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So you've finally saved up enough hotel points to redeem for an award stay. You're super excited — but not quite sure how to maximize those points. Do you stay one night? Two?
Even better: Stay longer, and you might be able to score a free night.
Award travelers have plenty of options when it comes to redeeming for hotels, but some choices are better than others. For example, several hotels offer extra nights free for award bookings. Typically, the deal goes: Stay four nights, get one free (in the case of IHG, it's one night less).
Taking advantage of these complimentary nights can offer significant value to travelers, so let's take a look at some hotel loyalty programs and their policies for earning a free night.
How to maximize longer hotel stays by using free night benefits, by program
Marriott Fifth Night Free
Marriott is the largest hotel chain globally, currently comprising more than 7,000 properties spread across the globe. As of April 2022, the brand uses dynamic pricing for its award nights rather than its former semi-fixed award chart.
The hotel's loyalty program, Marriott Bonvoy, offers free hotel nights through its "Stay for 5, Pay for 4" program for anybody using points on an award stay. So for every five nights, you stay during an award booking, Marriott will only charge you for four.
Keep in mind that Marriott's program will only discount the points needed for the lowest-cost night rather than your actual fifth night.
As an example, let's say that you're staying five nights at a hotel that will charge either 30,000, 35,000 or 40,000 points per night, depending on the demand. Your first three nights are lower cost, so you'll be charged just 30,000 points per night. Your fourth night falls under standard pricing, which will cost 35,000 points. Finally, your fifth night falls on a weekend, so you'll be charged 40,000 points for the night.
Under Marriott's fifth-night free program, you'll receive one of your lower-cost nights for free, thus saving you 30,000 points overall. As a result, your total out-of-pocket cost will be 135,000 points for all five nights.
» Learn more: How to earn Marriott points
Hilton Fifth Night Free
Hilton’s Silver elite status is easy to earn; the $0-annual-fee Hilton Honors American Express Card offers this benefit. Otherwise, you can earn Silver status through stays, base points or nights. Terms apply.
Once you're eligible, you can use Hilton's fifth-night free program on award stays for standard rooms. However, you won't get your fifth night free on premium room rewards, which can range upwards of a million points per night. Skip these redemptions.
Hilton doesn't use a published award chart — instead, you'll find dynamic pricing for rooms based almost entirely on demand. Standard award pricing only applies to base rooms at a Hilton hotel; the rest are considered premium room rewards.
Using the Hilton Points Explorer tool can help you find a range of hotels in your points budget, even aspirational hotels such as the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi or the Conrad Bora Bora Nui.
» Learn more: Your guide to booking award nights with Hilton Honors
IHG Fourth Night Free
IHG One Rewards doesn’t offer a free night on award stays as part of its reward program, but it is a benefit of the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card, the IHG® Rewards Traveler Credit Card and the IHG® Rewards Premier Business Credit Card.
Cardholders will enjoy every fourth night free on standard room reward redemptions; these can be stacked together during longer stays for multiple free nights.
Unlike Marriott, IHG really will give you your fourth night for free — even if it is more costly than other nights. This can be incredibly compelling due to IHG's dynamic pricing system, which can cause considerable variations in nightly rates at hotels.
Other ways to get free stays at hotels
Even if you're not interested in Marriott, IHG or Hilton, there are still ways to get free nights on your hotel stays.
Citi Prestige® Card
The Citi Prestige® Card is Citi’s top-tier premium travel credit card. Although it’s no longer available to new applicants, those who hold the card can still use and redeem one of its most valuable benefits: Your fourth night is free on hotel stays booked through Citi’s travel portal.
Cardholders can only use this twice per year, but it applies to both cash stays and those for which you are redeeming Citi ThankYou points. The benefit will average the nightly rate for your stay and offer you a discount, although it's exclusive of taxes and fees.
American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts
Those who hold The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express or the Centurion® Card from American Express have access to the AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts Program. Available at certain high-end hotels, the FHR program offers elite-like benefits on your stays, including early check-in, late check-out, complimentary breakfast, a special experience credit and room upgrades. Terms apply.
Although complimentary nights aren't guaranteed with this program, AmEx maintains a special promotion page that includes hotels offering complimentary nights on your bookings.
You can use either cash or American Express Membership Rewards to pay for these stays, but you'll want to make sure you're getting good value from your AmEx points before doing so.
If you want to book a free night
Travelers have plenty of options when it comes to complimentary free nights on their award stays. Whether you're a Marriott fan or a Hilton loyalist, members can enjoy significant discounts on bookings while maximizing their points.
The information related to the Citi Prestige® Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.
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 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card