What are IHG points worth now that the gloves are off?

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Update 4/9/21: IHG has already reversed course! See updated analysis here: IHG retreats from devaluation!

This is not the post I expected to write. I expected to say something along the lines of “Relax, you’re just as likely to get good value from your IHG points are as before.”  But sadly, that’s not the case…

Last week, many blogs, including this one, wrote about IHG’s latest point devaluation.  For example, we wrote: IHG devaluation: variable pricing creeping higher, value dipping.  Basically, what appears to have happened is that IHG has removed caps from their award pricing.  Now, hotels that used to have a maximum award price of maybe 35,000 points sometimes price as high as 80,000 points.  And hotels that used to have a 70,000 point cap are now sometimes priced as high as 120,000 points.

Last year, I published an analysis of IHG point values: What are IHG points worth now that they have dynamic pricing?  In that post, I described my methodology in which I picked the top 3 TripAdvisor ranked IHG hotels in each of 7 major hotel markets in the U.S., and I recorded cash and award prices for three dates for each: a weekday, a weekend, and a holiday weekend.  I found at the time that the median cents per IHG point value was 0.64 and the mean was 0.67.

Now that IHG has removed award caps, I’ve recreated last year’s analysis.  Where possible, I looked at the same hotels as before, and I picked similar weekday and weekend dates.  For the holiday weekend, I chose the Friday of July 4th weekend rather than last year’s Friday of Thanksgiving weekend in order to have a similar amount of time between the analysis date and the holiday weekend date.  Here are the results…

Mean and Median Results

2020 Analysis 2021 Analysis
Point Value (Median) 0.64 cents 0.43 cents
Point Value (Mean) 0.67 cents 0.54 cents
Cash Price (Median) $213 $238
Cash Price (Mean) $229 $237
Point Price (Median) 35,000 47,000
Point Price (Mean) 34,603 48,952

The headline result here is the median point value.  The median is the halfway point: half of the awards offered equal or better value and half offered equal or less value per IHG point.  As you can see, the median point value dropped precipitously (33%) between the previous analysis and this one.  The mean dropped as well, but not as badly.  The average cash rates between then and now were similar, but the median award prices increased by 34% and the mean award prices increased by 41%.

Min and Max Results

For those interested in digging a bit deeper, here are the min and max observed values:

2020 Analysis 2021 Analysis
Point Value (Min) 0.40 cents 0.28 cents
Point Value (Max) 1.29 cents 0.98 cents
Cash Price (Min) $76 $74
Cash Price (Max) $541 $408
Point Price (Min) 12,500 13,000
Point Price (Max) 70,000 93,000

 

40K Certificate Results

2020 Analysis 2021 Analysis
Percent Usable 63% 41%
Mean Room Rate $178 $184

IHG credit cards offer cardholders annual free night certificates good for hotel nights that cost 40,000 points or less.  For each of my analyses, I calculated the percent of datapoints in which a 40K certificate could have been used.  Sadly, the number dropped from 63% usable to 41% usable.  The one bright spot, I suppose, is that the average cost of hotel nights at hotels where the cert was usable hardly changed at all.  In fact, it went up by $6.

New Reasonable Redemption Value

With hotels, I like to use average observed values as our Reasonable Redemption Value for points.  Prior to last year’s analysis, we used a very old observed average of 0.57 cents per point.  Last year’s analysis popped the RRV up to 0.65 cents per point.  Our new analysis, crashes the RRV down to 0.5 cents per point.  This is my “thumb in the air” consensus number between the observed median (0.43) and observed mean (0.54).

I realize that this is a weird time to assign hotel point values.  The pandemic has led to unusual travel patterns.  What we observe today may not correlate at all to what we see in the future.  That said, IHG made significant changes to how they price awards.  As a result, the current data is the best view we have of current point values.  I plan to redo this analysis in the future when travel patterns achieve some sort of new normal.

Methodology

Feel free to skip this section if you’re not interested in the details of how I went about the analysis…

2020 Analysis

  • I picked 7 major hotel markets in the United States: Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, and Seattle
  • Within each hotel market, I scanned Trip Advisor for the top 3 IHG hotels based on user ratings.  The idea is that these are hotels that people are most likely to look for and so data collected for them may be a better indicator of what points are worth than if we looked at all hotels, including unpopular ones.
  • For each of the hotels identified above, I recorded the cash price and point price for three different dates:
    • Weekday: Wednesday September 16 2020
    • Weekend: Friday October 16 2020
    • Holiday Weekend: Friday November 27 2020 (day after Thanksgiving)
  • In the two instances where the hotel wasn’t available for both cash and points, I picked a different date to record both.  For example, for the weekday data, I found the next Wednesday in which both cash and point prices were available.

2021 Analysis

  • I used the same set of hotels as last year, but with some exceptions.  Three hotels from the previous analysis are no longer part of IHG and are now Sonesta hotels.  And one hotel closed due to the pandemic and has not yet reopened.  In each of these cases, I went back to TripAdvisor to find the best ranked IHG hotel in the same market.
    • Crowne Plaza Miami Airport became Sonesta, so I went with the Kimpton EPIC Hotel
    • Kimpton Palomar Chicago became Sonesta, so I went with InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile
    • Kimpton Alexis Hotel in Seattle became Sonesta, so I went with Kimpton Hotel Vintage Seattle
    • InterContinental Los Angeles Century City: “The InterContinental Los Angeles Century City is closed indefinitely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. ” So, I went with Hotel Indigo Los Angeles Downtown
  • Dates:
    • Weekday: Wednesday September 15 2021
    • Weekend: Friday October 15 2021
    • Holiday Weekend: Friday July 2 2021 (Fourth of July Weekend)
  • When the hotel wasn’t available, I chose the next available date. This only happened once in this analysis:
    • Kimpton Palladian Hotel was not available July 2, so I recorded data for July 16th (the next date it was available)

My thoughts

When I first started re-examining IHG award pricing, I looked at the Miami hotels from my first analysis and each one still offered great point values.  In fact, the mean observed point value was 0.80 based on a range from 0.66 to 0.95.  That’s much better than last year’s observations! This is one of the reasons that I started out thinking that this post would be about how good things actually are…

As I went further to record data from other cities, though, I quickly discovered that Miami was an outlier.  IHG point values in all of the other cities looked far worse.  My guess is that this is due to hotels being less booked up in Miami in the warm months.  If I chose winter months for the analysis, I bet the result would be very different.

The results regarding 40K free night certificates were also discouraging.  The percentage of hotel nights bookable with free night certificates dropped quite a bit from last year’s analysis from 63% to 41%.  That said, if you’re flexible with your dates, it’s still possible to find expensive hotels that the certificates can be used at.  For example, I found that in September, the EVEN Hotel Times Square could be booked on 7 different dates.  Most of these were mid-week, but there was one Saturday night available for 30,000 points (9/11).  The member cash rate on that same night was $296.

Conclusion

When IHG first changed to dynamic pricing, the result was mostly positive.  They often kept in place the previous award prices as caps, but reduced award prices for dates where demand was low.  Now, the caps are off (or, maybe IHG has new much bigger caps).  The result is that IHG points are, on average, now worth considerably less than before.  The good news is that this isn’t universally true.  It’s still possible to find dates at most hotels where you can get excellent value from your IHG points.  And, in some cases (at least one case that I know of), IHG appears to have forgotten to move to dynamic pricing altogether.

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Vince

FYI I got an email offer today to buy up to 250k points with 100% match. I don’t ever recall there being an opportunity for IHG (or any program?) to purchase 500,000 points(!)

[…] what are IHG points worth now? Frequent Miler suggests that IHG points are now worth somewhere between 0.3 and 0.4 cents per point. That would put IHG […]

[…] at least one blogger did the math that the devalued IHG Rewards is now useless pretty much: What are IHG points worth now that the gloves are off? Another post by another blogger: What happened with IHG Rewards pricing? Some hard facts (Part 1). […]

Ed S.

A couple datapoints for what they’re worth…

I just booked a couple nights at the Holiday Inn Memphis Beale Street location. The first night was 39K or $197 tax included (0.51 CPP), and the second night was 19K or $197 (1.0 CPP).

I could have booked either at a special group rate of $166 tax included (0.87 CPP). Instead, I used a soon-to-expire free night certificate for the first, while I happily took the 0.87 valuation for the second, saving my other certificate for (hopefully) a better redemption opportunity overseas this fall/winter.

Lrdx

Median means 50% of the time the value is lower. By setting the RRV higher than the median, you’re setting the “reasonable redemption value” to be unobtainable more than 50% of the time.

Josh

I’m actually ok with giving IHG up all together. I can easily replace them with Wyndham or Radisson properties if I wanted. They were #4 for me anyway. Their cards are being cancelled once the annual fees hit this year. One less program to worry about.

PeterSFO

For those of us that accidentally earn some IHG points because an IHG hotel was.the only option, is there a way to dump them via transfer partners? The actual value doesn’t have to be high, just a way to zero it out so it doesn’t accumulate.

CericRushmore

Gift cards are also still an option, I think.

Byron

I never thought I got good value from IHG points and surely not now. They offer no free breakfast and no lounges. When looking for a good cheap hotel the choice will now always be Hyatt where good value is found at 5K. My wife and I will probably drop the IHG card. I would others would do the same as a way to get a message across. With the rumor that Hilton will close restaraunts and bars, then they are just handing Marriott and Hyatt their business. I am sick of box breakfasts.

HADLEY V. BAXENDALE.

I’ve always put IHG points at about 4/10 of a cent, approximately equal to where I value HHonors points, but with the caveat that with Hilton elite statues you get tangilbe benefits, unlike IHG.

Definitely, will demote my $95 year IHG Premier card down to the no annual fee version that still provides the 4th night free, and will keep the old $49 version with the free night and the 10% off.

I’m not shaken by the changes for as Gary noted in his column, an IHG near Zion shot up to 70,000 — not surprising since on a weekend, comparable Marriott property is 60,000 points and unusable with their free night certificates.

Hyatt still the best value and Hilton with weekend free night awards that have been expanded to weekdays at any point value are next. Marriott and IHG generally a toss-up to non-elites, and Marriott favored by Platinums and above, like me. However, inability to use most free night certificates at desired destinations on weekends/holidays is severely limiting their free night certificates from holding their credit cards, so am winding down my holding of these cards.

A shame, but not unexpected given the way Marriott led.

John

One more post..

Another interesting example is the IC Park Lane (London, UK). Used to be a 70k property.

The average redemption between May 1, 2021 (when it’s scheduled to reopen) and March 2022 is 84k per night.

The variance is lower, peak occurs at 100k on July 23, trough is at 61k on May 1.

Pure speculation on my part: The hotel has moved up in its hidden category and might be an 80k or 85k property at this point. The limited variation in rates we’re currently seeing may be due to the hotel being closed for some time. If this is a data-driven algorithm, they might not have reasons for going up from base very strongly. (UK has been on a super-strict lockdown for ages and the algorithm might not go too crazy because it has so little data to work with.)

John

Nice work.

One could potentially further improve this analysis by looking at longer time horizons.

As an example, I checked out the Indigo LA Downtown. Starting with two weeks from now, I looked at roughly 10 week blocks right down until the end of the bookable period.

What I uncovered is actually quite interesting. For this property, the average point rate looks as if it has remained unchanged (again, if I look at the entire period from two weeks from now until the last available date in March 2022). The property was at 55k points per night prior to IHG introducing dynamic award pricing and it’s still there now (roughly speaking, I did this as a back-of-the-envelope calculation).

However, variance is massive. The peak rate looks to be 85k (e.g., the night of Feb 5, 2022). Lowest I saw was 26k (e.g., May 4).

My hypotheses: 1.) This property hasn’t changed “category” (but, of course, category is now a hidden variable; we can’t even be sure it still exists). 2.) I conjecture the actual span is [55k – 30 k, 55k + 30k] = [25k, 85k].

As for 2.): Sure, I haven’t actually observed 25k, but the way people model such things very strongly suggests the unobserved true low is 25k.

Unfortunately, it isn’t so easy to replicate this exact analysis for all properties. As another example, the Kimpton La Peer is already fully booked at some dates so IHG.com cannot show an average point cost when trying to book like 10 or 12 weeks on points.

TripAdvisor

Good review but using TripAdvisor as the baseline cracks me up

JoeSchmo

Nice analysis, Greg. But can you pls ask IHG for a comment?!

JoeSchmo
Tom

Per OMAAT, IHG already commented. This is deliberate and not glitch.

Poster

No more points buying for me. It was good while it lasted.

Phill

lol….it was never good

Aleks

In my searches I see that some hotel cash prices went up significantly (due to demand?), therefore the semi-dynamic prices in points also went up, and like this post mentions – without any cap. (I.e. Savannah Kimpton went from $300 to $550, and from 37,000 to 80,000!)
Also noticed strange point prices on some dates, like 43,333 per night – that means some formula is behind it, not a set value.

It may be a temporary re-toss of prices, and values may settle back to pre-2020 levels. Right now the point prices are all over, even same hotel can have few different award prices that differ greatly – I ran few samples and it is so. Even the nights that less expensive on cash show twice amount of points on some properties. Which does not make sense for fixed-value point price. So IHG gonna equate them sooner or later.

I think hotel programs should compete more with each other, and device unique ways for customers to utilize the specials (like Point Breaks, second free nights, birthday rate, etc.) Instead they rely more on revenue from selling points to the banks. Too many of any currency on the market leads to inflation, unless someone subsidies the loss of value. Hence we saw several devaluations over the past 5 years all across the board. Don’t look so surprised then!
I.e., The Radisson program bundled with same CC used to be best for saving on 2+ night stays (and valued at ~0.3cpp), but, after it was swallowed by a Chinese conglomerate, it’s usefulness & value dropped dramatically in 2 years period. IHG just rebranded itself in marketing, but did not come up with any creative ways to revamp the program after cancelling it’s semi-popular Point Breaks special and quarterly earning offers. Now it’s bare bones…

Nevertheless, there is still some value in IHG points, just less then expected. If the overall drop would be from 0.5 to 0.4 cpp – that’s equal to loosing 20% value, which is significant. If on the other hand, IHG won’t fix the overpricing issue with a lot of properties – most loyal customers would be forced to try their luck (and skills) elsewhere.

And certainly, the lack of any communication about changes from the IHG, does not add to good relations with its customer base. That’s a huge marketing fiasco, especially considering how much money was invested in the recent re-branding efforts. Just wait and see what will happen in the few months time, once the dust settles… For now, just find good value where you can. Peace @

Too Many

Glad I held off on making IHG properties my core stays / points collection. Guess I’ll stick with Hilton / Hyatt combo.

Grant

The seafire point is really interesting. I noticed this the other day, as I looked at a range of days over the next few
Months. My dilemma is this – I held 8 nights on points for next winter, but I wound up also booking the Hyatt in aruba (I’m a Globalist and got a really great cash rate), and then airfare to Aruba. If I knew the seafire was really going to hold at 70k, I’d follow through with my plan to visit in winter 2023. But if I knew that they were moving to 100-115k per night, I’d switch my aruba airfare and just go to cayman. One flight the fare to cayman is close to the fare to Aruba. For the other way, it’s much more and there’s a cheaper alternative. But it would require shelling out nearly another $1k and creating a similar amount flight credit on JetBlue.

stvr

I mean… it never really made sense to me that *with frequency* you could buy IHG points to save money on hotel bookings relative to cash bookings. No other loyalty program runs like that (purchasing their points via points.com as a form of arbitrage). So it makes sense that the points now punch below 0.5 cents per point. I’m going to redeem mine using the IHG credit card 4th night free benefit and then only earn them by accident going forward.