5 ways to maximize free hotel night rewards in the new era of COVID-19
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
The effects of the ongoing pandemic have reached far and wide. International travel from the US has been and will continue to be limited as countries close off borders to control the spread. For US-based travelers, that has meant rethinking where you can go -- if you're thinking of going anywhere at all.
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For those with hotel credit cards, especially ones that give a free hotel night to use anywhere in the world, that also means revising your accommodation plans. A free hotel night reward can be an incredibly valuable credit card perk -- but does the pandemic change the value proposition?
Related reading: The best hotel credit cards for 2020
Hotel credit cards with free nights
Having the right hotel credit card is the easiest (but not the only) way to earn to free night reward. Here's a quick rundown of the consumer credit cards that offer a free night certificate by virtue of being a cardholder.
We also have a more comprehensive guide to all cards with an annual free hotel night -- including business cards and cards that require an annual spending requirement.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
- One Free Weekend Night Reward with the welcome bonus and again every year after renewal*
- Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)
- Review of the Hilton Amex Aspire Card
*Unexpired free weekend night certificates — plus those issued through Dec. 31, 2020 — can now be used on any night of the week
Extended Hilton expiration dates: All Weekend Night Rewards that were unexpired as of March 11, 2020, and all new certificates issued through Aug. 30, 2020, will have their validity extended until Aug. 31, 2021.
Related reading: Best uses of Hilton free night rewards
World of Hyatt Credit Card
- One free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort every year after your cardmember anniversary
- Annual fee: $95
- Review of the World of Hyatt card
Extended Hyatt expiration dates: Free-night certificates set to expire between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will have validity extended through Dec. 31, 2021.
Related reading: Best use of Hyatt free night certificates
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
- One Free Night Award every year after your card account anniversary that can be used for one night costing 50,000 Bonvoy points or less
- Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)
- Review of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex card
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card
- One Free Night Award every year after your card account anniversary that can be used for one night costing 35,000 Bonvoy points or less
- Annual fee: $95
- Review of the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card
Extended Marriott expiration date: Members with outstanding free-night certificates offered by select Marriott credit cards that were set to expire in 2020 will be able to use them through Jan. 31, 2021
Related reading: Best use of Marriott 35,000-point free night certificates
IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card
- One anniversary night after each cardmember anniversary that is valid at IHG Hotels bookable for 40k points or less per night
- Annual fee: $89
- Review of the IHG Premier credit card
Extended IHG expiration dates: Existing certificates set to expire March 1, 2020 or later will have their validity extended through Dec. 31, 2020. Additionally, all new certificates issued in 2020 will be valid for 18 months, six months longer than the usual 12 months of validity.
Related reading: Best uses of IHG free night rewards
What savvy travelers had to say
We asked travelers in the TPG Lounge Facebook group how they now plan to use their free night certificates this year. Thankfully, many hotels are extending the validity of them. However, many travelers are planning to shift their reward night strategy entirely. Here's how they plan to use their certificates.
For road trips and domestic getaways
With many borders closed to U.S. residents for the foreseeable future, travelers are planning to use their free night certificates this year on road trips and domestic getaways. While popular options even before the pandemic, we're seeing a shift in travel behavior from staying in big cities to staying in destinations that have more space, like near national parks.
Laura C.: We had scheduled an anniversary trip to New York City with a stay at the Conrad Midtown with our Hilton certificates. Now, we are using them at the Hoodoo Moab by Hilton to give our kids a treat on our trip out west to Arches National Park.
Matthew Y.: I'm planning to use two Hilton free night certificates at the Waldorf Grand Wailea in Maui for New Year's, plus points for another five nights on the Big Island. We were originally eying an international trip but decided to stay domestic because of the virus.
Angie S.: I wanted a weekend in New York City for my higher-value Marriott certificates but that’s not happening. I'm thinking of using them for a long weekend at the beach, but with services cut, that doesn’t excite me at all. I’m actually still trying to figure out where to use them. Would love the mountains or someplace cooler on the water.
Related reading: Why I went all in on the World of Hyatt card
For a staycation near home
Some travelers plan to stay even close to home this summer, resorting to staycations or trips that don't take them very far.
Rosie M.: We planned to use my Marriott free night rewards for Europe, but that's not happening. Instead, we opted to do two nights at the Gaylord Texan Marriott for July 4th, which includes their waterpark. It would've been $300 per night. Stellar usage? No, but definitely more than breaks even for the card's annual fee.
Stephen H.: I have one 35k Marriott night award. I might just use it for a staycation so I can get out of the house.
Related reading: Best Marriott credit cards
For when life happens
Instead of using free night certificates for an extravagant getaway, some of the travelers we heard from were using them for more practical purposes. In these cases, the opportunity cost is cash that you wouldn't have to spend on these life events.
Stacy M.: Pre-pandemic, we would've used our Marriott certificate for a beach or mountains stay, but instead, we used it at a Courtyard Marriott to have a place to stay while closing and renovating our latest investment property.
Omar A.: I’ll probably just use my Hyatt and Marriott free night rewards for MBA candidate interviews later this fall because I’ll want to conserve cash and points that I’ve racked up.
Related reading: The Hilton Aspire resort credit can now be used at U.S. restaurants
For international travel -- hopefully
Meanwhile, others were holding out hope for a quick international travel recovery later this year and into early 2021.
For rates and fees of the , please click here.
Bao N.: I have a reservation using three Hilton certificates for the Waldorf Astoria Pedegral in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for December. I hope to be able to go then since I already rescheduled from May. If it happens, it'll be one of the best redemptions for free night certificates. This property sometimes goes for 120,000 Hilton points per night.
Peter Y.: I still plan to use my Hilton Aspire free night certificate at the Conrad Maldives in March 2021.
Related reading: Best Hilton credit cards
For waiting until the future
Finally, we spoke with travelers that weren't comfortable with the idea of staying at a hotel at all. In these cases, they'll be looking for further extensions of free night certificates until they personally felt safe to travel. This isn't out of the realm of possibility -- call the hotel to see if they'd be willing to grant you an extension.
Byron G.: Mine is going to waste. Not staying a hotel until a vaccine comes.
Mike B.: I have two Hyatt Category 1-4 nights, two Marriott 35k certificates, one Marriott 50k certificate, and one Hilton certificate. However, I have zero plans on going out into this mess. Travel when things are closed and restricted just isn’t exciting.
Related reading: A complete guide to credit card benefit changes
Despite global travel restrictions, there are still ways to use your free hotel night reward, courtesy of your hotel credit card.
The travelers we heard from plan to use their certificates for hotel stays for life events, staycations, and family road trips. For the eternal optimists, you can still plan international travel, but make sure the rest of your plans are flexible. Finally, there is nothing wrong with shelving it all, waiting it out and petitioning the hotel for extending the free night expiration date.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, please click here.