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Trouble Using Free Night Certificates — Reader Mistake Story

March 14, 2018
4 min read
Trouble Using Free Night Certificates — Reader Mistake Story
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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Nick, who wasn't able to use a credit card benefit as he planned. Here’s what he had to say:

My wife and I met and had our first date in Manhattan. It was an awesome date with lots of wonderful memories, so we decided we'd try to spend the anniversary in Manhattan every year. We had been doing day trips from New Jersey since hotels were too expensive, but then I thought of getting a co-branded hotel credit card for each of us so we could spend a night or weekend in the city using the annual complimentary night certificates. She got The Hyatt Credit Card and I got the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card.

It turns out neither card was a good choice. The Marriott card offers a free night at Category 1-5 properties, while the Hyatt free night is good for Category 1-4 properties, but it seems like all the hotels in Manhattan are strategically in higher categories. We've noticed that tends to be the case in other major cities, and hotels that are eligible for the certificates are on the outskirts away from everything.

Now we're starting to find the cards useless because in order to redeem those free nights we can't stay where we want. We could redeem points, but we've been saving our sign-up bonuses for international trips where we pretend to be ballers for a night. The idea was to have a card that would provide a free night in Manhattan on our anniversary, but I guess that's too much to ask.

Naturally, hotels in popular destinations tend to be more expensive whether you're paying cash or booking an award. As Nick points out, properties in major cities are often at the upper end of the award chart, so you'll have a harder time booking free nights there with a certificate that's restricted to certain categories. However, I disagree that those certificates (or the cards that offer them) are useless, as both Marriott and Hyatt have plenty of lower-tier properties with good redemption value. That won't help Nick and his wife with their annual trips to Manhattan, but they should be able to put those free nights to use elsewhere.

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To me, the limitations of those Marriott and Hyatt certificates underscore the value of other free night certificates with fewer restrictions. For example, the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card offers an annual free night at any IHG property (which now includes Kimpton hotels). That's an especially great deal given the relatively low $49 annual fee. Similarly, the new Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express offers one weekend night at most Hilton properties on your account anniversary, plus the opportunity to earn a second weekend night when you meet annual spending requirements. Either of those cards would be a good option for booking a stay in New York City.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Nick for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image by Rick Lew

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