hi nick,

Good post, i would like to know how do you get the option of special offers? Is it the app we should use or?

Best regards