Which Hotel Credit Card Offers The Best Annual Free Night Perk?

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There are many reasons to consider picking up a credit card, including a great sign-up bonus, a lucrative return on everyday spend, and also valuable ongoing perks. Hotel credit cards are among the best when it comes to offering perks just for holding onto cards and paying the annual fee. There are even three hotel credit cards that offer an annual free night certificate just for paying your annual fee every year. There’s no spend requirement, and a vast majority of people should be able to get outsized value out of this perk.

In this post I wanted to look at the three credit cards that offer an annual free night certificate each year without any sort of spend requirement, and compare them.

The three credit cards offering annual free nights

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

Annual fee: $49 (waived the first year)

Free night category restrictions: Valid at all IHG Rewards Club properties.

Validity: The certificate must be redeemed within a year of when it’s issued, though in practice it can be redeemed for a stay after the expiration date as long as it’s booked by the expiration date.

Blackout dates on redemptions: Unlike many of the other major hotel chains, IHG actually doesn’t make all standard rooms available for award redemptions (including these free night certificates). So while there aren’t formally blackout dates, there are a limited number of reward rooms made available at each hotel.

IHG-Anniversary-Night-3
Redeeming the annual free night certificate at the InterContinental London can be a great value

The Hyatt Credit Card

Annual fee: $75

Free night category restrictions: Valid at category 1-4 World of Hyatt properties (which covers a large percentage of properties, as they have a total of 7 categories).

Validity: The certificate must be redeemed for a stay within a year of the date it’s issued.

Blackout dates on redemptions: Of these hotel loyalty programs, Hyatt is the closest to having no blackout dates and making all standard rooms available for awards (including these free night certificates). Occasionally Hyatt plays games, but if there’s a standard room availability then you should be good to go.

Hyatt
The annual free night certificate is valid at hotels like the Olive 8 Seattle

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Annual fee: $85

Free night category restrictions: Valid at category 1-5 Marriott Rewards properties (Marriott has a total of 9 categories, so this covers a majority of properties, though largely limits redemptions at the higher end hotels).

Validity: The certificate must be redeemed for a stay within a year of the date it’s issued.

Blackout dates on redemptions: For the most part Marriott makes all standard rooms available as awards, though they do reserve the right not to. The terms state “hotels may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption on a limited number of days.” In practice I haven’t found this to be a problem very often, but it’s something to be aware of.

Marriott-Category-5
You’ll find some good hotels in Europe that are Category 5, like the Roomers Baden-Baden

So, which benefit is best?

For me there are three major factors to consider when valuing these benefits:

  • The annual fee (what are you really paying for the privilege of a “free” night each year?)
  • The blackout dates/capacity controls (can you really redeem the certificates for the dates you want?)
  • The caps on which hotels you can redeem at (can you redeem the certificates at all hotels, or just lower tier hotels?)

The way I see it, these cards rank as follows in each category, from best to worst:

Annual fee:

  1. IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card
  2. The Hyatt Credit Card
  3. Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Blackout dates/capacity controls:

  1. The Hyatt Credit Card
  2. Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card
  3. IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

Caps on hotels you can redeem at:

  1. IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card
  2. The Hyatt Credit Card
  3. Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

While the best benefit depends on your specific redemption goals, in general I think that the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card benefit is most compelling. Yes, not all standard rooms are available for award redemptions, though you can redeem at any IHG property, and the card has the lowest annual fee. The way I see it, this is the most widely useful free night certificate.

Then I’d rank the free night offered by The Hyatt Credit Card second. There are no blackout dates, and there are actually plenty of aspirational properties that are Category 4 or below. You’re not just restricted to limited service properties in the US. However, I should add that Hyatt also has by far the smallest global footprint of all these three hotel groups, so if they don’t have hotels where you need to be, the benefit isn’t that useful.

The annual free night certificate offered by the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card is still valuable, though the card has an $85 annual fee, and most of the US properties that are Category 5 or below seem to be limited service properties. There are a lot more full service and luxury properties outside the US that are Category 5 or below, though you’ll have to search harder to find them than you’d have to with IHG or Hyatt. In the US you can expect that most of your Category 5 or below options will be Residence Inn, Courtyard, etc., and some of them may not retail for all that much more than $85 per night (which is the card’s annual fee).

Bottom line

One of the best long term perks offered by any credit card is an annual free night certificate. Getting a free night each year for an annual fee as low as $49 is an incredible value that not enough people take advantage of. Everyone will have different opinions as to which card they value most, though the above is my order. If you’re able to, I think it’s worth having all three cards. For example, I have both the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card and The Hyatt Credit Card (I’d love the Marriott Card as well, but am not eligible for it, unfortunately).

Which hotel annual free night certificate do you value most?

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Comments

  1. Marriott card is the worst for sure. The quality of their category 5 and below hotels is really bad (far away from city, overall in bad condition etc.). I even could not use that certificate and had to let it expire. I cancel the card later for sure

  2. I can vouch for the Park Hyatt Busan (Cat 4) and Hyatt Regency Danang (Cat 3). No lounge in Busan, but awesome free breakfast for Diamond. Danang has a lounge with breakfast and heavy apps and drinks that can be made into a dinner. Great room upgrade and beach too.

  3. Disagree 100% on blackout dates. IHG should be ranked #1 in each category.

    Hyatt plays the same games with annual certs that they play with point awards. I’ve burned a Hyatt annual night several times now because I can’t find a cat 1-4 property with availability that I would actually want to stay at.

    Having capacity controls (and not keeping it a secret from the public) is much better than having “no blackout dates” and letting each property play games with inventory buckets.

  4. you forgot to mention Club Carlson card, while not giving out directly a free night, the annual 40000 points can get you anywhere between 4 free nights at category one to one free night at category 4

  5. It is a challenge to get high value use out of the Marriott certificate in the U.S, other than maybe for last minute bookings or for situations where limited room availability due to an event. Some of the low end Marriott hotels don’t even offer breakfast for Gold members further reducing the value. A bit better internationally, but high degree of variability by region (best options seem to be in Asia).

    I will likely dump this card when up for renewal and use the SPG card for stays at Marriott (since 6x points vs 5x here anyway).

  6. So far, Marriott card has proven as useful to us as the Hyatt, though not as useful as the ihg. We have used the free night in bodrum turkey (no longer a Marriott) and for a suite just outside D.C. that held the 6 of us comfortably. About $600 worth of hotel rooms for two certs. Hyatt has given us the andaz papagayo, Hyatt regency Tokyo, and the Hyatt French quarter in NOLA, pretty similar values. IHG, on the other hand, has been ICs in Paris, London, and New York, so a big step up. Although they do have capacity limits, I have never had a problem getting the hotels I have wanted with a little patience or with sufficient advance planning.

  7. I’ve actually been able to get really good value out of my Marriott certificate every year. Just used it to get a room at the Marriott Grand in St. Louis. Standard rooms are going for ~$185. I’d say it’s a valuable card to keep around.

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