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More, Please – Why I’ve Flipped on Hotel Free Night Rewards

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Radisson Blu Aqua, Chicago. Source: Radisson.

Hotel Free Night Rewards

Hotel free night rewards, awards, certificates, certs, FNC’s, FNA’s – there are as many names for them as there are opinions of them.  Earlier in the pandemic, having too many hotel free night rewards was a problem for me.  (Cry me a river, I know.)  But various factors have made me completely flip on them since.  Here’s why I’m enjoying hotel free night rewards more now than ever before.

We’re Traveling

I’ll get the obvious one out of the way first.  Throughout most of the pandemic, my family and I barely traveled.  Meanwhile, existing certs got older while other ones piled up.  Sometimes, programs extended cert expiration dates.  Regardless, these rewards were feeling like less of an asset and more of a liability.

But for a good while now, my family and I have regularly traveled.  And my solo trips have increased, as well.  Chipping away at these cert balances while selecting a combination of aspirational and practical properties has been a fun experience.  Meanwhile, we’re not bumping into expiration dates hardly at all anymore.  Actively burning these rewards has helped us avoid those traps along the way.

Hotel Free Night Rewards
The Foundry, Asheville, NC.

Certs Have Improved

I’ve talked plenty about how Hilton free night rewards are my favorite type available.  During the pandemic, Hilton made these certs more flexible.  Historically, they were only redeemable on weekend nights, but they temporarily allowed the certs to be used any night of the week.  Last summer, they made that change permanent.  I applaud Hilton for making this user-friendly change.

Meanwhile, other programs have brought a bit more flexibility to their certs in other ways.  Marriott unveiled their free night award top off feature.  Bonvoy members can now add up to 15k points to awards, enabling higher redemptions with their 35k, 50k, and 85k certs.  IHG One Rewards has taken it a step further, allowing Premier and Business Premier cardholders to top off with uncapped point amounts.

Outsize Value

With a bit of tinkering, most anyone can obtain huge value from hotel free night rewards.  It’s a big reason I considered this previous Hilton Amex Business offer the best one for the card in recent memory.  In certain cases, effectively using a free night cert on its own can tower over other valuable welcome offers.  Again, Hilton certs are my favorite, where aspirational redemptions can easily approach $1k.  Hyatt FNC’s are a close second, in my view.

The Only Sensible Redemption

Often, certain hotels are priced at ridiculously high points rates for redemptions.  A member doesn’t want to pay a cash rate, but that points rate is just as egregious.  Enter certs!  Using them at those properties can make the best, or only, sense for a stay there.  I’ve had most success with Hilton and domestic Radisson certs here.  Of course, some programs tie their certs to specific categories or point values, so that makes them less applicable.  But combining a cert and a few points for a stay (see above) instead of all points may be a better move in certain instances.

Hotel Free Night Rewards

Points for a Rainy Day

While we travel regularly, we are nowhere near road warriors.  Free night rewards, with a few points redemptions sprinkled in, have covered our travel needs over the past year or so.  In this age of FNC’s seemingly everywhere, we’re not burning points at anywhere near the rate we were several years ago.

As a result, we’re sitting on comfortable hotel currency balances.  This may sound like points and travel heresy to some.  Perhaps I’m subjecting myself to a substantial devaluation risk with such balances.  But I’m also gaining more flexibility to freely redeem with healthier balances.  I’ll take that over the occasional devaluation.  But I realize many will probably disagree with me.

Conclusion

Learning to love hotel free night rewards again has been a pleasure.  I don’t expect to return to the FNC dark days.  If anything, I see us pushing harder for more.  At this point, it’s about picking the most optimal ones to pursue for our situation and which to forget.  How are you feeling about hotel free night certs these days?  Which are your favorites?

Disclosure: Miles to Memories has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Miles to Memories and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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Benjy Harmon
Benjy Harmon
Benjy focuses on the intersection of points, travel, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently roams throughout the USA close to expense-free. Benjy enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Glad to hear the certs have been so useful again! I got less than a year into the points and miles game before the pandemic and didn’t focus on it while all those travel points and certs had limited value. Now I’ve been working out how to acquire what will be the most useful cards with certs for myself and P2. We’ll be focusing on Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt since we rarely stay at IHG properties. We’ll see how bad the pending devaluation for Marriott is… travel for work tends to be largely at Marriott properties that are already going to be earning points that are useful for cert top ups.

    • Andrew,
      I have my radar up a bit on pending Marriott changes, but I don’t think the sky is falling. I’ll take whatever certs and points come my way!

  2. I just got the business Hilton card you mention above because I can hit the $60K spend in six months or less. Any idea how long the certificates are valid for?

    • Christian,
      The certificates are valid for one year from the date of issuance. In my experience, I’ve generally received certs several weeks after hitting big spend thresholds.

    • If you have Hilton Diamond status (from Aspire CC), Hilton has been known to be flexible with extending the expiration – especially if you book (for a future date) before they expire.

      And I agree with Benjy that Hilton FNC’s are the best, especially for $1k+/night aspirational redemptions.

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