One of the best ways to extract value from the Hilton Honors program is by leveraging Free Night Rewards on the Amex US Hilton credit cards.
Hilton’s Free Night Rewards can unlock some incredible stays around the world for $0 out-of-pocket, so in this article, let’s take a look at everything you need to know about these potentially very powerful instruments.
How to Earn Hilton Free Night Rewards
For the most part, you’ll need to have gotten started with US credit cards in order to rack up Hilton’s Free Night Rewards.
The good news is that it’s pretty easy to take the first step along this journey, as you can earn your first certificate pretty much immediately with a single US credit card application.
1. Amex US Hilton Aspire Card: Free Night Reward Every Year
The Hilton Aspire Card is the only credit card that gives you an annual Free Night Reward every year as on ongoing perk, without having to “work” for it through your annual spending.
Note that the Hilton Aspire’s Free Night Reward is earned immediately in the first year.
This makes it superior to the corresponding Free Night Awards on, say, the Marriott Bonvoy co-branded credit cards, which are only earned as an anniversary benefit starting in the second year.
In addition to the free night that you get just for holding the card, you can also earn an additional free night every year if you spend $60,000 (USD) on the Hilton Aspire in a calendar year.
Alas, that’s probably out of reach for most of us, and the return on spending probably isn’t worthwhile even if you could spend that much.
2. Amex US Hilton Surpass & Business Cards: Free Night Reward Upon Spending $15,000
In addition to the Hilton Aspire, there are two other US-issued Hilton co-branded cards that offer the ability to earn Free Night Rewards every year.
Both the Hilton Surpass Card and the Hilton Business Card allow you to earn a Free Night Reward upon spending $15,000 (USD) in a calendar year.
After the instant Free Night Reward from the Aspire Card, these are the two Free Night Rewards that are most easily within reach year after year, although they do require a fairly significant spending capacity to achieve.
Meanwhile, the Hilton Business Card also allows you to earn a second Free Weekend Night Reward upon spending $60,000 (USD) in a calendar year.
Again, though, this probably won’t be a worthwhile objective to aim for unless you had huge volumes of business spending that you wanted to put on your Hilton Business Card.
3. Amex US Hilton Cards Welcome Bonuses
The Amex US Hilton credit cards frequently offer different types of elevated welcome bonuses. In the past, in addition to higher amounts of Hilton Honors points, the cards have occasionally also offered Free Night Rewards as part of the signup incentive.
For example, the Summer 2023 offers for the Amex US Hilton Card, Hilton Surpass Card, and Hilton Business Card all offer a Free Night Reward as part of the signup bonus in addition to their usual points totals.
Earning a welcome bonus with Free Night Rewards tends to be more valuable than only getting Hilton Honors points, since Free Night Rewards have uncapped redemption potential (as we’ll discuss below).
Therefore, if you aren’t in a rush to apply for one of the Hilton cards, consider timing your application during a promotional bonus with a Free Night Reward attached to come out ahead.
4. Amex US Hilton Cards Spend-Based Promotions
Lastly, the Amex US Hilton cards have also been known to offer the occasional spend-based promotion for existing cardholders, with a Free Night Reward on the table if they can reach a certain spending threshold in a given time period.
For example, in late 2021, many Amex US Hilton cardholders were targeted for a promotion in which they could earn a Free Night Reward simply by spending $8,000 (USD) by the deadline of February 2022.
There’s no predicting when these promotions may come around, but it’s certainly very rewarding when they do.
It’s best to register for these promotions using either a Hilton Surpass Card or Hilton Business Card if possible, since the spending you complete would also help you progress towards the annual $15,000 (USD) threshold for a Free Night Reward as part of the card’s benefits as well.
How to Redeem Hilton Free Night Rewards
Hilton’s Free Night Rewards get deposited into your account within eight weeks of earning them. Generally speaking, they tend to show up a lot sooner than eight weeks, shortly after meeting the criterion that was used to earn them.
You’ll receive an email confirming the arrival of your Free Night Reward, which will also mention an expiration date for your certificate. This is the date you must stay by, not book by.
Free Night Rewards are valid for 12 months from the date of issuance, so you’ll want to make sure to make a booking before the expiry date.
Redeem your Free Night Reward
The Hilton Honors website allows you to track your Free Night Rewards on your online dashboard, but it doesn’t allow you to redeem these certificates through the online booking engine.
Instead, you’ll have to call Hilton Honors at 1-800-446-6677 to make your redemption. Before calling in, you’ll first want to conduct a search on the Hilton Honors website to decide where to redeem your certificate.
You’ll need to look for a “Standard Room Reward” on your chosen date – if a standard room isn’t available and only “Premium Room Rewards” are showing, then you won’t be able to apply your Free Night Reward to the stay.
Properties excluded from Hilton Free Night Rewards
Notably, there is a list of excluded hotels that do not qualify for Free Night Reward redemptions, which you can find here.
These are largely Hilton Grand Vacations, all-inclusive, or residence-style properties. Thankfully, most of the best hotels in Hilton’s portfolio are not on this list and remain eligible for booking a free night.
Strategies for Maximizing Hilton Free Night Rewards
Among the trio of Hilton co-branded credit cards, it’s theoretically possible to rack up five Free Night Rewards per year.
However, it almost certainly doesn’t make sense to aim for the free nights at the $60,000 (USD) spending thresholds.
Even if you intended to redeem these certificates in the Maldives where you might otherwise pay $2,000+ (USD) per night, you’d still most likely come out even further ahead if you placed that $60,000 in spending on another card(s) instead.
Therefore, some Hilton Honors members could earn up to three certificates per year if they can stump up $30,000 (USD) in spending across the Hilton Business and the Hilton Surpass.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of members will probably be satisfied with one certificate per year from simply holding the Hilton Aspire year after year.
On the redemption side, as with all instruments like these, the key to maximizing value lies in booking a hotel that would otherwise cost as much in cash as possible, while still remaining true to your travel goals and the places you want to visit.
Because Hilton Honors is largely a dynamically priced program, we can use the points price of a hotel as a barometer for assessing the value you’re getting from your Free Night Reward:
- The most expensive properties are priced at 150,000 Hilton Honors points per night for a Standard Room Reward, including the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi.
- Other top-tier properties are priced at a maximum of 120,000 Hilton Honors points per night for a Standard Room Reward.
- In general, any property that would otherwise cost you 80,000 Hilton Honors points per night represents a good use of the Free Night Reward. This price point corresponds to a cash price of about $400+ (USD).
In general, you’d maximize the value of your Free Night Reward by doing one of the following:
- Redeeming at Hilton’s higher-end luxury brands like Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, and LXR
- Redeeming for far-flung aspirational destinations like the Maldives or Bora Bora
- Redeeming for very popular places during peak season, like Hawaii over the winter
Now, some of the luxury hotels in major cities might make for a fun one-night hop, but if you’re going to the Maldives or Bora Bora, you’ll certainly want to stay longer than one night.
In that case, you’ll want to combine your free night with a Hilton Honors points redemption to chain together a longer stay.
(Just keep in mind that you can unlock the Fifth Night Free benefit when redeeming Hilton Honors points, but not when redeeming Free Night Rewards.)
Finally, if you’re earning points in two-player mode, then the sheer power of the Hilton Aspire Card ought to be harnessed by both yourself and your partner.
As a household, you’d earn at least two Free Night Rewards every year, which you could redeem back-to-back for a luxurious getaway once a year, all while enjoying top-tier elite treatment as Hilton Diamond members.
Hilton’s Free Night Rewards are one of the strongest benefits of the Hilton Honors program and the suite of co-branded cards issued by American Express US.
Compared to Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton’s free night certificates are stronger in many ways: you can earn them immediately in the first year, and you can redeem them for the best luxury hotels in the portfolio with no upper limit.
If you’d like to experience some world-class hotel stays without paying out-of-pocket, then diversifying into Hilton Honors – and in particular, getting the Hilton Aspire Card – is a great strategy for doing so.