Please read updates: UPDATE #1 UPDATE #2
There is a reason why I cheerfully pay my annual $49 fee for a Chase IHG credit card, and believe me when I say that I don’t pay for anything cheerfully. But this card… There is something about it. Like a free night at any IHG hotel in the world, including the fanciest InterContinental hotels you can possibly think about. Yes, Paris, the Maldives, what have you. Anything!
Granted IHG has its shortcomings. Hyatt, Fairmont, and Marriott Chase credit card holders get their free fix right after they apply for the card. The same goes for Citi Hilton Reserve. Granted, Hyatt and Marriott also provide you with a free night every year, but at a lower category hotel. IHG, on the other hand, is like a perfect retention machine. Like European movies, it starts slow, but with the lowest annual fee of them all and the ability to stay for free at their best properties in the world year after year, it does deliver incredible value over and over again. It’s like the Hotel California, you know:
You can checkout anytime you like,
But you can never leave!
And why would you want to? Really?
You can argue that one night isn’t much. If you want a romantic weekend at a fancy IC hotel, then you are still looking at $400, $600, or more to pay for this one additional night. Of course, a free night will numb the pain a little, but still…
However, there is a reason you call yourself a travel hacker, right? Take a look at the pic here:
This is my third year into the card, and as you can see, there are some overlapping days between 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. Your free night certificate is supposed to be posted on the day of your anniversary, but they usually don’t. Some folks from this Flyertalk thread confirm that the certificate sometimes post weeks after the anniversary. Another word, it is likely that you will have a few days at the end of your second year where your two annual free-night certificates overlap just like in my situation.
Now imagine that you sign up for the card with your spartner (read one of my books to follow the origin of this beautiful new word). If you apply at the same time or even a few days apart, it’s likely (although not guaranteed) that you could build a 4-day mini-vacation once every two years just with the IHG free-night certificate.
Imagine a four-night vacation in New York City. Four nights in Paris. Four nights in Rome. Four nights in the Maldives…
For $98 a year for both of you.
Note how I said “not guaranteed” That’s because I’m being extra cautious. The risk of not getting your four nights is pretty small. Let’s get back to my example, and I will explain why.
As you can see in the screenshot above, if I wanted to get a two-day stay at the end of April, I could have. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t work out for me. Work and other nonsense, you know.
However, a long time ago, I promised my kid to take her to Washington, DC. The weather is (hopefully) going to be great, and a weekend in the Nation’s Capital in mid-May would work perfectly for everyone in my family. So, I remembered reading an old Flyertalk thread about IHG people being super-nice about extending the certificate expiration dates and decided to give it a try.
Man, was I glad I did!
Now, it’s not without the risk, I guess, but, in my opinion, the risk is minimal. Flyertalker Happy in the thread I linked to above had shared a story about being charged by the hotel five months after his stay. Apparently, the hotel couldn’t figure out how he managed to stay for free when no points had been deducted, so they did the next best thing and charged the credit card they had on file.
Strictly speaking, the free-night certificate’s T&C do state that your stay must be booked and completed within 12 months upon the certificate’s issuing. Well, the thing is, I simply don’t see how it would be possible for me to lose my credit card dispute — push comes to shove — considering that my confirmation states the word FREE not once, not twice, but four times in bold typeface and capital letters! In any case, I’ll be happy to make myself a guinea pig and report my finding. Anything for you, my readers.
Oh, and this is the hotel we’re staying in DC. Don’t be fooled by the everyday “low” price. With 14.5% occupancy tax, my two days in DC would come down (well, rather come up) to $950. Isn’t it nice that any tax applied to zero is still zero? I knew there was a reason why I loved award stays! 🙂
I have intentionally left aside other fantastic benefits of this credit card in order to concentrate on this particular feature. Flyertalk has an unofficial link to the 80,000-point bonus offer. Read more about that card and the IHG program right there.
A small favor if I may. Where would you take a 10-year old girl in Washington, DC to give her a short break from all the monuments? Trip Advisor has not been helpful at all.
Photo Credit: Sarah_Ackerman
For 10yr old, visit the Smithsonian Natural History Museum or American History Museum on the mall, relatively near the Washington and Jefferson monuments, but better to take the metro to the Smithsonian stop.
1. US Botanic Garden – on our last trip to DC, we visited the botanic garden, and I was really impressed with it. My 6 year old daughter loved it.
2. National Zoo
3. White House – it’s a very short walk from the Willard
4. River cruise – we’ve been meaning to go on one, but we haven’t done it yet. Some of them are quite pricey; Capitol River Cruises is reasonably priced, but I don’t know if they’re any good or not.
Kim and Mark, thanks so much for your suggestions.
I have a question about hotel cards in general. The last graphic you posted says, “Reward Nights rooms are sold out for one or more of the dates you selected at this hotel.” My concern with hotel cards is always that I won’t benefit from the free nights they offer because the hotels won’t have availability. I have limited flexibility in choosing when I travel. Once my wife and I pick a destination and a date, we’re locked in, and it seems very easy for hotel companies to make it hard to redeem free night certificates by keeping supply of… Read more »
Yes, it happens, especially if you go to popular places in peak seasons. Some hotel programs would block an award, and others will charge exorbitant points for it. I can only tell you about my approach, and I don’t know if it’s helpful in your situation or not. 1. Do not be loyal. Get free credit card bonus miles from all programs you can get. That means Hilton, Marriott, IGH, and Club Carlson. Some hotel bonuses are worth building your travel around, like two free nights at any Hyatt, Fairmont, and Hilton. By having miles from different programs you’re increasing… Read more »
[…] Oh, and Andy pointed out something else I didn’t know: the periods during which the IHG credit card free night can be booked sometimes overlap, meaning […]
I just booked the 2 nights from 2 consecutive years for one Intercontinental stay in April at a moment when both were valid but by the time of the stay the older one would have been expired by about a week. The agent on the phone was very nice and the stay went without a hitch. I didn’t exactly announce that the first night would have been expired by the time I wanted to use it, just acted as if it would be allowed and it was. I have been having trouble using free nights from the various cards I… Read more »
Thanks Claire, that’s great to know. If you don’t mind my asking, what chains have you had problems with in terms of redeeming free nights?
How’s the experiment about using the free night certificate past its expiration date?
Huge Success! 🙂