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TPG reader Kevin sent me a message on Facebook to ask about booking hotel awards:

“I have three free night certificates from the Ritz-Carlton card, and enough points to book a fourth night. Can I book those four nights and then get the fifth night free?”

Fifth night free benefits are a great way to maximize your hotel points during longer stays. Starwood Preferred Guest, Hilton HHonors and Marriott Rewards (which includes Ritz-Carlton) all offer a fifth night free, allowing you to score up to a 20% discount on awards. However, there are some limitations that make it difficult to stack these benefits with other promotions, such as free night certificates.

Chase recently overhauled the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card by adding new perks (like Priority Pass Select lounge access and a statement credit for Global Entry) and an improved sign-up bonus. You can now earn three complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening — the previous bonus offered just two nights. During peak periods Tier 4 properties can easily cost more than $1,000 per night, so those free nights offer immense value. However, they don’t count toward getting a fifth night free.

Both Marriott and Ritz-Carlton reserve the fifth night free benefit for stays that involve at least four nights booked entirely with points. That means any nights booked with a certificate won’t count toward the total, and neither will nights booked at the Cash + Points rate. With only enough points for one night, Kevin won’t be able to get his fifth night free. More generally, however, you can use certificates in conjunction with a stay that involves a fifth night free.

For example, you could redeem two certificates alongside four award nights to book seven nights total, three of which would be free. Best of all, the award nights don’t have to be consecutive; you’ll get a fifth night free so long as your reservation includes four nights booked with points. That means you can use certificates to cover the most expensive nights during your stay and use points to cover the rest.

Hilton
Marriott doesn’t allow you to combine free night certificates with points to get a fifth night free but Hilton does. Image courtesy of the New York Hilton Midtown Manhattan.

In contrast, you can count Hilton free night certificates toward getting a fifth night free, though it’s not the best way to maximize them. Rather than give you one night free, Hilton provides a 20% discount for each award night in a five-night stay. For example, if a hotel normally costs 80,000 points per night, the rate will be reduced to 64,000 points. When you apply the free night certificate, it only covers the reduced rate and not the normal rate. That means you’d end up redeeming 256,000 points instead of 240,000 to cover the remaining nights, so you’d be better off tacking it on to one end of an award stay instead.

For more on Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and fifth night free awards, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Guangzhou.

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