Hotel credit cards that come with an annual free night

Sep 29, 2019

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Many Hotel credit cards don’t just offer a sweet bonus when you first get the card, but also a valuable incentive to keep the card in your wallet — an annual free-night award. Some free-night awards are included as part of the welcome bonus, while others are provided just for having an active account or for meeting 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 free night every year either when your statement closes following the anniversary of your account opening or when you pay the annual fee. Read the fine print for other restrictions such as minimum spending requirements.

Free-night certificates are usually restricted to the lower tier of the hotel program’s reward categories, but there are exceptions. You usually have one year to use 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 Welcome Bonus
The World of Hyatt Credit Card Free night at Category 1–4 Hyatt hotel or resort Free night every year after cardmember anniversary; one additional free night with $15k annual spending during cardmember anniversary year $95 Earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening, plus an additional 25,000 bonus points after spending $6,000 total within the first six months of account opening
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card Free Weekend Night Reward valid at most Hilton properties One Weekend Night Reward after spending $15k on eligible purchases on your card in a calendar year $95 (see rates and fees) Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after spending $2,000 in card purchases within the first three months of card membership. Terms apply.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card Free Weekend Night Reward valid at most Hilton properties One Weekend Night Reward with welcome bonus and again every year after renewal, plus an additional weekend night after spending $60k in card purchases in a calendar year $450 (see rates and fees) Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after making $4,000 in card purchases within the first three months of card membership and a free Weekend Night Reward within the first year. Terms apply.
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card Free Weekend Night Reward valid at most Hilton properties One Free Weekend Night Reward after making $15k in eligible card purchases in a calendar year, plus a second free weekend night if you spend $45k in the same calendar year $95 (see rates and fees) Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership. Terms apply.
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card Award valid up to 40k points One free night at each anniversary $89 80,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card Free Night Award valid up to 50k Marriott Bonvoy points One free night after card account anniversary $450 (see rates and fees) Earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. Terms apply.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card Free Night Award valid up to 35k Marriott Bonvoy points One free night after card account anniversary $95 For a limited time, earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months of account opening
Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card Award valid up to 35k points One free night at each anniversary $125 (see rates and fees) For a limited time, earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months of account opening. Offer ends 10/23/19. Terms Apply.
Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card Free-night e-certificate valid at U.S. Radisson properties 50k $75 Earn 50,000 bonus points after your first purchase plus another 35,000 points after spending $2,500 in the first 90 days of account opening

Which card offers the most free nights in the first year

Although you can earn bonus points on most credit cards within a few months of account opening most hotel credit cards require you to wait a year until your first account anniversary to earn your free-night certificate.

One exception is the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, which offers a free weekend-night certificate after account opening and each year upon renewal. I consider this one of the best premium credit cards on the market. It more than makes up for its $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) by offering such benefits as automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond elite status, a $250 annual statement credit for airline incidental fees, a $250 annual Hilton resort statement credit, a $100 property credit on eligible stays of two nights or more at Conrad and Waldorf Astoria properties and 14x points per dollar on Hilton purchases.

The best way to earn free nights in your first year of card membership is by leveraging the points earned from your welcome bonus. Obviously, you can stretch your points further by staying at budget properties instead of luxury hotels. The luxe properties will deplete your stash faster.

Marriott has eight categories in its award chart, with standard Category 1 awards pricing out at 7,500 points per night. That means you could get 10 free nights out of your bonus, or 12 if you take advantage of Marriott’s fifth night free on award stays.

If you opt for a top-tier Category 8 hotel like the St. Regis Maldives, you won’t have enough points for the 85,000-point award necessary for one night. However, if you can snag a Category 8 property during off-peak pricing, the cost drops to 70,000 points.

Assuming you maximize both tiers, the World of Hyatt card will give you with 50,000 bonus points. Hyatt’s award chart is attractively priced, with Category 1 hotels starting at just 5,000 points a night. This means you can also squeeze 10 free nights out of your bonus. If you opt for a luxury property like the Park Hyatt Sydney, you’ll spend 30,000 points per night for the Category 7 award. This means that you’ll get almost two free nights out of your welcome bonus and more than $1,000 in value.

The Hilton credit cards get a lot of attention for routinely offering welcome bonuses of more than 100,000 points, but based on TPG’s valuation of Hilton points at .6 cents each, these definitely aren’t the most valuable bonuses out there. Hilton uses dynamic award pricing, and it’s rare to find hotels for less than 25,000 points per night, especially in big cities. Based on that math, your welcome bonus will net you four or five free nights. If you opt for a luxury hotel, like the recently opened Waldorf Astoria Maldives, you can expect to pay 95,000 points a night for a standard room, which will use up most of your welcome bonus.

IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is offering a bonus of 80,000 points after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. IHG awards start at 10,000 points per night on the low end, giving you just over 12 free nights, and range all the way up to 70,000 points for high-end properties. However, if you take advantage of IHG’s PointBreaks promotion, you can book select properties for as little as 5,000 points per night.

How to maximize annual free nights

A free-night award can be used by itself for a one-night stay or it can be tacked onto a longer stay booked with points or cash. If you string it together with a longer stay, let the hotel know so you can remain in the same room. 

It makes sense to redeem awards for the highest category possible and compare the cash rate to the value of the certificate. However, don’t wait so long into the year 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 fees.

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 card anniversary. The free night is 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 the 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 an attractive list of hotels in Categories 1–4, and most of them don’t play around with award inventory, which means that 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, including Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Centric, Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt and Andaz.

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: 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 is right near the slopes. (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: 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 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 a 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 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 should also mention: 1) the huge headache you might be in for if you have to alter your reservation, and 2) that Marriott charges resort fees on award stays.

All that said, I 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 some of our favorite uses of this Marriott 35k free-night certificate: 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 (see rates and fees)

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

Cons: See the discussion of the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless above, with one notable exception: This card comes with Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, which gets you a marginally higher chance for an upgrade or late checkout.

Where to Use: Our favorite uses of this Marriott 50k certificate include properties 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 upon renewal. You can earn a second free night 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 (see rates and fees)

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 to stays on Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights. There is also a 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: 125,000 Hilton points and a free-weekend award night after you make $2,000 in purchases within four months of account opening.

Annual fee: $95 (see rates and fees)

Pros: Use the weekend award night 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 (see rates and fees).

Cons: Free night applies only for stays on Friday, Saturday or Sunday night. There is also a 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 is one of our favorite places to use a free-night award on a weekend. (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy.)

The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card

Annual free-night benefit: Receive one weekend-night award after you spend $15,000 on purchases on your card in a calendar year. You can earn a second annual award with $60,000 in total spending in a calendar year.

Welcome bonus: 125,000 Hilton points after you make $3,000 in purchases within three months of account opening.

Annual fee: $95 (see rates and fees)

Pros: Like the weekend-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 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)
Book that free weekend night at 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

I don’t use them all for everyday spending, but 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 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.

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.