Demand for travel this year remains robust, and many who’ve taken to the roads and skies this summer have faced high prices for virtually all aspects of their trips. Thankfully, there are a number of simple ways to lower these costs by leveraging travel rewards cards and popular loyalty programs.
One particularly appealing way to do so at hotels is by maximizing free night certificates — and Hilton Honors is one loyalty program that offers a variety of these awards.
In fact, some Hilton credit cards currently include a certificate as part of limited-time welcome bonuses, including the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Card. However, you can also earn these certificates based on spending or even on your cardmember anniversary, depending on the card(s) you have.
In this guide, we’ll highlight how to earn these certificates and go through some tips and suggestions for making the most of this perk.
Overview of Hilton free night certificates
Let’s start with the basics. First, these certificates are only valid for standard award rooms. They can’t be used for upgraded accommodations — which will be noted as “Premium Room Rewards” when searching on Hilton’s website. There are no blackout dates, but if a standard award room isn’t available on the date of your stay, you won’t be able to use them.
These certificates are valid for 12 months from the date of issuance, and you can use them at virtually every participating property in the Hilton Honors program — with just a few exceptions. While previously restricted to weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) nights, you can now use them any night of the week.
You can see any unused certificates in your online account (along with those redeemed in the 12 months), so if you’re wondering about the status of yours, simply log in and scroll down to see them.
Finally, it’s worth noting that each card in the Hilton Amex portfolio awards these certificates in slightly different ways — which we’ll cover next.
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How to earn free night certificates
Three separate credit cards typically award free night certificates in the Hilton Honors program — though a fourth has a limited-time welcome offer that includes a free night right now.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
If you open the Hilton Aspire card, you’ll receive one free night upon opening the card and then one each year after your account renewal. You also have the ability to earn a second free night by spending $60,000 on the card in a calendar year. The card comes with a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) but also includes benefits like automatic Hilton Honors Diamond status, Priority Pass lounge access, an up-to-$250 annual airline fee statement credit and an up-to-$250 annual Hilton resort statement credit. Enrollment is required for select benefits.
Current welcome bonus: Earn 150,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
The information for the Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card
Both new and existing holders of the Hilton Surpass card can earn a free night certificate after spending $15,000 on eligible purchases on the card in a calendar year. It also provides automatic Hilton Gold status plus 10 complimentary visits to Priority Pass lounges every year (enrollment is required). The card has a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).
In addition, you can currently earn a certificate as part of the card’s welcome offer. If you apply today, you can earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points plus a free night reward after you spend $2,000 on purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.
Official application link: Hilton Honors Surpass card
Hilton Honors American Express Card
The Hilton Honors Amex card typically doesn’t include a free night certificate, which is understandable, given that it has no annual fee (see rates and fees). However, it currently offers one as part of its welcome bonus, along with 70,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership. This offer ends July 19.
Official application link: Hilton Honors Amex card
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card
Like the Surpass card, the Hilton Business Amex allows all cardholders to earn a free night certificate by spending $15,000 on the card in a calendar year. However, if you spend an additional $45,000 on the card (for a total of $60,000) in that same calendar year, you can earn a second free night certificate. You’ll also enjoy Hilton Gold status and 10 Priority Pass visits every year (enrollment is required), all for a reasonable $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).
In addition, like the Surpass card, the Hilton Business Amex currently includes a certificate in its welcome offer for new cardholders.
If you apply today, you can earn 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points plus a free night reward after you spend $3,000 on purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.
Official application link: Hilton Honors Business card
Where can Hilton free night certificates be redeemed?
While each certificate is valid at virtually any property in the worldwide Hilton portfolio, a few dozen are excluded, including many Hilton Grand Vacations properties and other “distinctive properties” in the program. You can see the full list of these excluded properties on Hilton’s website.
When will you receive your Hilton free night certificate?
All of these certificates are sent electronically to your email address on file. The Hilton Aspire‘s terms and conditions indicate that your initial free night should arrive within 8-14 weeks after opening the card. Your annual certificate should arrive within 8-14 weeks of your anniversary date.
For the current welcome offers on the Hilton Amex, Hilton Surpass and Hilton Business cards, the terms indicate that it’ll take “up to 16 weeks” for the email to arrive with the details of your free night reward.
Finally, for certificates earned through spending on any of the three cards, you’ll receive them 8-12 weeks after reaching the spending requirements.
However, I found the process to be much quicker in practice. Last year, my Hilton Aspire annual fee posted to my account Oct. 28, and I received my free night Dec. 5. When I had the Hilton Surpass a few years ago, I received my certificate within two weeks of hitting the $15,000 spending threshold.
That said, your experience may vary, so don’t plan on using these certificates too quickly.
How to use Hilton free night certificates
Once you’ve earned one (or more) of these certificates, the process to redeem them is very straightforward. Unfortunately, it must be completed over the phone, but I’ve typically found the booking experience to be relatively hassle-free.
However, before you even pick up the phone, you’ll want to verify that your desired property has standard award inventory available for your desired date(s). If standard rooms are sold out, or you would rather book premium rooms, you must either pay out of pocket or redeem points.
To check on availability, go to hilton.com, enter your search criteria (be sure to check the box for “Use Points”) and then look for any property with “Standard Room Reward” listed in the results.
In this example, for a one-night stay in New York City over Christmas, you could use your free night certificate for the first two properties. But since the Conrad New York Midtown only has “Premium Room Rewards” available, you wouldn’t be able to do so there.
Some hotels may even have multiple room types under the “Standard Room Reward” designation, so be sure to look at each individual property to confirm the available rooms.
Once you’ve verified that standard awards are available, call Hilton at 800-446-6677. Let them know that you would like to make a reservation using your free night certificate(s) from your American Express card(s). Each free night should be associated with your account, but the email you received will have the certificate number on it, in case the agent has trouble locating it.
If you have two or more of these certificates, you shouldn’t have any problem using them on a single reservation, as I was able to do a few years ago for a weekend trip I took with my family to Toronto for a concert:
Even though my confirmation had the regular award cost listed (100,000 points for a two-night stay), I didn’t need to actually use those points since I attached the certificates to the reservation.
Note that these certificates can’t be combined with Hilton’s fifth-night-free perk, so you don’t want to use them on a five-night stay, as you must redeem points for all five nights to get one free. However, you can use a certificate for a sixth night, which can be a great option to extend your stay at a luxury resort.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the automatic Hilton elite status these cards confer is honored on all stays booked directly with Hilton, including reservations using these certificates.
How to maximize the free night certificates
Of course, knowing how to earn and use these free night certificates on the Hilton American Express cards is only one part of the puzzle. It’s also critical to think about how to maximize them.
Here are some of the strategies I’ve used to get as much value from these certificates as possible:
Redeem them at higher-tier properties
Your priority should be to redeem these certificates at higher-tier properties. The Hilton Honors program no longer publishes formal award charts, but top-tier properties used to max out at 95,000 points for standard awards. This has recently shifted, but as of now, your certificates remain valid at virtually all properties around the world — even those pricing at 120,000 or 150,000 points per night.
So when you’re searching for properties at which to use these free nights, try to get as close as possible to that 95,000-point threshold (or higher). Since Hilton points are worth 0.6 cents apiece based on TPG’s most recent valuations, and since these certificates are essentially substitutes for using points, you’d be looking at saving $570 (or more) per night.
Here are some terrific options for properties that normally require a high number of points per night:
I’ve personally stayed at the last two on the list and highly recommend both of them.
Look for high paid rates
Another strategy to increase the value of these certificates is to look for properties with high revenue rates. High paid rates tend to correlate with high award rates, but that’s not always the case.
I’ve seen rates as low as $400 at the Conrad Maldives, while the Conrad St. James can have rates under $300 in the offseason.
But the opposite can hold true as well — you’ll frequently see low-to-mid-tier properties charging very high room rates during special events, even though the number of points you’d need to redeem for a free night isn’t exorbitant.
Even though Hilton no longer publishes award charts, a nice tool on its website can help you in this endeavor: the Points Explorer.
This resource will highlight the maximum number of points a property can charge, along with the lowest award rate a member has booked. Generally speaking, if you find a weekend night when the property is charging the maximum award price, that’ll correlate to high paid rates — and thus get you solid value for your certificate.
Combine with other reservations
If you only have one or two certificates and need to stay at a given hotel longer, consider utilizing the free night(s) in conjunction with a paid stay or a regular award stay. While these might need to be booked separately, it does provide some additional benefits:
It allows you to redeem an award for more expensive nights. There are many times when a weekend night would be pricier than a weeknight, giving you the flexibility to pay for the cheaper night and attach the certificate to the pricier one. This is also true if you combine a standard free night award booked with points and a free night booked with a certificate, given Hilton’s dynamic pricing model.
I’ve seen cases (in Las Vegas, for example) where a Saturday night stay might be a standard 50,000 points per night, whereas a Sunday night stay would only be 34,000 points per night. If you encounter a scenario like this, use the certificate for Saturday and redeem points for Sunday.
It can be combined with credit card perks. Many credit cards offer perks for hotel stays, and some of these can be leveraged with the free night. For example, you could combine a free night with a separate reservation through a program like American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts via The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.
You could talk your way into an upgrade. A final possible strategy for scoring an upgraded room would be to combine a free night certificate (or two) with a Premium Room Reward at the end of your stay. As long as the premium room type you booked is available at check-in, you might have luck convincing the agent to bump you right into the upgraded accommodations for the entire stay.
Just be aware that this plan could backfire, forcing you to switch rooms halfway through your stay.
The current slate of Hilton Honors cobranded cards provides a wealth of opportunities to earn free night certificates, awarded each year on your cardmember anniversary (with the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express) or by reaching various spending thresholds (with the Aspire card as well as the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card and Hilton Honors American Express Business Card).
You can also earn one as part of the current welcome offers on the Hilton Surpass, Hilton Business and Hilton Honors American Express Card.
You can redeem free night certificates at any standard property in the Hilton Honors portfolio, giving you numerous ways to get tremendous value.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Business Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Amex card, click here.
Additional reporting by Chris Dong.
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