The Upside of Free Night Certificates over Hotel Points

Good evening everyone.  2 years ago, I wrote Track Hotel Free Night Certificates & Credit Card Annual Fees with my Spreadsheet.  In that post, I shared my strategy for keeping track of free night certificates.  If you have several co-branded hotel credit cards (like the Chase World of Hyatt Credit Card or Chase IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card), you need to keep track of free night certificate expiration dates so you do not forget to use them before they expire or you run out of time to use them at a good property (the hotel is not going to remind you to use your free night certificate – they want you to pay the annual fee and forget to use your free night certificates).  Here are the unused free night certificates I have, as of March 2021.  I sorted the list by the expiration date of my free night certificates, so I know which free night certificates I need to focus on first.

The inspiration for this post came from a recent Miles to Memories post called Don’t Fall Into The Free Night Certificate Fuzzy Math Trap!  In that post, Mark shared all the downsides of free night certificates, like short expiration dates, some certificates only work at certain hotel categories or on certain days, etc.  I totally agree with all of those downsides, but I had the pleasure of redeeming 2 free night certificates today and wanted to share an upside I found with free night certificates.

Let’s say you have an IHG free night certificate that expires in the next month and you can redeem the certificate at properties that cost up to 40,000 IHG points.  Let’s assume you are planning to visit a city in the next month for 1 night that has 3 IHG hotels.  Here are the 3 hypothetical prices, in dollars and IHG points:

  • Hotel A: $100 or 10,000 IHG points
  • Hotel B: $200 or 25,000 IHG points
  • Hotel C: $350 or 40,000 IHG points

Here is how you might approach this situation:

  • If you didn’t have a free night certificate and didn’t have any IHG points, you would probably pay $100 and stay at Hotel A.
  • If you didn’t have a free night certificate but you did have at least 10,000 IHG points, you would probably use points to stay at Hotel A.
  • If you did have a free night certificate, you would probably use that to book Hotel C.  This assumes you would never consider paying $350 to stay at Hotel C and you didn’t have / want to use 40,000 IHG points to stay at Hotel C.  The free night certificate gives you an excuse to “splurge” and stay some place you would have never considered before.

I love hotel loyalty programs (especially when I have lots of hotel points or free night certificates to use), but I really prefer to stay at unique properties (not your average Holiday Inn Express or Courtyard Marriott).  I love when I have the ability to use a free night certificate to stay at a property that is unique and outside my budget (in terms of cash and points).

Please let me know if you agree or disagree with me regarding this upside of free night certificates.  Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.

21 thoughts on “The Upside of Free Night Certificates over Hotel Points

  1. Christian

    A sensible perspective. Good stuff as usual and nice to hear from you again but your insight is always fresh because you don’t write about what everyone else covers.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Hi Christian, I appreciate the compliment. I’m hoping to post more as I start traveling more. Thank you for reading and have a great weekend :)

      Reply
  2. CJ

    This past weekend ….Fort Lauderdale hotels were almost all sold …..Thank god for certs …..there were 2 marriotts left out of 25 in the area and the Westin on the beach was 875 with tax or 40,000 cert for being a titanium…..boy those certs really helped me

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Hi CJ, Florida is probably very busy now due to spring break. I’m glad you were able to use your certs and avoid paying those sky high prices.

      Reply
  3. R

    Totally agree. It’s tempting to save points for the perfect 4 (IHG) or 5 night (Marriott/Hilton) redemption but free night certs have a unique ‘max it out since there’s limited time to use it’ quality about them.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Hi R, yes I totally agree. A recent agent tried to convince me to use a cert at a very high end hotel but I had to let them know that I didn’t have any plans to stay at one of those high end properties before my cert expired. She was try to help me maximize the value of my cert, but it just didn’t work for my travel plans.

      Reply
  4. Robert

    holly…. this is quite impressive or…. maybe depressing I might say since such a lengthy amount of certs. means you have not been able to travel much ;)
    at the same time, all of them combined is like a month away from your home. how did you manage to get so many 50k certificates from marriott??

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Hi Robert, the list does include certs from my wife and myself, but it is still a lot. My wife got a Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless that came with 5 50k certs, plus my 50k cert from my JPMorgan Chase Ritz Carlton. Hopefully we will use them all before the expire.

      Reply
      1. Up in the Air

        Grant, have you considered calling Marriott to request an extension of the free night certs. I’ve seen multiple data points of people getting a 1 year extension. Might require some HUCA and you might have to wait until you are a month or two away from expiration but definitely worth a try.

        Reply
  5. Quo Vadis?

    Good post, I agree free night certificates enable their holders to enjoy far more luxurious/aspirational properties than they would otherwise consider. Wife and I used two pairs of Hyatt Cat 1-7 certificates to stay four nights at Park Hyatt Sydney back in late 2016. It was a fantastic property/location and a memorable trip, but without those free night certs, we simply would not have paid the $4K equivalent cash rate.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Hi Quo, that sounds like an excellent use of your Hyatt free night certificates. Long ago, I used my 2 Hyatt free night certificates to stay 2 nights at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome. It was a great hotel stay but I would never consider paying the 1,000 Euro nightly price.

      Reply
  6. Pingback: Fuzzy Math on Free Night Certs, Bridgerton Filming Locations and More - Miles For Family

  7. Danny Lee

    agree with you. Stayed at Park Hyatt Vendome, Park Hyatt Seoul, Park Hyatt Zurich, Park Hyatt Tokyo, park hyatt buenos Aires. Never would’ve been able to enjoy any of these. Also stayed at many Intercontinental hotels. Athen, Seoul, Geneva, Wellington, Sydney, NY,NY, Ljublijuana, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong. Westin Seoul. if it wasn’t for IHG credit card, I would’ve never stayed at all these nice hotels. I am very grateful for IHG, Hyatt, Marriott Cards.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Hi Danny, it sounds like you have stayed at some very nice hotels around the world. Is there any hotel that is on your list to stay at that you haven’t been able to get to yet? I stayed at the InterContinental Athens a few summers ago and enjoyed our stay. I really like the Mark Hopkins IC in SF and the IC Moorea, especially with the overwater bungalow :)

      Reply
  8. kevin

    hi grant. thank you very much for this post! while i differ on the upside of certs vis a vis points, this post was very helpful in making me realize i’m not actively tracking my “free” night certs. having been in the points game a few years now, i have a few trackers related to the hustle. while i always have a rough idea in my head how many certs there are b/w p2 and myself, i never previously thought to add this info to one of my trackers. having now done so, i see how useful having the info centralized is for travel planning. so, thank you very much!

    as to the upside, i agree that “free” night certs are great. however, i can’t think of a scenario where i’d rather have a cert than the flexibility that the equivalent number of points would provide. in your example, i’d much rather have the option of booking 4 nights in hotel a or 1 night in hotel c instead of being “forced” to maximize the value of a 40k cert by choosing hotel c.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Hi Kevin, I’m glad my free night certificates spreadsheet was helpful. Hopefully you are able to track and use all of your certificates before they expire.

      I totally agree that I would rather have the equivalent number of points than a certificate (40K IHG points vs 40k free night certificate).

      Reply
  9. Paul L Davis

    Good post. I’ve got IHG, Bonvoy, Hilton and Hyatt free nights. I think I’ve only had 1 or 2 expire without use. I’m going to start using your spreadsheet. I’ve got several combo trips planned where I use the cert for 1 night that the points value works and then a 2nd night with points. I’ve also gifted several nights to employees that needed to visit family members out of town. When Hyatt credit card was offering 2 free nights we used 2 in Milan and 2 in the Maldives. I was sorry to see that bonus go away before we could do it over again.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Hi Paul, I’m sorry you had 1-2 certificates expire before you could use them, hopefully the spreadsheet will allow you to track and use them before they expire. It is very nice of you to use the certificates on your employees. 2 nights in Milan and 2 nights in the Maldives sounds like a great way to use those Hyatt free night certificates. I used my 2 free nights at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome many years ago and it was an awesome experience :)

      Reply

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