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There are several fantastic hotel credit cards that you can choose from that offer a free night certificate. However, these free nights come in a lot of different forms. The free nights have also undergone a lot of changes over the past couple of years, altering their value. So here is a rundown of some of the best free nights that you can get from credit cards for Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, and IHG.
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First, here are a few things that you want to consider when evaluating a credit card that comes with a free night attached.
Anniversary vs spend
Some cards offer a free anniversary night that automatically hits your account after each cardmember year. Note that this is different from a calendar year basis which would reset January 1 of any given year. Instead, you will likely receive a free night on the anniversary date of opening up your credit card account (or within a few weeks of that date).
Other hotel credit cards will require you to put substantial spend on your card to receive a free night. For spending requirements around $15,000 per year, I think that it can often be worth it to pursue those because it’s really not that difficult to achieve that in one 12-month period.
However, I don’t think that I would ever pursue a free night that requires a crazy amount of spend such as something like $50,000 or more. The opportunity cost for that amount of spend is just too high.
These free nights virtually always come with certain strings attached. For example, Hilton is known for issuing free nights that are only valid on weekend nights such as Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Other issuers will limit the free night by category so that you are not able to use your free night at the very top and most expensive properties in their portfolio.
Make sure that you know what these policies are and are up to date on them because they do change from time to time and they could significantly alter the value of your card.
I highly recommend you to always seek out outsized value for your free nights.
I have searched a lot of different hotel award chart categories, and I can tell you that just because you are redeeming a free night certificate at a higher tier of property that does not mean that you’re getting the most value.
For one, the property might just be overrated or just not really the type of property that you’re into (don’t always but into the internet hype). Secondly, the price does not always increase when you increase tiers so keep an eye out for some properties that might actually be pretty cheap in the higher tiers.
Many of the free night certificates expire after one year. Sometimes, this means that you need to book and make your stay within one year but other times it just means that you need to make your booking by one year. If your booking is outside of that one year expiration, then you probably won’t be able to make any changes to that booking so make sure you are dead set on that date.
Also, be sure that you check with the most recent data points on how the deadlines work so that you don’t make any mistakes. Some hotels used to allow you to convert your free nights into points but I’m not aware of any hotel programs that currently allow that.
Utilizing these free nights is usually the easiest way to justify paying for your annual fee. You can often get much more value than the amount that you pay for your annual fee, so these are great ways to actually come out on top. That’s why it rarely makes sense to cancel these cards if you can make good use of the free night.
These hotel credit cards will all offer you some type of elite membership with their respective hotel loyalty program. The type of elite status that you can get with these cards will vary by quite a bit. Cards like the Hilton Aspire offer top-tier elite status while others offer more basic elite status like the World of Hyatt Credit Card.
The real value in elite status for me is getting a free breakfast and potentially getting lounge access and late checkout as well. But having elite status will increase your odds at getting an upgrade and that is always a nice thing for utilizing your free nights.
Typically, you will need to find standard room availability to use your free night certificate. Standard rooms are the most basic rooms at hotels. So for the most part you will not be redeeming these certificates for suites. If there are no available standard rooms available then you will most likely not be able to use your free night certificate.
One reason why I think it is so great to get meaningful elite status with your credit card, is that you can expect to be upgraded from standard rooms — always be sure to request an upgrade if you want one though.
A couple of additional booking tips.
It is often possible to combine multiple free nights together into one single itinerary.
All you have to do is contact the property and tell them that you would like to combine your free nights into a single itinerary. I recommend you attaching your name to each reservation before calling because sometimes you might receive some pushback or warning about doing this if the free night is issued to someone else’s account.
It is also possible to combine your reservations using your free night with other paid or award reservations. In fact, I have done this on a few occasions, such as when I used an IHG free night to stay at the Intercontinental Times Square and got it upgraded to a corner room.
Hilton Honors Aspire Card
If you are interested in staying at Hilton properties then the Amex Hilton Aspire should be on your radar for several reasons. The Hilton Aspire Credit Card offers an annual free weekend night that can be used at even the most expensive type of Hilton properties. This means that you could potentially get over $1,000 worth of value just from your free night.
You can also earn an additional night after you spend $60,000 on purchases on your card in a calendar year.
This card has some great bonus categories of:
- 14X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
- 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants
- 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on other purchases
The Aspire also comes with a number of credits that help offset the $450 annual fee:
- $250 airline incidental fee statement credit
- $250 Hilton resort statement credit
- $100 on property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts when booking the exclusive Aspire Card package
You’ll also earn complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status. For someone looking for meaningful hotel benefits, it’s harder to find a better hotel credit card than the Hilton Aspire.
Amex Hilton Ascend
- 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
- 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. restaurants, and U.S. gas stations
- 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on all other eligible purchases
- 10 free priority pass lounge passes
- Automatic Hilton Honors Gold status
- No foreign transaction fees
- $95 annual fee
The World of Hyatt Card is one of the best hotel credit cards available since it comes with a great sign-up bonus, great bonus category earning, and the opportunity for free nights.
The World of Hyatt Card will allow you to receive a free night that is good for Hyatt properties in categories of one through four. Hyatt has one of the smaller footprint in terms of number of properties so it does tend to be a little bit more difficult to find the best properties, at least here in US.
However, there are some really good category for properties that you can book using your points and get a tremendous value. Click here to see what these properties are and what kind of value you can receive.
The World of Hyatt Card also allows you to earn an extra free night when you spend $15,000 during your cardmember anniversary year. $15,000 in one year is very obtainable for people so this is one of the easier free nights to get via credit card spend.
Here’s a look at the other features of the Hyatt card.
And here’s what the bonus earning looks like:
- 4X spent with your card at Hyatt hotels, including participating restaurants and spas
- 2X on local transit and commuting, including taxis, mass transit, tolls and ride-share services
- 2X at restaurants, cafes and coffee shops
- 2X on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline
- 2X spent on fitness club and gym memberships
The card also comes with the ability to climb up the elite status tiers of Hyatt.
- Elite status:
- Comes with Hyatt Discoverist status
- Receive 5 qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every year
- Earn 2 additional qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every time you spend $5,000 on your card
If you value the Hyatt program and you put a lot of spend on your card then this could be a great way to obtain and hold on to Hyatt elite status for only $95 a year.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is one of the newest cards issued by American Express. It will provide you with one free night every year that can be used at redemption levels at or under 50,000 Marriott points. There are some really valuable properties that go for 50,000 Marriott points. In fact, beginning some time in 2019, you will be able to redeem your free nights for off-peak awards for category 7 properties.
Category 7 has some very luxurious and expensive properties that approach $1,000 per night, including: The Edition Times Square ($852 per night) and The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay ($961 per night).
Here’s a look at the other features of this card:
- $300 in Marriott statement credits
- Bonus earning:
- 6x at Marriott properties
- 3x at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines
- 2x on all other purchases
- Complimentary Gold Elite status
- Earn Platinum Elite status after making $75,000 in eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year.
- Each calendar year you can receive credit for 15 nights towards the next level of Elite status. Limit one 15 Elite Night Credit per Marriott Loyalty Program member.
- Priority Pass Select membership
- Receive a statement credit every four years after you apply for Global Entry ($100) or TSA Pre√® ($85) with your Card.
- No foreign transaction fees
- Free, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide.
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card will offer you some decent earning rates at Marriott properties but the real strength of this card in my opinion is the free night that gets issued each year. You will be limited to redemption levels at 35,000 points for your free night certificate. This is the standard redemption level for category five properties.
Some properties you might want to look at are:
- The Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, Miami ($363)
- The Ritz-Carlton New York, Westchester ($391)
- W Miami ($337)
- JW Marriott Miami ($386)
Here’s a look at some of the other key benefits of this card:
- 6X on Marriott Rewards and SPG hotels
- 2X on all other purchases
- Marriott Silver elite status
- $95 annual fee
The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card (full card review here) used to offer one of the best free nights available. That’s because it could be used on even the highest category of properties. However, now this free night has been capped at hotels going for 40,000 points or less.
The credit card also comes with the following features:
- 125,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
- Annual free night certificate at an “eligible hotel”
- 25X points for the first 12 months as an IHG — after that, 10X points at IHG Hotels and Resorts
- 4X points on all other purchases for the first 12 months from account opening – after that, 2X points at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
- Automatic Platinum Elite Status (read more about this status here)
- 20% discount on purchases of IHG points
- 4th night free on award stays
- Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit of up to $100 every 4 years
- No foreign transaction fees
- $89 annual fee
Each of these credit cards offer a way for you to capitalize on free hotel nights days via their free night certificates. As you can tell, there are a lot of differences between the free nights in terms of how much value you can obtain with them.
Personally, Brad and I hold on to several of these cards so that we receive several free nights each year and those free nights make it justifiable to pay the annual fee because we receive so much more value in return for the free night. So, you might want to think about getting multiple cards so that you can enjoy multiple free nights each year.
UponArriving has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. UponArriving and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.
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.