IHG free night certs have better availability than points (book Bora Bora, maybe more)

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There was just too much to fit into one title there, but Points Adventure uncovered something awesome that I had previously missed: availability when booking with Chase IHG free night certificates is much better than when booking with points. If you read this morning’s post (See: Is the IHG sky falling? My take on variable point pricing.), Greg noted that the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa only had one or two nights available on points in all of 2019. That’s true if you’re booking with points. If you’re booking with an uncapped IHG free night certificate, the picture looks better:

Who has uncapped IHG free night certificates?

If you have the old IHG Rewards Club Select credit card ($49 fee version, no longer available), that card was arguably the best value in rewards credit cards as it awarded a free night at any IHG property each year without a cap.

Chase introduced the IHG Rewards Club Premier card last year, and the new card comes with a free night annually that is capped at a maximum value of 40K points. Initially, Chase announced that the same 40K cap would apply to certificates from the old IHG card last May.

However, they backtracked on that and announced that free night certificates from the IHG Rewards Club Select card ($49 fee) that are issued before May 1, 2019 would remain uncapped. That means those with the old IHG Rewards Club Select card may still have an uncapped night from last year and an anniversary free night certificate issued before May 1st this year will also be uncapped.

Availability is better than with points

The fun find here from Points Adventure (which they previously reported last year) is that in some cases availability for free night certificate reservations is better than availability for points bookings. For example, here is a look at availability at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa if you look for “Rewards Nights” (i.e. using IHG Points) in June 2018. There isn’t a single night available on points.

However, you should instead log into your IHG account and click where it says “1 free night” on the left side under “My account” (assuming you have a free night cert).

That will bring you to another page with a link to book.

That link in turn brings you back to the main IHG booking engine, but it will then check a box under “Rate Preference” to search for the “Chase Anniversary Free Night” rate.

After selecting that and searching for the Intercontinental in Bora Bora for dates later this year, I came up empty for my set of dates. But I was able to click a link to “View available dates”, and this is what June looks like for a Chase free night redemption:

As you can see, there is a lot more availability. But there are also a few gotchas.

Gotcha #1) The tool is funky

First gotcha is that the tool doesn’t work the best. For example, I ran a search for Paris from June 11th-12th, 2019. This is what I got the first time:

No hotels in Paris? Uhhhh…..

Of course, there are tons of IHG properties in Paris. I literally just hit the orange search button again and got a list of 23 hotels. So don’t take the tool’s word for it if it tells you there are no hotels in Paris.

Gotcha #2) The calendar might not always be accurate

Unfortunately, I don’t have all the screen shots to illustrate this, but you’ll have to take my word for it and settle for words over pictures.

While Points Adventure shows that some of the dates for the Intercontinental Bora Bora do indeed allow you to go through to the final booking page, the calendar may not always be accurate. I tried a search for free nights in Paris, France from June 12th-13th, 2019. The Intercontinental Paris Le Grand is not available that night, so I checked the calendar:

As you can see, the calendar shows June 11th is available. So I clicked on June 11th to the 12th….and on the next page, it said no rooms were available with free night certificates. I tried manually inputting the dates at the top – it still showed unavailable. I tried going back to the main search page (started in my account and clicked on 1 free night, etc). June 11th came up with no free nights available, even though the calendar showed it was available.

Fast forward 20 minutes to when I decided to get a screen shot of that and now it does show that it is available with either 70K points or a Chase Free Night Certificate that night. While I would often chalk this up to some type of operator error — like maybe I was looking at June 2020 or maybe I didn’t have the check out date selected correctly or maybe I did something else wrong, I’m 105% confident that I searched it correctly. So I’m only 73% confident in the accuracy of the calendar. No, those numbers have nothing to do with each other and are not rooted in any sort of science whatsoever.

Gotcha #3) This has limited utility

The major gotcha on this one is the extremely limited utility of this trick. If you only have one Chase free night certificate, are you going to fly to Bora Bora and pay the cash rate the rest of the nights? The answer is likely no for most readers.

  1. This certainly might come in handy in 2-player mode, especially so if you’re around the time of your next certificate issuance. For example, in my case, my current certificate expires at the end of April. I expect that I’ll get another certificate issued next month. Since IHG will let you book a hotel beyond the expiration date of the certificate, I could theoretically book the Intercontinental Bora Bora for one night now and then hope a second night before or after is also available next month when my new certificate arrives. If you’re playing in 2-player mode, you’ve likely lined up your anniversary dates so you would each get certificates with the same period of validity — so it might be possible for a couple whose anniversary date is coming before May 1st to book as many as 4 nights…assuming availability doesn’t disappear. It’s a long shot.

This may be more useful for properties in locations that are less difficult to reach and/or that do have some availability on points. I made a few searches in popular areas and I didn’t immediately notice huge trends like the one in Bora Bora where there is nonexistent availability on points and a number of nights on free night certs, but I expect that those situations exist based on this finding. Still, if room rates are high and points availability limited, it may not be hugely helpful.

Bottom line

If you have an uncapped Chase IHG free night certificate from the old IHG credit card, you want to specifically search for Chase free night availability as that availability is better than the availability for bookings with points. This is a helpful trick if you still have one of these certs. As the last rounds of those certificates are coming out over the next few weeks (remember that certificates issued before May 1, 2019 on the old IHG Rewards Club Select card will be uncapped), it seemed worthwhile to highlight this one while some readers still have a chance to take advantage. I’ll probably keep my $49 card even when the certificate is limited to 40K, but I’ll be a lot less excited about it. Still, if I’m able to snag a night at the IC Bora Bora Thalasso that matches up with my St. Regis Bora Bora dates before this is dead, I’ll be happy to get one last awesome redemption out of it.

H/T: Points Adventure

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