Get Free Hotel Nights with Hotel Points and Certificates (2019)
You can easily earn loyalty points from hotel credit cards, promotions, and actual hotel stays, and use these points for free hotel stays. Unlike frequent flyer programs, availability is not an issue. If there is a standard room available, you can book it with your points.
Many hotel credit cards also provide access to "free night certificates" that you can use, instead of points, for free hotel nights.
Several of these strategies involve signing up for hotel credit cards. Unless you have a problem with credit, signing up for credit cards, just to receive their travel benefits, can make a lot of sense. It won't kill your credit rating—it is more likely to improve it. For more information, see our Credit Cards 101 guide.
- 1 Hotel reward programs: the very basics
- 2 Getting points to use for award nights
- 3 Seeing which award hotels are located at your destination
- 4 Tips for getting good value from your award points
- 5 Determining if booking an award night is a good use of your points
- 6 Getting free night certificates from credit cards
- 7 Promotional free night certificates
Hotel reward programs: the very basics
If you are truly a newbie to the world of hotel loyalty programs, there are a few things that you need to know. If you already understand the basics of hotel reward programs, feel free to skip to the next section.
- You might not immediately recognize the names of a couple of the largest hotel programs. The largest hotel company in the world is called the “Intercontinental Hotel Group” or “IHG”. They are the parent company of Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and a few other hotel brands; but are named after their high-end Intercontinental brand. The Marriott program encompasses dozens of different hotel brands that you might not associate with Marriott. Most hotel brands with multiple locations belong to a small number of major hotel programs.
- You can earn and redeem points with any of the program's brands. For example, you can use Marriott points to stay at Westins or Delta Resorts, and not just at Marriott hotels.
- Some hotel points are much more valuable than others. Different hotel loyalty programs require very different amounts of points for free hotel night. For example, for a roughly equivalent hotel, Hyatt might require 12,000, Marriott might require 30,000, and Hilton might require 40,000 points. The expected value of different hotel points ranges from a low of about .4 cents per point, to a high of 1.75 cents per point. How Much are Hotel Points Worth?
- Each hotel program has an award chart where the number of required points is based on the “category” of the hotel. For example, Hyatt currently has seven categories of hotels ranging from 5,000 to 30,000 points per night. Hotel programs generally keep the point costs for each category constant, but periodically move the hotels from one category to another. A hotel that was in category 5 one year, might be in category 6 the next. As you might expect, many more hotels move to more expensive categories than move into less expensive categories, so a typical hotel award night has gradually required more points over time.
- Unlike frequent flyer programs, it is easy to redeem your hotel points. If there are rooms available, you can almost always use your points. Hotel programs generally don't limit the number of rooms they make available for award redemptions. You can even use your points during peark travel periods and special events (like New Years Eve), when regular room rates are much higher than normal. However, this only applies to regular rooms. If the only thing left are deluxe rooms, junior suites, etc., you may not be able to book an award night, or you may have to use a higher number of points.
- Marriott and Starwood have merged. So have Wyndham and La Quinta. And in recent years, Fairmont’s reward program has merged into Le Club Accor, and Kimpton’s reward program has merged into IHG Rewards Club.
- You'll usually receive any membership perks when you book an award room. For example, if you are entitled to free breakfast at Hilton hotels, you'll receive this benefit, even when you are using points to book your room. With most programs, you'll even receive credits towards higher-level elite status.
This is very different from the world of frequent flyer miles, where most airlines charge roughly the same number of miles for the same type of flights.
Occasionally, a specific hotel will have very few rooms that are considered "standard", with most of their rooms being considered to be special "view" rooms. This can make it nearly impossible to use your points.
Getting points to use for award nights
Unless you travel a lot for work, you probably aren’t going to earn very many points through actual hotel stays. Sophisticated travel hackers can sometimes take advantage of loyalty program promotions to earn larger than normal amounts of points on their paid stays. But for most people, it takes a long time to earn enough points to be able to redeem a free night the normal way.
So how do you earn enough points to able to get multiple free hotel nights every year?
- Most of your free nights are likely to come from signing up for credit cards. Each time you sign up for a card, you’ll generally receive enough points for 1-3 nights at a high-end hotel, or up to dozen (or more) nights at a less expensive option. A few credit cards provide free night certificates instead of hotel points.
- Unless you have a problem with handling credit, signing up for credit cards just to collect signup bonuses is a sensible thing to do. It won’t kill your credit rating—in fact, it is more likely to improve it. Credit Cards 101.
- You can sign up for multiple of these cards over the next few years, and take advantage of dozens of free hotel nights. In this table, you can see how many free nights you can expect to get from the typical signup bonus of each card. Credit Card Signup Bonuses: The Easiest Path to Free Airplane Tickets and Hotel Nights
- Free Hyatt hotel nights are a good use of your Chase Ultimate Reward points. Another way to get more hotel points is to earn Chase Ultimate Reward points, and convert them into Hyatt points. Each Ultimate Reward point coverts into one Hyatt point, which you can then use for free Hyatt hotel rooms
- Other than using Ultimate Rewards points for Hyatt redemptions, it rarely makes sense to transfer flexible credit card points to hotel programs. Amex operates a loyalty program called Membership Rewards, and Citibank operates a program called ThankYou points. Both programs allow you to transfer your points into various hotel programs to redeem for free hotel nights. However, the value you get when you do so, is lower than you can typically receive using these points in other ways. You can also transfer your Ultimate Reward points to hotel partners other than Hyatt, but these other options typically aren’t worthwhile. Introduction to 'Transferable' Reward Points.
- Using the “Cash & Points trick” you can purchase IHG and Choice points at good enough prices that they are always interesting award options. very hotel program allows you to purchase additional points. However, the rate for buying hotel points is normally too expensive to be worthwhile. But, with both IGH Rewards Club and Choice Privileges, you can take advantage of the “Cash & Points trick” to purchase last-minute points at lower-than-normal rates.
- It can make sense to purchase hotel points when they are running good promotions. While the normal purchase prices are too expensive, hotel companies sometimes have sales where you receive bonus points for every purchase. Sometimes, this bonus rates can be as high as 100%, meaning that you’ll get double the normal number of points. When they are running a particularly good sale, it can make sense to purchase points and have them on-hand for future redemptions. Acquiring More Hotel Points When They are On Sale.
|Card||Typical Bonus||# of Free Nights|
|Least expensive Hotels||Typical Hotels||Most Expensive Hotels|
|Marriott (business version also available)||75,000||15||2.1||.75|
|Hilton Aspire Amex||100,000||20.0||2.5||1.0|
|Hilton Ascend Amex||100,000||20.0||2.5||1.0|
|Radisson Premier Rewards||85,000||9.4||2.1||1.2|
Ultimate Rewards is a program operated by Chase for a several of its credit cards, and is probably the best credit card based loyalty program. We strongly recommend signing up for their cards, and using them for your credit card spending, to earn large quantities of Ultimate Reward points. The points can then be converted into different types of frequent flyer miles to redeem free airplane tickets, or they can be used (like cash) to pay for any type of travel. But, one of the best ways to get good value from your Ultimate Reward points is to convert them to Hyatt points, and use them for free hotel rooms. Ultimate Rewards Guide.
While buying points to use for an award isn’t really a free night, it essentially allows you to purchase rooms at what is often a significant discount. It allows you to book an award night at any hotels in the IHG and Choice program whenever rates are high, even if you don’t have any points in your account.
For example, using the Cash & Points trick you can purchase IHG points for .575 cents each (and sometimes less). If you are interested in staying at a Holiday Inn that costs 15,000 points per night, the required points would cost around $86. This might be significantly cheaper than the normal price for the room. Get Cheap IHG and Choice Points Using the Cash & Points Trick.
Seeing which award hotels are located at your destination
Usually the first step for using your hotel points is to determine which hotels are available where you are travelling, and how many points they cost per night.
Remember that you can book hotels that belong to any of the hotel programs where you have a point balance. In addition, you can always book IHG and Choice hotels, by taking advantage of the opportunity to purchase reasonably priced last-minute points. And, if you have Ultimate Reward points, you can often get value on Hyatt hotels as well.
Unfortunately, there are no longer any really good tools for finding all the chain hotels at your destination. There are several different options, but each has their flaws. Finding the Award Hotels at Your Destination
- For now, the only truly reliable approach is to individually search each hotel program's website. Marriott, Hilton, IHG, Hyatt, Choice, Wyndham, Club Accor, Best Western. When searching on Hyatt, their Small Luxury Hotel partners are always located at the bottom of the result list. If you don't scroll down past the more distant Hyatt-branded hotels, you'll miss them. Hotel Loyalty Program Reference Guide.
- Award Mapper. Award Mapper does a great job of showing most of the possible award hotels on a map. You can even continuously move the map to see all of the hotels in any area. Unfortunately, its database of hotels is out-of-date, so you won't see all of your options. And, for hotel programs that have variable point costs (such as Hilton and Marriott), it will only show you the point range, and not the actual points cost.
- Hotel Hustle. Hotel Hustle searches across all the major hotel programs, rather than requiring you to search them one at a time. Unfortunately, it can be annoying slow, and often doesn't display the point cost for hotels from some of the programs. So, you can use it to see which hotels exist, but you can't quickly see how many points they will wind up costing.
- Yeek. Yeek is quick, up-to-date, and allows you to easily compare the point cost to the "best available" cash rate. Unfortunately, it only supports Marriott, Hilton, IHG, and Hyatt, doesn't provide a map view, and is buggy. For example, it starts out in Chinese, and when you switch to English in the menu, the text doesn't change until after you do your first search. And even then, calendar months are still displayed only in Chinese.
- Preferred Hotels & Resorts. You can use Choice hotel points to book rooms at many of the hotels in the Preferred Hotel & Resorts program. If you are looking for a luxury hotel, make sure to check the Preferred Hotel directory. These hotels won’t show up in the other tools. Book Independent Luxury Hotels with Choice Points.
Tips for getting good value from your award points
You’ve been building up loyalty points through a combination of credit-card signup bonuses, hotel promotions, shopping portals, and hotel stays. Now, it’s time to travel. How do you best use your points to get free hotel rooms?
- Point-based stays are most valuable during periods of top demand, such as during festivals and events, ski season, or school breaks. The number of points required for a hotel room is based on the normal rates for the hotel. While some programs require more points during “high season”, award rates don’t fluctuate as much as regular room rates do or don’t change at all. As a result, the most valuable time to use your points are when hotel rates are high than normal—during ski season, school breaks, special events, holidays, and peak travel season.
- Marriott and Hilton give you your 5th night free on award stays. Four nights worth of points will get you a five night stay. For Hilton, you need to have at least Silver elite status to take advantage of this benefit.
- IHG credit cardholders get their 4th night free on award reservations. This is an even better deal than Marriott, Starwood, and Hilton, but requires that you have the IHG Premier or Traveler credit cards (cardholders of the now discontinued regular IHG card are not eligible). The IHG Premier card costs $89 per year, but comes with a free hotel certificate, automatic Platinum elite status, and several other useful benefits.
- Consider staying on the outskirts of cities, or by the airport. The required number of points for a typical hotel are usually much lower outside the city center. If you are sightseeing by car anyway, in may not make a big difference on your trip, and you’ll usually save even more money by avoiding the need to pay for expensive overnight parking. For example, the Westin Riverwalk and Marriott Riverwalk cost 35,000 points per night, but the SpringHill Suites San Antonio Northwest at the Rim only costs 17,500 points and the Fairfield Inn San Antonio Brooks City Base only costs 12,5000 points, and both hotels still get a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor.
- You can often spend a small amount of additional points to get a junior suite, club room or other upgraded room. Sometimes, you’ll need to call in to take advantage of the opportunity to book an upgraded room.
- You’ll get the most value from your points at a hotel chain’s cheapest and most expensive hotels. The required points for staying at Category 1 or Category 2 hotels can be ridiculously low. While the cash rates for these lower category hotels also tend to be low, the relative point cost is even lower. Bloggers are happy to point out that 95,000 Hilton points will get you a single night at one of Hilton’s most expensive hotels, or nineteen nights at one of their Category 1 hotels. Of course, most of the time, you won’t have an opportunity to stay at a Category 1 or Category 2 hotel unless you are visiting a very inexpensive (usually international) destination. Get More for Your Points by Using Them at Inexpensive Hotels .
- Hilton and Hyatt don't charge resort fees on award reservations. This makes points relatively more valuable at any hotel with high resort or destination fees. Note you'll still be charged resort fees if you make a Cash & Points reservation.
- You can even use your points at an all inclusive resort. Along with your room, using your points entitles you to free meals, drinks, and other activities. All the major hotel programs (and some of the smaller ones) include multiple all inclusive resorts and allow you to book them with points. In general, your award reservation only covers the first two people per room. You’ll need to spend more points or pay a cash surcharge to add additional guests. All the All-inclusive Resorts You can Book with Your Points.
- Don't let your points expire. With most hotel programs, if there is no activity in your account for 12 to 36 months, you can lose your points. Fortunately, you usually don't need to spend a night in a hotel to keep your points alive. Any activity that earns or spends points is usually enough to keep an account alive. There are typically a bunch of ways to easily earn or spend a few points with a partner. Keep Your Points from Expiring.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, room rates at the most expensive hotels in the chain can be extremely high, sometimes over $1,000 per night, giving you a very good return on your award points. There is a fixed upper limit to the number of points required for a free hotel night, but there is no upper limit to the cash price of the hotel room. Of course, the real value you receive is based on what you would have actually paid to stay at the hotel, not the necessarily the hotel’s listed price.
Determining if booking an award night is a good use of your points
- Because you have a limited supply of points, you need to be smart about when to book an award night, and when to just pay the regular "cash" rate for your room. Most people are only going to be able to generate a fixed quantity of points from credit card signups and relativitily low number of points from ongoing credit card spend and paid stays. You don’t want to use up all your points for inexpensive hotel stays; and not have enough to be able to use them later, when you could get more value. At the same time, you don’t want to hold onto your points forever, passing up free hotel rooms, while you forever seek out the highest possible redemption rates.
- We recommend converting the required number of points into an “award room rate” that you can compare to the regular rate. Your points have real value. The best way to think about whether it makes sense to book an award night is to convert the required number of points into a dollar value, and then decide whether the room is worth “spending” that much money, or whether you are better off taking advantage of another option.
- The value per point that you should use is based on your own individual circumstances, but we provide a set of values that work well for many people. In some cases, you might have an award opportunity that is so good that it makes sense to purchase new points, if you don’t already have enough to make an award reservation. How Much are Hotel Points Worth?
- It can be prudent to save some points for times when room rates are exceptionally high. As discussed above, the number of points that is required for a free night doesn't change (or doesn't change very much) depending on supply and demand, but regular room rates do. So, having points is extremely useful during holidays and special events, when regular room rates are exorbitantly expensive. Unless you expect to have a constant flow of new hotel points, it is worthwhile keeping a stash of points around to use when you really need them.
For example, if the points cost of a Sheraton hotel is 35,000 Marriott points per night, and you value Marriott point at .7 cents per point, the “cost” of using award points is around $250 per night. If the $250 “award room rate” is lower the regular room rate, you are better off making an award booking, rather than a normal booking. But, if the room still isn’t worth $250 per night (compared to the other options at your destination), you are better off saving your points and booking another hotel instead.
|Program||Typical value per point||Acquisition cost|
See our more in-depth analysis of Determine Whether an Award Night is Worthwhile.
Getting free night certificates from credit cards
- Most hotel credit cards also provide access free night certificates. For example, the Hyatt credit card gives you a free certificate every year you have the card, good for a free night at Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel; and the Hilton Ascend credit card gives you a free certificate, good for a weekend stay at any hotel, if you spend $15,000 during a calendar year.
- You get most free certificates just for holding onto the credit card each year. You usually don't get a free night certificate when you first sign up for the card (you just get the signup bonus). But, every year, when you renew the card, you'll get a free night certificate a few weeks later. With some credit cards, you need to spend a minimum amount of money on the card each year, in order to earn the certificate.
- Some hotel certificates can be used at any of of the program's hotels, but most of them can only be used for less-expensive hotels. The "unlimited" certificates are a great way to get a free night at very expensive hotels that would normally cost over $500 per night. The other certificates can only be used at the program's less expensive hotels, but can still often be used for rooms that would cost $200-300 per night.
- The main downside of hotel certificates is that they usually expire after a single year. If you get too many certificates, you might not have a good opportunity to use them all.
We recommend that everyone take advantage of credit card hotel certificates to stay for free, especially for luxury hotels, or when regular rates are higher than normal. Get Free Hotel Nights with Credit Card Certificates
Promotional free night certificates
The other way to get free night certificates is through hotel promotions. For example, Marriott will give any new member a free night certificate, if they stay two times during the first few months of their membership. To take advantage of this promotion, you NEED to sign-up for your membership through the promotion page. New Marriott Members Can Get a Free Night
Another easy way to get a free night certificate is via the Small Luxury Hotels of the World program. New members can earn a free night certificate after they book their first paid stay. Earn a Free Night When Joining the Smaall Luxury Hotels Loyalty Program.
Throughout the year, several hotel companies will run promotions along the lines of "stay 2 nights and earn a free night" (sometimes you have to stay 3 times). This can be an excellent way to get free hotel nights, especially because you can often earn the certificate by staying at inexpensive hotels, and then use the certificate to stay at a more expensive property. Uncover Lucrative Hotel Promotions
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