5 ways to maximize free hotel night rewards in the new era of COVID-19

Jul 3, 2020

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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

In This Post

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

*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

Conrad Hilton Downtown Manhattan (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
Conrad Hilton Downtown Manhattan (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The World of Hyatt Credit 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

Hyatt Regency Hill Country (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Hyatt Regency Hill Country (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit 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

JW Marriott Maldives (Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)
JW Marriott Maldives (Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

IHG Rewards Club 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. Editor’s note: comments have been lightly edited for context.

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.

arches-utah-iphone-apple-smartphone-cameraphone-photo-photography
Capturing Arches National Park in Utah (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

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.

Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center (Photo courtesy of Marriott)
Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center near Dallas. (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

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.

Courtyard by Marriott Anaheim (Photo courtesy of Marriott)
Courtyard by Marriott Anaheim (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

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.

Conrad Maldives (Image courtesy of Hilton)
Conrad Maldives (Image courtesy of Hilton)

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

Bottom line

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.

Featured photo of the Grand Hyatt at SFO by Summer Hull / The Points Guy.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire, please click here.    
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, please click here.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

This card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 150,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card after you use your new Card to make $4,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, enjoy a free Weekend Night Reward within your first year and every year after renewal.
  • Earn 14X Hilton Bonus Points when you make eligible purchases on your Card at participating hotels or resorts within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • Earn 7X Bonus Points for eligible purchases: on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies & at U.S. restaurants.
  • Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
  • Enjoy up to $250 in Hilton Resort Credits on your Card each anniversary year, when you stay at participating resorts within the Hilton portfolio.
  • Enjoy complimentary Diamond status with your Hilton Honors Aspire Card.
  • $450 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
15.74% - 24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$450
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Good,Excellent
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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.