Free night certificates: Why haven’t hotel loyalty programs removed expiration dates?
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I’ve visited specific destinations and planned entire trips around using hotel free night certificates. After all, these certificates can provide significant value. Unfortunately, some of the most aspirational international destinations are still closed to tourism and even if you’re fully vaccinated and able to travel, testing requirements and other restrictions might make it unappealing. While some hotel loyalty programs have extended most free night certificates multiple times, some travelers wonder why they haven’t simply removed expiration dates altogether. So, today I’ll take a closer look at hotel free night certificates and why hotel loyalty programs haven’t removed expiration dates on these certificates.
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How do you get hotel free night certificates?
There are several ways to earn hotel free night certificates. The methods through which you can earn a free night certificate vary across programs. But, the following hotel credit cards come with an annual free night just for being a cardholder:
- World of Hyatt Credit Card: One free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort every year after your cardmember anniversary
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: One free weekend night reward with your new card and again every year after renewal
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: One free night award every year after your card account anniversary that you can use for one night costing 35,000 points or less
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: One free night award every year after your card account anniversary that you can use for one night costing 50,000 points or less
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: One free night award every year after your card account anniversary that you can use for one night costing 35,000 points or less
- IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: One anniversary night valid at IHG hotels with a current point redemption level of 40,000 points or less after your account anniversary each year
Plus, some hotel credit cards provide a free night certificate when you meet specific spending thresholds on your card. For example, you can earn one free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort if you spend $15,000 during your cardmember anniversary year on your World of Hyatt Credit Card. And you can get one free night e-certificate for each $10,000 in spend (up to $30,000) each account anniversary year on your Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card.
Finally, some hotel loyalty programs offer a free night certificate when you reach specific loyalty program thresholds. For example, once you reach 75 elite nights with Marriott Bonvoy in a calendar year, you’ll get a 75-night choice award. And, one of the top options for the 75-night Marriott choice award is a free night award worth up to 40,000 points. Likewise, several of the World of Hyatt milestone awards provide a free night award.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card and Radisson Rewards Premier Visa 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.
Why hotel loyalty programs haven’t and likely won’t remove expiration dates on free nights
As a traveler, I’d love it if hotel loyalty programs removed expiration dates on free night certificates. This would allow me to save up certificates to book multiple-night stays at aspirational properties with no points or cash outlay. Removing expiration dates might have some simplifying benefits for hotel loyalty programs as well.
I don’t think we’ll see any of the major hotel loyalty programs removing expiration dates on free night certificates. Many people use free night certificates to book aspirational hotels, which are more expensive for the loyalty programs to cover.
Likewise, many travelers won’t want to spend just one or two nights at a hotel. With only one or two free night certificates, the traveler may pay cash or points to book additional nights, generating more revenue for the hotel. Plus, it’s likely easier from an accounting and partnerships standpoint when certificates expire within a set time.
Some travelers would likely hoard free night certificates if they didn’t have expiration dates. Granted, this would be a bad idea for certificates with a points or category cap. After all, points tend to decrease in value and properties tend to increase in category. But, for programs like Hilton Honors that still allow you to use free weekend night awards on almost any standard night reward, this could mean certificates might gain value over time.
In short, hotel loyalty programs have little to gain by removing expiration dates from hotel free night certificates. After all, consumers would appreciate the removal of expiration dates. But, removing expiration dates likely wouldn’t change consumer behavior in a way that’s beneficial for hotel loyalty programs and their cobranded credit card partnerships.
Hotel loyalty programs weigh in
While writing this article, I reached out to Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, IHG Rewards and Radisson Rewards to see if the programs had any intention to remove expiration dates. IHG Rewards didn’t provide a statement by the time of publishing, but here’s what I learned from each of the other programs.
Marriott Bonvoy recently announced it would extend expiring free night awards through Jan. 3, 2022. Although this is excellent news for travelers with expiring free night awards, I still reached out to Marriott to obtain a statement. A Marriott spokesperson told TPG the following:
Free Night Awards are meant to show appreciation for our most engaged members each year and to encourage them to travel and explore our portfolio. Typically, they are members who have received them because they are current co-brand cardholders or maintained Elite status the previous year and chosen an FNA as their Annual Choice Benefit. We were pleased to have recently extended eligible FNAs for our members given the pandemic. At this time, we don’t have any additional news to share about FNAs.
Marriott’s spokesperson mentions one of the reasons I discussed above: free nights encourage travelers to travel and explore more brands. In the past, I’ve used my Marriott free night awards to stay at properties I typically wouldn’t have splurged on, including The St. Regis Osaka and The Ritz-Carlton, Osaka.
Typically, you must book and complete your stay within 12 months from when Hilton issues a free weekend night certificate. But, thanks to extensions in March 2020 and again in October 2020, Hilton free weekend night certificates now expire as follows:
- All unexpired certificates issued before May 1, 2020, are valid through Aug. 31, 2021, for use on any night of the week.
- Certificates issued from May 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, are valid for 24 months from the date of issuance for use on any night of the week.
- Certificates issued starting Jan. 1, 2021, are valid through Dec. 31, 2022, for use on any night of the week.
Unlike most other hotel free night certificates, you can’t see the details of your Hilton free weekend night certificate in your loyalty account. Instead, you get the certificate by email and then must call to book once you find standard award availability at an eligible Hilton hotel.
When asked about whether Hilton has plans to remove expiration dates on its free weekend night certificates, permanently allow members to use weekend night certificates on any day of the week or further extend expiring certificates, a Hilton spokesperson stated:
Hilton Honors remains committed to providing flexibility and value to its members, whether they are currently travelling or dreaming of a future trip. We continue to actively listen to feedback and engage with our members in order to enhance our program offerings and make decisions that best support our loyal customers. We will be in touch soon with more updates.
So, although this response from Hilton provides no concrete information, it does indicate that Hilton may have news to share soon.
World of Hyatt
Currently, all unused Hyatt free night, suite upgrade and club lounge access awards carry an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2021 or later. When asked whether Hyatt is considering removing expiration dates on reward night certificates, a Hyatt spokesperson noted:
At this time, we do not have plans to remove expiration dates from earned awards, and will continue to listen to member feedback to evaluate ways to flex the program as global recovery evolves.
And in response to my question about whether Hyatt has any plans to extend the reward night certificates that expire on Dec. 31, 2021, the spokesperson responded:
At this time, we do not have plans to further extend the expiration dates from earned awards, and will continue to listen to member feedback to evaluate ways to flex the program as global recovery evolves.
As mentioned above, you can earn e-certificates using the Radisson Rewards card. Radisson Rewards has extended some expiring e-certificates to June 30, 2021. With the date rapidly approaching, I asked Radisson about any plans to extend the expiration date on these certificates or remove them altogether. A Radisson spokesperson replied:
Radisson Rewards is committed to accommodating our members as travel beings to resume. We are continuously reviewing the expiration dates of benefits, such as the free night e-certs, in response to the pandemic. We will be reaching out to our members with program updates in the coming weeks.
So, if you’re a Radisson loyalist, you may get news of program updates in the upcoming weeks. However, the spokesperson didn’t specifically address the possibility of removing expiration dates on e-certificates.
Hotel loyalty programs are in a difficult position. After all, some travelers are now fully vaccinated and ready to travel, while others may still be unable or unwilling to travel for various reasons. As such, we may see some hotel loyalty programs issuing additional extensions for free night certificates. That being said, it doesn’t look like we’ll see programs completely remove expiration dates on these certificates.
Featured image of the Hyatt Andaz Capital Gate by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.
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