Which Hotel Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus Gets You the Most Free Nights?
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
While cobranded airline credit cards have lost a considerable amount of ground in recent years to transferable points cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the same is not true of hotel cards. The key difference that keeps the value proposition of hotel credit cards thundering along is the annual free night certificate offered by most of them. While a single airline credit card might not be enough to plan your entire vacation, when you stack a hotel credit card’s valuable welcome bonus with its annual free night certificate, you can end up with close to a week worth of free hotel nights. Today we’ll take a look at how the credit cards from the four major hotel chains stack up, and which one can get you the most free nights.
Let’s Meet Our Competitors
For the purpose of this post I’m only going to consider the hotel credit cards that offer an annual free night certificate. I’m also going to stick to personal credit cards to keep things simple, though you could, for example, swap out the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card. And one last note before we get started. Since almost every card awards its free night certificate at the end of the year (on your account anniversary) we’re going to be looking at total first year-value, not just the welcome bonus, to get an accurate comparison. Let’s dive in!
- Welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening.
- Free night: Worth up to 50,000 points
- Perks: $300 annual Marriott statement credit, Marriott Gold elite status
- Annual fee: $450 (see rates & fees)
- Welcome bonus: Earn 100,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
- Free night: Worth up to 35,000 points
- Perks: Marriott Silver elite status, earn Gold by spending $35,000 a year
- Annual fee: $95
- Welcome bonus: Earn up to 50,000 bonus points, 25,000 after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months and another 25,000 after spending $6,000 total in the first 6 months
- Free night: Valid at a Category 1-4 hotel
- Perks: Enjoy Hyatt Discoverist status, receive an extra Category 1-4 free night by spending $15,000 a year
- Annual fee: $95
- Welcome bonus: Earn 150,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
- Free night: Enjoy one free weekend night on account opening, and another each year on your account anniversary
- Perks: Automatic Hilton Diamond status, $250 airline free credit, $250 Hilton resort credit, $100 credit on eligible stays of 2 nights or more at Waldorf Astoria or Conrad Hotels, Priority Pass select membership
- Annual fee: $450 (see rates & fees)
- Welcome bonus: 125,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
- Reward night: Worth up to 40,000 points
- Perks: Enjoy IHG Platinum Elite status, Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100)
- Annual fee: $89
Which Card Gets The Most Free Nights?
You expect to get more when you’re paying for a premium credit card, so it’s no surprise to see the Hilton Aspire jump out with an early lead. This is the only card that will award you a free night certificate when you open your account, without having to wait a year. You also get a second one on your account anniversary, meaning in your first year you’ll get two uncapped weekend free night certificates valid at just about any property in the Hilton portfolio. Not only is two obviously better than one, but the lack of point or category restriction makes these some of the most valuable free nights on the market.
Every other card here offers one free night on your account anniversary, so the difference comes from the welcome bonus. We can’t just compare 75,000 Marriott points to 50,000 Hyatt points, so instead we’ll look at how many nights each card would offer you if you went for the lowest-tier awards possible, a middle-tier redemption or the fanciest properties in the hotel brand.
Marriott’s lowest category, 1, costs 7,500 points for a free night, with Category 2 jumping up to 12,500. This means that the 100,000-point welcome bonus on the Bonvoy Boundless card could get you up to 10 nights at 7,500 points. Since Marriott offers a fifth night free on award stays I’m going to bump each of these numbers up by one, assuming you use that benefit once but not necessarily every time you travel.
Hyatt is a much easier case to address, since Hyatt’s 5,000-point-a-night Category 1 properties are one of the main reasons the brand is so popular with award travelers. This means your 50,000-point bonus on the World of Hyatt card translates to an even 10 free nights.
Hilton doesn’t publish an award chart anymore, but instead uses a quasi-dynamic pricing system where each hotel has a range of prices with a published minimum and maximum. This makes it difficult to figure out what a reasonable low-tier award is, but I’m going to use 20,000 points a night as the lower threshold here. It’s certainly possible to find cheaper rates if you stick to small cities and less popular destinations, so feel free to adjust the numbers accordingly if you’re a deal hunting budget traveler. At 20,000 points a night, the 150,000 point welcome offer on the Hilton Aspire card could stretch into a full 7 nights of free hotels.
While IHG plans to move to dynamic pricing in the near future, for now it still operates off a fixed and published award chart. The cheapest free nights start at 10,000 points a night, though properties this cheap are relatively hard to come by in the US. Either way, this makes the 125,000 point bonus on the IHG Premier card good for roughly 12 free nights.
Winner: The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless and Bonvoy Brilliant are tied.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card: 11 (10+1 fifth night free)
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: 11 (10+1 fifth night free)
Locating the middle level of an award chart is a subjective decision, especially since many of these loyalty programs have an even number of award categories! Some people will pick a mid-tier property with a slight bias toward luxury hotels, while some will opt for mid-tier while leaning toward cheaper and more affordable hotels.
To keep things simple, I’ll use the point values of each card’s anniversary free night to try and find the middle ground. This means 35,000 points for Marriott, 15,000 points (category 4) for Hyatt, and 40,000 points for IHG. Hilton is a tougher case, but in my experience 50,000 points seems to be about the middle of the road for Hilton. This will usually be enough to get you a lower tier hotel in a big city, or a nicer property in a less popular location. With that in mind, here’s how each card stacks up. I’m also going to start introducing fractions here as the difference between cards gets smaller…
Winner: Hyatt’s pricing is reasonable across the board, and the World of Hyatt card takes the edge by a decent margin for middle tier properties.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: 2
Depending on how you normally travel, hotel points might be about staying in luxury properties you could never afford otherwise. Thankfully, the top of the award chart is much easier to find than the middle. For Marriott, it’s category 8 hotels like the St. Regis Maldives that cost 85,000 points per night. For Hyatt, I’m using the 30,000 point a night category 7 pricing, even though Hyatt will be introducing a more expensive category 8 for some of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World properties it’s incorporating. For IHG the number tops out at 70,000, while Hilton maxes out at 95,000 points a night for a standard award.
Winner: If you’re looking to stay in Hyatt branded properties like the Park Hyatt New York, then the World of Hyatt card wins again by a small margin.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: 0.88
At the end of the day, figuring out which card will get you the most free nights depends on the way you travel. If you’re looking to simply get the most nights in lower-category hotels, there’s no competing with the Marriott Bonvoy cards which offer large bonuses and can get you free nights for as few as 7,500 points. If you’re looking for a slightly more luxurious stay, Hyatt starts to gain a considerable advantage as you move up the rungs of the award chart. Don’t forget about the Hilton Aspire, though, as the two weekend free night certificates you’ll get in the first year can easily be worth several hundred dollars each at the right property.
Featured image courtesy of Le Meridien Angkor.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 75,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. TPG values 75K Bonvoy points to be worth around $600. Aside from the huge welcome offer you'll earn up to $300 in statement credits each year and 1 free night every year after cardmember anniversary. Terms apply.
- Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
- Enjoy up to $300 in statement credits each year of Card Membership for eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels.
- Earn 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy Hotels. 3 points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines. 2 points on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive 1 free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Award can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points) at a participating hotel. Certain hotels have resort fees.
- Enjoy unlimited airport lounge visits when you enroll in Priority Pass™ Select membership.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $450 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees