Loyalty Programs Work: I’m Overpaying For A Holiday Inn

I’ll be the first to admit that at times loyalty programs can cause us to act irrationally. While there are huge benefits to be had, it’s important to always crunch the numbers and understand what you’re getting yourself into. Points are rarely “free” — there’s almost always an opportunity cost to earning them.

For example, I think a vast majority of Americans would be best off with a 2% cash back credit card, rather than earning miles which they don’t know how to redeem.

But at times we make decisions which seem irrational but actually do make sense… I think.

In mid-December I shared the details of my 2016 IHG Rewards Club Accelerate promo, which was extremely generous. This is IHG’s global promotion, where different members are targeted for different offers depending on their stay patterns.


This targeted promotion has various “tasks” you have to complete in order to maximize the bonus. In my case I was given the following tasks:

  • January Bonus Offer — 5,000 bonus points (stay once in January)
  • Stay Once Get 5,000 — 5,000 bonus points (stay once during the promotion period)
  • Stay More, Earn More — 10,000 bonus points (stay five nights during the promotion period)
  • Earn More, Faster — 2,000 bonus points (book a bonus points package during the promotion period)
  • Spend On Your IHG Rewards Club Credit Card — 1,500 bonus points (pay for a stay with your co-branded credit card)
  • Your Achievement Bonus — 31,500 bonus points (complete three of the four offers — excluding the January Bonus Offer — and earn this bonus)

In other words, if I make a stay using a bonus points package in January and pay with my IHG Rewards Club credit card, I’ll earn 45,000 bonus IHG Rewards Club points. Assuming you value those at ~0.6 cents each, those are worth ~$270.

I haven’t had a chance to stay at an IHG property so far this year. But next week I’ll be spending a night in Helsinki (after flying the Finnair A350), and was planning on just staying at the airport. Perfect, there’s a Holiday Inn there!


At first the rate showed as being 83.60EUR, which isn’t half bad. But then I noticed that in order to book a bonus points package I actually have to book the flexible rate. The flexible rate with 1,000 bonus points costs 120EUR. Okay, I’m still coming out way ahead.


But there’s a Hilton which is connected directly to the terminal, which I could book for just 107EUR. It’s much more convenient, much nicer, and Hilton Diamond status will go further there than Platinum status will go at the Holiday Inn.


The funny thing is that if I wanted to stay at the Holiday Inn, I could have stayed for “free.” I have an IHG free night certificate I have to use in the next couple of months, which I have no other plans for as of now. But instead I’ll pay for this stay at a higher rate so I earn more points.

Bottom line

As much as my IHG Accelerate offer is extremely generous, it’s sometimes fun to step back and consider what these programs make us do. I have a free night certificate I could redeem, but I’m not using it. Instead I’m paying. I’m paying a rate which is almost 40EUR higher than the base rate. But I assume it’ll be worth it, since I’ll pick up 45,000+ IHG Rewards Club points for the stay. Points I don’t have an immediate use for, which I’ll add to my existing balance which I have no immediate use for.

So as much as it feels wrong to pay an inflated price for something I could get for “free,” it also feels right… I think?


  1. Lucky IF you end up at the Hilton, just remember to bring your glossy copy of the program T&Cs so you can berate the front desk when you don’t get a suite

  2. Ben,

    I applaud your “range and versatility”. Seldom in the same week do you see a travel writer extolling the virtues of a caviar ‘appy’ in an International Elite class of service, followed by the low-down on a Holiday Inn.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on the Motel 6 in Encino.

    Your humble reader,

  3. Just stayed there two weeks ago also for IHG reasons (last minute stay for the Q4 accelerate promo).
    Pretty solid hotel offering (especially for a HI), but note the shuttle only runs every 20-30 min depending on time of day.

    HEL is depressing this time of year – there’s about 6 hours of sunlight, and it’s literally freezing.

  4. I wouldn’t waste a free night voucher on a rate as low as €120 – use it at an expensive Intercontinental property instead!

  5. @UA-NYC — You moron! Haven’t you been here long enough to know that there is no one better than @Lucky at defending his T&C-protected rights as a loyalty program member? He’ll be able to use his smartphone to access the HH T&C to stand his ground, if necessary, but the last thing he needs is to be lectured by a moron on something so self-evident 😉

  6. Thanks for reminding me of that promo, which I’ve also signed up for! Was actually thinking of going with the Kamp for my upcoming trip, but where’s the fun in staying there when you can rough it at the Holiday Inn AND boost your IHG balance… haha

  7. On the off change you do end up at the HEL Hilton, I stayed at the HEL Hilton when I did the A350 inaugural, and it is a 5 min walk from the terminal OUTSIDE, and it is cold as hell and up a set of stairs. Bring warm jacket and gloves at a minimum.

    But it is a very nice property with in-room saunas.

    Ben, didn’t you accidentally get Spire status last year with IHG? You should easily get an upgrade without having to grovel.

  9. How can you value things at 0.6 cents when you don’t have an immediate use for them, and don’t have a future planned use for them, and the program is so uninspiring that you might let an annual free night go to waste?

    It seems to me that you probably need to discount your valuation, given that the time horizon for using your points is likely to run into devaluation. If you have a large balance of IHG with no signs of it diminishing, why bother? Hoarding a balance and adding to it as part of inconveniencing yourself doesn’t seem to make sense.

  10. My promotion this quarter is just shy of 86K points with 4 nights at 4 different brands, seems like a good deal to me considering I have 4-6 solo trips happening between now and the end of April. The solo trips I usually stick with the cheap brands (like IHG). So this combined with the ~49K I’ll hopefully get from the Priceless Surprise promotion should help boost me to around 150K with IHG which is pretty valuable for money I was going to spend with IHG anyways.

  11. I thought the expiration of the IHG free night is book by date not stay by date. Also I don’t believe you’d waste the free night on a Holiday Inn stay.

  12. I had the exact same thing except at HOU. I had already booked a Hilton points stay, but then got the same accelerate offer as you and decided to book my one night stay at the holiday inn instead. Except I forgot for about a month that I had them both booked, so just remembered recently to cancel the Hilton booking. I will spend $109 for the bonus points (and breakfast) stay, but will save 30,000 Hilton points and earn 45,000 IHG points, so it seems worthwhile, even though I don’t know what I am going to do with either the Hilton points or the IHG points.

  13. If I am understanding you correctly–by spending an extra 40 Euros, you now have almost TWO free nights at any Intercontinental hotel–45K from the promotion and the IHG free certificate. Had you used the cert at the Holiday Inn–you would have zero free nights you could otherwise have had. So effectively you can now stay at any IC for two free nights, saving you at least 10X the 40 Euros–more likely 20 X etc. Hullo!

  14. I gave up on IHG once platinum-elite was no longer the top status. It just isn’t worth it as even when platinum-elite was the top-level status there were little amenities such as club lounge access (in Crowne Plaza hotels with a lounge) or complimentary breakfast.
    I still have the credit card because for cheap annual fee is worth a free night at any hotel in the system. Other than that, IHG doesn’t get my business. The same for Club Carlson. I dropped the credit card this year. I found Club Carlson was only worth it in the Nordic countries of Europe. I’m staying with Marriott — no point accumulating Starwood now that the two are merging — and focusing on taking my previous IHG, Club Carlson and Starwood business to Hyatt.

  15. Why do you pay extra to book best flexible rate and get extra package of point? Not clear why not go for the cheapest rate, which still gives you points for the promotion?

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