Hotel-branded credit cards have a unique offering – they give generous sign-up bonuses but inherently have very little to offer for the user to keep the card. Some of them offer category bonuses but most of the bonus categories are covered by other cards that have better transfer opportunities. To combat this and to persuade cardholders to keep the card (and pay the annual fee), they counter their comparatively weak card bonuses by offering some form of a free night with the annual anniversary of having the card.
Annual Free Nights With Credit Cards
To show you which cards offer what, here is an overview of the annual free nights with credit cards that you may or not know about. These free nights can include some very good hotels for the simple cost of paying the annual fee for the card. The hotel cards I have kept and paid the annual fee for I have done so because of the nice annual free night. I have found that my uses of those free nights are a great value at the cost of the annual fee.
|Hotel||Credit Card||Bank||Free Night Details||Annual Fee||Spending Required|
|Club Carlson||Club Carlson Premier Card||US Bank||40,000 points||$75||No|
|Club Carlson||Club Carlson Rewards Card||US Bank||25,000 points||$50||No|
|Fairmont||Fairmont Visa Signature||Chase||1 free night||$95||$12,000|
|Hilton||Hilton HHonors Reserve||Citi||1 weekend night||$95||$10,000|
|Hyatt||Hyatt Credit Card||Chase||1 night at category 1-4||$75||No|
|IHG||IHG Rewards Club Select||Chase||1 night||$49||No|
|Marriott||Marriott Rewards Premier||Chase||1 night at category 1-5||$85||No|
The most unfortunate thing about that list is that 4 of those 7 cards are issued by Chase. Because Chase has so many great cards, not everyone may choose to keep all 4 of those cards opened as it may jeopardize future Chase applications (unless you are able to move credit lines between cards). Let’s take a closer look at those cards to see what kind of value can be realized.
Application Link – Club Carlson Premier Card
Application Link – Club Carlson Rewards Card
There are a few different cards from Club Carlson but the above two are just the personal ones. Both of them offer a decent sign-up bonus and then give points for renewal. The great thing about them issuing points is that you get to choose how you want to use the bonus. If you want to use just the points for a night, it gives you several categories to choose from. But it also allows you to save the points and put them towards a higher point reward down the road.
Another great thing going in Club Carlson’s favor is the fact that you get the last night (of 2 nights or more) free on an award stay if you hold the credit card. That essentially gives you another night for free when combined with the anniversary points. When breaking it down like that, here is what the anniversary bonus can get you:
Club Carlson Premier Card
- $75 annual fee
- 40,000 bonus points annually
- Allows for a free night at category 4
- Allows for a free night at category 3
- Allows for 2 free nights at a category 2
- Allows for 4 free nights at a category 1
- Double that if you book two nights in a row with the points as you will receive the last night free as a cardholder!
Club Carlson Rewards Card
- $50 annual fee
- 25,000 bonus points annually
- Allows for a free night at category 2
- Allows for 2 free nights at a category 1
- Double that if you book two nights in a row with the points as you will receive the last night free as a cardholder!
While the offerings may not seem great, when you realize that they are points that can be put towards other points accrued, it gives a lot of options! I consider either of these cards to have Great Anniversary Bonuses!
Application Link – Fairmont Credit Card
While there are not a ton of Fairmont hotels, the ones that are out there are pretty great! The card gives a nice sign-up bonus of 2 free nights which is quite generous considering the quality of hotel. For the annual free night, it does require that you spend $12,000 in that year to earn that free night (so, it may not actually be considered “free”).
Value vs Spend
To get that annual bonus night, you will need to pay the annual fee ($95) and spend $12,000. To put the math in very simple terms, to move $12,000 in spend to this card from another card, you are foregoing (at a minimum) of 12,000 points in a different program. If you were to use an Ultimate Reward earning card, that would give you a minimum value of $150 (when using the points directly for travel). If you were to put the points on the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, you would earn $240 towards travel. Combine each of those amounts with the annual fee (assuming that you were already planning on keeping the other card that you would have used) and you would need to use that free night at a hotel that would cost anywhere from $245 – $335 at a minimum to realize the value of keeping the card.
While that sounds like a high amount, it is actually quite realize to see the value of the free night far exceed that amount. The Plaza hotel in NYC, for example, has all-in costs of over $650 on many days. If the Plaza hotel was on a list of hotels that you would love to stay in, then paying the annual fee and doing the spending could give you some great value.
Another hotel that fits that description is the Fairmont Copley Boston hotel. This hotel is perfect for the Boston Marathon and is showing rates of almost $700 for that timeframe. If you wanted to stay in a great hotel after finishing the marathon, then the spend and rate would definitely be worth it.
Given the spend requirements and sparseness of hotels, I would say that people would need to do the math to make sure it really works for them. I would classify it as an Average Anniversary Bonus.
Application Link – Hilton Reserve Credit Card
The Hilton Reserve card is a different hotel card in that it restricts the sign-up bonus free nights to weekend nights. This would undoubtedly not be a problem for most travelers as they normally have weekends available for trips and such getaways.
The problem is that they continue the weekend trend with the annual free night. This restricts the free night to Friday, Saturday, or Sunday – or 154 (or s0) nights out of 365. Since the certificate has to be used within a year, it can make it somewhat difficult to use at random and may require planning. It still has great value since it can be used at almost all Hilton hotels, but the weekend requirement does limit it a bit.
Then, of course, this is another card that requires spend to get the “free” night. The spend amount in this case is $10,000. Using our above model here, that would assume you are shifting your spending from another card (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred) where would have earned a minimum of 10,000 points worth at least $125 towards travel. If you shift your spending from the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, you are now looking at foregoing the earning of $200 towards travel. Combine both of those amounts with the annual fee and that means you would need to be able to redeem for a hotel worth (at least) $220 – $295. When it comes to Hilton hotels, it is definitely possible to find hotels that cost more than that, but it is quite a bit harder than with the Fairmont hotels. I would have to say that only about 35% of my Hilton hotel stays have been at hotels that would have cost more than that amount.
Given the weekend restriction and the median price of Hilton hotels, I would say that this is an Average Anniversary Bonus. The card itself certainly has appeal for many given that you have Hilton Gold status just for holding it, but other cards offer that as well, so it may depend on your situation.
Application Link – Hyatt Credit Card
The Hyatt card has a very simple anniversary bonus – pay the fee ($75) and get a free night at a Hyatt category 1 – 4. The only restriction is tied to availability (like other chains). There are some great values out there for that free night (and we will look at some of those next week).
This offer does not require any spending to receive the free night. In fact, I typically just put the Hyatt card in the drawer and only use it when I receive promotional offerings. The only real debate that comes into play when considering the Hyatt annual free night is whether the annual fee can justify the free night. I know, as a long-time Hyatt cardholder, that the other perk of the card – Hyatt Platinum status – can be a big help when it comes to waiving internet fees and getting slightly better rooms. If you stay at Hyatts a couple of times a year, you may find the Platinum status to be helpful. If you do not and only keep the card for the annual free night, you just need to make sure that the room cost would have more than the $75.
When examining the cost of Hyatts, there are very few hotels that have consistent prices below the $75 mark. As to availability, I have always found the nights that I needed to be available – even at last minute bookings. There are some great hotels at the category 4 level that can be accessible with this. One such hotel is the Park Hyatt Seoul (review to come) that I stayed at a couple of weeks ago. It is a fantastic deal for an annual free night and the cost is many times the annual fee! I would say that this annual free night is an Great Anniversary Bonus!
Application Link – IHG 80K card
The IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Group) credit card is one of the best, if not the best, hotel credit card out there. There is the 80K IHG offer that would allow you to book 16 PointBreak hotels! In addition to that, the card does give you top level IHG status for as long as you hold the card and a relatively low annual fee ($49). In addition, the annual free night is good at any IHG hotel – and there are some great ones out there!
When doing the cost analysis for the annual free night vs. the annual fee, it is really a no-brainer. There are a lot of IHG hotels and that annual free night could save you tens of thousands of points on the night (if you use the free night instead). There is a reason that this hotel credit card is in the wallet of many miles and point collectors – this annual free night hotel offer is a Great Anniversary Bonus!
Application Link – Marriott Premier Rewards Card
The Marriott card is another hotel card with a great sign-up bonus – 70,000 bonus points. In addition, the annual free night is actually for a category 1 – 5. That opens up a lot of hotels around the world! It offers a nice value to the annual fee ($85). Marriott has hundreds of hotels around the globe and that annual free night gives you access to many of them.
The only problem with this annual free night is that the annual fee could be fairly close to the price of the actual hotel. This will require you to do some checking to ensure that you are actually getting a room that does cost more than the annual fee. Still, it is nice that it does not require any spending. However, given the amount of hotels that are fairly close to the annual fee itself and the fact that the top category available to the certificate are not in the same class as other hotels and their annual free nights, I would classify this as a Good Anniversary Bonus.
So there is an overview of the annual free nights available by credit card. Hopefully this helps as you examine what is in your wallet or what you may be considering. Some of these have better offers than others while others have great offers, but you will need to weigh the options.
Editorial Note - Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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