Oops! I Almost Lost Our IHG Credit Card Free Night

by joeheg

When you’ve been at this for a while, you’re eventually going to screw up a reservation. My biggest mistake to date was when I booked flights to the wrong airport, which I fortunately caught within the 24-hour cancellation window.

However this time I made a mistake that wasn’t easily fixed.

I needed a two-night stay and the hotel choices in the area were limited to the usual roadside chains. There was a Hampton Inn, Fairfield by Marriott, Holiday Inn Express and a Hyatt Place. Reviews of all of them were mixed, so it was a crapshoot to pick one over another. Status doesn’t mean anything at these hotels and I’m not collecting stay credits for next year.

The deciding factor was that I had a free night certificate from our IHG Select credit card good for a room bookable for 40K points or less. Since you can’t top up these free nights like the ones from the IHG Premier, my strategy is still to burn them when the opportunity presents itself. I planned to book one night with the certificate and the other night for 30K IHG One Rewards points.

The booking process with the free night certificates is a little confusing. You need to log into your IHG account first and click the link with the free night. This takes you back to the IHG main page where the IHG free night is listed in the rate dropdown box (the same place you’d select AAA or senior rates).

Once searching for your hotel, you’re able to book a single night with the certificate. If you want to book a longer stay, you need to make a second reservation.

When I was trying to book the free night, IHG’s website was acting strange. When I filled out the booking screen, it kept taking me back to the main page. I was stuck in a loop and each time I had to go back to the IHG One Rewards page, select the free night, go back to the main page and try to book again.

After the third time, the reservation went through. I quickly went to book the second reward night with points, which went without a hitch.

It wasn’t until I saw the confirmation email from the free night that I noticed a problem. Instead of booking the room for May, it reset the month to March. To make things worse, I booked a room for today. When I went to edit the reservation, the IHG website said I couldn’t because I was within the cancellation window and I should call IHG.

After going through the prompts and getting to talk to a person, I was told that the IHG Rewards team couldn’t refund my points because I was already past the cancellation time. I explained that I just made the reservation and somehow the date changed to today and I didn’t notice. The rep repeated there was nothing they could do but I could try calling the hotel.

I had little faith that a Holiday Inn Express front desk employee on a Sunday night would be able to fix this problem. With no other option, I looked up the number and called the hotel, making sure not to ask for reservations, which would direct me to the call center, but to talk with the front desk.

A pleasant woman picked up and I pleaded my case. She looked up the reservation and confirmed it was for today. I explained that I would not be arriving today because we were still in Florida and that I wanted to book for May and not March.

She confirmed which date I wanted to stay, clicked a few buttons and said that it was all set. She’d see us in May.

It couldn’t be that easy. Did hotels have so much control over their own system that they could manually change a rewards reservation, keeping the same number?

I was convinced there would be a problem, which was backed up when the reservation dropped from the IHG website AND I received 500 bonus points for the stay that never happened. Wanting to make sure the reservation was still there, I found the manager’s email on the IHG website and sent a message. He quickly replied that we had two separate reservations for back-to-back days in May and did we still want to stay for 2 nights? Breathing a sigh of relief, I said that we did and I’d appreciate it if he could link the reservations so we didn’t have to move rooms.

Right up until the stay, I was sure we would show up at the hotel and they’d have no record of the reservation in the system. I’m happy to report that everything went off without a hitch.

I still shake my head in amazement that a Holiday Inn Express front desk agent has the power to fix an improperly booked award reservation with a few clicks and taps. That’s what having empowered employees is like instead of having staff that’s afraid to do anything without management approval.

One thing I did learn is to triple-check dates before hitting enter.

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