Most of us apply for hotel credit cards based on welcome bonuses that get us lots of free nights. These bonuses are great for helping us meet short-term travel goals, but what about beyond that? We’ll take a look at the best hotel credit cards for earning free nights, with a focus on category bonuses and annual free nights.
How many points for a free night?
Before breaking down the best hotel credit cards for free nights, we need to review the number of points required for a standard award night:
Hilton Honors: 5,000 - 95,000 points.
IHG Rewards Club: 10,000 - 70,000 points.
Marriott Bonvoy: 5,000 - 100,000 points (includes peak and off-peak pricing).
Radisson Rewards: 9,000 - 70,000 points.
World of Hyatt: 3,500 - 45,000 points (includes peak and off-peak pricing, going into effect March 2020).
Free nights via credit card spending
When it comes to earning free nights via non-bonus credit card spending, the Radisson Rewards™ Premier Visa Signature® Card takes the cake. You’d have to spend just $1,800 - $14,000 on this card at 5 points per $1 to earn a free night.
The Hilton credit cards are also good options. With the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and Hilton Honors American Express Card, you can earn a free night after just $1,667 - $31,667 worth of non-bonus category spending. Terms apply.
» Learn more: Hilton AmEx review: Solid rewards for no annual fee
Free nights via category bonuses
When it comes to category bonuses, the Hilton cards come out ahead again. Thanks to generous bonuses in common spending categories, these cards make earning free nights even more attainable:
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card earns 7x points at U.S. restaurants, rental car companies and flights booked directly with airlines or AmExTravel.com. Terms apply. That means you need to spend a combined $715 - $13,572 in these categories to earn enough for a free night award.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card earns 6x points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations. Terms apply. This puts a free night award within the $834 - $15,834 spending range.
» Learn more: Hilton AmEx Surpass review: Decent value, lounge perks
Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card
The Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card offers 4x points in some useful categories: U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. purchases for shipping. Terms apply.
To earn a free Marriott night, you’ll need to spend $1,250 - $25,000 in these categories on the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.
To view rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, see this page.
Free nights via hotel chain bonuses
If you want a rewards card that offers maximum return on spending with a specific hotel chain, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers the most bang for your buck. At 14x points per $1 spent at Hilton hotels and resorts, you’ll need to spend just $358 - $6,786 to earn a free night.
Considering this card gets you Hilton Diamond status, you’ll also earn 20 points per $1 spent through Hilton Honors. Throw in one of Hilton’s frequent double points promos, and you’ll be racking up free nights even faster. Terms apply.
The Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature® Card comes in second, thanks to 10x earnings on Radisson hotel stays. This means you need to spend just $900 - $7,000 to earn a free night.
At 4x points, World of Hyatt Credit Card also offers a good return on your Hyatt spending, especially for lower category redemptions. Earning a free night takes just $875 - $11,250 worth of Hyatt spending on this card.
The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card gets an honorable mention here. While the card earns just 10 points per $1 spent at IHG hotels, you’ll also earn 5x points through IHG for having Platinum status (an automatic card benefit). Factor in the 10x points you’ll earn through the IHG Rewards program, and you’ll need just $400 - $2,800 worth of paid IHG stays to score an award night.
Annual free nights
Annual free nights are one of the best features of hotel credit cards. All you have to do is renew your card every year by paying the annual fee and you’ll get a free night. But not all hotel credit cards are equal in terms of this benefit.
For example, World of Hyatt Credit Card restricts annual free nights to Category 1 - 4 hotels, and the Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature® Card offers 40,000 bonus points every year, which is equally limiting since a top-tier award night requires 70,000 points.
The winners are really the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card and Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, both of which offer annual free nights that can be used at any of their respective hotels with no category restrictions. Put the annual free Hilton night to use at a property like the Waldorf Astoria Maldives, and you could get over $1,800 worth of value out of your redemption.
The bottom line
When it comes to earning free nights, the Hilton and Radisson branded credit cards offer the most bang for your buck. Especially when paired with an already generous rewards program.
However, credit cards like the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, World of Hyatt Credit Card and Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card shouldn’t be discounted, since each of them has valuable features that make earning free nights easier.
All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card