Update: no longer working as of Oct 2018.
I always assumed room availability for the Chase free night certificate and IHG’s Reward/points are the same. Turns out they aren’t. In fact, there can be WAY more availability for the Free night, in highly, advantageously important ways.
Recently I was looking to use a Free night certificate from the IHG Select card (RIP) in Moorea. Checking availability, I was seeing very limited availability for the next few months, and nothing in 2019. After some research, I learned the IHG Moorea and Bora Bora hotels don’t release Reward space more than a few months out.
So I was surprised when my friend told me he booked one of the dates I had failed to find availability for. I assumed he made an inexperienced mistake, but he showed me his booking, and indeed, it said Intercontinental Moorea, in mid 2019, using a Chase Free night. How was this possible? Turns out, I was looking at Reward space, thinking it’s a perfect substitute for Free night space, while my friend checked Free night space and found a goldmine.
We decided to use this advantage on the ultimate aspiration – an Overwater Bungalow at the Intercontinental Bora Bora Thalasso. This aspirational property only designates one room as a standard room (and it’s an OWB), meaning there’s only ever one room bookable on Reward points or Free night. It doesn’t get released into the Reward night inventory until a few months in advance. Using Free night though, it seems as long as the room is available on cash, you can book it. For example, here’s a day in July 2019:
The same room is NOT available on Reward points, even though it’s clearly available on cash:
Here’s Free night availability for July 2019 as of a few days ago. The days with white background have availability:
As you can see, there IS decent Free night availability on the single “standard” room 10-11 months out (you can book at most 50 weeks out). As a comparison, there’s zero availability on Reward night. Here’s July 2019:
Things to keep in mind
- You can select up to 3 guests in a room at Thalasso. It might cause one of the screens to suggest no availability unless you go down to 2 guests, but if you click on the standard room (Emerald OWB), the next page should happily reveal availability again.
- Free night from the discontinued IHG Select card issued before May 1, 2019 is good at any IHG property, including Thalasso. Free night from the new Premier card can only be used at properties up to the 40k level.
- You need to book by the Free night expiration, but the stay can be up to end of schedule whenever you book. This is very generous and unique to IHG Free nights.
- I don’t believe it’s possible to search Free night availability unless you have a Free night cert.
- The consensus seems to be that Conrad is the nicest property on points or free night in Bora Bora (80k Hilton/night year round). Summer (peak season) availability is extremely scarce, but I was able to get 2 nights on points. It has awesome grounds and snorkeling, while Thalasso has almost no snorkeling.
- There are budget-friendly accommodations in Moorea and Bora Bora. For example, there’s this lagoon-side bungalow for under $200/night for 3 guests in peak season. Free night certs from IHG and Hilton are hard to beat, but these aren’t bad alternatives/supplements at all IMO.
In a Nutshell
Intercontinental Thalasso is probably the most sought-after Reward/Free night in the IHG system. It only has a total of one standard room, and Reward night inventory doesn’t become available until a few months in advance. Being able to book it 50 weeks in advance using the Chase Free night is a colossal advantage. I’m not sure whether this is an advantage of Free night across IHG. If you know, please comment. Good luck to everyone planning a trip to French Polynesia, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been and look forward to returning to!