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Update: The Hilton American Express Ascend Card is now the Hilton Surpass® Card from American Express and is offering a limited-time bonus of 130,000 bonus points + a free weekend night through August 28, 2019.
There’s nothing like the feeling of successfully booking a trip with your hard-earned points, but what’s even better is getting doubly rewarded for your dedication. Those who are unfamiliar with the points and miles game may question the method to your madness, but when it’s finally vacation time, there are many ways to book a luxury hotel using your points and earn a free night in the process, as three major hotel chains — Marriott, Hilton and IHG — provide opportunities to pick up the fourth or fifth night free on award stays. This is a great opportunity to not only extend your stay, but maximize your points even further.
To help you get a better understanding of how you can reap these additional rewards, we’ve put together a guide of the key benefits each chain offers.
Marriott has undergone a lot of changes in the past couple of years including re-branding its loyalty program as it integrated Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton Rewards. The combined program now counts over 7,000 properties across nearly 130 countries at which members can redeem points.
One of the best perks of the program is the fifth night free on all award stays. When you redeem your points for a reward stay of five nights, you’ll receive the fifth night free. This applies to all Marriott properties — so you could be staying at the Ritz-Carlton Montréal on vacation or the Residence Inn while in-between moves — and the fifth night remains free. There are certain restrictions at all-inclusive properties where only two guests are covered in the reward stay, but that’s not the case for the vast majority of the properties.
When you’re booking a reward stay, this discount will automatically be reflected online when you book an award stay of at least five nights, like this example:
If you booked this same hotel for four nights, it would require the exact same number of points. For this reason, you should do everything possible to avoid four-night stays, since adding an extra night comes at no cost.
In addition, this isn’t just the fifth night free; it’s every fifth night free, with no limit to the number of free nights. For example, if you wanted to book an award stay at the Residence Inn Des Moines Downtown for the entire months of February and March 2020 — a stay that covers 60 nights if you check out April 1 — you’d get 12 free nights:
This is also available when you utilize the program’s Points Advance feature, so you can lock in award availability at hard-to-book properties like the St. Regis Bora Bora or St. Regis New York when you’re short on points and still get the fifth night free. And for longer stays, you can still utilize Marriott’s Cash + Points award option and even cover some nights using a free-night certificate from a card like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card; you’ll just need to make sure that at least four of the nights are completely booked with points in order for the free night reward to stand.
Note that if you are Marriott Platinum Elite or higher and have opted to receive five Suite Night Awards (SNAs) as your Choice Benefit, you can use these on award stays but must use one for each night, including the free night on a stay of five nights or longer. And if you elect to redeem Marriott points for upgraded accommodations, the fifth-night-free perk will only apply to the standard award rate; you’ll still need to use additional points or pay the cash copay for the higher-category room on all nights of your stay.
If you’re new to Marriott Bonvoy, check out TPG’s complete guide on how to earn and use Marriott Bonvoy points.
The Hilton Honors program also offers travelers a wide variety of places to stay, with nearly 6,000 properties across 100+ countries. While the program no longer publishes an award chart — allowing no-notice changes to redemption rates — it does have the Points Explorer tool that allows you to check out the range of award prices you can expect to pay. And there’s an easy way to drop those prices by redeeming for longer stays.
If you hold Hilton Honors elite status, you’ll enjoy the fifth night free on all award stays of five nights or longer. While this is slightly less flexible than Marriott’s policy — which is open to all members, regardless of status — it’s very easy to become a Hilton elite member. Silver status is earned after just 4 stays, 10 nights or 25,000 base points ($2,500 in spending). However, you can also earn Gold status via The Platinum Card® from American Express or pick up elite status via one of Hilton’s cobranded American Express credit cards:
- Hilton Honors American Express Card: Automatic Silver status, or upgrade to Gold with $20,000 in spending in a calendar year
- Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card: Automatic Gold status, or upgrade to Diamond with $40,000 in spending in a calendar year
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: Automatic Diamond status
To see which card fits your lifestyle best, check out our guide to choosing the best Hilton card, but as long as you hold one of them, you’ll become at least a Silver member, which automatically qualifies you for the fifth-night-free perk.
Like Marriott, these discounted rates are available online when you book a stay of at least five nights, though you must login before searching to see this perk reflected in your search results. Here’s an example of a reward booking with the fifth night shown:
If you searched for this same stay without logging in (or without elite status), the free night wouldn’t be shown.
Unfortunately, there are a few major drawbacks to this fifth-night-free perk:
- If you book a Premium Room Reward using your Hilton points, this will not give you the fifth night free. The perk is limited to standard rooms.
- You’re capped at a maximum of four free nights on a twenty-night stay. Anything longer than that would require that you pay for all nights — a notable drawback of the similar perk with Marriott.
- Your fifth night is only free when you cover your stay entirely with points. As soon as you adjust the slider to customize a Points & Money award, the free night will disappear.
If you’re not already a Hilton Honors member, check out our complete guide on how to earn and use Hilton Honors points.
IHG Rewards Club
For IHG Rewards Club members, the ability to book a free night is even more limited than Hilton. Rather than being open to just elites, it’s restricted to holders of the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card — and isn’t available to travelers with the old IHG Select card. If you have the IHG Premier card and stay four or more nights at any IHG property using your points, you’ll receive the fourth night free. This is the most exclusive free night offer from the three major chains, but either way, it still pays off for those who utilize it. And since IHG has a lower stay requirement compared to Marriott and Hilton, it may be more beneficial for those who don’t have the time for that extra night.
As for property options, IHG has over 5,500 hotels in over 100 countries. This gives members plenty of options to chose from whether they’re looking for a place to stay domestically or abroad.
Similar to both Marriott and Hilton, this free night will appear automatically online, but like Hilton, IHG requires you to be logged in for to to be reflected in your search. TPG Senior Writer JT Genter wrote a step-by-step guide to booking these stays last year, and here’s an example of the discount reflected in his confirmation:
When using your IHG points, you’ll only be able to book standard rooms, and the program’s terms & conditions technically exclude award stays from complimentary upgrades extended to Platinum and Spire Elite members — though you may find a property that allows some leniency and bump you to a better room at check in.
All three of these hotel programs — Marriott, Hilton and IHG — help you maximize your points by offering a free night on longer stays for eligible members. When it comes to choosing which program to go with, Marriott offers the most flexible perk, but there’s really no wrong answer. That being said, there is an important takeaway: If you’re planning a trip with points, be sure to consider these available offers, as you’ll want to make sure you book 4-5 nights vs. 3-4 nights in order to get the best value for your points.
Featured photo of the Hilton Doubletree Fiji courtesy of Katie Genter / The Points Guy
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