I’m always on the lookout for ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points without having to use credit cards.
This is usually difficult. If you read travel hacking blogs, many of the articles have to do with manufactured spend, sign-up bonuses, category spend bonuses, and other tactics that apply solely to those who own credit cards.
And while I don’t have a problem with owning credit cards, and even using them once in a while, I don’t believe it’s a good idea to use them as your default method of spending. I believe the best place to have your credit card is in a drawer.
So I was very excited to see a new promotion from IHG (aka Holiday Inn) that has an amazing loophole in it where you can earn tens of thousands of IHG points without using a single credit card. Even though the promotion is sponsored by a credit card.
Just one hitch: it requires lots of lots of physical writing. With an actual pen. No typing allowed.
Curious yet? I was.
Not using a credit card: Priceless
The promotion is called Priceless Surprises. The gist is that when you book stays with IHG properties (such as Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Candlewood Suites, etc.) with a MasterCard, you get a chance to win points or a number of other prizes, like a trip to New York.
I didn’t have any plans to stay at an IHG property during the promotion dates (November 15, 2015 to February 15th, 2016), and it didn’t seem worth it to book a stay just for the chance for an instant win, so I didn’t take much notice of the promotion.
I did, however, read the terms and conditions. Have you ever noticed that these promotions always seem to have a “NO PURCHASE NECESSARY” identifier somewhere? Well, this one does as well.
(Apparently, this is required by law. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), if a a purchase is required to win a prize in a drawing, then it is considered a “lottery” and illegal for private companies. So all sweepstakes need to include the option.)
So, the terms said that you could send in an index card with some information on it and be entered in the sweepstakes just as if you had booked a stay with your MasterCard.
Even more interesting was that you can enter in the promotion 94 times (equal to the number of days the promotion is active). Sending 94 index cards sounded crazy to me. For a brief second, I asked myself, “what if I did that?”
But for whatever reason, the idea seemed untenable, and it faded from my mind. That is, until other people in various online communities caught on to the idea and ran with it, testing it out, and earning tons of points in the process. To which, I said to myself: “Oh okay, if you insist.”
To enter this promotion (after registering, of course) you need to write the following on an index card:
- Mailing address
- Day and evening phone number (though reports are that a single number is sufficient)
- Email address
- Your IHG Rewards Club member number
- First six digits of a MasterCard credit card (doesn’t even need to be yours)
- Date of birth
Put that in an envelope and address it to:
IHG and MasterCard® Priceless Surprises® Promotion
c/o HelloWorld, Inc.
P.O. Box 5996
Kalamazoo, MI 49003-5996
Mail it in, and wait for further instructions. You’ll get an email containing a link to play the game online, wherein you will have a chance of winning one of a number of prizes. Or so they say.
Never tell me the odds
In order to maximize the promotion, you’ll be mailing upwards of 100 envelopes. This means 100 stamps, and an upfront cost of around $60.
What are the chances of earning $60 worth of prizes from this promotion?
I’d say, almost assured. The odds table says that the most likely prize is 500 points. The odds for this prize is listed at “1:1.18”, which the general consensus seems to interpret as “1 winner in every 1.18 entries” or an 84.7% chance of winning.
Assuming 94 entries and a win percentage of 84.7%, that means that there’s a likelihood of winning 79 times. And 79 × 500 = 39,500 points.
There are other prizes which could up the win tally:
- 1,000 points (1:14.29 or 7%)
- 2,000 points (1:28.57 or 3.5%)
- 5,000 points (1:42.86 or 2.3%)
And this is without even talking about the bigger prizes (which let’s assume we won’t win).
Now, as anyone who knows anything about probability (or who have read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead), you know that it’s possible to flip a coin (odds 1:2 or 50%) and have it show up heads every single time. So just on probability alone, I may win no points at all.
And that’s also assuming that I do nothing wrong. Despite having relied on the wisdom of a large community of early testers on Flyertalk, there’s always a chance that I could do something that’s a jot out of place. I know that if I were doing data entry for this promotion (and what a hellish job that would be), I would relish any excuse to throw out a wheelbarrow’s worth of entries. So no skimping here!
But let’s assume, for rounding purposes, that 40,000 IHG points are in my future. What can I get for that?
Well, assuming that I redeem those points for hotel stays, that’s a minimum of one free night stay at a hotel, and a theoretical maximum of eight nights!
In my experience, almost all hotels in the IHG portfolio are 40,000 points or less. (I just picked a random date in Seattle, and in a radius of 20 miles I found that all 10 hotels were worth between 20,000 and 35,000 points a night.)
Now this is not always true. The maximum amount of points required for a free night is 60,000 points, but these are more “aspirational” properties (such as The Venetian in Las Vegas, or the Intercontinental in Bora Bora). But in general, you can get a free night for 40,000 points or less.
Is a free night worth more than $60? Damn straight.
And if you play this in conjunction with the Point Breaks promotion in which certain hotels go on sale for 5,000 points a night, you could get eight nights free. Granted, these hotels are often not in the most enticing locations, but sometimes you can make it work. (I made it work in Gwangju, South Korea, for example.)
You can play along too
If you’re reading this and are of a similar level of crazy, you can enter this promotion too. You just need to postmark your entries before February 15, 2016.
And of course, you need not mail in 94 envelopes. You could suffice with 5, 10, 50, or even a single entry. No need to give yourself a hand cramp.
Or you could just sit back and watch me do silly things for your entertainment. But that’s for next time.
But enough about me: Would you mail in index cards to win free hotel nights?
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