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Perhaps you’re not staying at hotels very often at the moment, but travel is likely to start gearing back up in the second half of 2021. And if you’re like most people, you’ve probably stayed at a Holiday Inn at least once in your life, if not regularly.
It may not be the most glamorous hotel brand in the world, but Holiday Inns are ubiquitous, with over 1,100 properties worldwide, Holiday Inn itself is owned by InterContinental Hotels Group, or IHG, which also owns 13 other hotel brands such as InterContinental, Kimpton, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites and others.
So if you expect to regularly stay at a Holiday Inn or other IHG property in the near or distant future, you’ll want to have one of the two IHG Rewards credit cards — the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card or the IHG Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card — to not only earn as many points as possible, but also score elite VIP benefits before and during your stay.
IHG Rewards credit cards
There are a lot of differences between these two IHG credit cards, so let’s take a look at the key details of them side-by-side and see how they stack up.
Right away you’ll notice that the IHG Premier card carries an $89 annual fee, while the IHG Traveler card has no annual fee at all. While that’s obviously a significant difference in terms of the cost of each card, the benefits that come with the IHG Premier are considerably better than the IHG Traveler. And for most people, those perks can more than make up for the annual fee.
First, the IHG Premier earns up to a whopping 25 points for every dollar you spend on the card when staying at an IHG property. That includes up to 10 points per dollar for being an IHG Rewards Club member, 5 points per dollar for having IHG Platinum elite status (which you get automatically with the card) and 10 points per dollar for using the IHG Premier as your form of payment.
With the no-annual-fee IHG Traveler card, you’ll only earn up to 15 points per dollar spent on IHG stays. That includes up to 10 points per dollar spent for being an IHG Rewards Club member, but only 5 points per dollar by using the IHG Traveler card as your form of payment (and you won’t get Platinum elite status with this cheaper card either).
The IHG Premier has one of the best returns you’ll find on any credit card for stays at IHG hotels, including Holiday Inns, and the IHG Traveler isn’t far behind. However, neither card is a great choice to use for other daily expenses at home when you’re not on the road, since you can earn more points (and more valuable points) with other credit cards.
IHG credit card sign-up bonuses
The sign-up bonus for the IHG Premier card is currently one of the best we’ve ever seen. Right now you can earn 125,000 bonus points and a reward night certificate after spending $3,000 on the card within the first three months.
The certificate can redeemed for a one night stay at any IHG property up to 40,000 points a night, and frequent flyer website The Points Guy values IHG points at 0.5 cents per point. That makes the points worth $625 and the certificate worth up to $200 — a total of up to $825 in value toward IHG stays.
Being an IHG card holder also means you’ll get your fourth-night free on all your IHG reward redemptions, so this sign-up bonus can potentially be worth even more, since your points will go even further on longer night stays.
For example, the Holiday Inn Resort Aruba — which is a beachfront property right on the two-mile-long Palm Beach strip — typically costs 40,000 points a night (although with the variable pricing structure, there are times it’s even less). This means you can book a four-night stay for just 120,000 points since the fourth night is free, and then tack on a fifth night with the reward night certificate.
Click here for the bonus offer on the IHG Premier card.
The IHG Traveler card currently features a less-enticing offer of only 60,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on the card within the same three-month timeframe. While this is still a decent sign-up bonus for a no-annual-fee card, the offer is only worth about $300 based on The Points Guy’s valuations.
That being said, the IHG Traveler card comes with the same fourth night free benefit, so the 60,000-point offer can still get you a four-night stay at a hotel that only costs 20,000 points a night, such as the Holiday Inn & Suites Clearwater Beach S-Harbourside.
Click here for the bonus offer on the IHG Traveler card.
IHG credit card benefits
Both IHG credit cards come with the opportunity to earn IHG elite status, but the IHG Premier card has the upper hand by offering card holders complimentary Platinum status. Although this status level doesn’t compare with the elite benefits you’ll receive at some other hotel chains, your points will never expire when you’re a Platinum elite. Otherwise, IHG points typically expire after 12 months with no account activity.
Starting with your second year having the card, the IHG Premier also comes with a reward night certificate every year on your card holder anniversary. This certificate works in the exact same way as the welcome bonus certificate, which means it can be used at any IHG hotel that would otherwise cost up to 40,000 points for a night. There are no restriction on what day of the week or time of the year the certificate can be used, but it does expire one year after it’s deposited into your account.
With the reward night certificate being worth as much as $200 if you use it at a property that would otherwise cost 40,000 points, that can easily offset the card’s $89 annual fee each year, and that’s before even factoring in the other card benefits.
Get a free annual award night starting with your second year on the IHG Premier card.
Unfortunately, there are no reward night certificates that come with the no-annual-fee IHG Traveler card, and while you can earn Gold elite status with it after you spend $10,000 in a calendar year on the card, truthfully, IHG Gold status doesn’t offer too many perks. You’ll also get a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application reimbursement and an annual spend benefit with the IHG Premier, neither of which come on the IHG Traveler.
To be fair, there are some highly desirable perks that come with both cards. Our favorite is the previously-mentioned fourth night free when redeeming points. This discount applies immediately when booking, which means you only need to have 75% of the points normally required to book a four-night stay.
Both cards also offer cell phone protection when you pay your monthly phone bill with the card, which can cover you in case your cell phone is stolen or damaged. This coverage could potentially save you a decent amount of money if you ever find yourself needing this baked-in insurance.
Despite both IHG cards offering this benefit, there’s a slight difference in coverage. With the IHG Premier, you’ll be reimbursed up to $800 per claim, while the IHG Traveler will only reimburse you up to $600 per claim. Both cards charge a $50 deductible per claim, and you’re capped at $1,000 in reimbursements per year, with a maximum of two claims in a rolling 12-month period
Aside from the major perks, both IHG credit cards offer extended warranty protection, purchase protection, car rental insurance (as secondary coverage), trip cancellation/interruption insurance and no foreign transaction fees.
Protect your cell phone with the no-annual-fee IHG Traveler card.
What could be better on the IHG credit cards?
The biggest downside of the two IHG credit cards are the points themselves. Since IHG points aren’t as valuable as many other airline and hotel points, you won’t get as much value on your everyday spending with either the IHG Premier or IHG Traveler card.
For instance, both cards earn 2 points per dollar on bonus categories such as restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. With IHG points worth 0.5 cents apiece according to The Points Guy, that’s only a 1% return in those bonus categories and a tiny 0.5% return on everything else.
You’d be much better off with a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which earns 2 points per dollar on travel (or 5 total points if purchased through Ultimate Rewards), 3 points per dollar on dining, select streaming services and select online grocery purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth significantly more than IHG poitns — about 2 cents per point based on The Points Guy’s valuations — that’s a much higher 4% return in the bonus categories and 2% on everything else.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred has an annual fee of $95, but if you’re looking for a card with no annual fee, you might consider the Chase Freedom Flex or Chase Freedom Unlimited, which both offer cash back on some great bonus categories. You can even combine the rewards you earn with either of those two cards with a Chase Sapphire Preferred later down the line and get even more value for them.
Should you get the IHG Premier or IHG Traveler credit card?
If you expect to make a Holiday Inn or other IHG hotel a regular stop when travel resumes broadly, then having one of the two IHG cards is a no-brainer. Thanks to all its benefits, we recommend the IHG Premier card over the IHG Traveler card. With a much higher 125,000-point sign-up bonus plus a reward night certificate, automatic Platinum status and additional reward night certificates each year starting in your second year, the $89 annual fee is well worth the cost.
With that being said, the IHG Traveler card is one of the better no-annual-fee cards when it comes to benefits. So if you really don’t think you’ll get enough value from the IHG Premier card to cover the annual fee, you’ll still get your fourth night free on IHG award redemptions and cell phone protection with the IHG Traveler card.
And if you don’t expect to consistently stay at any IHG properties even when travel gets back underway, you might be better off with a different card. If that’s you, check out our list of the best travel credit cards of 2021 to find an option that better fits your lifestyle.
Learn more about the IHG Premier credit card.
Learn more about the IHG Traveler credit card.
Check out CNN Underscored’s list of the best credit cards of 2021.