IHG points guide ↦Covering the Intercontinental, Holiday Inn and Crowne groups of hotels to name a few, IHG gives plenty of options to earn bonus points once you've signed up. These are quite regular and given the high number of nights needed to earn a free night on basic points, these promotions are the quickest way to gain a free redemption. However, there are no guarantees you'll get the promotion when booking rooms.
With the rewards taking so long to accrue, for one-off stays within Australia, the frequent flyer points option looks more appealing. Both Virgin and Qantas earn three points per Australian dollar spent. Given the exchange rate and the fact IHG points are earned per US dollar, this isn't too bad. Spending $1,000 on IHG hotels in Australia will earn 3,000 frequent flyer points. For IHG rewards, this same $1,000 would earn 7,500 IHG points. If you ultimately transferred these points out of IHG to a frequent flyer points (minimum transfer 10,000 IHG points equals 2,000 frequent flyer points), you'd earn just 1,500 airline points. These would only become available for transfer once you have 10,000 IHG points.
Outside of Australia, the frequent flyer points drop to 500-600 per stay (not per night) for most airlines. Some rates vary, depending on the airline.
As we generally advise, booking through a third party loyalty program like Hotels.com would provide more value than either option, each night giving you one out of the 10 nights needed for a free stay.
Points earned per dollar: 10 per US dollar, which is 7.5 per AUD (at 1AUD=$0.75US). Staybridge and Candlewood Suites earn 5 points per US dollar or 3.75 per AUD. We will be using the higher rate in the calculations.
Points earned per $A300 night: 2250
Points needed for free night at same hotel: 50,000
Number of nights needed: 22
Benefit as a percentage of spend on room: 4.5%
Hotels.com/Cashrewards: 14% per night which equates to 2.2 free nights at $A300 per night and $264 in cash, or $924 in total.
Advantages: small discounts for joining and booking on the IHG site (1-5%), free Wi-Fi, regular options to earn bonus points during promotions.
Disadvantages: IHG points are calculated in US dollars. This effectively cuts the earn rate to 7.5 points per Australian dollar. Points expire if there is no activity in a membership year.
With 22 nights needed before you earn a free night, it is the second highest of the five major hotel reward programs. The higher loyalty bonus kicks in after 10,000 points or 10 nights, but you won't be much better off as it only pays a 10% bonus. These extra points will bring the total number of nights down by just one night to 21, assuming you check out and qualify with 10,000 points somewhere between your 5 and 10th night in the same membership year. Allowing for the 5% discount on the best rates, this would save $315. Add in the free night value of $300 and you are at $615 benefit after 21/22 nights. Use Hotels.com/Cashrewards and you gain $924 in benefits, a difference of over $300.