Counterpoint – Hilton Free Night Certificates Are Great, Actually

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Hilton Free Night Certificates

Why I Love Hilton Free Night Certificates More Than Any Other

Almost two months ago, Mark shared his frustration with Hilton free night certificates (FNC’s).  I recently shared my drama with FNC’s, and I can identify with how frustrating they can be.  But from my perspective, Hilton FNC’s are far better than they are worse.  I may not sway everyone (or anyone) to consider them great, but I hope to convince a few of you that they’re not as bad as you may think.  Here’s why Hilton free night certificates work great for us and aren’t as painful as they seem.

Hilton Free Night Certificates Are Widely Accepted

In my opinion, the most valuable aspect of Hilton FNC’s is that they can be used at most any property in the chain.  Hilton has over 6,400 properties; the FNC’s can be used at all but these 38 properties.  Hilton breaks down these into two categories: All-Inclusive (7) and “Distinctive” properties (31).  My family and I aren’t interested in the vast majority of these properties, anyway.  We aren’t fans of all inclusive resorts, and using FNC’s on Hilton Grand Vacations (time share) properties from the Distinctive group doesn’t interest us, either.  In a nutshell, Hilton FNC’s can be used at pretty much any property, unlike many other hotel chains’ free night certificates.  Hello, high-end properties!

The other chains, including Marriott, IHG, and Hyatt, substantially limit the use of FNC’s based on their respective hotel redemption categories.  Sure, you may find an aspirational redemption with these programs’ FNC’s here or there, particularly with Hyatt.  But the vast majority of FNC-eligible properties with those chains fall into their pedestrian hotel brands.  A free night at a Courtyard – yay.

Hilton Free Night Certificates
Hilton Anatole, Dallas. Source: Hilton.

Weekend Use Isn’t a Harsh Limitation, if a Limitation at All

Many decry how Hilton FNC’s can only be used on weekend nights (other than recently due to the pandemic).  In my view, maximizing these certificates on vacations brings the best experiences and value.  And most people taking vacations incorporate weekends into the trip, anyway, or at least are going away for a weekend stay.

If you want to incorporate weekdays into the stay while keeping costs down, simply book a points stay for the weeknight(s) adjacent to the weekend.  And if you have four FNC’s, bookend your FNC nights on two separate weekends and reserve on points for the weeknights in between.  Most anyone can easily mitigate the weekend limitation of Hilton FNC’s.

Stay Organized, and Hilton Free Night Certificates Are Simple

A wrinkle of Hilton FNC’s is they’re not as user-friendly as other chains’ versions.  I concede that Hilton is lacking here.  Since I can’t book online using a Hilton FNC, I must call in.  I can’t see what FNC’s I have in my online account.  Instead, I get a one-time email with the FNC Reward ID necessary for the booking.   My solution?

Stay organized.  This task can be drudgery in many other hobby circumstances, but it’s not hard in this case.  This is what I do:

  • Take a screenshot of the Hilton email with the FNC Reward ID and save it in a hobby folder.
  • Note the expiration date of the FNC from the email in my records.  I add the info to my favorite notebook (or spreadsheet).
  • Once booked, I simply record which reservation where the FNC Reward ID was applied.

Some can’t stand to book over the phone.  Before the pandemic, I had no problem connecting to a knowledgeable rep who easily booked the reservation with the FNC Reward ID.  As with any call, wait times vary.  I just called again today to reconfirm the expiration of my existing certificates; I was on hold for about ten minutes.

Hilton Free Night Certificates
Hilton Garden Inn, Virginia Beach Oceanfront. Source: Hilton.

Recent Confusion Is Primarily Based on FNC Improvements

Some have brought up that FNC’s have gotten more confusing during the pandemic.  Have the expiration dates changed on my certificates?  If so, which ones?  And which FNC’s can now be used on any day of the week, rather than just on the weekend?  I admit these are valid frustrations.

But let’s take a step back.  The only reason this confusion exists is because Hilton made customer-friendly improvements to the FNC’s in response to the pandemic.  Did customers benefit from Hilton extending certificates and allowing them to be used on weekdays?  I think so.  Alternatively, would anyone have preferred Hilton stand pat?  Surely not.

Hilton definitely could have done extra to more clearly inform customers of FNC improvements due to the pandemic.  But I doubt anyone would give up those improvements in return for the limitation clarity they had under the previous policy.

A Bit More Work for Plenty More Reward

In my view, obtaining lucrative rewards in this hobby often involves extra effort.  If rewards were too easy to redeem, supply could dwindle since so many others could have easily picked over the best redemptions.  By Hilton creating a rather low barrier to entry – keeping track of your FNC info and making a phone call – people who just do those simple tasks will have a higher likelihood of lucrative FNC redemptions.  Much has been made of Hilton FNC’s requiring standard room award availability.  I think that if FNC’s could be more easily used online, those standard room rewards would disappear even quicker than they do now.

No doubt, Hilton creates breakage with how they handle FNC’s.  Breakage is everywhere.  But it requires minimal effort from hobbyists to avoid it with Hilton.

Conclusion

Big picture, I’ll take the good with the bad regarding Hilton FNC’s.  When I weigh everything, their FNC’s are a clear net positive for me and my family.  I can use FNC’s for high-end properties – I just need to stay organized and make a phone call to book.  Sign me up!  In my view, that beats using a FNC at a random Hyatt Place and being happy about how easy it was to use it.  But everyone is unique and has their own FNC preferences.  If you decide to give up on Hilton FNC’s, that’s fine with me.  You’re one less person I have to compete with for award availability! 😉

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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23 COMMENTS

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23 COMMENTS

  1. I use mine in the high rent districts like Boston in the summer. That’s sometimes a $300-500 saving, depending on what’s going on in the city.

  2. Hilton customer service rep states FNC is good for standard room, weekends only. If you book a higher rated room on week days, say a larger or corner room, or junior suite, does the hotel move you to that “standard” room come the weekend?

    • Ernest,

      That is very situation-dependent. When you check in, try to negotiate this, of course. But manage your expectations by planning to move rooms in that situation.

  3. Zero value!??…. We have had high of $1000 a night uses and low of $350 without much effort. To each their own I guess.

  4. I have one and I am about to get a 2nd one – which i think are both good until 12/31/22. I have never used one in the past though. I know there are a few hilton properties that dont take the certificate, but do the rest take them if there is ANY room available ? Or do some hotels have black out time periods (like after Christmas).

    • Tom,

      There must be a “standard” room available in order to use a Hilton FNC. This bothers some, but I’ve had no problems using my FNC’s when I book trips at least few months out (sometimes closer-in). YMMV, of course.

  5. We have an upcoming 7 night stay at Mark’s favorite travel destination, the Waldorf Astoria Maldives. Six nights on free night certificates and one night on points. I couldn’t agree with your assessment more. Hilton FNC are easily more valuable than any other program’s FNC.

  6. nice counterpoint – not a Hilton person myself but the point is you have to take advantage of what works for you, people are often dogging Southwest but for me they easily top Delta and American with larger planes and believe it or not more comfortable seats (except for 737-800’s which don’t get me started). I am psyched to be using 5 Marriott certificates at Westins in the next few months saving about $1,000 – I mean a few years ago I have not developed that part of my game and was burning through points!

    • JI100,

      Yeah, like certain other stuff out there, FNC’s are a nuanced part of the hobby. Thanks for reading!

  7. I was able to book using the chat on the Hilton website. I had my Cert # but the rep was able to do it via chat, so that could be a good alternative to calling in.

  8. The fact that one has to call in to redeem turns me off to Hilton. There is absolutely no good reason that I can think of that should to prohibit the ability to track and redeem a FNC without having to make a phone call. It’s 2021, Hilton needs to get with it!

    • 2808 Heavy,

      I can respect that opinion. Some people just don’t want to call. No doubt, Hilton can do better here.

  9. Used 5 recently S-Fri at the WA Key West. I agree with you as long as allow non-wkend use, but wkend only severely limits their application.

  10. “ Have the expiration dates changed on my certificates? If so, which ones? And which FNC’s can now be used on any day of the week, rather than just on the weekend?”

    To your point, it would be helpful if you provided a recap that says something along the lines of if your free night was issued between X and Y date then it is valid until Bla bla date and can be used 7 nights a week or just on weekends (and go on to create a section for each type of free night certs that currently exist due to pandemic extensions/changes)

  11. I value all FNC’s at zero, yes, zero. Category limitations, room type limitations, expiration dates, date limitations, make them pretty much worthless for me. For me, whether a credit card is worth keeping will depend on everything but the FNC.

  12. Do not waste them on Clearwater, FL resort. Place is dated and not worth it when you compare it to say Conrad Maui.

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