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4 ways to use expiring IHG nights during the pandemic (and what I decided)

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 9/20/2020 Katie Genter
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Hotel free-night certificates have allowed me to stay at some fantastic properties. I’ve even planned trips around using free-night certificates. For example, in 2019, my husband and I traveled to French Polynesia to use two uncapped IHG anniversary night certificates at the InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso.

But, the coronavirus pandemic has wrecked travel plans since it became a global concern in March. Like many other travelers, my husband and I have canceled some trips and rescheduled others to 2021.

And, similar to TPG’s Executive Editorial Director Scott Mayerowitz, I hope we’ll see another round of extensions for free-night certificates. But, in case there aren’t more extensions, it’s time to consider how to use expiring free-night certificates during the pandemic.

Today, I’ll discuss some options for using IHG Rewards Club free-night certificates that expire at the end of 2020. I’ll also share how I plan to use our expiring IHG certificates before the end of the year.

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Expiring free-night certificates

a large building with a pond in front of a house: InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort in Vietnam (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy). © The Points Guy InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort in Vietnam (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy).

Before travel halted, I had grand plans for our IHG Rewards Club free-night certificates. My husband and I have accrued four nights in our IHG Rewards Club accounts that expire on Dec. 31, 2020:

As you can tell from these anniversary nights, we each have our own IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card and IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. After all, to us, the anniversary night justifies the annual fee for these two cards.

To see your expiring nights, you can log in to your IHG account and click where it says how many free nights you have on the left sidebar.

Now, let’s dive into the best options for using IHG free-night certificates that expire on Dec. 31, 2020.

Related: 5 ways to maximize free hotel night rewards in the new era of COVID-19

Use the expiring certificates for planned travel

a tall building in a city: Sleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Shaoyang Zhou/EyeEm/Getty Images) © The Points Guy Sleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Shaoyang Zhou/EyeEm/Getty Images) I’m going to Istanbul, Turkey later this year. (Photo by Shaoyang Zhou/EyeEm/Getty Images)

One straightforward option is to use the expiring free-night certificates on a currently-planned trip before the end of 2020. After all, you generally have to book and stay before your certificate expires. In my case, I happen to have one trip left in 2020: a 6-night trip to Istanbul, Turkey.

The most luxurious IHG Rewards Club property in Turkey is the InterContinental Istanbul. But, this hotel isn’t exactly where I want to use anniversary night certificates. After all, this hotel only costs 22,500 points per night on our dates.

Nonetheless, I forged ahead with the idea of using our expiring certificates at the InterContinental Istanbul. Unfortunately, the property has no availability for the first four nights of our six-night stay. And, there’s no availability on the weekend we’ll be in Turkey. So, using the InterContinental Ambassador complimentary weekend night on this trip is out unless availability changes.

Sure, we could use two of the expiring 40,000-point anniversary nights to stay at the InterContinental for our last two nights in Istanbul. But, with a 7:40 am departure from the new Istanbul airport, this option isn’t all that appealing. So, let’s consider some other options.

Related: 13 ways to stock up on IHG Rewards Club points


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Use the expiring certificates in the U.S.

a living room filled with furniture and a large window: Kimpton Armory Hotel in Bozeman, Montana © The Points Guy Kimpton Armory Hotel in Bozeman, Montana There are some great Kimpton hotels in the U.S., including the Kimpton Armory Hotel in Bozeman, Montana. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Even if you aren’t willing to travel far from home, you could take a road trip or enjoy a staycation. Since we recently bought an RV to keep traveling nomadically during the pandemic, we could road-trip anywhere in the continental U.S. to use our expiring certificates.

But there aren’t many IHG properties domestically that excite me enough to use an uncapped anniversary night. Sure, there are some impressive InterContinental and Kimpton hotels. These hotels may be an excellent option for some travelers with expiring nights. But parking the RV and potentially paying pet fees to use the certificates in the U.S. isn’t compelling to us.

Related: 7 mistakes every road tripper makes at least once

Book another trip this fall to use the expiring certificates

a large body of water: Cancun hotel district at sunset © The Points Guy Cancun hotel district at sunset I’ve been considering a trip to Mexico, perhaps to Cancun. (Photo by YinYang/iStock /Getty Images)

If you’re comfortable traveling during the pandemic, you could book a new trip centered around using expiring free nights.

In particular, I’ve been considering a trip to Mexico to use expiring free nights and maximize some current hotel promotions. After all, Mexico accepts travelers from the U.S. And, spending time working from a beach resort in Mexico sounds pretty good night now.

Specifically, the following IHG Rewards Club hotels in Mexico are appealing to me:

  • InterContinental Presidente Cozumel Resort Spa: Some nights are over 40,000 points, so you’ll only be able to use a 40,000-point anniversary night for select dates
  • InterContinental Presidente Cancun Resort: Every night I searched was 40,000 points or less
  • InterContinental Presidente Mexico City: Every night I searched was 35,000 points or less

I’ve also considered booking a French Polynesia trip to use our uncapped anniversary night to stay again at the InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso. After all, French Polynesia is one place Americans can travel. And it was amazing to stay in an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora without paying a ton of points or cash.

However, the other trip costs would be a lot to pay to have this experience a second time. In short, I just can’t justify it. But, if you can, there’s some uncapped anniversary night and points availability this fall at the InterContinental Bora Bora Thalasso.

Related: 3 stunning islands in French Polynesia that will make you forget about Bora Bora

One additional option for the uncapped anniversary night

a close up of a metal fence: In this photograph taken on July 31, 2018, visitors walk along the 150-meter long Cau Vang © The Points Guy In this photograph taken on July 31, 2018, visitors walk along the 150-meter long Cau Vang If I go to Danang, Vietnam, I can visit the nearby famous giant concrete hands holding a bridge. (Photo by LINH PHAM/AFP/Getty Images)

If you have an uncapped anniversary night certificate from the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, one final option is to wait. IHG may extend expiration dates on certificates again. After all, many travelers are unwilling or unable to travel during the pandemic. And, I’d be frustrated if I used my uncapped certificate and then learned that it would have been extended if I had just waited.

The terms of IHG’s anniversary night certificates state that “anniversary night certificates must be redeemed, and the stay must be completed, within 12 months from date of issue.” These regulations apply for most IHG anniversary night certificates. But, I found that I could book my uncapped certificate for a stay in late August 2021.

So, I may wait until late December to see if IHG extends the expiration date on my uncapped anniversary night certificate again. If there’s no extension, I can still book my last uncapped night for a stay in late 2021. One downside to this plan is if you cancel your night once it expires, you’ll lose the certificate. So, depending on your risk tolerance level, this may not be the approach for you.

Related: Too many free-night certificates and nowhere to go; how hotel programs can respond

How we’re using our expiring certificates

a stone building: InterContinental Fiji is usually bookable for 40,000 points or less, but it’s not how we’re using our expiring nights. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy) © The Points Guy InterContinental Fiji is usually bookable for 40,000 points or less, but it’s not how we’re using our expiring nights. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

While writing this article, I made some tough decisions on how to use our expiring IHG perks. Frankly, I still have some doubts about whether I made the best choices.

First, I decided to use the two 40,000-point anniversary night certificates that expire on Dec. 31, 2020, during our trip to Istanbul. I’m not thrilled to be using certificates worth up to 40,000 points for nights bookable for 22,500 points each. But, I’m not confident IHG will extend the certificate expiration date again.

I plan to wait until late 2020 to see if IHG extends the expiration date on our uncapped anniversary night certificate. If there’s no extension, I’ll book our last uncapped night at the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort for late 2021. Of course, I’ll lose the uncapped night if Vietnam doesn’t accept U.S. citizens when my stay arrives. A less risky option would be to book a 2021 stay in a country already taking U.S. citizens, such as French Polynesia or Mexico.

Finally, we don’t currently have any plans for the InterContinental Ambassador complimentary weekend night that must be redeemed by the end of 2020. I’ll keep checking availability at the InterContinental Istanbul for our dates. But, assuming availability doesn’t open up, we don’t plan to use this perk if it isn’t extended again.

Related: Traveling during a pandemic: Why it may be more important than ever to put yourself first

Bottom line

Travelers face a lot of uncertainty when using expiring IHG anniversary nights and InterContinental Ambassador complimentary weekend night. After all, IHG may extend the expiration dates on these nights again. But, since most of these nights must be redeemed and used before their expiration, it’s a risky decision to bypass using them in hopes of an extension.

One option to minimize risk would be to book a domestic staycation or road trip for late December, using your expiring nights. Then, as the cancellation deadline approaches for these nights, see if IHG announces an extension. If there is an extension, you can cancel your stay and get your nights back. But, if there isn’t an extension, you can use your nights before they expire.

Featured image of Istanbul, Turkey by DOZIER Marc/Getty Images.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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