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We all love credit cards that earn transferable currencies such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the American Express® Gold Card.

But what about the co-branded airline or hotel credit cards – do they come with valuable incentives to keep the card in your wallet? Do the benefits justify their annual fees?

Hotels’ co-branded credit cards often come with good perks, such as elite status, extra points earning opportunities and free night certificates. And sometimes you can spend your way to a free night. The cards that have the free night as one of their benefits also come with annual fees ranging from $95 to $550.  

Let’s have a look at this annual benefit across five hotel brands and their respective credit cards.

Before we dive in, remember that the programs’ marketing materials call these “free nights”, but because all of the cards we’ll be looking at here have annual fees, these are really discounted nights, rather than free. In some cases, as you’ll see, the discounts are huge, but still the rooms you book aren’t going to be completely “free”.

How much of a discount you’ll be getting will depend on the card and on what kind of award availability you are likely to find. How much money you will be able to save by taking advantage of the free night benefit will depend on where and when the free night is redeemed.  


The The World of Hyatt Credit Card has an annual fee of $95 and comes with an annual free night starting on the cardmember’s first anniversary.

Cardholders can also earn an extra free night award by spending $15,000 during their cardmember anniversary year. The free night certificate is valid at category 1 through 4 properties.

If you can redeem the free night at one of the more expensive properties, the card more than pays for itself.

For example, the Confidante Miami Beach hotel averages $200 plus per night during the winter months when most of us want to escape the cold, grey weather in the northern part of the country. So even taking the annual fee into account, you’ll be saving more than $100.

I’ve once used my free night on an overnight layover at Hyatt Place Flushing-LaGuardia Airport. We were traveling during the very busy spring break season and all the hotels around JFK and LaGuardia airports were in the $220-250 range. Definitely not a glamorous redemption, but I saved a significant amount of money nevertheless.

Hyatt doesn’t charge resort fees on award stays, so if you can find a category 4 resort property, you’ll be saving even more.

Marriott Bonvoy

Marriott Bonvoy free night certificates come in a couple of flavors, depending on which card you currently hold. All Marriott Bonvoy co-branded credit cards that have an annual fee come with a free night certificate that can be topped up with up to 15,000 points.

So are these three cards worth their annual fees? The short answer is (as is the case with a lot of things we talk about here) it depends. If you can redeem the free night certificate for a stay that costs more than the annual fee, then you are coming out ahead.

If the hotel charges resort fees, you will have to pay resort fees when using the free night certificate.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card

Chase’s Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card has a $95 fee and comes with a free night award on your account anniversary. This free night is valid for a stay at a property with a redemption level up to 35,000 points.

What can you book with 35,000 points? Is this enough to book a nice stay? It depends on the location and time of year. However, it is possible to find a deal at a nice property for 35,000 points.

Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort | Photo courtesy of

I found plenty of dates when this hotel costs 35,000 or less and therefore can be booked with the free night certificate. The cash rate at this time is about $250, so that’s a great use of the free night certificate that effectively costs $95.

Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card

The Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card has a $125 annual fee (Rates & Fees) and comes with a free night award on your account anniversary. This free night is valid for a stay at a property that costs up to 35,000 points/night. Cardmembers can also earn an additional free night after spending $60,000 in purchases on the Bonvoy Business Amex card in a calendar year.

One of the most stunning Marriott properties is JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa in Vietnam.

JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa | Photo courtesy of

The rooms can cost as much as $450 plus taxes in high season.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card card has a $650 annual fee (Rates & Fees) and comes with a free night on your cardmember anniversary that can be redeemed for a room that costs 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.

This gives us significantly more choices, including stays at some of the top properties such as the luxurious JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa.

JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa | Photo courtesy of

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant from American Express card has other perks that help offset the annual fee, such as a complimentary Platinum status and Priority Pass membership.

Hilton Honors

Thanks to Hilton’s wide reach around the globe, it’s easy to find Hilton properties almost anywhere in the world, which makes its free night awards quite valuable. Among thousands of Hilton’s properties, only a handful hotels don’t accept the free night certificates.

Among Hilton co-branded credit cards portfolio, there’s only one card that offers an anniversary free night. But cardholders of two other cards can still earn a free night by spending $15,000 in a calendar year.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

The American Express Aspire card from American Express comes with a $550 annual fee. The fee can be offset by an annual free weekend night and a host of other benefits, such as Diamond status, airline incidentals credit, resort credit and Priority Pass membership.

Another free weekend night reward can be earned by spending $60,000 in eligible purchases during a calendar year.  

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (Rates & Fees) and The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card (Rates & Fees) don’t come with an annual free night reward. However, cardmembers can earn a free night reward after making just $15,000 in eligible purchases in a calendar year.

Hilton Honors Amex Business cardholders can also earn a second free weekend night reward after spending $60,000 in purchases on your Card in the same calendar year.

Spending $60,000 on one card just to earn one free night might be an overreach, but if you have large expenses coming up and don’t want to apply for a new card, spending $15,000 on one of these cards might be something to consider.

As mentioned earlier, any property, including the stunning (and very expensive) Conrad Maldives can be booked with the free weekend night reward.

There are no resort fees on award stays.

Conrad Maldives | Photo courtesy of

IHG One Rewards

The IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card has a $99 annual fee and comes with a free anniversary night valid at IHG Hotels with a point redemption level of 40,000 points or less.

Despite the 40k point cap, there are still a number of beautiful IHG hotels where you can use the reward night certificate and get an amazing value. IHG doesn’t have an award chart anymore, so you’ll just have to search for your dates and location to find the best deal.

You’ll have to pay resort fees on free night awards.

The InterContinental Bangkok | Photo courtesy of IHG

For example, the beautiful Intercontinental Bangkok has award rates far below the 40,000 points cap. The rate will be higher during the peak season, but shouldn’t surpass 40,000 points.

An elegant riverside Intercontinental Budapest can also be booked with the IHG free night award.

Intercontinental Budapest | Photo courtesy of IHG

Final Thoughts

Because all co-branded hotel credit cards covered here have annual fees, these free nights aren’t really “free”, but rather discounted award stays. Some will be easier to redeem than others – it all depends on the hotel chain, location and the time of year you’ll be traveling.

If you can only travel during what hotels deem the peak season, some of the free night certificates that come with these credit cards might be difficult to redeem when and where you want to travel.

And sometimes the certificates can be used at any location within that brand’s portfolio, but only on certain days of the week. Or you’ll need to put a lot of spending on each card in order to earn the free night. That spending could go towards earning a new welcome bonus with potentially much higher value.  

It’s important to evaluate each and every benefit of the hotel credit card you are planning to keep, not just the “free” night award, keeping in mind yours and your family’s travel needs.

Keep good records and set calendar reminders – the free nights usually expire after 12 months.  Don’t wait till the last minute to use them in the hopes that a perfect redemption might still come up. We don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

And these free nights don’t have to be used just at glamorous vacation destinations at the highest category hotel possible. If you use the certificates on a road trip through the National Parks, or near large airport hubs on an overnight layover, where accommodations can be expensive – that’s good enough! You’ve gotten a good value and saved more than you spent on the annual fee.

Share with us how you’d use your hotel credit card’s annual free night. Did you ever find a hidden gem that proved to be an amazing value?

Travel well,



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