Difference between revisions of "Free Night Certificates"

From Travel Strategies
Jump to: navigation, search
(Which certificates are the best options?)
(Which certificates are the best options?)
(2 intermediate revisions by the same user not shown)
Line 70: Line 70:
 
However, if you aren't already interested in getting the card or you already have Hilton status from the HIilton Aspire or Amex Platinum card, you need to factor in the $95 annual fee.
 
However, if you aren't already interested in getting the card or you already have Hilton status from the HIilton Aspire or Amex Platinum card, you need to factor in the $95 annual fee.
  
<li>'''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. Keep in mind that Amex limits each customer to a total of five credit cards (across both personal and business cards), so there may be a limit to the number of “slots” you want to use for Hilton cards. </li>
+
<li>'''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. Keep in mind that Amex limits each customer to a total of four credit cards (across both personal and business cards), so there may be a limit to the number of “slots” you want to use for Hilton cards, especially if you are also trying to collect Amex signup bonuses {{Link|Amex Limits}}. </li>
  
 
{{Table|Basic|3.75in}}
 
{{Table|Basic|3.75in}}
Line 117: Line 117:
 
</ul>
 
</ul>
  
<li>'''If you are interested in additional certificates, you can sign up for multiple cards'''. However, if you want to also receive a signup bonus for each new card, you'll need to follow some restrictions that are detailed in our [[Marriott / SPG Credit Cards|Marriott credit card guide]].</li>
+
<li>'''If you are interested in additional certificates, you can sign up for multiple cards'''. However, if you want to also receive a signup bonus for each new card, you'll need to follow some restrictions that are detailed in our [[Marriott / SPG Credit Cards|Marriott credit card guide]]. And you'll be potentially limited by the Chase 5/24 rule and/or the Amex 4 credit card rule.</li>
  
 
{{Table|Basic|4.75in}}
 
{{Table|Basic|4.75in}}
Line 239: Line 239:
 
<li>'''The Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott Boundless cards are affected by the Chase 5/24 rule, so you may not be able to get them'''. If you've gotten at least 5 credit cards in the past 24 months, you can't get approved. If you've gotten fewer than 5 cards, you may want to use available "slots" on more valuable cards. You may have fewer available slots than cards you want to get, and will need to choose  which of these cards is more valuable to you.  {{Link|Chase 5/24}}.</li>  
 
<li>'''The Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott Boundless cards are affected by the Chase 5/24 rule, so you may not be able to get them'''. If you've gotten at least 5 credit cards in the past 24 months, you can't get approved. If you've gotten fewer than 5 cards, you may want to use available "slots" on more valuable cards. You may have fewer available slots than cards you want to get, and will need to choose  which of these cards is more valuable to you.  {{Link|Chase 5/24}}.</li>  
  
<li>'''The Amex options aren't subject to the Chase 5/24, but you only have a limited number of Amex "slots"'''. Amex limits you to a total of 5 credit cards (across both personal and business cards), so the Hilton, Marriott Business and Marriott Brilliant cards are all competing with each other and with other Amex cards.</li>  
+
<li>'''The Amex options aren't subject to the Chase 5/24, but you only have a limited number of Amex "slots"'''. Amex limits you to a total of 4 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. {{Link|Amex Limits}}.</li>  
  
 
<li>'''The other Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG certificates are pretty similar'''. They are all limited to lower category hotels, and the are all affected by the Chase 5/24 rule. You can occasionally find opportunities to get rooms worth $200-250 per night with these "capped" certificates. The IHG certificates have a lower effective cost, the Hyatt certificates can often be used at somewhat nicer hotels, and the Marriott certificates can be frustrating during peak travel times. </li>
 
<li>'''The other Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG certificates are pretty similar'''. They are all limited to lower category hotels, and the are all affected by the Chase 5/24 rule. You can occasionally find opportunities to get rooms worth $200-250 per night with these "capped" certificates. The IHG certificates have a lower effective cost, the Hyatt certificates can often be used at somewhat nicer hotels, and the Marriott certificates can be frustrating during peak travel times. </li>
  
If we felt like we only had a single available Chase 5/24 slot, we would most likely choose the Hyatt card. You are likely to be able to use it for a nicer hotel, and it is helpful to be have the option of getting a second certificate each year. The Marriott card would be the last choice of these three, partially because you can already earn Marriott certificates from the Amex-issued cards, and partially because of the lack of Category 4 or lower hotels in more desirable locations where you can use certificate during peak travel periods.  
+
If we felt like we only had a single available Chase 5/24 slot, we would most likely choose the Hyatt card. You are likely to be able to use it for a nicer hotel, and it is helpful to be have the option of getting a second certificate each year. The Marriott card would be the last choice of these three, partially because you can eventually earn Marriott certificates from the Amex-issued cards, and partially because of the lack of Category 4 or lower hotels in more desirable locations where you can use certificate during peak travel periods.  
  
 
<li>'''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, 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.</li>  
 
<li>'''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, 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.</li>  

Revision as of 16:27, 21 May 2020

  Credit Card StrategiesHotel Strategies

HyattFreeNight2.jpg

Several hotel credit cards give you or let you earn a certificate, every year, that you can use for a free night at one of their hotels.

This is in addition to the reward points that you would normally earn with the card.

With some cards, there are no extra requirements. You get an annual certificate just for having the card. With other cards, you need to spend a certain amount of money during the year, in order to qualify for the 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. If you don’t expect to have a good opportunity to use a certificate every year, it isn't worth paying the annual fee for the credit card.

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.


Free night certificates from the major hotel programs

Certificate "Point Values"

To provide a rough idea of how much a certificate is worth, we convert it to a value based on the hotel program's loyalty points. The calculation is based on the maximum category or point cap of the certificate. For example, the "Point value" of an IHG certificate is calculated as the value of 40,000 IHG points.

If you have a pile of hotel points, certificates are clearly less value than their calculated point values, because they are less flexible. You can't split the point value of the certificate to use for multiple nights, or augment it with additional points to use at a more expensive hotel. If you use it for a hotel that cost fewer points, you don't receive any extra points back. Just as importantly, certificates will expire after a single year, while points won't expire if your account remains active. The best you can do with a certificate is to avoid needing to use the equivalent quantity of points to make a reservation.

However, if you don't have large quantities of hotel points, the certificates can easily be more valuable than our calculated values. You'll often have opportunities to redeem them on hotel stays where you would be getting more value per point than our standard point values. For example, while a Hilton hotel certificate has a "Point Value" of around $425, it is sometimes possible to use one for a room that would cost far more than $500.

So, our calculated point values are more useful for comparing the relative values of different certificates, rather than deciding whether a particular credit card is worthwhile.

Hilton Certificates

If you like luxury hotels, make sure to get one or more of the Hilton certificates. Unlike the certificates from the other major 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.
  • Despite only being able to be used on weekends, these certificates are generally much more valuable than the certificates from other cards, because those other certificates are often limited to the program's less expensive hotels. Hilton Free Weekend 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:
  • 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 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 these credits and how much you value the Hilton Diamond status, your cost could range from the full $450 annual fee down to better-than-free.
  • With the Hilton Surpass and Hilton Business credit cards, you need to spend $15,000 to earn the certificate. You’ll qualify for the certificate as soon as you reach $15,000 in spending each calendar year and receive it shortly thereafter.
  • If you decide 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 "cost" is about $100-200 in rewards you could have earned by using a better reward card for this amount of spending. 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, you'd earn 45,000 Hilton points, only worth about $200. Get Free Breakfast or Club Access with the Right Credit Card.

    However, if you aren't already interested in getting the card or you already have Hilton status from the HIilton Aspire or Amex Platinum card, you need to factor in the $95 annual fee.

  • 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. Keep in mind that Amex limits each customer to a total of four credit cards (across both personal and business cards), so there may be a limit to the number of “slots” you want to use for Hilton cards, especially if you are also trying to collect Amex signup bonuses Dealing with the Amex 4 Credit Card Limit.
  • Card Points Cap Required Spend Effective Cost
    Hilton Surpass Unlimited $15,000 $250
    Hilton Business Unlimited $15,000 $250
    2nd Certificate Unlimited $60,000 $450
    Hilton Aspire Unlimited 0 $135
    2nd Certificate Unlimited $60,000 $600
  • 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).

Marriott Certificates

  • 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 be relatively low.
  • Nevertheless, you should still be able to get more value than the effective cost of the certificates. Just don’t expect to find many opportunities to use your certificates for hotel rooms that cost much more than $200 or so.

  • 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.
  • If you are interested in additional certificates, you can sign up for multiple cards. However, if you want to also 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 credit card rule.
  • Card Max Points Point "Value" Effective "Cost"
    Currently available cards
    Marriott Boundless 35,000 $250 $95
    Marriott Business 35,000 $250 $125
    Marriott Brilliant 50,000 $350 $150
    No longer available for new signups
    Old SPG Card 35,000 $250 $95
    Ritz Carlton 50,000 $350 $300
    (Older) Marriott Premier 25,000 $180 $85
    Marriott Premier Business 35,000 $250 $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.

Hyatt Certificates

IHG Certificates

Which certificates are the best options?

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. So which ones are best?

  • If you like luxury hotels, make sure to get one or more of the Hilton certificates. They are the only ones you can use to stay at (almost) any of the program's hotels. With Hilton, that includes most of the luxury Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels, super-expensive ski lodges during peak ski season, and extravagant beach resorts around the world. Hilton certificates are one of the most effective ways to get a discounted night at a spectacular hotel. Excluded hotels.
  • HiltonPhoto.jpg
  • The 50,000-point certificates from the Marriott Brilliant card is a good option for most people. You'll have access to significantly nicer hotels than from the other certificates, and once you factor in the card’s $300 annual credit, it only costs a little more than the other cards.
  • The Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott Boundless cards are affected by the Chase 5/24 rule, so you may not be able to get them. If you've gotten at least 5 credit cards in the past 24 months, you can't get approved. If you've gotten fewer than 5 cards, you may want to use available "slots" on more valuable cards. You may have fewer available 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.
  • The Amex options aren't subject to the Chase 5/24, but you only have a limited number of Amex "slots". Amex limits you to a total of 4 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.
  • The other Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG certificates are pretty similar. They are all limited to lower category hotels, and the are all affected by the Chase 5/24 rule. You can occasionally find opportunities to get rooms worth $200-250 per night with these "capped" certificates. The IHG certificates have a lower effective cost, the Hyatt certificates can often be used at somewhat nicer hotels, and the Marriott certificates can be frustrating during peak travel times.
  • If we felt like we only had a single available Chase 5/24 slot, we would most likely choose the Hyatt card. You are likely to be able to use it for a nicer hotel, and it is helpful to be have the option of getting a second certificate each year. The Marriott card would be the last choice of these three, partially because you can eventually earn Marriott certificates from the Amex-issued cards, and partially because of the lack of Category 4 or lower hotels in more desirable locations where you can use certificate during peak travel periods.

  • 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, 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.

Other options

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 3-night stay at Atlantis via the Wyndham Rewards card. It comes with Wyndham Platinum status, which will be automatically matched to Total Rewards Platinum status, and entitle you to the Atlantis benefit. There is no minimum spending requirement, but the card has a $75 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 four different Radisson Rewards cards, so you could possibly earn up to 12 nights per year. With each of the cards, you’ll need to spend $10,000 per year, to qualify for the certificate. 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, that 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.

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 signup bonus itself. With other cards, you’ll receive your 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 and then 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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 2.5% to increase your spending in this way, but you'll receive extra points along with your certificate. For example, if you spent the full $15,000 to earn the Hilton certificate, you'd pay $375, 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 seeomg 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 use your certificate (if you have one). It is 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.




Send comments or suggestions to editor@travelstrategies.com or leave a comment below.



blog comments powered by Disqus