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Hotel credit cards have something unique going for them that many airline and flexible point cards don’t have. Many cobranded hotel cards don’t just offer a sweet bonus when you first get the card, but instead provide an incentive to keep the card year after year in the form of an annual free night award. Some free night awards are provided just for having an active account, while others require that you meet annual spending thresholds.

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How Hotel Credit Card Free Nights Are Awarded

Each of the hotel cards featured below offers you at least one annual free night, in some form or another, each cardmember year. Sometimes, you’ll receive this free night automatically when your statement closes following the anniversary of your account opening (some don’t post until you pay the annual fee). Some cards that require a certain minimum spending requirement on the card to earn the award calculate by calendar year, while others do the math based on a cardmember year, so always read the fine print.

These free night certificates are usually restricted to the lower half of the hotel program’s reward categories, but there are exceptions to that general rule. You also often usually have one year from the date of issuance to utilize the certificate, so don’t let them go to waste.

Hotel Cards That Offer Free Night Awards

Hotel Credit Card Award Type Award Frequency Annual Fee
The World Of Hyatt Credit Card Category 1–4 Award One at each anniversary, one additional with $15k annual spending $95
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card Weekend award night valid at most Hilton properties Weekend Night award after you spend $4,000 in purchases in first four months of card membership. (Offer ends 8/28/2019.) New and existing cardholders also earn an annual free weekend night by spending $15k in a calendar year. $95 (See Rates & Fees)
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card Weekend award night valid at most Hilton properties One as part of welcome bonus, one at each account anniversary automatically and a second with $60k in spending on the card in a calendar year. $450 (See Rates & Fees)
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card Weekend award night valid at most Hilton properties Weekend Night award after you spend $5,000 in purchases in first four months of card membership. (Offer ends 8/28/2019.) New and existing cardholders earn an annual free weekend night by spending $15k in a calendar year, a second award with $60k in total spending in a calendar year. $95 (See Rates & Fees)
IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card Award valid up to 40k points One at each anniversary $89
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card Award valid up to 50k points One at each anniversary $450 (See Rates & Fees)
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card Award valid up to 35k points One at each anniversary $95
Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card Award valid up to 35k points One at each anniversary $125 (See Rates & Fees)
Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card E-Certs valid at US Radisson properties 40k points at each renewal + Up to 3 free night E-Certs, one with each $10k spent, up to $30k $75

How to Maximize Annual Free Nights

A free award night can be used by itself for a one-night stay, or it can be tacked onto a larger stay made with points or cash, depending on your needs. If stringing it together with a longer stay, let the hotel know so you can hopefully remain in one room. 

It makes sense to redeem the awards for the highest category possible that aligns with your travel needs and compare the cash rate to the value of the certificate. However, don’t wait so long into the year to use it that it goes to waste. Once you find a good-enough use, redeem that certificate and don’t look back.

As with other hotel award nights, you typically don’t pay taxes when redeeming the free night. Whether or not you pay resort fees will depend on the program. Generally speaking, Hyatt and Hilton waive resort fees on award nights while Marriott and IHG do not, making those award nights better to use at places that don’t tack on those fees.

Conrad Washington DC (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz / The Points Guy)
Conrad Washington DC (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz / The Points Guy)

The 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. The free night gets added to your account as an electronic certificate that you can redeem online, in the Hyatt mobile app or over the phone. You can also receive a second free night at a Category 1-4 hotel each year when you spend $15,000 on the card during your cardmember year.

Welcome bonus: 25,000 points after you make $3,000 in purchases within three months of account opening. You can also receive an additional 25,000-point bonus when you spend a total of $6,000 within six months of account opening.

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.

You’ll find plenty of Hyatt Places and Hyatt Houses in the Category 1-4 list, but there are also higher-tier Hyatt brands such as Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Centric, Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Andaz and beyond.

Cons: Hyatt has a somewhat limited footprint, with many areas having no Category 1–4 options at all.

Where to Use: Here’s a list of some of our favorite Hyatt Category 1–4 properties, such as the Andaz San Diego, Hyatt Centric Dublin, Andaz Vienna, Hyatt Place Keystone, Hyatt Place Waikiki, Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, Grand Hyatt Washington, Park Hyatt Saigon, Hyatt Regency Hill Country, Hyatt Jersey City on the Hudson and Hyatt Regency Seattle.

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

IHG Rewards Club 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.

Welcome bonus: Earn 125,000 bonus points after $3,000 spent on the card in the first 3 months.

Annual fee: $89

Pros: Some have a love-hate relationship with IHG Rewards Club points, but the credit card itself is pretty great since it allows for a free fourth night on awards. IHG has a huge global footprint, which means you’ll find somewhere worth the $89 to spend both the points and this certificate on, even if you don’t get top value for it.

Cons: Most IHG properties have prices that can mean redeeming prices below the TPG valuations (currently 0.5 cents), so you might not find a 40,000-point room that is actually $200 a night. The aspirational IHG properties, including many Kimpton and InterContinental properties cost more than 40k points per 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: Interesting IHG properties for 40,000 points or less include InterContinental Bangkok, InterContinental Budapest, Crowne Plaza Denver, InterContinental Doral MiamiHoliday Inn Resort Aruba-Beach Resort & CasinoInterContinental Presidente Cancun Resort, Kimpton Overland Hotel (Atlanta), 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)
(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

Welcome bonus: 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first three months of card membership.

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 at times. Another downside: The Silver status conferred automatically 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 charges 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 10 of our favorite uses of this Marriott 35k free night certificate, including the Westin Snowmass, Sheraton Kauai, St. Regis Bangkok, AC Times Square NYC, JW Marriott Phu Quoc and the Marriott Fairfield Anaheim Resort.

Fairfield Anaheim Disneyland Room
(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

Pros: The annual fee on this card seems steep, but benefits, including the free night certificate and a $300 Marriott hotel credit, far outweigh it for frequent travelers. There are even more desirable properties that qualify for this particular certificate than the 35k version.

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: 10 of our 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 Marriott)

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. You can earn a second each year with $60k in spending on the card in a calendar year.

Welcome bonus: 150,000 bonus points after you make $4,000 in purchases within three months of account opening.

Annual fee: $450

Pros: The Hilton Aspire is another card that can be worth adding to the wallet even with the $450 fee because the credits (up to $250 airline and up to $250 Hilton resort) can 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, too. 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 getaway include the Grand Wailea in Maui, Conrad New York Midtown, Waldorf Astoria Maldives, Conrad Tokyo, Hotel del Coronado in San Diego and the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando (which now conveys Disney World perks).

(Photo courtesy of Grand Wailea)
(Photo courtesy of Grand Wailea)

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Annual free night benefit: Receive one weekend night award your first year as part of a limited-time welcome bonus and then every year after renewal when you spend $15,000 on purchases on your card in a calendar year.

Welcome bonus: 130,000 Hilton points and a free weekend award night after you make $4,000 in purchases within 4 months of account opening. Offer ends Aug. 28, 2019.

Annual fee: $95

Pros: Use the weekend award night at almost any Hilton property around the world, so you are not starved for choice with this certificate. You can stay at a property that costs $500+ for a night with just the payment of a $95 annual fee.

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 getaway include the Grand Wailea in Maui, Conrad New York Midtown, Waldorf Astoria Maldives, Conrad Tokyo, Hotel del Coronado in San Diego and the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando (which now conveys Disney World perks).

Conrad New York Midtown (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Conrad New York Midtown (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card

Annual free night benefit: Receive one weekend night award your first year as part of a limited-time welcome bonus and every year after renewal when you spend $15,000 on purchases on your card in a calendar year. You can earn a second annual award with $60k in total spending in a calendar year.

Welcome bonus: 130,000 Hilton points and a weekend free night award after you make $5,000 in purchases within 4 months of account opening. Offer ends Aug. 28, 2019.

Annual fee: $95

Pros: Like the weekend award night certificates issued by the other Hilton cobranded credit cards, this one can also be redeemed at almost any Hilton property around the world. You can stay at a property that costs $500+ for a night with just the payment of a $95 annual fee.

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 getaway include the Grand Wailea in Maui, Conrad New York Midtown, Waldorf Astoria Maldives, Conrad Tokyo, Hotel del Coronado in San Diego and the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando (which now conveys Disney World perks).

Waldorf Astoria Maldives (Photo courtesy of HIlton)
Waldorf Astoria Maldives (Photo courtesy of Hilton)

Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card 

Annual free night benefit: Earn one free night e-certificate good for any standard room when you charge $10,000 then renew your card (up to $30,000 and three free nights).

Welcome bonus: Receive 50,000 points after your first purchase, plus 35,000 points once you spend $2,500 on your card within the first 90 days.

Rewards: 10x points at participating Radisson Rewards hotels and 5x points for purchases everywhere else.

Other benefits: Gold elite status or 15 qualifying nights for those who already hold that status. You also receive 40,000 points each year when you renew your card.

Radisson Seattle Airport (Photo courtesy of Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Radisson Seattle Airport (Photo courtesy of Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Bottom Line

While I don’t use them all for everyday spending, my wallet contains a number of hotel cards such as those from Hyatt and Marriott, 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.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Business Amex, click here.

Additional reporting by Dia Adams and Jason Steele.

Featured image courtesy of the Grand Wailea.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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