• Points are better as they’re more flexible: it is possible to transfer them to airlines or use cash+points while certificate s have an expire date and other limitations

  • I like staying at the hotels I would never ever pay for in cash so the free nights really work out for me

    • Agreed, 100%. And those properties are usually at in the top tier as well, so where Hilton is concerned, two Certs equate to as many as 190,000 points. With the best point bonus on a Hilton card is 100,000, the “value” isn’t even close.

  • I find that most European credit cards don’t do much of sign-up and the issue with business travel, even if you have plenty of that, most of the time it has to be done from a third-party, like a preferred agent. Just a few programs allow to get points in these cases. Would be useful to list all loyalty programs that count stays towards status or points even for those, who have to book via third party!

  • Jacqueline parsons says:

    Personally I prefer the points as you can use them on redemptions with other partners of your choice. Rooms only offers tie you in to that chain.

  • I have only Marriot free nights cat 1-5 but I will use the certificate only on cat. 5 or 4 and points on cat. 1-3.

    • Marriott carts are generally only good for a $125 RI in nowheresville.

      • We are also struggling with this. Not sure if we will keep the card or not because most mid-sized town/cities do not have category 1 to 5.

  • JonKarol says:

    I prefer flexible points, especially versus “one free night”, because if I travel a great distance, it’s usually for more than one night and I end up paying a lot more for that hotel than I could with points at a still-decent hotel nearby.

  • In general, I prefer UR most and then brand points over free nights. But free nights can send me to some hotels that I’ll never pay with neither cash nor points.

  • MICHAELJ says:

    This is a lot to chew on. My preference is to have both points and nights and utilize the one that maximizes value.

  • The points have devalued a lot I feel.. I look for free award nights..

    • I agree that points are generally worth a lot less than they were. It probably does swing the balance in favor of free nights.

  • Points are always better than nights, but there’s something appealing about getting a free night at any hotel, when it would probably be too painful to pay the full points price…


    You said everything: planning.

  • Cindi Anderson says:

    Darn, I got the Hilton Reserve card recently and it was only 75,000 bonus. This isn’t even getting me 1 night at the hotels I want in Europe. I would have taken 2 weekend nights in a heartbeat.

  • I like to use a combination… some cards are worth the points others it is more useful to use free nights. Thanks for the info. I have these cards and will use this information for future trips.

  • Depends on the rates- points lose value every year. Hotel points have generally held up better than Airline Miles.

  • Maryjane says:

    I’m surprised the IHG card from Chase wasn’t mentioned in this article. Like the Hyatt card, you get a free night every year (after the first year) and that serves to offset the annual fee.

    You can even transfer UR points though that is a poor value when compared to Hyatt.

    It is always good to keep in mind all the options.

    • The IHG card is a great one, we really wanted to focus this one on the initial bonus and associated strategy. As for annual / ongoing certificates, nothing can beat the IHG one 🙂

  • I have preferred cards that just give cash back, but now I’m really interested in a card for the free nights…..

  • Air Flyer says:

    Great Info, thanks!

  • thanks for the post- helpful in thinking about things

  • One thing to remember is that points can and will devalue over time. Keep that in mind when looking at the value of a free night certificate.

  • Eileen Kerrigan says:

    Great article, thanks! I’ve been consider applying for the Hilton cards, and this gave me some good info to think about!

    So far, most of my hotel-points usage has been with IHG, although I did splurge and use some Ultimate Reward points to book the Westin Europa & Regina in Venice — I was surprised at how much cheaper it was to use the UR portal than to book with SPG points.

  • This article makes for planning instead of just acting. I prefer to maximize the number of stays vs opulence

  • Cindi Anderson says:

    Eileen Do you mean that the amount of SPG points is high compared to the amount it took paying cash through the UR portal? I haven’t tried that, but yes I agree it’s best to have both available. I’m only using direct points when it’s really high point value. Like I just booked 5 nights at Sheraton Salzburg, in a Suite with a point value of 4.5 compared to cash. But I paid for 7 nights in a suite in Amsterdam because the price was low compared to the amount of points they wanted. Just last week we finally got approved for CSR (4th try), so with the 1.5x bonus in the UR portal I will be checking it from now on.

  • I am all about the free nights and using them at the best properties. The points are good because they don’t have the same expiration dates as free nights certs.

  • bulstrode says:

    I haven’t much choice – I’m collecting points for the night my employer pays for at midlevel properties and spend them on near-high end properties with my family, Works wonders for me

  • I am really upset about the HILTON SURPASS card. I have had mine for a few years. It is a good card for me….However, if you sign up for the exact same card now, in addition to the points, you get a free weekend night ever year. I called and was told I cannot get that benefit on my older card (which also carries a fee), yet the new cardholders get it and it is the EXACT same card. I can’t cancel and reapply as I was already given a sign-on reward. i find this totally wrong. In addition, I hold the Amex SPG and the original Hilton Amex. I have been with Amex since 2001 – my credit is excellent and I never carry a balance and charge a decent amount of money……Anything I can do?

    • Unfortunately, these are the rules. Card issuers constantly evaluate bonuses to attract new cardmembers, and unfortunately, you’re not a new cardmember. Just a constraint that we all must live through.

      • Shouldn’t you be able to cancel and reapply and not get the sign up bonus but still the free annual night?

      • It is always quite annoying when that sort of situation happens, but ever now and again it does happen the other way round where you have a previously got a great card that isn’t available to new customers.

  • I would vote for points

  • Thank you for an extremely thorough and thoughtful review of a rather complex subject! This blog has really grown on me. Love the Apples vs Oranges opinions. Travel is ultimately so thoroughly personal.
    Howie, you are very patient with us!

  • Free nights is better than free points for every program except Hyatt. I’d rather get 15000 points then an annual free night at cat 1-4

  • found this a but more complicated than needed. this should be pretty simple math. when hotels require a ton of points obviously the free night is better, but for lower point hotels the points are better. so it boils down to are you going to splurge for 2 and only 2 nights a year at a top hotel or are you going to go for a week at a lower value one.

  • to me points is a little bit more flexible, which allow to redeem for more nights.

  • If it came down to one or the other i would prefer to alternate my preferences so I could choose between free nights or points.
    Free nights are great if it’s in a very nice hotel, free points allows you to transfer or redeem elsewhere like as an example IHG to use on AA flights or even better on one of the alliance group airlines.

  • Free nights for aspirational properties, points for the everyday travel.

  • The_Bouncer says:

    I always prefer points, because I would rather have 5 nights at a low-end hotel than one night at a top-end.

  • SPG points are great, the free nights like Marriott 1-5 cat is terrible to redeem in the city.

  • I would choose the free nights!

  • Personally, I prefer points over free nights.
    More flexibility and less restrictions.

  • I’m a points guy for the flexibility. I do not typically stay in hotels very often for personal stays (around 75 nights per year for business), so I am happy to accumulate points and use them when the need arises, versus having to stay 1 or 2 nights per year just to use up a certificate.

  • I really do love this when you guys get these lists out and compare! It really helps. Do you think it would be helpful to also divide your stay between say, Hilton and Marriott, if you have enough to cover so many days with Hilton and then so many days with Marriott? As long as I’m willing to change hotels that is.

  • Binita Patel says:

    Depends on the program really – Hilton would be an exception to get free nights!

  • Hyatt free night award has got to be one of the best deals going…

  • As many have said, points give more flexibility. Free night certificates come with expiration dates which usually can no longer be extended (at least with Hyatt, that is).

  • Anyone check out the US bank altitude card yet?

  • Rob Arias says:

    Generally speaking I prefer points since it lets me save them for another vacation if I want or just redeem them. Its just more flexible.

  • Thanks. Key trade-off seems to be flexibility vs. risk of devaluation…

  • Kevin Davis says:

    I prefer points…

  • Just to let you know, AX does not give any bonus points with anyone if you have ever had an AX card before.

    • Ken, to further clarify your statement, it isn’t any Amex card, but rather that particular card. If you’ve received a bonus on a card, you’re not eligible for another bonus on that same card. However, you would qualify for a bonus on a different Amex card.

  • Prefer points for being flexible and infrequent

  • Someone already stated above my appraoch, “Free nights for aspirational properties, points for the everyday travel.”

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