Get Free Hotel Nights with Credit Card Certificates (2021)
Collecting hotel points is not the only way to get free hotel nights.
Several hotel credit cards give you or let you earn a certificate, every year, which you can use for a free night at one of their hotels. Picking up a few hotel credit cards that provide free night certificates is a great way to get more for your travel dollar.
With some cards, you get an annual certificate just for having the card (and paying its annual fee). With other cards, you need to use the card for a minimum amount of spending in order to qualify for each year's certificate.
The main drawback to Free Night Certificates is that they are only valid for one year. If you don’t use them, you lose them. Before getting one of these cards, you need to make sure sure you'll have a good opportunity to use a certificate every year.
For most people, signing up for credit cards, just to receive travel benefits, good reward earning rates, or lucrative signup bonuses, isn't an irresponsible thing to do. It won't kill your credit rating—it just might improve it. But, if you have a problem with credit, or you aren't organized enough to avoid unwanted credit card fees, you'll need to stick to our other strategies for discounted travel. For more information, see our Credit Cards 101 guide.
Hilton free night certificates
Because of the impacts of the Covid pandemic, hotel chains wound up extending the expiration dates of certificates issued in 2019 and 2020.
Most certificates earned in 2021 will likely be treated normally. However, Hilton is extending all certificates issued in 2021 until the end of 2022 and allowing them to be used any day of the week, rather than just on weekends.
If you like luxury hotels, make sure to earn one or more of the Hilton certificates every year. Unlike the certificates from the other major hotel programs, you can use them at even their most expensive resorts and luxury hotels. We make sure to earn multiple certificates every year.
- You can use Hilton Certificates at (almost) any of their hotels, but only on weekend nights. For example, you could use your certificate for an bungalow at the Conrad Maldives that would cost over $1,000 per night or at any of the luxury Waldorf Astoria hotel in locations all around the world. Weekend means Friday, Saturday, or Sunday nights.
- A lot of bloggers have written good articles that recommend some great choices for using your certificate. Here are some links to get your imagination going:
- 8 Hilton Properties that Make for Awesome Award Redemptions
- Best Uses of Hilton Free Night Certificates
- Best Uses of Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificates
- Best Hiltons to Use Weekend Free Night
- The Hilton certificates combine nicely with the free Hilton breakfast benefit. A single credit card, and a single annual fee, gets you Hilton Gold or Diamond status plus the ability to get a free night certificate. Get Free Breakfast or Club Floor Access with the Right Credit Card.
- The premium Hilton Aspire card gives you a free certificate when you first get the card and an additional certificate every year you renew. There is no minimum spending requirement. When calculating the effective cost, we count the $250 Hilton Resort credit at full value, the $250 airline incidental credit at 25% value, and assign no monetary value to the card’s other benefits, such as the free breakfast benefit. This brings the effective cost of the certificate down to $135. Depending on how you much value you can get from the credits and how much you value the Hilton Diamond status, your cost for the card could range from the full $450 annual fee down to better-than-free.
- With the Hilton Surpass and Hilton Business credit cards, earning the certificate requires $15,000 of spending each year. You’ll qualify for the certificate as soon as you reach $15,000 in spending each calendar year and receive it shortly thereafter.
- You can get multiple certificates by signing up for multiple Hilton credit cards. Each person could earn up to 3 certificates per year by signing up for the Hilton Aspire, Hilton Surpass, and Hilton Business cards, and spending a total of $30,000 per year. Amex will let you get multiple copies of the same card, so you could actually earn even more certificates if you wanted.
- With both the Business and Aspire cards, you can earn a 2nd certificate by spending a total of $60,000 per year—but we wouldn't recommend it. Even if you can generate this amount of spending, you'll wind up paying too much for the certificate, especially since it will expire in only one year. You'll miss out on about $450 in rewards by spending enough to earn a second certificate on the Business version of the card and about $600 in rewards by spending enough to earn a second certificate on the Aspire version of the card. The cheaper way to get multiple certificates is simply by getting an additional card (at an incremental cost of perhaps $250).
Despite only being able to be used on weekends, these certificates are generally much more valuable than the certificates from most other cards, because those other certificates are typically limited to the program's less expensive hotels. Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificates.
If you have already decided you want to make the Hilton card part of your core credit card collection (for the breakfast benefit that comes with its automatic Gold status), it is usually worthwhile to also try to spend enough to earn the certificate, as the only extra "cost" is about $100-200 in rewards you could have earned by using a better rewards card instead. For example, if you spend $15,000 with a 2% cashback card, you’d earn $300. If you spend $15,000 with the Hilton Surpass card instead (to earn the certificate), you'd earn 45,000 Hilton points, only worth about $200. Get Free Breakfast or Club Floor Access with the Right Credit Card.
However, if you aren't already planning on getting the card, you need to also factor in the $95 annual fee.
Keep in mind that Amex limits each customer to a total of 4-5 credit cards (across both personal and business cards), so there is probably a limit to the number of “slots” you want to use for Hilton cards, especially if you are also trying to collect other Amex signup bonuses. After the first year, it is possible to convert a card back and forth between the Surpass and Aspire versions so that you can earn two certificates with one slot, but there is a chance that Amex may eventually frown upon this behavior. Dealing with the Amex 4 Credit Card Limit.
|Card||Points Cap||Required Spend||Effective Cost|
"Capped" hotel certificates from Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG
The free night certificates from the Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG cards can only be used at each program’s less expensive hotels. On the other hand, unlike the Hilton Surpass and Business Cards, there is no minimum spending requirement each year. You get a certificate just by holding onto the card.
While you should easily be able to get more value from the certificate than each card's annual fee, it is hard (but not impossible) to get more value than about $200 per certificate.
- You can only use Marriott certificates for hotel nights that don't exceed a specified point cap. For example, the certificate from the regular Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card can only be used for rooms that would require up to 35,000 points to book and the certificate from the premium Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card can only be used for rooms that would require 50,000 points to book. Marriott Free Night Certificates.
- 35,000-point Marriott certificates substantially limit your ability to use your certificates at nicer hotels. During peak dates, these certificates will only work at Marriott’s category 1-4 hotels, which tends to restrict you to Marriott’s lower tier brands, on the outskirts of cities. During regular and off-peak dates, you could use them for Category 5 hotels, which is enough for Marriott and Sheraton branded hotels in moderately expensive cities, but the cash rates during these dates will still be relatively low.
- 50,000-point certificates can be used at nicer hotels—Category 6 hotels during “standard” season, Category 5 hotels during “peak” season, and Category 7 hotels (out of 8) in “off-peak” season. Just don’t expect to use them at luxury hotels and fancy resorts.
- Here’s some links to get your imagination going.
- 10 Best Uses of Marriott 35,000-Point Certificates for Family Vacations
- 10 Best Uses of Marriott 50,000-Point Certificates for Family Vacations
- Best Uses of Your Chase Marriott Free Night Certificates
- Best Use of Marriott 35,000 Point (cat 5) Free Night Certificate
- The Best Marriott Bonvoy Hotels For Your Free Night Certificate
- If you are interested in additional certificates, you can sign up for multiple cards. However, if you also want to receive a signup bonus for each new card, you'll need to follow some restrictions that are detailed in our Marriott credit card guide. And you'll be potentially limited by the Chase 5/24 rule and/or the Amex 4-5 credit card rule.
|Card||Max Points||Effective "Cost"|
|Currently available cards|
|No longer available for new signups|
|Old SPG Card||35,000||$95|
|(Older) Marriott Premier||25,000||$85|
|Marriott Premier Business||35,000||$99|
You can earn a 2nd certificate by spending $60,000 with the Marriott business card. This "benefit" is available for both the current and the older cards. However, the amount of reward points you would miss out on, by using the Marriott Business card instead of a better rewards card, makes this a bad deal.
- Every year you have the Hyatt Credit Card, you’ll receive a certificate you can use for a free night at Category 1-4 hotels (out of 8). This corresponds to hotels that cost up to 15,000 Hyatt points per night per night on a regular date and 18,000 points per night on a peak date. Hyatt Free Night Certificates.
- A lot of bloggers have written good articles that recommend some great choices for using your certificate. Here are some links to get your imagination going. You can also view the list of Hyatt’s category 4 hotels.
- The 11 Hotels Where You'll Get the Most Out of Your Hyatt Reward Night Certificate
- Best Category 1-4 Hotels to Book by Region
- Best places to use Hyatt Category 1-4 free nights in the US
- Best Category 1-4 Hotels to Redeem World of Hyatt Card Anniversary Free Night Certificates
- Most Valuable Hyatt Hotel Redemptions (A Data-Driven Look)
- Best Uses of Your Chase Hyatt Free Night Certificate (Category 1-4)
- Top 10 Hyatt Category 4 Hotels for Your Free Anniversary Night Certificate
- You'll qualify for a second certificate as soon as you spend $15,000 during a calendar year—this is the only card that lets you reasonably earn two certificates per year. The opportunity cost of earning the extra certificate is around $100-150. So, if you are holding onto the card and you are sure you will be able to use both certificates, it is usually worthwhile to try to use the card for $15,000 worth of spending.
- Even if you don’t have the credit card, you’ll earn an Hyatt free night certificate when you reach 30 elite night credits each year and when you stay at your 5th (and your 10th) Hyatt brands. In addition, you’ll earn an “uncapped” certificate if you hit 60 nights during a year. The elite night credits you earn from your Hyatt credit card count towards these milestones.
For existing cardholders, the spending requirement is based on your cardholder year until your 2021 anniversary date. You'll then have an opportunity to earn an additional certificate by spending $15,000 between your anniversary date and the end of 2021. In 2022 and beyond, spending for the certificate is based on the calendar year.
|Card||Reg. Points||Required Spend||Effective Cost|
There is no time limit for earning the certificates you get by staying in a variety of Hyatt brands. For example, if you stay in a Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Place, and Hyatt House over a period of a few years, and you complete a stay at a Hyatt Regency, you’ll immediately qualify for the extra certificate.
- You can only use IHG Certificates for rooms that would cost up to 40,000 points per night. IHG is the loyalty program for several hotel chains, including InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, and Holiday Inn hotels. The 40,000 point limit is based on the actual dynamic pricing for the hotel, not its underlying category. That is usually good enough for a very nice hotel room in many parts of the country or the world, and even a property or two in an expensive city like New York, but not for one of IHG's more prestigious hotels. IHG Free Night Certificates.
- Here are a few articles with ideas for using your certificate:
- The Best Hotels for Redeeming the New IHG Premier Card’s Free Night
- 20 Awesome Hotels You Can Still Book With the IHG Card's Annual Free Night
- Best Use Of Chase IHG Free Night Certificate Post Devaluation
- Unless you still have the older IHG card, you can’t earn more than a single certificate each year. Although people who travel together could each get a card. You’ll receive your certificate some time after you renew your cards.
- You can sometimes use your IHG certificates even if there are no rooms available to book with points. If you want to use your certificate (at an eligible hotel), always try to make a “free night certificate” booking, even if the hotel isn’t showing regular points availability.
Which of these capped certificates is best?
Every one of these certificates (except perhaps the older Marriott Category 1-5 certificates) provide good value. But you don’t want to have too many certificates and there are limitations to how many of these credit cards you can have. So which ones are best?
- The 50,000-point certificates from the Marriott Brilliant card is a good option for most people. It provides access to significantly nicer hotels than the other certificates, and once you factor in the card’s $300 annual credit, only costs a little more than the other cards.
- The value you can get from other certificates is pretty similar. A 40,000 point IHG hotel, Category 4 Hyatt, and 35,000 point Marriott point are likely to have comparable rates, and you should occasionally find opportunities to use the certificates for rooms maxing out around $200-250 per night. On rare occasions, you should be able to use them for a more expensive room or a more memorable location.
- And so are the costs. There is no spending requirement for any of these certificates. With the exception of the discontinued IHG Select Card, each of these cards has a very similar annual fee of around $100.
- With the possible exception of the Hyatt certificate, it is usually easy to "unload" your certificate at a hotel that would cost $100-150 per night. All these hotel chains (except Hyatt) have thousands of hotels where you can use your certificate. If it doesn't look like you'll have the ability to use your certificate at one of the more valuable hotels, you can usually just use it at a less expensive location. For example, at an airport hotel at the beginning or ending of a trip or for a quick weekend trip to a destination near where you live. You might not get a room night that is worth hundreds of dollars per night, but you should easily get more value than it cost to acquire the certificate.
- The Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott Boundless cards are affected by the Chase 5/24 rule, so you may not be able to get any or all of them. If you've gotten at least 5 credit cards in the past 24 months, you can't get approved for any of these cards. If you've gotten fewer than 5 cards, you may want to use your available "slots" on more valuable cards. You are likely to have fewer slots than cards you want to get and will need to choose which of these cards is more valuable to you. Dealing with the Chase 5/24 Rule.
- If you are planning on using the Marriott Card or Hyatt Card to boost your elite night credits, you will want to prioritize those cards, but remember you can get the Marriott elite night credits from the Bonvoy Brilliant Card as well.
- If you feel like you will be able to use the Hyatt certs, prioritize the Hyatt Card. You are likely to be able to use it at a slightly nicer hotel and you’ll have the option of earning a second certificate each year.
- If you are concerned about using the Hyatt certs, you may prefer the IHG Card. The annual fee is slightly less expensive and you still have the possibility of earning Marriott certificates with Amex’s business and brilliant versions.
- The Amex options aren't subject to the Chase 5/24 rule, but you only have a limited number of Amex "slots". Amex limits you to a total of 4-5 credit cards (across both personal and business cards), so the Hilton, Marriott Business and Marriott Brilliant cards are all competing with each other, with other Amex cards, and with the speed at which you'll be able to collect Amex signup bonuses. Dealing with the Amex 4 Credit Card Limit.
Most people will be interested in one or more of the options from Marriott, Hyatt, IHG, or Hilton. But, there are also some additional options.
Total Reward Visa card. Total Rewards is the loyalty program of the Caesar’s and Harrah’s family of casinos. Their credit card comes with automatic Platinum status the first year. That status renews every year that you spend $5,000 on the card. Total Rewards Platinum status comes with the ability to book a complimentary 3-night stay at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas every year. For each night, you'll only need to pay the $50+tax resort fee and $5 per person gratuity.
The card has no annual fee, but you’ll miss out on about $75 in rewards, by spending $5,000 on the card, instead of taking advantage of your general purpose reward card.
Wyndham Rewards card. You can also get the free stay at Bahamas Atlantis via one of the Wyndham cards. The Earner+ comes with Wyndham Platinum status, which will be automatically matched to Caesars Total Rewards Platinum status and entitles you to the Atlantis benefit. There is no minimum spending requirement, but the card has a $75 annual fee. The Business card comes with Wyndham Diamond status, which will be automatically matched to Total Rewards Diamond and entitles you to a somewhat nicer version of the Atlantis benefit. $95 annual fee.
Radisson Rewards cards. These certificates only work at their US locations. Unfortunately, most of the Radisson Hotel Group's nicest hotels are in Europe. Unless you regularly travel to one of the few US locations that have super nice Radisson hotels, it is hard to get good value from these certificates. However, if you can make good use of these certificates, you can earn up to 3 per year per card (by spending a total of $30,000). Radisson Rewards Free Night Certificates
There are three different Radisson Rewards cards, so you could possibly earn up to 9 nights per year. You'll get one certificate for every $10,000 you spend. Depending on the card you use, you’ll earn 1x to 5x points on your spending, worth from .4 – 2%. So for each $10,000 you spend, you’ll be giving up $50–200 in rewards, which you could have earned from your general-purpose reward card.
With annual-fees ranging from $0 - $75, the best value is the Premier Rewards card, with a $75 fee and $50 worth of lost rewards per certificate.
Even better, you'll receive 40,000 points each year you renew, good enough for yet another free night.
Free night certificate tips
- In most cases, you won't receive a certificate when you first get the card. One exception is the Hilton Aspire card which provides your first certificate as part of the card's signup bonus. With other cards, you’ll receive your first certificate sometime after you pay the fee to renew the card or when you first meet any spending requirement. Note that you typically only receive anniversary certificates 1-2 months after your annual fee, so that you can’t receive the certificate, quickly cancel the card, and avoid paying the annual fee. However, in some cases, you can downgrade the card after you receive your certificate and get a partial refund.
- You can partially control the timing of certificates that have spending requirements. You'll qualify for the certificate as soon as you meet the required amount of spending and receive the certificate shortly thereafter. If you know you'll need the certificate, you can try to complete the spending earlier. To be on the safe side, try to finish at least a month or two early. If you don't have any immediate need for the certificate, try to hold off completing the spending requirement as long as you can (without missing the deadline). This will push the expiration date as far out as possible.
- It is helpful to get multiple certificates from the same program. If you only receive a single certificate each year, it can sometimes be hard to use conveniently. If you choose an expensive hotel to use your certificate and you need to stay more than one night, you’ll either need to switch hotels or pay out-of-pocket for the additional nights. This is especially true for Hilton certificates which are likely to be used for very expensive hotels. If you travel with someone else, you can each get a card and/or you can get multiple cards per person.
- Spending enough money to qualify for a certificate is a better deal during the initial year. You will have already spent a bunch of money in order to qualify for the signup bonus. For example, if you spent $2,000 to earn the signup bonus on the Hilton Surpass card, you will only need to spend an additional $13,000 to earn the signup bonus. Because the Hilton card's spending requirements are calendar year based, it is best to sign up for the card earlier in the year, to give you more time to spend the full $15,000.
- If you would struggle to meet the spending requirement, it may be worthwhile to leverage an option that allows you to shift more of your spending to your credit cards. For example, you could use Plastiq to shift your rent or mortgage payments to your credit card. You'll typically pay a fee of around 2-3% to increase your spending in this way, but you'll receive extra points along with your certificate. For example, if you used Plastiq to spent the full $15,000 to earn the Hilton certificate, you'd pay $425, but you'd earn 45,000 Hilton points, worth $160, plus a certificate good at any hotel. Pay Any Bill with a Credit Card (To Increase Your Credit Card Spending).
- Your stay needs to take place within 12 months of receiving your certificate. This is the biggest drawback of free night certificates. If you have a certificate that is about to expire, you can try calling, telling them you are having a problem, and seeing if they can extend the certificate date. You might get lucky—just don't count on it.
- Don't get too many certificates. You want to make sure that you have natural opportunities to use your certificates every year. If you get too many certificates and you need to let one expire, you're wasting money. Scale slowly, so you can gauge how many certificates you can comfortably use each year.
- ALWAYS use your certificate, rather than points, for hotels in the certificate's highest category. For example, if you are staying at an IHG hotel that costs 40,000 points or a Marriott hotel that costs 35,000 points, you should always use your certificate (if you have one). It may be worth holding onto a Hyatt certificate if you know you'll have a chance to use it for an 18,000 point peak night, but you might typically use it whenever you have the opportunity to save the regular 15,000 points. Certificates are less flexible and expire more quickly than points and you can never get more value than using one at the maximum point limit.
- In any event, don’t hold onto your certificates for too long. Unless you already have a trip planned, where you know you will get better value from your hotel certificates, considering using them whenever you have an opportunity, even if it is not at the highest possible category hotel. Many people decide to hold onto them, hoping to get more value later in the year, and then wind up not getting a chance to use them before the expire. A bird in the hand...
- If you have a spouse/partner, you can each get cards and earn twice as many certificates. It is usually better to spread your applications across the year to spread out the expiration dates. You can use certificates from different people to book multiple nights in a row and then have the front-desk link the reservations, so that you don’t have to switch rooms.
- You’ll keep any certificates in your account, even if you cancel your credit card. Just like any points you earn, they are associated with your loyalty account, not with your card.
Unfortunately, this means you can't wait until you have a specific trip planned to decide to get a credit card that provides annual free night certificates. You'll need to signup proactively.
However, if rooms are not very expensive, you may want to pay cash, and save both your certificate and your points for a later stay.
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