There are three co-branded hotel cards (all issued by Chase) that I consider keepers for their “free” anniversary nights (I don’t consider them truly free since you have to pay for the annual fee). These free hotel nights are offered to you after you’ve held the card for 12 months and paid the annual fee. Each of them comes with their own set of restrictions so it’s really important to pay attention to the limitations set out in the terms and conditions. With that said, here are my top three “free” anniversary night credit cards.
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1) IHG Rewards Credit Card
- 60,000 sign-up bonus after only $1,000 in spend (this has been as high as 80,000)
- 5,000 bonus points when you add your first authorized user and make your first purchase in the first three months from account opening
- Platinum status
- $49 annual (that’s waived the first year)
- Free anniversary night that’s good for any IHG property
- 5X per $1 spent at IHG properties
- 2X per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores & restaurants
- Automatic 10% point rebate on redemptions
- No foreign transaction fees
- NOT affected by Chase 5/24
The free night will be available for redemption on your account renewal anniversary date (after you pay your annual fee) and is valid at any of the hotels in the IHG Rewards Club Family of Brands and must be redeemed, and stay must be completed, within 12 months from date of issue.
There’s no stated restriction for redeeming your free night certificates for certain categories so this is one the most valuable free night certificates available, especially since it only requires a $49 annual fee. All you need to find is standard award availability and you can book a free night.
This presents with you many opportunities to come out way on top. For example you could stay at a hotel like the InterContinental Bora Bora, where rates can approach $1,000 a night!
The potential for such high value and a low annual fee make this card a keeper for the long-term. Also, it’s a great card for each partner in a relationship to get their hands on (preferably around the same time), since you can then cash out big time on a two night trip while only paying $98 a year.
2) Hyatt Credit Card
- 2 free nights at any Hyatt worldwide of any category when you spend $2,000 or more during the first 3 months
- Get 5,000 bonus points after you add an authorized user to your account and make a purchase with your card during the first 3 months from account opening
- 1 free night every year after your cardmember anniversary at any Category 1-4 property
- $75 annual fee (not waived)
- 3 points per $1 spent at all Hyatt properties
- 2 points per $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets
purchased directly from the airline, and at car rental agencies
- NOT affected by Chase 5/24
The Hyatt free anniversary night is a lot more restricting than the IHG card, because it is limited to properties that fall into the 1-4 categories. For nicer category 4 properties, such as the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong ($237), Hyatt Place Marathon/Florida Keys ($292), and Hyatt Regency Austin ($273) your maximum value for a free night will typically be somewhere between $200 and $300. This is still a great trade-off for the $75 annual fee but isn’t quite the bargain that the IHG card provides due to the category restrictions.
Thus, while I’d still value the Hyatt Card Card over the IHG card for its sign-up bonus that offers two free nights to any Hyatt properties, I think that in the long-run, the IHG card will be the more valuable addition to your wallet.
3) Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card
- 80,000 Marriott points after $3,000 spend
- 7,500 points when you add an authorized user
- Automatic Marriott Silver status
- Free anniversary night each year at category 1 through 5 hotels
- $85 annual fee (not waived)
- 5X per $1 spent at Marriott properties
- 2X per $1 spent at air lines, car rentals & restaurants
- Affected by Chase 5/24 but business version is not
This free anniversary night is very similar to the Hyatt card’s in that it is limited to certain categories (1 through 5). Thankfully, in 2015, Marriott extended the life of these free night certificates from 6 months to 12 months. And just like the other anniversary nights, you only get the free night after you pay the annual fee.
You can find category 5 hotels worth close to $300 per night but those are hard to find in my experience, especially since Marriott pushed more hotels into higher categories in 2016. More than likely your value will be closer to $150 to $200 for top properties. I’ve personally struggled a bit to find a category 5 or lower Marriott property that I thought would offer exceptional value but there are some out there.
Because the Marriott card comes with the higher annual fee, I value these free anniversary nights a bit less than Hyatt’s. And while I’d probably also value the Marriott’s sign-up bonus over the IHG card, it still is not the bargain that the IHG card is for the long-term.
It’s usually beneficial to hold on to your credit cards without cancelling as long as possible in order to allow your accounts to age. By holding on to credit cards that offer you free nights, you’re able to lengthen the age of your accounts while also often receiving substantial return in value. The key is to always remember that these certificates only are offered after one year of holding the card and that they expire within one year of issuance.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.