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Why An IHG Credit Card Upgrade May Be Just What The Doctor Ordered

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IHG Rewards Card Upgrade

IHG Rewards Card Upgrade

This week, we were wowed by the announced refresh of the IHG Rewards Traveler and Premier cards.  In an age of seemingly constant devaluation, I was shocked at the improvements to each of these cards.  I’m still unpacking all of the changes Mark described.  Many are in a position to apply for one of these cards.  But others aren’t for various reasons, and upgrading from an existing IHG card makes more sense.  For instance, I quit caring about Chase’s 5/24 rule years ago, so I’m ineligible to apply for a Chase welcome offer.  With the recent updates, does an IHG Rewards card upgrade make sense?  Which card should you upgrade to?  Let’s take a look at each card to decide.

IHG Rewards Card Upgrade

IHG Rewards Select

Many of you hold the legacy $49 annual fee IHG Rewards Select card.  My wife and I each hold an account.  Here are the card’s primary benefits:

  • Earns 5x points at IHG properties, 2x at gas stations/grocery stores/restaurants, and 1x everywhere else.
  • Automatic Platinum Elite Status
  • Bonus Points on Redemptions:  Receive 10% points back on all stays booked with points.
  • Annual Free Night Certificate:  Receive a free night certificate good at any property up to a 40k point redemption level.

Like many out there, we’ve primarily kept our Select cards and paid the annual fees for the free night certificates.  Platinum status is a nice touch.  My wife and I don’t put any spend on these cards.

Existing Benefit to Consider:
  • 10% back on stays booked with points is a perk many value.

IHG Rewards Card Upgrade

IHG Rewards Traveler

In my view, these are the primary benefits of the refreshed Traveler card to consider when deciding on an upgrade.  Again, check out Mark’s article for all of the card benefits.

  • Earn 3x points on dining, gas stations, utilities, internet, cable, phone, and select streaming services purchases.  Earn 2x everywhere else.
  • Automatic Silver Elite Status
  • Earn Gold elite status after $20k spend plus one additional purchase in a calendar year.
  • Earn 10k bonus points after $10k spend plus one additional purchase in a calendar year.
  • No annual fee
Existing Benefit to Consider:
  • Fourth reward night free when a cardmember redeems points for any stay of four or more nights.

IHG Rewards Card Upgrade

IHG Rewards Premier

Here are the refreshed Premier card’s primary benefits one should consider prior to an upgrade decision.

  • Earn 5x points on travel, gas stations, and dining purchases.  Earn 3x everywhere else.
  • Free Night Certificate Flexibility: Add unlimited points from your IHG Rewards account to redeem a free night certificate at hotels above the 40k point redemption limit.
  • Up to $50 United TravelBank Cash each calendar year
  • Earn 10k bonus points and a $100 statement credit after $20k spend plus one additional purchase each calendar year.
  • Earn Diamond elite status after $40k spend plus one additional purchase in a calendar year.
  • The current $89 annual fee will increase to $99 in 2023 for existing cardmembers.
Existing Benefits to Consider:
  • Automatic Platinum Elite Status
  • Annual Free Night Certificate:  Receive a free night certificate good at any property up to a 40k point redemption level.
  • Fourth reward night free when a cardmember redeems points for any stay of four or more nights.

Should You Upgrade?  To Which Card?

First off, many existing Select cardholders who prioritize simplicity and current card benefits may be better off standing pat.  Indeed, a yearly hotel night certificate and Platinum status for just holding the card and paying the $49 annual fee does have merit.  If you’re happy enough with that, enjoy!

Product changing from the Select to the Traveler probably won’t make sense for many, but some of you may be out there!  Those who highly value the new bonus earning categories, can meet the $10k big spend bonus, and highly value a no annual fee card may want to consider it.  A Select cardholder would gain the fourth night free benefit but lose automatic Platinum elite status, 10% rebate on points stays and the free night certificate.

What I’m Doing and You Should Consider

Most looking to improve their IHG game via card upgrade will do best with a move to the Premier.  Casual hobbyists may find the free night flexibility, $50 United Travel Bank cash, and fourth night free benefits as reason enough to upgrade from the Select.  Traveler cardholders already have access to fourth night free but can benefit from those other perks.  Indeed, one can easily justify the annual fee and come out ahead by optimally leveraging the FNC flexibility and the Travel Bank cash.

For advanced hobbyists looking to maximize with IHG, upgrading to the Premier is a no-brainer.  I’m in this category.  Again, the free night certificate flexibility and the United Travel Bank cash are easy wins.  And as Mark pointed out, optimally spending $20k on the Premier will earn 110k points and wipe out the annual fee.  Those upgrading from the Select card lose the 10% back on points stays but can more than make up for it with the fourth night free benefit.


There’s much to consider with this IHG card shakeup.  Those eligible should consider applying for a new IHG card soon due to an upcoming rule.  But as far as card upgrades go, I think IHG has forced my hand.  For years, I’ve received Premier upgrade offers and turned each of them down.  It’s a new day with IHG, though, and I’m looking forward to stays with the chain again.  Holiday Inn Express cinnamon rolls await.

Are you planning an IHG Rewards card upgrade based on the recent announcement?  If so, to which card?

Disclosure: Miles to Memories has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Miles to Memories and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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Benjy Harmon
Benjy Harmon
Benjy focuses on the intersection of points, travel, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently roams throughout the USA close to expense-free. Benjy enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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  1. I currently have the Traveler card – from your post, it sounds like sometimes they may make me an offer to upgrade to Premier – should I wait for that?

    I signed up for the $95/year Hilton card, for the 10 free Priority Pass visits, but IHG is definitely a better value – my boyfriend has it, and enjoys the Platinum status, and we always use the 1 free reward night. To get the 1 free reward night with the Hilton card, you have to spend $15,000 on the card or something ridiculous like that.

    • In past years, I recall seeing a 5k point upgrade offer for the Premier. I haven’t heard of those in quite some time, though. If you want the Premier, you can simply call in for an upgrade. If Chase offers points, great! But I wouldn’t necessarily expect that.

  2. I used to really like the 10% back for one off ugh stays but a trip coming up means if I have a fourth night free it saves me 70k points. That would take years to accumulate through 10% back so it might make sense to switch. It’s for a kimpton in the Caribbean

  3. I have both the $49 Rewards Traveler and the $89 Rewards Premier cards. P2 is in the same situation. We don’t stay at a ton of IHG properties (we’ve mostly used the FNCs for Kimpton and occasional airport IHG properties). The 40K FNC tied to the Traveler card is not supposed to be upgradable with points like the FNC tied to the Premier card. However, my bet is IHG I.T. won’t be programmed to tell the difference and all the FNC will be upgradable. If not, I think upgrading the Traveler cards to Premier is a no brainer so we’ll have 4 upgradable FNCs per year. If when the switch gets flipped in March, I find out I can upgrade the Traveler FNCs with points, I think I’ll stand pat. Thoughts?

  4. What about the fact that spend on the IHG Premier (assuming others too) beginning 3/24/2022 no longer count towards elite status?

    • There is still a chance to earn higher tier status through spend. Not sure that it would be worth it until we see what the perks of the new status tiers will be.

      • Fair point. I just have not seen any blogs talk about the typical 5x and 3x spend NOT counting towards elite status yet. In fact, a lot of posts say the opposite. Without those category spends counting towards Elite status it is much, much more difficult to obtain top tier even than it was under the old structure because I was getting 10x on IHG stays for status. Now we will get nothing. I just don’t think the revamp is as good as people are writing due to lack of elite status qualifications.

  5. ” Select cardholders lose 2x on grocery store spend, but virtually all of us do better than that already, anyway. ”

    Upgrading from Select to Premier loses 2x on grocery store spend but gains 3x on everywhere else spend.
    Seems like a win to me.

  6. I am a loyal IHG Platinum member with the Premier card. The card has done wonders for me and I feel IHG has my back. Most of my hotel spend goes to IHG with Hilton a distant second. Marriott can just choke on it as they never do anything to show they care you are even alive.
    In the States I stay at Holiday in Express as I do not need bells and whistles. IHG has plenty of those everywhere State side and many really nice overseas properties. As long as IHG is fair with the amount of points a hotel cost at night, they will have my business and also of my associates who also stay with IHG often.

    • Ronny B,
      I appreciate you chiming in. Given your existing affinity for IHG, you’re probably ecstatic with the new Premier earn rates!

  7. I’d like to top up to redeem at nicer hotels, but then I’m going to run out of IHG points to use to top up. And I don’t foresee much of a points infusion. I’m unlikely to get a new IHG card, would earn only a bit from an occasional paid stay, and certainly don’t want to transfer ultimate rewards. So it wouldn’t be a long term strategy for me with no points available to top up. And I have no use for a $50 travel bank credit with United. So I’m sticking with my $ 49 card.

    • With the new earning categories you would have a chance at earning more points (if they work for your spending patterns at least). But if not then I can see your point.

    • Kate, I used to think like you but then the pandemic hit. I had bought a bunch of IHG points in 2020 at half price for what I thought was going to be a relatives wedding in Europe but go postponed. During the early part of the pandemic, it didn’t make much sense to use points domestically as the paid rates were low. However, once paid rates returned to normal as the pandemic progressed it became worthwhile to use points not just because I was sitting on close to 300,000 but with the 10% rebate with the Traveler card and the 4th night free with the Premier card, the reward rates were within reason for domestic travel and a total deal for for European travel. Unlike HHonors, it’s totally worth it to buy IHG points when they are 50% off. Then again, I’m not a hobbyist who gets 15 new credits cards a year. I open 3 to 4 in normal (read non pandemic) years and I always spend up to $5,000 a year strategically buying hotel and airline points.

  8. Two assumptions here that I think are incorrect. First is the assumption of 5/24. In the past IHG has sometimes been an exception and one reader comment on DoC reports approval for the new Rewards card despite being 7/24. So it’s worth a shot to try for the new card in addition to holding the Select. Second, it’s not yet clear that legacy Select will not get the opportunity to top off free night certificates (i.e. top off for rooms costing more than 40k pts). There are two possibilities for this. First, when the rules change in March it may be that all Rewards Nights are treated the same in the system, meaning that even those from Select card will look the same to the computer and have same top-off ability. I think this is most likely bc it would be easier than setting up two kinds of FNC. The other possibility is that having a business or Rewards card suddenly enables the IHG customer to top off any free night certificate, including an FNC from a Select card. I think this is the second most likely scenario because it also would be much easier to code into the system than coding in more complicated distinctions between different FNCs.
    Even if none of those come true, one could always wait until after March to be sure of the outcome before upgrading a Select card. So my advice for Select cardholders would be first to apply for the Rewards card, before March 23, even if you are over 5/24. Even if you are denied you should wait until after March 23 to see if your FNCs will become more valuable. Also worth waiting to see if they make an upgrade offer after that date.

    • Clarification: The commend/dp on DoC was someone applying for the existing Rewards Club card (whose name will soon be changed to the new Rewards card) but who did it a few days ago and is 7/24. I also am a Select cardholder and also was approved for the existing Rewards Club card a few days ago, though I am under 5/24 so the other person’s data point is more relevant than mine.

    • Jeff,
      I like the positive thinking and would love the possibilities you brought up to be the reality for all of us. Perhaps hobbyists could get lucky in the way you suggest regarding 5/24. But according to Mark’s article here, upgrading the Select FNC as you suggest won’t be possible.

      Also, I feel knowing what we can do now via upgrade is empowering. Finally, some have other valid reasons beyond 5/24 for not applying for additional Chase cards.

  9. Very helpful to have all these thoughts in one concise story; will ponder. Interesting how a $49 AF legacy card is a toss up with a NAF card that with 10k spend = 10k points, or 4th night free, seems to be a wash with 10% points back. Perhaps when under 5/24 will add Premier, regret ever giving it up. If it’s easy to do, please consider adding print text only feature to these stories? Often helpful to keep handy, while printing in current format has huge graphics, and eats up ink/paper like crazy.

    • DjG,
      The value of 4th night free versus 10% points back is definitely situation dependent. Single night visitors will probably do better with 10% points back, and those who enjoy longer stays will prefer 4th night free.

  10. Why not have both? You are assuming that everyone is over 5/24, which obviously not the case, even for those reading this post.

    • Jediwho,
      Assuming? As I mentioned in the intro, many are in a position to apply for one of these cards. For instance, they are under 5/24 and can obtain a new card. But for various reasons, others aren’t looking to apply, and upgrading may work better for them. This article focuses on the latter.

  11. You missed the key benefit which is the ability to upgrade the 40k certificates that are now largely useless at the top IC properties. Is this benefit worth +$50 AF? That’s the big question for those of us with the legacy $49AF cards.
    The 4th night free is much less useful as is the case with 5th night free at Marriott. Most of us do not spend 5 nights anywhere (except Hawaii/Mexico)

    • Boraxo,
      The new benefits, including the one you mentioned, are listed in the IHG Rewards Premier card section above.

    • There was time last year that many ICs were 40K points or under. Was it the most popular, desired properties, no! But when I found the IC Dubai Marina for 33K to 36K, I was quite surprised.


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