Credit Cards Destinations Hotels

The Dilemma Of Free Annual Hotel Nights

annual free hotel
Written by Charlie

Hotel credit cards really work to give people a reason to hold on to them and to keep paying the annual fee. Hotel cards have great sign-up bonuses but their perks offered going forward are pretty much only useful to people who continue to stay at that chain. So, they offer annual free nights, or anniversary nights, to go with the annual fee. This is enough to make many people hold those cards, even though they may just stay in a drawer.

The Dilemma Of Free Annual Nights

Here is a chart of what credit cards give when it comes to annual free nights. To read more about these nights and the details surrounding them, check out this previous post.

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However, there is a dilemma with these free annual hotel nights from credit cards (to be clear, you are paying an annual fee so you are paying something towards the night). That dilemma is the use of these nights.

Except for the Club Carlson cards and the Wyndham cards that give points as an anniversary bonus instead, the hotel credit cards are giving a single free night. That works nicely if you have a stay at a hotel anyway and you want to tack a free night on, but what if you do not have any really nice properties near you to take full advantage of that free night? Now, you plan a trip for – a single night stay.

Getting Maximum Value

Really, the dilemma comes down to this – we want to get the maximum value out of these annual free nights. That is just smart travel, right? But, what happens if you have the IHG credit card (which gives a free night at any IHG hotel, not limited to a certain category set) and all you have within 100 miles of you is inexpensive Holiday Inn Express hotels? Obviously, you do not want to use your night on something that costs less than the annual fee!

annual free hotel

The Intercontinental Bora Bora makes a wonderful redemption – but not just for a single night trip!

To achieve maximum redemption value, redeeming it at someplace like the Intercontinental Bora Bora makes a fantastic redemption! But, who is traveling to Bora Bora for a single night? And who is going to build an entire vacation to Bora Bora just to be able to use that single free night?


So, the desire to achieve maximum redemption value begins to lead us to hoard those free nights until that perfect hotel redemption pops up. And we hold it – and hold it, and hold it. However, these nights are good for a year so we only have so long to find something. When it comes down to 1 month before expiration, people may go ahead and book the local Hyatt Place that costs $65 per night – even though they have paid $75 for the annual fee on that card.

Some Tips For Fighting The Free Night Dilemma

Am I the only one that faces this dilemma with these nights? 🙂 Here are some tips to help you with them.


If you have someone else in your home that you travel with and is able to get a credit card, have them sign up for the same card(s) you have. Now, you will have two nights that you can use for a weekend somewhere instead of traveling for a single night.

When we were in Rochester, we would do that with Hyatt hotels in New York City. While it wasn’t that long of a flight, if we were going to go, we wanted to do more than a single night. By doubling up and each of us getting the cards, we were able to turn single night stays into a nice weekend stay.

A Supplement For Another Trip

Another option is to look at them as a supplement for another, longer trip. One time, we used our annual Hyatt night at a hotel in Cincinnati. It wasn’t a stellar property for the redemption we may normally seek for but it was very practical and functional. We were visiting relatives and the hotel we were going to be staying in did not have a night available. So, we used our Hyatt night and saved big since the rate for that night at that hotel and the surrounding ones was above $140.

Cruise Night

This could go along with the one above, but consider using your free night for your hotel before or after a cruise. Hotel prices can be very expensive in cruise cities at certain times of the year. I have found decent availability at several such hotels for these free annual nights. If you have an early cruise departure and need a hotel, use your annual free night.

Gift It

This one can be a little iffy because some of the free nights may only be for the cardholder. But, if there is an event in your town or relatives visiting, you could always book the room for them, put one of them as a second guest on the reservation and you simply check in with them or for them. This is a nice gesture and it may even show your friends or relatives what this fun hobby can do for us with travel!


While not everyone likes to stay at a hotel in their own city, we always have enjoyed it. It is nice to be able to just drive to a place we are familiar with, and be able to relax without having the pressure of seeing a new place. We used to do that in Rochester every so often and it was always a very refreshing time. We do it now here as well – the kids love it (they call it their “favorite hotel”) and it gives us a nice time away without going too far.

Another plus for the staycation is that it can give you an opportunity to explore. Many times, we are so familiar with our own city that we may not know our own city. Staying in a hotel in a neighborhood that we do not spend a lot of time in gives us a chance to check out another part of our hometown.

Check Category Updates

With some cards, like the Hyatt and Marriott, the annual night is only good at certain categories of hotels. While you may not have any of those hotels (that make good values as well) near you, that may change each year. Every year hotels change categories of several of their hotels. While many go up, there are those that come down as well (like the Grand Hyatt Washington DC – it dropped to a category 4 which can be redeemed for a free night).

annual free hotel nights

With a category change, the Grand Hyatt Washington DC is now eligible for the free annual night!

Recover Your Value

In the end, if nothing else works, just do what you can to at least get the value out of the annual fee with your night – maybe with an additional 10% added to it. For instance, if you have the Hyatt card, it is a good idea to make sure that you free night would have cost more than the $75 annual fee that you already paid. For good measure, I like to make sure it would have cost at least more than $85 (since I would have gotten points/status nights if I had paid).

If you find yourself repeatedly unable to recover your annual fee with your hotel redemption, it may be time to give up that card and focus on another – no matter how good of a deal it may seem.

What are your tips for redeeming the annual free hotel nights that come with credit cards?

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.