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It’s the gift that keeps on giving: Some credit cards bestow a free hotel night each year as a “thank you” to cardholders and as a perk to promote continued card membership long after the excitement of a one-time, hefty welcome bonus has faded.
In all cases, the cards that carry this benefit come with annual fees—some small, some large. But in each instance, if used correctly, the free hotel night alone offsets that annual fee. Because these cards are also packed with other lucrative benefits (hello, elite status and statement credits), it means you’re bound to come out in the black overall and enjoy plenty of extras during your hotel stays. Find out here about the best credit cards that come with the promise of annual free hotel nights—and more.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card relaunched back in fall 2022, with new perks, including an increased value of its annual anniversary Free Night Award. The certificate is now valued up to 85,000 points, from a previous 50,000 points, placing pricey properties that hover around the 85K mark within reach. Two of our favorites at this price point include: The St. Regis Venice and the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami. New rules also allow cardholders to top off the 85,000-point certificate with Bonvoy points so that stays at properties like the oh so chic Prince de Galles, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Paris can be achieved with an extra few thousand points. (In recent searches, a night at this Parisian hotel cost 103,000 Bonvoy points.) The fall 2022 relaunch also gave cardholders a big boost in elite status: They now get Platinum Elite Status, which usually requires 50 nights per year, and benefits like lounge access, enhanced room upgrade, and 4 p.m. late checkout, all subject to availability.
Besides the annual free night certificate, statement credits and Priority Pass Select Membership help defray the $650 annual fee. (See rates and fees.) Cardholders earn up to $300 in statement credits per calendar year (rationed as $25 back per month) for dining purchases at restaurants worldwide. They also obtain complimentary Priority Pass Select Membership (enrollment required), granting access to more than 1,300 airline lounges worldwide.
To entice new cardholders, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card is offering a welcome bonus of 150,000 points after spending $6,000 on purchases in the first six months from account opening. Plus, earn 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you stay six eligible paid nights at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy through January 31, 2024. (Offer ends August 9, 2023.)
IHG® Rewards Premier Cards
Both the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card and IHG® Rewards Premier Business Credit Card come with annual free hotel nights despite small annual fees of $99. With each, earn an Anniversary Free Night certificate every year of card membership, valued at 40,000 points. For hotels costing more than 40,000 points per night, cardholders can top off the certificate by pulling from their existing points balance.
At press time, the greater portfolio of IHG Hotels and Resorts spans 17 brands, including Intercontinental, Kimpton, Six Senses, and Indigo Hotels, with 6,600-plus properties globally. IHG points can be redeemed for stays at any of these hotels, depending on award availability. IHG uses dynamic pricing for its award nights, with the number of points required based on factors like peak versus off-peak season and the property’s going rate in dollars. So, for example, 40,000 points will likely get you a hotel room costing about $200–$250—an amount far more valuable than the annual fee. In addition, both cards come with Platinum Elite status, which usually requires either 40 nights each year or earning 60,000 qualifying points at IHG properties. Top perks of Platinum Elite status include late checkout, complimentary room upgrades (space available), and complimentary Wi-Fi.
Currently, the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card has an elevated welcome bonus of 175,000 IHG points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months. This is the highest bonus this card has ever seen. Meanwhile, the IHG Rewards Premier Business Credit Card has an introductory offer of 140,000 IHG points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months. (Note that it’s possible to get both the personal and the business card to maximize the number of points and certificates for lengthier trips.)
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express (annual fee $695, see rates and fees) doesn’t give an annual free hotel night per se, but it does grant up to $200 in statement credits each year for prepaid bookings within the Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) collection, even for a single night when booked through American Express Travel. You can also get this credit when booking a property belonging to the Hotel Collection, but this requires a minimum two-night stay. When booking through Amex FHR, you’ll get hotel perks on par with—and often superior to—those associated with top elite status. They include complimentary room upgrades when available, late checkout, daily breakfast for two, and an on-property credit for food and beverage or spa credits, usually worth $100.
Considering that select hotels in the FHR program can retail at $200 and under, it’s possible to book a single room night entirely for free. These hotels include: W Panama, Waldorf Astoria Panama, InterContinental Vienna, an IHG Hotel, and others. In addition, when booking through the FHR, expect perks aplenty with your free room night. When this writer recently used his Platinum FHR credit at InterContinental Vienna, he received a suite upgrade, late checkout, breakfast for two (valued at $25 each) plus a $100 F&B credit, used for dinner.
Of course, this $200 credit is only one of many credits with the Amex Platinum. Other statement credits include up to $200 per calendar year on airline incidentals, up to $200 annually for Uber/UberEats (given in Uber Cash), up to $100 annually at Saks Fifth Avenue, up to $240 annually on digital entertainment (applicable toward charges on Hulu, Disney+, SiriusXM, and the New York Times), up to $300 annually toward select Equinox gym memberships, a $155 Walmart+ Credit (to cover the monthly membership cost of Walmart+), and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit (worth up to $100) once every four years. (Enrollment required for select benefits; terms apply.) Plus it also comes with the best in airport lounge access (including Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass lounges, and more).
The Platinum Card from American Express is currently offering an introductory offer of 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after spending $6,000 on purchases on the card in the first six months of card membership.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
No hotel credit card rewards its cardholders quite like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. During each year of card membership following the first year, expect one Annual Free Night Reward from Hilton Honors, which can be redeemed for one night of standard accommodation. This free night can be used even at properties where the standard accommodation is a whopping 150,000 points nightly such as Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi. (A recent search showed a room available at this standard points rate for select nights in April and October 2023 for 150,000 points per night or a cash rate of $2,134+ per night.)
Of course, the Free Night Award can also be used at properties with more widespread availability and a lower standard rate like 90,000 points nightly. For example, at press time, both Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya and Hilton Tulum Riviera Maya All-Inclusive Resort have availability almost every night in fall 2023 for the standard award night redemption. In any of the cases above, the complimentary stay offsets the credit card’s $450 annual fee.
Beyond the complimentary night, cardholders receive up to $500 in statement credits annually: The first $250 counts toward Hilton resort statement credits for room rates and taxes (excluding advance-purchase or nonrefundable rate) and incidentals at participating Hilton resorts. The other $250 counts toward annual airline fee credits for incidentals on one selected airline every calendar year. (Enrollment required.) In addition, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card comes with automatic, top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond Status, which means that your free hotel night (plus all other nightly stays under the greater Hilton portfolio) are likely to include a complimentary upgrade and are guaranteed to include some food and beverage credits daily. (At Conrads and Waldorfs in the United States, this is $50 daily per couple.)
Further sweetening the deal: New cardholders are eligible for a welcome bonus of 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership.
All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by AFAR. Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through AFAR.
Welcome offers often lure us into card membership, but it’s the long-term benefits that brand select credit cards as long-term keepers. With the prospect of free hotel and resort stays every year, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card, IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card, IHG Rewards Premier Business Credit Card, the Platinum Card from American Express, and the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card allow card members to offset the annual fee and enjoy the good life at some of the world’s finest hotels, for free no less.
While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available.
Paul Rubio Paul Rubio is an award-winning travel journalist and photographer. His byline appears in AFAR, Conde Nast Traveler, Fodor’s, LUXURY, MSN, NerdWallet, Palm Beach Illustrated, Yahoo Lifestyle and more. He has visited 133 countries (and counting) over the past 20 years and won 27 national awards for his writing and photography. When he’s not plotting out his next trip, Paul loves to spend time at home watching reruns of Portlandia and Parks and Recreation with his husband and rescue dog, Camo.