In the world of credit cards, hotel cards are often overlooked as opportunities to extract maximum value. We often discuss credit cards that earn flexible currencies, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards, or cards that earn airline miles such as United MileagePlus, Southwest Rapid Rewards and American AAdvantage.

Credit cards that earn hotel points are in most cases a no-brainer, not just because they offer a hefty welcome bonus during your first year as a cardholder as well as elite status perks. They also usually offer significant bonus categories for all spending at the associated brand which allows cardholders to earn points faster for additional free nights.

But there’s one benefit that many of them offer that may justify keeping them in your wallet year after year – an annual free night award.

The annual free-night award benefit varies from card to card, but generally they all follow the same principle. Whether a hotel calls them free night certificates or free night awards or annual free nights, just know that they all generally follow the benefit of awarding 1 annual free night in exchange for paying the annual fee of the associated credit card.

How to Maximize the Annual Free Night Awards

Even though they’re called annual “free” night awards, they’re obviously not free because they all have annual fees. But just because they’re not “free” doesn’t mean they can’t provide outsized value and opportunities to save you potentially hundreds of dollars per use.

The easiest way to maximize the annual free night awards is to compare the cash price of when you want to stay with the annual fee you pay for the card. You’ll find that most of these cards have annual fees ranging anywhere from $49 all the way up to $450.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see how on a card with an annual fee closer to the $49 end of the range can provide tremendous value. For example, if you are able to use it for a stay with a cash rate of $249 per night, then this alone is a savings of $200 just by paying that $49 annual fee, providing an excellent return on your investment.

So even though they’re called annual free night awards, let’s instead just look at them as prepaying for upcoming hotel stays at a discounted rate, sometimes drastically discounted.

Hotel Cards Offering Free Nights

Multiple hotel loyalty programs have partnered with banks to offer credit cards that include annual free night awards as some of their benefits. Let’s take a look at a few of these cards that offer annual free night awards.

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, Maldives | Photo Credit: Conrad Resorts & Hotels

Hilton Honors

American Express currently issues a few Hilton Honors credit cards which offer an annual free night award:

One important item to note is that annual free night awards earned on all Hilton credit cards are limited to weekend nights only – Friday, Saturday or Sunday. They’re also restricted to standard room types, and each property defines this differently. However, having Hilton elite status might enable you to earn an upgrade to a better room, so note this in your planning.

The annual free night awards can be redeemed at most Hilton properties worldwide so long as there is award availability. There is a list of weekend night reward exclusions that can be found here.

  • Hilton Honors American Express Business Card

The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card has a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees) and award spending requirement of $15,000.

Additionally, a second Weekend Night Reward can be earned if you are able to spend $60,000 on the Hilton Aspire in a single calendar year. Both free night awards are only eligible to be redeemed at Hilton properties priced up to 120,000 points per night.

All Hilton annual free night awards pack a serious punch if you plan your redemption wisely. Ever heard of the Maldives? You can stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island for $826 + taxes and fees per night for the dates we ran in April 2020. Or you can use one of your Hilton annual free night awards, representing a massive savings of over $700 depending on which Hilton card(s) you use.

World of Hyatt

The World of Hyatt offers one credit card through its bank partner Chase – The World of Hyatt Credit Card. This card offers a free night award after your cardmember anniversary. This means you won’t get the annual free night award until your second year of being a cardmember.

Additionally, if you spend more than $15,000 in a cardmember year on this card, you’ll receive a second free night award, available right away for use.

The Hyatt card comes with a $95 annual fee. With this fee, you’ll earn 4X points on all spend at Hyatt properties, 2X points on dining and airfare purchased directly with airlines as well as gym and health club memberships, and 1X point on all other spending. The card also extends World of Hyatt Discoverist status to the cardholder, which can help with room upgrades, a 10% bonus on all Hyatt spend, five elite night qualifying credits, and 2 p.m. late checkout.

The free night awards earned are good for use at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel, subject to award availability. With the annual fee only costing $95, you can easily get a great return on this by applying this free night certificate towards a stay with a high cash rate.

For example, a sample search of the Hyatt Regency in Austin, Texas, for a weeknight stay in April 2020 shows a rate of $450 per night. Since this is a Category 4 property, assuming they have award availability, you can apply your free night award toward your stay here.

Photo Credit: Hyatt Regency Austin Texas

After all of the taxes and fees for a cash booking are tallied up, it would cost you $537.03 for a one-night stay if you were paying in cash. But instead, this effectively costs you just $95 for the annual fee on your World of Hyatt card, saving you almost $442.03, an excellent ROI.

Learn about some great uses for the Hyatt Annual Free Nights in the US/Canada/Mexico.

IHG Rewards Club

IHG offers just one credit card currently that’s open to new applicants – the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.

This card comes with an $89 annual fee. It offers a free night certificate upon the cardmember’s anniversary similar to Hyatt. This free night certificate is eligible to be redeemed at IHG properties priced up to 40,000 points per night.

Fortunately, IHG’s award chart maxes out at 70,000 points per night, so this 40,000-point cap actually includes about 4,900 of the 5,300 IHG properties worldwide.

Photo Credit: Intercontinental Johannesburg O.R.Tambo Airport

The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is a great card to keep in your wallet for the free night certificate. At an $89 annual fee, you’ll be hard pressed to not realize an exceptional return on this investment by way of a redemption that would cost far more than the annual fee.

Take for example the Intercontinental Johannesburg – for a weeknight stay in April 2020, cash rates are showing $308 per night. Since this property only is costing 30,000 points per night, it’s a great candidate for using the free night certificate. Since you’ve only paid $89 for the annual fee, you’re effectively coming out $219 ahead, which is again a terrific return on investment.

IHG additionally offers the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit, but this card is no longer open to new applicants. It features a $49 annual fee, which is $40 less than the Club Premier Credit Card.

It also offers the same free night certificate as the Club Premier Credit Card and its free night certificate is eligible to be redeemed at IHG properties priced up to 40,000 points per night. If you’re lucky enough to be a cardholder of this card, this is definitely one you want to keep in your wallet as long as you can.

Even if you’re not an IHG loyalist, you can easily get a tremendous amount of value from one or both of the IHG cards if you’re lucky enough to be carrying both of them.

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Marriott Bonvoy

As a result of the 2018 merger with Starwood (SPG), Marriott offers a number cards issued by both Chase and American Express although some no longer open to new applicants.

These cards are currently available to new applicants:

These cards are no longer available to new applicants:

  • Marriott Bonvoy Card from American Express
  • Marriott Bonvoy Premier Credit Card
  • Marriott Bonvoy Premier Plus Business Visa Signature
  • The Ritz-Carlton Credit Card

Given the number of Marriott cards available, it can make sense for most people to hold multiple Marriott credit cards, primarily for the annual free night awards since they offer such great value. However, there are rules in place for welcome bonus eligibility, so don’t just go applying for multiple cards without understanding the restrictions on the Marriott Bonvoy Credit Cards.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card

This is the Cadillac of the Marriott credit card fleet, and it has a $450 annual fee to prove it (see rates and fees).

Along with earning 6X on all Marriott spend, this card offers automatic Gold Elite status and the ability to earn Platinum status after spending $75,000 in a single calendar year. It also includes up to $300 in statement credit on Marriott purchases, which effectively drops the annual fee to $150.

But what helps this card stand out is the fact that it offers an annual free night award worth up to 50,000 points after your cardmember anniversary.

With Marriott’s new peak, off-peak and standard award pricing, its annual free night award could be used to book up to an off-peak Category 7 property at 50,000 points per night, representing a significant potential value given the annual fee for this card nets out to be $150.

Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card

If you’re a small business owner, having the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card in your wallet can provide some nice value and a return on your business spend. This card comes with an $125 annual fee (rates and fees), as well as an annual free night award worth up to 35,000 points after your cardmember anniversary.

If you’re a heavy business spender, you’ll be pleased to know that you can earn a second annual free night award worth up to 35,000 points by spending $60,000 on your card in a single calendar year.

This card’s benefits overlap with a number of the other Marriott cards, so having it as well as one of the personal cards will extend your more flexibility with free night awards.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card

If you’re not up for the $450 annual fee of the Bonvoy Brilliant card, then the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card is a good alternative for you. Boasting a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees), this card comes with an annual free night award worth up to 35,000 points after your cardmember anniversary.

Other than the annual free night, there are not a lot of underlying perks and benefits offered by this card, but you won’t struggle to get more than $95 of value out of your annual free night award, meaning this card can maintain a place in your wallet for years to come.

Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card

Marriott does offer a $0 fee card in the Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card. However, since it doesn’t charge an annual fee, it also does not come with an annual free night award.

Marriott Bonvoy Premier Credit Card

Another card that is no longer available to new applicants, the Marriott Bonvoy Premier Credit Card comes with an $95 annual fee. An important distinction for this card is that it comes with an annual free night award, but it’s only worth up to 25,000 points after your cardmember anniversary. In addition, you’re limited to redemptions at Category 4 Standard and below in the Marriott award chart.

The unique perk for this card in the Marriott credit card ecosystem is that this card allows you to earn one elite night credit for every $3,000 you spend, which is unlike any other Marriott card.

Marriott Bonvoy Premier Plus Business Visa Signature Card

The Marriott Bonvoy Premier Plus Business Visa Signature Card has an $99 annual fee. Similar to the Bonvoy Business American Express Card, this card comes with an annual free night award worth up to 35,000 points after your cardmember anniversary.

If you’re a heavy business spender, you’ll be pleased to know that you can earn a second annual free night award worth up to 35,000 points by spending $60,000 on your card in a single calendar year.

The Ritz-Carlton Credit Card

The Ritz-Carlton card falls under the Marriott umbrella. While it is no longer open to new applicants, the Ritz-Carlton card has a $450 annual fee, and is virtually identical to the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card. It includes every benefit as the Bonvoy Brilliant, including the annual free night award worth up to 50,000 points after your cardmember anniversary.

Given the high annual fees, it’s unlikely for most people that have this card to also be a cardholder of the Bonvoy Brilliant, but if you were, with the net annual fee of $150 after the $300 in statement credits for Marriott spend, you should still be able to get outsized value out of the annual free award night.

Looking for some great ways to use the various annual free night awards issued by the various Marriott credit cards? Check out Great Uses for the Marriott Annual Free Nights in the US/Canada/Mexico

Radisson Rewards

Here in the U.S., we rarely hear about the Radisson hotel brand. It’s by no means a high-end hotel program, but in certain places like Europe and elsewhere around the world, some of their properties really shine and are actually very high-end. If you frequent these places, it could make sense to carry their cards in your wallet as they have very low annual fees, and offer the opportunity to extract value out of them with their free night certificates.

Radisson offers only two credit cards via U.S. Bank as they recently pulled their business credit card. And the way they handle annual free night awards is a bit different compared to their competition.

  • Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card
  • Radisson Rewards Visa Card
  • Radisson Rewards Business Visa Card

Photo Credit: Radisson Rewards Visa Cards

Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card

The Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card has an $75 annual fee. You earn 40,000 renewal points after your cardmember anniversary every year, which is enough for up to 1 free night at a Category 4 standard room. You can potentially redeem this for multiple nights at lower category properties.

Additionally, you can earn one free night certificate for every $10,000 you spend on the card during an account membership year, with the limit of three free night certificates or $30,000. This likely isn’t the best way to earn additional free night certificates since it requires a heavy level of spend on an otherwise low-value card, so it’s likely that very few people will earn these.

Radisson Rewards Visa Card

The Radisson Rewards Visa Card comes with no annual fee. It does offer free night certificates, but you earn one free night certificate for every $10,000 you spend on the card during an account membership year, with the limit of three free night certificates or $30,000. Just as with the The Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card, earning free night certificates on this card likely isn’t advised given the otherwise low-value return on spend that this card offers.

Radisson Rewards Business Visa Card

No longer open to new applicants, the Radisson Rewards Business Visa Card has a $60 annual fee. If you or your employees frequent Radisson properties, this can be a great way to earn an elevated return on that spend. This card does offer up to 3 free night certificates in the same format as the personal cards – one free night certificate for every $10,000 you spend on the card during an account membership year, with the limit of three free night certificates or $30,000.

Additionally, each year that you renew your Radisson Rewards Business Visa Card, you’ll earn 40,000 renewal points after your cardmember anniversary, which will in almost all cases be worth more than the $60 annual fee.

You’ll likely generate a much better return on your spend utilizing other cards for ongoing spend, but if you happen to spend frequently at Radisson, and are already a cardholder of the Radisson Rewards Business Card, then there can be some opportunity to earn good value through the use of the earned free night certificates.

Final Thoughts on Annual Free Night Certificates

Hopefully you can see that hotel credit cards hold value long-term rather than just their generous welcome bonuses during the first year of card membership. In fact, in most cases, once you’ve opened one, there is rarely a reason to ever close a hotel credit card that offers an annual free night award, especially when you consider that in most cases, you can have multiple hotel credit cards from the same hotel brand.

Even if you travel just a few times per year, you can get largely outsized value out of these annual free night awards that more than justify paying the annual fee for the cards.

The only ones you might have to be more careful with are those with the larger fees. Even though the perks that accompany these cards often justify themselves, they often overlap with the benefits of other cards that you might have in your wallets.