What Credit Card Gets You the Most Free Hotel Nights?

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The offers listed in this post have expired so their links have been removed. Click here for the top current credit card sign up bonuses.

Sometimes I want luxury, and sometimes I want quantity.

Last week I talked about the Three Best Credit Cards for Free Nights in Luxury Hotels.

But what about going to the other end of the award chart? A lot of times when I am traveling I just need a pillow and a roof, since I plan to be out exploring the city all day. What credit card sign up would net me the most free hotel nights? (20 in all!)

I’ll look at six large programs: Hilton, Hyatt, Starwood, Priority Club, Club Carlson, and Marriott and credit cards that have sign up bonuses that can be used for free nights in those programs. I will exclude from the analysis discounts for longer stays. I want to figure out the number of one night stays I can do with each program from a single credit card.

Hilton

While the Citi® Hilton HHonors™  Reserve Card gets most of the ink for the two free weekend nights that can get you into almost any Hilton worldwide, it is not the best card for getting a lot of nights at Hiltons. The best cards aren’t even Hilton cards.

Getting an Ink Bold or Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum can be turned into 20 free nights at Category 1 Hiltons. Both cards come with a sign up bonus of 50,000 points in their respective programs. Through a two-step process, those points can be turned into Hilton points.

Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards both transfer 1:1 to Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic miles transfer 1:2 to Hilton points, a transfer I’ve made before.

With 100,000 Hilton points, you can stay 20 nights at the Category 1 hotels, which charge 5,000 points per night on its new chart as on 3/28/13.

from hilton.com

Here is a PDF of all Hilton properties and their categories as on 3/28/13. I noticed that a lot of the Category 1 hotels are in Mexico. Most of the Category 1 hotels fall under the Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn brands, the downmarket part of the Hilton portfolio.

The 50,000 Ultimate Rewards from the Ink Bold or 50,000 Membership Rewards from the Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum can be converted to 50k Virgin Atlantic miles, which can be transferred to 100k Hilton points. One hundred thousand Hilton points can book 20 free nights at Category 1 properties.

Interestingly the Ink Bold will be the only card mentioned in Three Best Credit Cards for Free Nights in Luxury Hotels to reappear in this post, meaning it is a top card for upmarket and value hotels. It’s also the single best card for earning flight awards, so I think it’s pretty clearly the best single card on the market right now for travel rewards.

Hyatt

Just like you don’t want a Hilton card to earn the most Hilton nights, you don’t want a Hyatt card to earn the most Hyatt nights. The Hyatt-branded card earns 2 free nights.

Instead you want to rack up Ultimate Rewards. Getting the Ink Bold earns 50,000 Ultimate Rewards. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to Hyatt points. Free nights at Hyatt start at 5,000 points for category 1, meaning the Ink Bold’s sign up bonus equals up to 10 free nights in Hyatts.

from Hyatt.com

The Category 1 Hyatts are mainly in the Hyatt Place, Hyatt Regency, and HYATT house brands and are mostly around airports in the US. The full list of Category 1 hotel is here, and here is the full list of international properties.

from hyatt.com

The 50k Ultimate Rewards sign up bonus of the Ink Bold can be transferred to 50k Hyatt points, which is enough to book 10 nights at Category 1 hotels.

Starwood

The best cards to earn Starwood points are the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express.Both cards have a sign up bonus of 25k Starpoints that is fully unlocked after spending $5,000 in the first six months. [Until 9/3/13, both offer a 30k sign up bonus, and you can get both at the same time!]

Starwood’s chart has the cheapest free nights for the bottom-tier category at only 3,000 points per night and only 2,000 on the weekends!

from starwoodhotels.com

Starwood has 40 Category 1 hotels worldwide. Most of the properties are the budget-friendly Four Points by Sheraton and Aloft brands. Here are the three European properties.

from starwoodhotels.com

Getting a Starwood credit card can mean up to twelve free nights if the entire 25k Starpoint bonus is used on weekends at Category 1 properties.

Marriott

There is an 18-month old thread on FlyerTalk that keeps an updated link to Marriott card offers with a 70k point sign up bonus, plus one free night at Category 1-4 properties.

Marriott Category 1 hotels go for 7,500 points, so 70,000 is enough for nine free nights. The extra free night certificate makes the card worth ten free nights.

from marriott.com

Marriott has an amazing 233 Category 1 properties! Most are in the Fairfield Inn & Suites and TownePlace Suites brands. Unfortunately all the properties are in North America, with only three outside the US:

from marriott.com

The Marriott card with 70,000 bonus points and one free night certificate equals 10 free Category 1 nights.

Club Carlson

Club Carlson’s credit card has the highest headline figure at the moment, with an 85,000 point sign up bonus. But does that equal the most free nights?

Category 1 hotels on Club Carlson’s chart go for 9,000 points.

from clubcarlson.com

Category 1 hotels are mostly Country Inn & Suites and Park Inn properties, but there are some Radisson Blus and Radissons sprinkled in. There are also more European and Central American hotels in Category 1 than most of its competitors offer.

from clubcarlson.com

The 85,000 point Club Carlson card is enough for at most nine free nights. This is a further example to ignore the headline number and explore an offer’s true value.

Priority Club

This FlyerTalk thread reports an 80k Priority Club credit card offer. This could be worth up to 16 free nights.

Category 1 on Priority Club’s chart is 10k points per night.

from priorityclub.com

But there is a way to stay at Priority Club hotels for 5,000 points per night, a 50% discount on Category 1 and a 90% discount on Category 10. Every few months, Priority Club puts a small group of hotels on the PointBreaks List. The PointBreaks nights are heavily capacity-controlled, but they only cost 5k points per night. I have written about Best Practices for Maximizing the PointBreaks List before.

PointBreaks hotels can be any brand in the Priority Club portfolio. Category 1 hotels tend to be Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites.

An 80k Priority Club offer is enough for eight free Category 1 nights or 16 free PointBreaks nights.

Recap

  1. Hilton: 20 free nights with an Ink Bold or Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum and transfers to Virgin Atlantic 1:1 then to Hilton 1:2
  2. Priority Club: 16 free nights with a Priority Club Card and PointBreaks redemptions
  3. Starwood: 12 free nights with a Starwood credit card and weekend redemptions
  4. Hyatt: 10 free nights with an Ink Bold and 1:1 transfers to Hyatt
  5. Marriott: 10 free nights with a 70k Marriott offer
  6. Club Carlson: nine free nights with a Club Carlson credit card

Application Link: Ink Bold

  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months.
  • 5x points on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV service
  • 2x points on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and hotels booked directly through the hotel
  • Get 20% off airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises when you redeem through Ultimate Rewards. For example 50,000 points is worth $625 in travel rewards.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs– United, British Airways, Korean, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, Hyatt, Amtrak, and more–that means 1,000 Ultimate Rewards equals 1,000 partner miles/points
  • Introductory Annual Fee on $0 the first year, $95 thereafter

Application Link: Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum (personal)

  • 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $3,000 in three months
  • $100 credit for Global Entry signup
  • $200 calendar-year airline-fee credit
  • Free airport lounge access (American, US Airways, Delta, Priority Pass)
  • $475 annual fee, not waived in the first year

Application Link: Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (personal)

  • 10k Starpoints on first purchase
  • 15k Starpoints after spending $5k in six months
  • Total sign up bonus of 25k Starpoints
  • Starpoints transfer to dozens of airlines at a favorable rate.
  • Free hotel nights start at 2k Starpoints
  • No annual fee the first year, $65 thereafter

Application Link: Club Carlson Visa (personal)

  • 50,000 Club Carlson points on first purchase
  • 35,000 more after $2,500 in spending in the first 90 days for 85,000 total.
  • 40,000 points each year you renew the card
  • On award stays of 2+ nights the last night’s points are refunded meaning that a 2 nights stay is half price.
  • $75 annual fee, not waived

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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24 COMMENTS

  1. If believe that the Club Carlson card gives you a free night when you stay at least two nights so the 9 nights you mention could actually be 18 nights, which by the numbers is the best card out there.

    • Second best, but I specifically excluded bonuses for staying longer (for my own sanity more than for any principle.)

  2. Great post. Very helpful. It’s good to be reminded about the value of UR points. It would sure be nice if Chase came up with a few more cards that earn UR points!

  3. Club Carlson seem to be the most difficult to get approved, when like us , you have most of the other cards – United bank denied us , despite our excellent credit and no late payments ever – after calling the recon dept 3x ! We had never been denied before – “too many credit inquiries & cards ‘ – being their reason.

    Do you have any insight into how to circumvent United’s policy of no more
    than 3 CC ‘s or inquiries – would love to get the Club Carlson CC ????

    – they must be losing out to Chase & Amex in this area ??

    • I had to fax them my ss#, apartment lease and recent paystub to get a Carlson Card after being turned down for too many credit inquiries.

      • Thanks, just wish they were listed by category rather than area. It would be nice to look for cheaper places to see if any were in areas I might like to visit or places I had not considered. I imagine if I was a little more computer savvy I could sort them myself.

  4. Two things…. I think you meant to put a link to the Ink Bold card, but it just says “Application Link:” with no link following. Also, the link to the Mercedes Benz card goes to an error page on Amex… I guess they discontinued that offer?

    • Thank you. It looks like the error was caused by AMEX upping the min spend to $3,000 on the card. I have corrected the link.

  5. Really timely & useful info – thanks! I am finding the “bonus” nights will make a difference for me – thanks for calling them out in the app info.

  6. While you can get 20 nights at Hilton’s lowest categories, it’s very very difficult to find them and as a percentage of total properties, it’s very low. In my experience, the Hyatts at 5000 points are pretty nice and are actually available in cities with more than 10,000 people.

    • Agree. Hyatts are nicer properties. Some of those low end Hilton’s/Carlson’s I want to bring my own linens…and a bottle of disinfectant

  7. Very helpful post, one that I’ll refer to frequently, but I’m with Johnnie D., and getting pretty good at targeting Carlson for my two-night stays (though generally at their better properties). The bonus night is automatic in the booking process, and to me really elevates this program’s stature.

  8. To exclude the bonus nights for Carlson on the grounds of “exclude discounts for longer stays” is misleading. The discount isn’t for longer stays…. it’s for all stays

    It’s not like SPG or Hilton where you need to stay 4 nights to get a 5th free – you get the discount regardless of how you choose to break up your points

    With 85,000 points, you are getting no fewer than 10 free nights, regardless of how you break up your stays. Granted you can get up to 18 if you maximize…. but you get no fewer than 10

    That puts it ahead of Marriott and Hyatt (better to have at least 10 than only 10), and with little effort, you can put it ahead of SPG too. Good luck getting 16 nights at IHG. Applies to the overwhelming minority

    Realistically speaking, if the goal is purely quantity, it’s Hilton and then Carlson

  9. I recently stayed at two 9,000-point Carlson properties in Europe and they were very good. Not excellent, but much better than one might expect for the price. The last-night-free deal with the credit card makes it a screaming deal.

  10. Only Starwood and Hyatt have category 1 hotels look to be actually worth staying at (and in cities I have actually heard of).

    The category one hiltons are pathetic (and i think there are more category 10’s than 1’s in USA). Club Carlson had some decent category 1 before (Orlando, I stayed at Park inn DFW on layover), but post 5/1 seems like nothing appealing.

    I see your logic but I think 2-for-1 club carlson is easier to take advantage of (standard room, set hotel category) than pointbreaks (capacity controlled, planning 0-90 days). I would recommend putting a note on club carlson (up to 18).

  11. I think you are skewing the data by not counting Club Carlson as 18 free nights for the 85k bonus. I think that card should be ranked near the top. The second night free on an award stay is why the card is getting all the buzz right now. It’s the main feature of the card. It is also incredibly easy to earn additional points with the 5x on all spend. If you are trying to find a reason to not list it as the best hotel card, then point out that they do not have the number of properties that Hilton or Marriott have. But if Club Carlson has properties where you are looking for a hotel, it is a no brainier as one of the best hotel cards.

  12. For those having trouble getting the Club Carlson card due to “too many inquiries”, please see (HT: Hack My Trip)

    http://hackmytrip.com/2013/06/freeze-ida-ars-us-bank-club-carlson/

    But, as many have commented on the blogs, burn your Club Carlson points quickly – don’t save ’em. Their current offers are unsustainable long term, and they have a history of changing T’s & C’s without warning (they are not a “trustworthy” program).

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