How to get maximum value from Hilton free night certificates
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
The demand for travel this spring, summer and beyond continues to grow as more international destinations ease restrictions and reopen to tourists. And with so many travelers looking to hit the road, lodging rates remain quite high. This is where free night hotel certificates can come in handy — especially if you’re sitting on a handful of certificates with looming expiration dates.
One program that offers a variety of these certificates is Hilton Honors, as some Hilton credit cards provide these to cardholders based on spending or at your cardmember anniversary — including the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card.
And with the program recently raising award rates at some luxurious properties, one could argue that these certificates are even more valuable now.
In this guide, we’ll highlight how to earn these certificates and go through some tips and suggestions for making the most of this perk.
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Overview of Hilton free night certificates
Let’s start with the basics: These certificates are only valid for standard award rooms. They can’t be used for upgraded accommodations — which will be noted as “Premium Room Rewards” when searching on Hilton’s website.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the certificates you’d earn with select Hilton credit cards were valid only on weekends — defined as a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night. They were also valid for just one year from the date of issuance.
However, Hilton made a slew of notable updates to these certificates since the early days of the pandemic — in March 2020, October 2020, May 2021 and then again in November 2021.
First, all unexpired free night certificates can now be used on any night of the week. And this holds true for any new certificate issued in 2022.
In addition, there have been multiple extensions to the validity period of any unexpired, unused certificates you have in your account — though the details depend on when (exactly) your certificate was first issued. Here’s a table that should provide some clarity:
|If your certificate was issued …||Then it’s valid …|
|On (or before) June 30, 2020.||Through July 1, 2022.|
|Between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2020.||For 24 months from the date of issuance.|
|Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021.||Through Dec. 31, 2022.|
|On any date in 2022.||For 12 months from the date of issuance.|
Hilton’s most recent announcement also included the news that you can now see any unused certificates in your online account, so if you’re wondering about the status of yours, simply log in and scroll down to see them.
Again, these certificates are restricted to standard room types (defined individually by each property), which may not always be available. However, they’re valid at virtually every participating property in the Hilton Honors program — with just a few exceptions.
Finally, it’s worth noting that each card in the Hilton Amex portfolio awards these certificates in slightly different ways — which we’ll cover next.
Related: The best hotel credit cards that come with an annual free night
How to earn free night certificates
Three separate credit cards typically award free night certificates in the Hilton Honors program — though a fourth has a limited-time welcome offer that includes a free night as well.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
If you open the Hilton Aspire card, you’ll receive one free night upon opening the card and each year after your account renewal. You also have the ability to earn a second free night by spending $60,000 on the card in a calendar year. The card comes with a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) but also includes benefits like automatic Hilton Honors Diamond status, Priority Pass lounge access, an up-to-$250 annual airline fee statement credit and an up-to-$250 annual Hilton resort statement credit. Enrollment is required for select benefits.
Current welcome bonus: Earn 150,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
The information for the Hilton Aspire 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.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card
Both new and existing holders of the Hilton Surpass card can earn a free night certificate after spending $15,000 on eligible purchases on the card in a calendar year. It also provides automatic Hilton Gold status plus 10 complimentary visits to Priority Pass lounges every year (enrollment is required). The card has a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).
If you apply today, you can earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership
Official application link: Hilton Honors Surpass card.
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card
Like the Surpass card, the Hilton Business Amex allows all cardholders to earn a free night certificate by spending $15,000 on the card in a calendar year. However, if you spend an additional $45,000 on the card (for a total of $60,000) in that same calendar year, you can earn a second free night certificate. You’ll also enjoy Hilton Gold status and 10 Priority Pass visits every year (enrollment is required), all for a reasonable $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).
In addition, like the Surpass card, the Hilton Business Amex currently includes a certificate in its welcome offer for new cardholders.
If you apply today, you can earn Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership
Official application link: Hilton Honors Business card.
Where can Hilton free night certificates be redeemed?
While each certificate is valid at virtually any property in the worldwide Hilton portfolio, a few dozen properties are excluded, including all-inclusive resorts and many Hilton Grand Vacations or other “distinctive resorts” in the program. You can see the full list of these excluded properties at this site.
Note that this makes Hilton certificates more valuable than comparable ones offered by Marriott, Hyatt and IHG — especially since these certificates currently apply to any day of the week.
When will you receive your Hilton free night certificate?
All of these certificates are sent electronically to your email address on file. When it comes to timing, the Hilton Aspire‘s terms and conditions indicate that your initial free night should arrive within 8-14 weeks after opening the card. Your annual certificate should arrive within 8-14 weeks of your anniversary date.
For the current welcome offers on the Hilton Amex, Hilton Surpass and Hilton Business cards, the terms indicate that it’ll take “up to 16 weeks” for the email to arrive with the details of your free night reward.
Finally, for certificates earned through spending on any of the three cards, you’ll receive them 8-12 weeks after reaching the spending requirements.
All that being said, I found the process to be much quicker. A couple of years ago, I hit the $15,000 spending threshold on my Hilton Surpass with a U.S. supermarket purchase, and just four days later, I received an email from American Express with the subject line, “You’ve earned a Weekend Night Reward from Hilton Honors.”
Then, just five days after receiving that email, I received another email from Hilton Honors with the subject line, “Your Reward Night has arrived!”
In other words, it took just nine days from hitting the spending threshold to have my certificate in hand. However, I’ve read reports indicating that both the initial and annual free night certificates on the Aspire card typically take at least eight weeks to appear, so keep that in mind.
Related: How to choose the best Hilton credit card for you
How to use Hilton free night certificates
Once you’ve earned one (or more) of these certificates, the process to redeem them is very straightforward. Unfortunately, it must be completed over the phone, but I’ve typically found the booking experience to be relatively hassle-free.
However, before you even pick up the phone, you’ll want to verify that your desired property has standard award inventory available for your desired date(s). If standard rooms are sold out or you would rather book premium rooms, you must either pay out of pocket or redeem points.
To check on availability, go to hilton.com, enter your search criteria (be sure to check the box for “Use Points”) and then look for any property with “Standard Room Reward” listed in the results.
Related: How to redeem points with the Hilton Honors program
In this example, for a two-night stay in New York City, you could use your free night certificate for the first two properties. But since the DoubleTree only has “Premium Room Rewards” available, you wouldn’t be able to do so there.
Some hotels may use multiple room types under the “Standard Room Reward” designation.
For example, if you wanted to book a room at the Conrad New York Midtown, you could use a certificate for three different room types (even though they have slightly different paid rates):
- A city view deluxe with two queen beds.
- A city view deluxe with one king bed.
- A city view junior suite with one queen bed.
Again, the key is the word “standard” in the search results.
Once you’ve verified that standard awards are available, call Hilton at 800-446-6677. Let them know that you would like to make a reservation using your free night certificate(s) from your American Express card(s). Each free night should be associated with your account, but the email you received will have the certificate number on it, in case the agent has trouble locating it.
If you have two or more of these certificates, you shouldn’t have any problem using them on a single reservation, as I was able to do a few years ago for a weekend trip I took with my family to Toronto for a concert:
Note that even though my confirmation had the regular award cost listed (100,000 points for a two-night stay), I didn’t need to actually use those points since I attached the certificates to the reservation.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the automatic Hilton elite status these cards confer is honored on all stays booked directly with Hilton, including reservations using these certificates.
How to maximize the free night certificates
Of course, knowing how to earn and then use these free night certificates on the Hilton American Express cards is only one part of the puzzle. It’s also critical to think about how to maximize them.
Related: Maximizing redemptions with Hilton Honors
Here are some of the strategies I’ve used to get as much value from these certificates as possible:
1. Redeem them at higher-tier properties
Your priority should be to redeem these certificates at higher-tier properties. The Hilton Honors program no longer publishes formal award charts, but top-tier properties used to max out at 95,000 points for standard awards. This has recently shifted, but as of now, your certificates remain valid at virtually all properties around the world — even those pricing at 120,000 or 150,000 points per night.
So when you’re searching for properties at which to use these free nights, try to get as close as possible to that 95,000-point threshold (or higher). Since Hilton points are worth 0.6 cents apiece based on TPG’s most recent valuations, and since these certificates are essentially substitutes for using points, you’d be looking at saving $570 (or more) per night.
Here are some terrific options for properties that normally require a high number of points per night:
- Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.
- Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills.
- Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa.
- Conrad London St. James.
I’ve personally stayed at the last two on the list and highly recommend both of them. However, with the continued booming demand for domestic travel, it might make sense to use the certificates for properties closer to home — especially if you’re traveling during popular periods.
2. Look for high paid rates
Another strategy to increase the value of these certificates is to look for properties with high revenue rates. High paid rates tend to correlate with high award rates, but that’s not always the case. I’ve seen rates as low as $396 at the Conrad Maldives, while the Conrad St. James can have rates as low as $293 in the offseason.
But the opposite can hold true as well — you’ll frequently see low-to-mid-tier properties charging very high room rates during special events, even though the number of points you’d need to redeem for a free night isn’t exorbitant.
Even though Hilton no longer publishes award charts, a nice tool on its website can help you in this endeavor: the Points Explorer.
This resource will highlight the maximum number of points a property can charge, along with the lowest award rate a member has booked. Generally speaking, if you find a weekend night when the property is charging the maximum award price, that’ll correlate to high paid rates — and thus get you solid value for your certificate.
3. Combine with other reservations
If you only have one or two certificates and need to stay at a given hotel for a longer time, consider utilizing the free night(s) in conjunction with a paid stay or a regular award stay. While these would need to be booked separately, it does provide some additional benefits:
It allows you to redeem an award for more expensive nights. There are many times when a weekend night would be pricier than a weeknight, so this gives you the flexibility to pay for the cheaper night and attach the certificate to the pricier one. This is also true if you’re planning to combine a standard free night award booked with points and a free night booked with a certificate, given Hilton’s dynamic pricing model.
I’ve seen cases (in Las Vegas, for example) where a Saturday night stay might be a standard 50,000 points per night, whereas a Sunday night stay would only be 34,000 points per night. If you encounter a scenario like this, use the certificate for Saturday and redeem points for Sunday.
It can be combined with credit card perks. Many credit cards offer perks for hotel stays, and some of these can be leveraged with the free night. For example, you could book a five-night stay with one free night certificate and then four paid nights with the Citi Prestige® Card to get your fourth night free. You could also combine a free night with a separate reservation through a program like American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts via The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.
The information for the Citi Prestige 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.
You could talk your way into an upgrade. A final possible strategy for scoring an upgraded room would be to combine a free night certificate (or two) with a Premium Room Reward at the end of your stay. As long as the premium room type you booked is available at check-in, you might have luck convincing the agent to bump you right into the upgraded accommodations for the entire stay. Just be aware that this plan could backfire, forcing you to switch rooms part of the way through your stay.
All that being said, it’s worth noting that you cannot use the free night certificate as part of a five-night stay and still get the fifth night free. So if you need to book a trip that’s exactly five nights, I’d suggest redeeming points for the entire stay and saving your certificate(s) for another time. Here’s an example of why that makes sense for a room that would ordinarily cost 60,000 points per night:
- Option 1: Book a four-night award stay for 240,000 points and use a free night certificate for the fifth night.
- Option 2: Book a five-night award stay for 240,000 points.
You’re spending the same number of points in both scenarios, so you wind up using the certificate for (literally) no reason.
However, the free night certificates can be a great option for stays of six or seven nights. You’d use the certificate on the front (or back) end of your stay and then redeem points for the other five or more nights, thus retaining the fifth-night-free perk and also using your certificate(s).
4. Carefully plan your spending
A fourth (and final) way to maximize the Hilton Amex free night certificates is to plan your spending during the year carefully. If you do this right, you could end up with two, three or even four certificates valid at the same time. Here’s what you’d need to do to make that happen:
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card
As noted above, the Hilton Amex Surpass awards you a free night certificate when you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year. However, if you almost always book weekend trips of at least two nights, having a single certificate may be mostly useless. Fortunately, you can time your spending to ensure that you’ll get two overlapping certificates.
First, apply for the card and spend the $2,000 within the first three months to earn the 130,000-point welcome bonus. Then, spend $15,000 by the end of 2023 to earn a free-night certificate.
Once the calendar flips to a new year, spend $15,000 as quickly as you can to earn a second free night. These two nights should then have several months of overlapping validity. And all of this can happen before your card even renews.
Apply now: Hilton Honors Surpass Card
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
If you’re looking to get three overlapping certificates, consider the Aspire card. You’ll want to start by applying for the card in the late summer or early fall to ensure that your anniversary certificate arrives toward the end of the year. Then you’ll want to spend $60,000 before the end of the year, followed by another $60,000 as soon as possible in the new calendar year (yes, I realize that’s a lot of spending).
Depending on how quickly you reach this second threshold, you could wind up with three free night certificates in hand all at once that could all be used for a long weekend (Friday through Sunday night).
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card
You could follow the same strategy outlined above for the Surpass card to get two overlapping certificates. Like the Aspire, there’s a way to get three overlapping certificates on the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card every other year.
First, wait to hit the $15,000 spending threshold until late in the year (say, November). Then, spend another $45,000 before the end of the year to earn a second one. Once the new year arrives, quickly spend $15,000 to get a third. Again, that’s a lot of spending, but if your company’s purchases tend to be clustered into the end and/or beginning of a calendar year, it could be a great option.
Apply now: Hilton Honors Business card
Keep in mind that none of these strategies are repeatable every year. Given the timing of when you meet the thresholds, you’ll only be able to have two or three overlapping certificates every other year on the Surpass or Aspire (respectively). However, you could consistently get two overlapping free night certificates on both the Aspire and Business cards, as follows:
- Aspire: Time your purchases to reach $60,000 right around your cardmember anniversary date.
- Business: Time your purchases to reach the $60,000 threshold at the end of the year and then spend $15,000 as quickly as possible in the new year.
These final two strategies are repeatable year in and year out to ensure you aren’t left with one random certificate that you struggle to redeem.
Related: The best ways to earn points with the Hilton Honors program
The current slate of Hilton Honors cobranded cards provides a wealth of opportunities to earn free night certificates, awarded each year on your cardmember anniversary (Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express) or by reaching various spending thresholds (the Aspire card as well as the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card).
You can redeem free night certificates at any standard property in the Hilton Honors portfolio, giving you numerous ways to get tremendous value.
Hopefully, you now have some concrete strategies for making the most of them.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Business Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Amex card, click here.
Additional reporting by Chris Dong.
This is The Points Guy’s permanent page for maximizing Hilton night certificates, so you can bookmark it and check back for updates.