Wondering if that annual fee is worth it? It is if you take advantage of those hotel anniversary nights. By making some strategic choices, I stayed everywhere from Malta to Costa Rica and saved over $900 while doing it. Here’s how.
Note, some of the card offers mentioned in this story are no longer available.
Many of the hotel cards currently on the market offer a free “anniversary” night every year as a benefit to members who renew their card and pay their annual fee.
I’ve always considered these free night certificates to be one of the top benefits of my hotel cards. In fact, I currently have four hotel credit cards in my wallet that I’ve kept year after year because of the value I get from this benefit.
However, as hotel programs and some hotel card benefits have been hit by devaluations due to industry changes in the past year or two, I’ve been doing some exploring to see if these anniversary nights are still worth it.
See related: How I stay at boutique hotels using rewards points
Spoiler Alert: They’re worth it
Last year I spent a total of $394 on annual fees for the four co-branded hotel cards I have. The anniversary nights I cashed in from those same cards added up to $1,375. That’s a benefit of $981 of free hotel stays.
To maximize the value from anniversary stays, the key is to use your certificate for the most expensive hotel possible!
My personal rule of thumb is that a free hotel night should be worth at least double what I’m paying for the card’s annual fee — otherwise I might as well just be paying for the hotel!
Here’s how I’ve matched my card anniversary night benefits to expensive hotels in order to take advantage of valuable stays this year:
The Westin Dragonara Resort, Malta
Malta isn’t a crazy expensive destination. That means you can get a night at one of the fanciest hotels sitting right on the rocks above the Mediterranean Sea in St. George’s Bay at the 35,000-point price. That’s fewer points than it costs to stay at a Courtyard by Marriott in New York.
- My card: Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.
- The benefit: Free night up to 35,000 points for $125 annual fee.
- Redemption value: 310 euros.
The Kimpton Fitzroy London Hotel
London’s first Kimpton hotel in the historic Fitzroy is centrally located in Russell Square and boasts a bar designed by the same architect who built the grand dining room in the Titanic.
One of IHG’s nicest offerings in London, the Kimpton costs 70,000 points per night – which puts the hotel cost way over the card’s new anniversary night benefit cap of 40,000 points. Fortunately, I stayed early enough in the year to max out last year’s benefit under the old terms and conditions.
- My card: IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
- The benefit: Reward night up to 40,000 points for $89 annual fee.
- Redemption value: 320 GBP.
Sheraton Suites, Chicago O’ Hare
There is nothing fancy about a stay in a midrange – albeit expensive – airport hotel. When you travel a lot, though, sometimes easy-to-access airport hotel stays just can’t be avoided. I’m always grateful when a free night certificates can cut that cost to zero.
- My card: Marriott Bonvoy Premier Credit Card.
- The benefit: Free night up to 25,000 points for $85 annual fee.
- Redemption value: $230.
Andaz Papagayo, Costa Rica
One free night certificate – along with my World of Hyatt status – landed me in an ocean view suite at the Andaz Papagayo. Of course, I wasn’t going all the way to Costa Rica for one free night, so I added a couple of days with points I earned from spending on my card to make it a long weekend getaway.
The hotel’s spa, beach hammocks and infinity pools were well worth the effort. Unfortunately, some rewards are too good to last, and this hotel falls into that category.
The Andaz Papagayo got an upgrade this year, so you can no longer use your free night here. (But don’t worry about that just yet.)
- My card: World of Hyatt Credit Card.
- The benefit: Free night up to Hyatt Category 4 for $95 annual fee.
- Redemption value: $413.
Two big changes that affect how you use your free nights
It’s obvious that I had a great year of getting value from my hotel card benefits. But you also probably didn’t miss the fact that two of these trips are no longer possible for you to replicate with the same cards because of hotel program point devaluations and changes that the banks have made to credit card benefits.
Yep, changes can feel frustrating, especially if you’ve been saving your points toward a big award for a long time. Here’s what is important to remember:
When point costs of hotels go up because a program changes or devalues, you can almost always find another awesome hotel that still has a great value. It’s unfortunate that the Andaz Papagayo and some of my other go-to Cateorgy 4 Hyatt hotels got upgraded out of the free night offerings.
There are still, however, so many other amazing (and really expensive) hotels where I’ll be able to use my benefit this coming year. There are five Category 4 Park Hyatt’s for example in Saigon, Jakarta, Toronto, Istanbul and Zanzibar, and my two favorite Grand Hyatts in Doha and Melbourne are worth another visit.
It’s also unfortunate when credit card benefits change, like the new 40,000-point cap on anniversary stays for the IHG Premier Rewards Credit Card.
While this change limits my ability to afford nights at the fanciest Intercontinentals in London and Tokyo (and definitely means I won’t be staying at the London Kimpton Fitzroy again), there are still plenty of options that make this a valuable benefit.
For my 2019-2020 free night in London, I’ve reserved the Hotel Indigo London – Kensington a little further out, but in one of my favorite neighborhoods in lieu of the Kimpton. It is still a remarkable value at 250 GBP a night when I’m paying an annual fee of $89.
See related: What to do if you’ve been ‘Bonvoyed’
Free nights with annual-fee-cards
If you’re still on the fence about which card to use, here’s a breakdown of popular annual-fee-cards that offer free hotel nights:
|Annual fee||Free night||Rewards rate|
|Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card||$95|
|The World of Hyatt Credit Card||$95|
|Citi Prestige® Card||$495|
|Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card||$95|
Things will always change. For me, I’ve had to readjust my expectations and my patterns of using my free nights, but hands down, keeping the cards is definitely still worth it!