IHG Free Night Restrictions: Can You Book Any Hotel?
IHG used to offer uncapped annual free night certificates as one of the perks of holding the old IHG Rewards Club Mastercard. However, the IHG free night restrictions for these night and those that you can earn with the new IHG Premier Card cap the value at an award price of 40,000 points. The interesting thing is that under IHG’s new dynamic pricing system, you can potentially book any hotel with your IHG free night! You just need to find a cheap enough night.
I will grant that there are some hotels that will likely never have award availability at a low enough rate. These would include the top-tier aspirational properties, such as the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa. But there are others that you would not expect, including InterContinental hotels in Tokyo, San Francisco, and New York City that are bookable with IHG free night certificates.
IHG Free Night Award Pricing
IHG used to use a typical award chart for pricing their properties, with free nights starting at 10,000 points per night. The top tier required a whopping 70,000 points per night. However, the chain has moved to a dynamic pricing model. You can now use your IHG Premier Card or IHG Rewards Club Mastercard free night anywhere the award price is 40,000 points or less.
Consider the Intercontinental hotels in San Francisco. These were previously priced at the highest tier, requiring 70,000 points per night, even when cash prices were low. Now they are routinely offered at a much cheaper rate, given that travel is way down. During mid-January 2021, both are showing as available for 40,000 points per nigh, with cash prices ranging from $130-$140, before taxes.
I wasn’t sure if these would show as available when I switched to use my IHG free night certificate. But sure enough, these are also bookable using my free night award. I was a bit worried that the free night would still somehow be tied to the “category” of the property instead of the award price, but it looks like anything that is showing for 40,000 points or fewer will be bookable by certificate.
I’m not sure I would use my free night at either of these hotels, given the cash prices, which are insanely low for San Francisco. But this has been a regular feature during COVID-19.
Through several more trial bookings, I found that most properties available at a price of up to ~$240 with an award price of 40,000 points are bookable by free night certificate. This pegs IHG points at a value of 0.6 cent each, which is exactly where I value them.
There also appears to be a cap and a floor on IHG’s dynamic pricing in most cases. Assuming the cash and points prices are directly tied, the two SF InterContinental hotels should have cost ~25,000 points per night. They still cost 40,000 points.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have hotels that clearly have a pricing cap. Consider the Holiday Inn Express Hilton Head Island. It is going for $275 per night over a weekend in April.
Switching to award pricing, IHG is only asking 25,000 points. This is bookable with your certificate, too, although I’d personally opt for points at this rate (1.1 cents per point is an excellent IHG redemption).
Maximizing Your Chances of Finding Bookable Hotels
The IHG free night restrictions are simple: there must be award nights available and they must cost 40,000 points per night or fewer. Since properties are no longer priced by category, this means that you can effectively book any property with the certificate. It just needs to be the right price!
In general, I looked in markets where one or more of the following is true to find hotels that might be bookable using an IHG free night but would not have been prior to dynamic pricing:
- Shoulder season dates
- Mid-week dates where weekend leisure travel dominated (e.g. Vegas)
- Places where COVID restrictions are preventing a lot of travel and prices are low
- Business-heavy markets that have been disrupted by the pandemic (e.g. SF)
Oddly enough, you should also look in rural markets where you can assume hotels are reasonably priced. You may actually get more value here, due to the pricing cap at some hotels. Even though a Holiday Inn Express in a major summer destination may be going for over $300 per night, it might still be 40,000 points and bookable with a certificate.
IHG’s dynamic pricing provides the unique opportunity to be able to use free night certificates (in theory) at pretty much any property priced under this strategy (I’m still not sure if it is global yet). Since award prices fluctuate based on the cash price, you might be able to score a night somewhere that previously would not have been possible. Gone are the days of getting $500-1,000 per night of value out of your certificate. But getting $250-$300 in value in not out of the question, and this is more than worth the card fee.