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If you're not a business traveler, the quickest method of collecting hotel rewards points is applying for credit cards with big sign-up bonuses. Co-branded hotel cards offer rewards points or free night certificates, while bank rewards cards offer flexible or transferrable rewards points. The question we aim to answer in this post is; which is better? Targeting free points? Or free night certificates?
Hilton Free Nights vs. Hilton Honors Points
Hilton's revenue based rewards model means award rates go up during peak demand periods and go down during low demand periods.
Hilton Honors co-brand cards include:
- Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express – 100,000 bonus points + 1 free weekend-night certificate. Offer ends 5/31/17—Terms Apply. Note: The free weekend night certificate comes after your first year as a cardmember.
- Hilton Honors™ Card from American Express – 80,000 bonus points. Offer ends 5/31/17—Terms Apply.
- The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card – 2 free weekend night certificates
- Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card – 40,000 bonus points
While Hilton no longer publishes an award chart, the maximum award rate for a single night still rests at 95,000 points; this is the peak season rate for what used to be a category 10 hotel.
If you tally two weekend nights at the peak award rate for the Conrad Tokyo (95K per night), you can extract a maximum 190,000 points of value from the Hilton Reserve, 5,000 points less than the current Hilton Surpass offer. (100,000 points + free night certificate after first calendar year)
But the big value only applies if you milk maximum value from your free nights. For instance, if your plans take you to Barcelona and you redeem your free nights at the Alexandra Barcelona, a DoubleTree by Hilton, you receive 140K value at peak rates and 100K off-peak. If you're traveling off-peak, the 100K points from the Hilton Surpass will suffice, and you could keep the free weekend night for future use.
Where the Hilton Surpass 100K offer has the Hilton Reserve 2-free-nights beat though, is flexibility. If your plan is to vacation in Asia staying at budget Hilton hotels like the Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi, at just 10,000 points per night, you can leverage 12 nights of accommodation (don't forget, 5th night is free on a points booking) from your points and still have the weekend free night certificate to enjoy in a premium hotel. The Hilton Reserve‘s 2-free-nights could get you … two free nights.
Hyatt Free Nights vs. World of Hyatt Points
The Hyatt Credit Card is the sole rewards-earning credit card World of Hyatt points. Hyatt is, however, a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, opening up cards with similar annual fees like the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card as comparison cards against the Hyatt Card‘s 2-free-nights.
- The Hyatt Credit Card – 2 free nights at any Hyatt hotel
- Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card – Earn 80,000 bonus points
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – 50,000 bonus points
To work out the equivalent value of the free nights we need to look at the World of Hyatt award chart:
If you redeem the free night certificates at a category 7 hotel like the Park Hyatt Sydney, it’s the equivalent value of 60,000 Hyatt points. But if you redeem at lower categories on the award chart, the monetary value of the sign-up bonus drops in comparison to receiving points.
That’s not to say hotels at a lower category are of poorer quality. We recently featured the Park Hyatt Mallorca in our top 6 Hyatt free night redemptions, and it's a category 5 priced at 20,000 points per night.
But if you plan to redeem free nights at lower category hotels, it would make more sense to apply for the Sapphire Preferred, transfer 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt for the redemption, and retain the other 10,000 for future use. That's in addition to getting a better travel rewards card that features an extensive list of perks and travel insurance.
Likewise, the sign-up offer on the Ink Preferred would land you 4 nights at the Park Hyatt Mallorca, or 2 nights at the Park Hyatt Sydney with 20K points left over. And, the Ink Preferred earns the same 3x points at Hyatt properties like the Hyatt Card.
The Hyatt Card is still an excellent rewards card to have on your list, and the anniversary free night at a Cat 1-4 Hyatt and Discoverist status make the card worth holding long-term, but if you're not planning on staying at a hotel that returns a decent value, put the Hyatt Card on the backburner until it fits your plans. A distinct edge the Hyatt Card holds is that card applications are not subject to Chase's 5/24 policy.
The takeaway here is, unless you have a specific plan to maximize the value of free night certificates, you might be better off applying for the Ink Preferred, or Sapphire Preferred which offer similar or higher value, but much more flexibility. Something worth considering when you plan your credit card application strategy.
Ritz-Carlton Free Nights vs. Marriott Rewards Points
The last card offering free nights that provides a good comparison is The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card. In this case, we’ll compare the 2-free-nights offered on the Ritz-Carlton Card against the sign-up offers on the Marriott and SPG co-brand cards.
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card – 2 complimentary nights at a Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton Hotel
- Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card – Earn 80,000 Bonus Points
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express – 25,000 bonus points. Terms Apply.
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express – 25,000 bonus points. Terms Apply.
If you were to max out the free night certificates at a Tier 4 Ritz-Carlton hotel, it’s comparable to redeeming 120,000 Ritz-Carlton/Marriott Rewards points. An additional 40K points over the sign-up offer on the Marriott Rewards Card, and 45K points over the SPG Amex (after the 1:3 conversion). Again, this is only if you max out the award at a Ritz-Carlton Tier 4 property that isn’t participating in PointSaver Rewards.
If you plan on redeeming your free night certificates somewhere like The Ritz-Carlton New York, Westchester, a Tier 2 hotel costing 40,000 points, you receive the same value as the 80K sign-up bonus on the Marriott Rewards Card.
Although the Ritz-Carlton Card offers a bunch of perks such as Ritz-Carlton Gold Status and a $300 airline credit, at this point you’ve got to ask yourself if you will make full use of the benefits to justify the $450 annual fee, when you could apply for the Marriott Rewards Card with an annual fee of just $85. Note: The Ritz-Carlton Card is not subject to Chase's 5/24 policy.
Marriott Rewards points also convert to SPG points at a 3:1 ratio, giving you additional flexibility and access to SPG redemptions, including activities like SPG Moments®.
It's essential to plan your rewards travel before you plan which combination of credit cards will help you reach your travel goals.
The takeaway from these comparisons is that points offer flexible redemption options, whereas you need to pursue maximum value at high-end properties to get the full benefit of free night certificates.
If you are not maximizing the value of free nights, then you will be better off financially prioritizing sign-up bonuses like the Ink Preferred and Sapphire Preferred, which earn points over free nights.
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