It's been a time of change for the hotel loyalty and rewards landscape. Marriott recently announced steps to integrate its loyalty program with Starwood Preferred Guest (Marriott acquired Starwood Hotels in 2016), announcing new credit cards in the process, and Hilton dropped Citi as one of the providers of its co-branded credit cards, aligning exclusively with American Express.
In addition to those moves, IHG, the mega-chain encompassing hotel brands including Holiday Inn, the Intercontinental, Kimpton, Hotel Indigo, and others, revamped its incredibly popular rewards credit card.
Specifically, IHG and card-issuer Chase eliminated its card, the IHG Rewards Club Select, and introduced two new products that feature many similar benefits, along with some new perks — and a few changes. However, one of those cards isn't really worthwhile, while the other carries a lot of potential value — easily enough to cancel out its annual fee.
The IHG Traveler
The IHG Rewards Traveler is the more basic version of the card, and while it comes with some useful benefits, it's the less valuable of the two cards.
This card, which has a $29 annual fee, comes with a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. Travel website The Points Guy lists a valuation for IHG points of 0.6¢ each, which means that bonus is worth about $360. The card offers another 5,000 bonus points if you add an authorized user who makes a purchase within those three months.
The card earns 5x points per dollar spent at IHG properties, 2x points on gas, groceries, and dining, and 1x everywhere else.
The Traveler offers a handful of perks for IHG guests, the most valuable of which is a fourth night free benefit on award stays.
It also offers a 20% discount if you choose to purchase points from IHG. While spending money usually defeats the whole purpose of earning and using points, there are times when you're this close to having enough for a big redemption and it's worth buying a few extra to carry you over the edge.
Finally, the IHG Traveler card earns the card holder IHG Gold elite status after you spend $10,000 on the card in a calendar year. Gold elite status is useful, but ultimately not that valuable — you'll earn 10% bonus points on every stay, and get things like late checkout and priority check-in.
The IHG Premier
The new IHG Rewards Premier card has a slightly higher annual fee than the Traveler — $89 — but the card carries much more value, effectively cancelling out the fee.
The card earns a sign-up bonus of 80,000 points when you spend $2,000 in the first three months. Based on The Points Guy's valuation, that's worth $480. Like the Traveler, it offers an extra 5,000 points for adding an authorized user who makes a purchase within that same timeframe.
Earning rates are similar between the two cards, except that the Premier earns 10x points at IHG hotels, rather than 5x like the Traveler does. It still earns 2x points on gas, groceries, and dining, and 1x points everywhere else.
The Premier comes with most of the same perks as the Traveler, with a few major upgrades and extras. For instance, in addition to the 20% discount on points purchases and fourth night free on award stays, the Premier comes with a free night certificate each year that can be used at any category 1-7 IHG hotel (hotels that cost 40,000 points per night or less). While that means that some top premium locations are excluded, the certificate is valid at a huge number of locations around the world — I had no trouble finding properties in major cities like New York and Chicago during peak travel season, all charging well upward of $200, which accept the free night certificate.
It's worth noting that the previous version of the card's free night certificate didn't have a category cap and effectively worked at any IHG property in the world. However, the new Premier card still represents a strong value for anyone.
The Premier also gives cardholders automatic complimentary Platinum status without any spending requirement. Platinum, which is higher than Gold, offers the similar benefits except that there's a 50% bonus on points, plus complimentary room upgrades, and guaranteed room availability with 72 hours notice — helpful if you have a last-minute trip.
You'll also get 10,000 bonus points every year you spend at least $20,000 on the card, as well as a statement credit to cover enrollment or renewal in Global Entry.
Which card is best?
Considering that the difference between the two cards' annual fees is $60, the Premier's benefits make it an easy choice above the Traveler. The free night certificate alone can be worth more than $200, depending on where you spend it, which effectively wipes out the card's $89 annual fee. Between that and the fourth night free benefit on award stays, you can get a five-night award stay for the price of just three.
Add the benefits of Platinum elite status, the increased earning rate on IHG spending, and the bonus points for annual spending on the card, and it's a clear value.
Even if you just look at the sign-up bonuses for the first year — the extra 20,000 points you get with the Premier, worth about $120, are worth twice the difference between the fees.
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