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Best Credit Cards for Families for Free-Night Certificates

June 28, 2019
9 min read
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The Points Guy extensively covers hotel credit cards and their value, especially for families. We've also talked about the annual free-night benefit that comes with many hotel cards. These are the award nights that you get just for keeping the card and paying your annual fee (though additional nights are sometimes available by hitting annual spending targets).

These nights are worth reading up on: Knowing the differences between the different free-night benefits helps you evaluate which cards make the most sense for your family's upcoming travel plans. For certain trips, simply paying a credit card's annual fee to receive an annual certificate for a "free" night could actually save you money over paying the lowest nightly rate at a particular hotel.

Here's our round-up of the credit cards with the best free-night certificates for families.

World of Hyatt Credit Card

Annual free-night benefit: This card offers a free night at a Category 1–4 hotel each year after your cardholder anniversary.

Annual fee: $95

Pros: Hyatt has a compelling list of hotels in Categories 1–4, and most of them don't play around with award inventory -- meaning, if a standard room is for sale with cash, you can use your free-night certificate. Additionally, you don't pay resort fees at Hyatt when using an award certificate.

While some may see lower categories that are flush with Hyatt Places and Hyatt Houses as a con, I don't necessarily agree. Most Hyatt Places and Hyatt Houses are newer than other brands' limited-service options and will sleep at least four in one room, plus all Hyatt Places and Hyatt Houses offer free breakfast for World of Hyatt members at any level (though you must book direct at Hyatt Place properties). While there are always exceptions, I've yet to stay in a truly dumpy Hyatt Place or Hyatt House.

Hyatt Place free breakfast (Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Cons: Hyatt has a limited footprint, with many areas having no Cat 1 -4 options at all.

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Where to Use: Here's a list of some of our favorite Hyatt Category 1-4 properties, such as the Hyatt Place Keystone, Hyatt Place Waikiki, Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay and Grand Hyatt Washington.

Hyatt Place Keystone right near the slopes (Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card

Annual free-night benefit: This card gives you a free night annually after your first account anniversary, but it’s limited to a hotel costing up to 40,000 IHG points.

Annual fee: $99

Pros: I've written about my love-hate relationship with IHG Rewards points, and this annual night certificate is no exception. I have this card but got it for the other benefits, especially the free fourth night on awards, which makes the redemption math make more sense for me. IHG also has a huge global footprint, which means you'll find somewhere worth the $99 to spend this certificate on, even if you don't get top value for it.

Cons: Most IHG properties have prices that put points under TPG valuations (currently 0.5 cents), so you might not find a 40,000-point room that is actually $200 a night. Another strike: The Platinum status that comes with the card doesn't come with a breakfast benefit, and only about half of IHG's brands offer free breakfast.

Where to Use: Top IHG properties for 40,000 points or less per night for families include Holiday Inn Grand Cayman, Crowne Plaza Orlando Universal, Hotel Indigo San Diego Del Mar and Staybridge Suites Anaheim at The Park (aka Disneyland).

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card

Annual free-night benefit: With this card, you receive a free night every year after your account anniversary at a property with a redemption level up to 35,000 points.

Annual fee: $95

Pros: Marriott's portfolio contains many desirable hotels that qualify for this certificate. You shouldn't have any problem finding a property that fits the bill.

Cons: Emphasis on the word "shouldn't." Some Marriott Bonvoy properties limit the number of standard rooms available for award redemptions, making redemptions more difficult than you'd think. Another downside: The Silver status conferred with this card does not offer any significant benefit, so you're still on the hook for breakfast if you choose a full-service hotel. I'd also be remiss not to mention the huge headache you might be in for if you have to alter your reservation and that Marriott does charge resort fees on award stays.

All that said, I still love a good Marriott 35k certificate. Even in places like New York City, it can save you hundreds of dollars.

Where to Use: Here are our 10 favorite uses of this 35k certificate, including the Westin Snowmass, Sheraton Kauai and Marriott Fairfield Anaheim Resort.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

The Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card also offers the same free-night-certificate benefit, although this card comes with a $125 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Photo courtesy of JW Marriott Phu Quoc
(Photo courtesy of JW Marriott Phu Quoc)

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Annual free-night benefit: This card offers an annual free-night award after your account anniversary, with a Marriott redemption of 50,000 points or less.

Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)

Pros: The annual fee seems steep, but benefits, including the free-night certificate and an up to $300 hotel statement credit on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, far outweigh it. I get real value out of this card, and I'm not one to carry premium cards just for the sake of having them. There are even more desirable properties that qualify for this particular certificate than the 35k version, which means you really should not have a hard time finding a great property to enjoy.

Cons: See above, with one notable exception: This card comes with Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, which gets you a marginally higher chance for an upgrade, late check-out, etc.

Where to Use: Our 10 favorite uses of this Marriott 50k certificate include joints such as Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Autograph Collection and Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino.

(Photo courtesy Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino)
Stay at the Aruba Marriott Stellaris with the Bonvoy Brilliant annual free night certificate. (Photo courtesy Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino)

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Annual free-night benefit: You receive one weekend-night award your first year and every year thereafter upon renewal.

Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)

Pros: The Hilton Aspire is another one that made it into my wallet, because the credits (up to $250 airline and up to $250 Hilton resort) outweigh the fees -- even before the free night enters the picture. As far as redemption for this free night, the sky's the limit as there is no category cap. Go nuts! With the Diamond status that comes with this card, you'll probably be treated like royalty. Like Hyatt, Hilton also does not charge resort fees on award stays.

Cons: Free night applies only for stays on Friday, Saturday or Sunday night. There is also a very small no-go list with the free certificates.

Where to Use: Some of our favorite places to use a Hilton weekend free-night award for a family getaway include the Grand Wailea in Maui, Hotel del Coronado in San Diego and the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando (which now conveys Disney World perks).

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

(Photo courtesy of Grand Wailea)

Bottom Line

My wallet contains a bunch of hotel cards, including the IHG Premier, Hilton Aspire and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, as the annual free nights are among my favorite perks for our family's travel. Combined with the other benefits, what we get far outweighs the annual fees we pay each and every year.

Here's more advice when it comes to hotel stays:

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Brilliant Amex, click here.

Featured Image of the Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino, courtesy of resort.

Featured image by The Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino (Photo courtesy of Marriott)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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