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🏨 All about those free night awards

I'll tell you everything you need to know about hotel free night awards, and give you some examples of how they have played a core role in my travel strategy.

Estimated read time: 4 minutes and 52 seconds

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Good morning, beautiful people.

Welcome back to your favorite daily, 5-minute travel hacking newsletter. Are we the only daily, 5-minute travel-hacking newsletter? Maybe, yeah. But the point still holds true.

We’ve got a special one for you today:

🏨 All about those free night awards

Free Night Awards are one of the best things about travel hacking.

After all, what’s better than booking an amazing hotel room without needing to use cash OR points? It’s a great feeling.

These days, earning Free Night Awards is easier than ever. So today, I’m going to tell you why I love them, how to earn them, and how to maximize them.

A hotel bed with beach background that says "Free Night Awards"

What are Free Night Awards (FNAs)?

FNAs are certificates that allow you to book free nights with various hotel chains. There are many types of FNAs, sometimes within the same hotel program.

For example, Marriott has FNAs that vary from being worth 35,000 points all the way up to 85,000 or 100,000 points. The value of the certificate depends on how you earned it.

Hyatt’s awards, on the other hand, are based on which Category (numbered 1-8) the hotel belongs to. Other awards, as you’ll soon learn about, don’t have any restrictions at all.

How do you earn FNAs?

There are a few ways:

1. Credit cards

Many credit cards offer free night awards in one of the following ways:

  • Part of a welcome offer

  • Annual free night for renewing the card

  • Meeting certain annual spending requirements

For example, I have a number of different Marriott cards that offer annual free night awards just for holding the cards.

As a result, I end up with a nice stack of free nights every year, which I regularly redeem for outsize value at luxury properties around the world.

A photo from one of Mike's recent luxury hotel stays

101% of the time (rough estimate), the value I get from these awards far outweighs the annual fees I pay to hold the cards. This is a great way to stretch a $95 annual card fee into hundreds (or thousands) of dollars of value.

For example, one of these hotel cards gives me an annual free night award worth 35,000 points.

A screenshot from an emai from Marriott indicating that Mike has earned a free night award

The card image has been redacted for your safety

Last year, I used that award to book a night at the Ritz-Carlton Al Bustan Palace in Muscat, Oman - a room that otherwise would’ve cost hundreds of dollars.

To this day, it is one of the nicest hotels I've stayed in, and I got it from my $95 credit card. 😎

A photo from Mike's stay last year a the luxurious Ritz-Carlton al Bustan Palace in Oman

The Ritz-Carlton Al Bustan Palace in Oman

So, as you might imagine, I’m VERY happy to pay $95 per year to unlock value like this, especially when you consider the other perks that come with most of these cards.

2. Milestone Rewards

Many hotel programs like Marriott and Hyatt have some variation of this. Basically, you’ll unlock various rewards for reaching certain milestones every year.

Sometimes, it’s bonus points. Sometimes, it’s lounge passes or upgrade certificates. And sometimes… it’s free night awards.

For example, Marriott offers a free night award worth 40,000 points when you hit 75 nights in a year as part of earning Titanium status.

Hyatt offers free night awards when you hit 30, 60, 100, and 150 nights in a year. 👇

A screenshot showing the various Hyatt milestone awards, including free nights at 30 and 60 nights

3. Promotions

Each of the major hotel programs has promotions (some temporary, some evergreen) that allow you to earn free night awards.

Here are a couple of examples:

Last year, Marriott had a promotion that offered a free night award after two paid stays in Marriott hotels.

Personally, I tackled this promotion by booking two one-night stays in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for around $50 each.

A screenshot showing the AC Hotel In Kuala Lumpur, which only costs $50 per night

So for a cost of $100, I earned a free night award that can be redeemed for WAY more value than that.

In fact, I just used this exact free night award for a night at the St. Regis in Jakarta, which was priced at $350 per night but only 37,000 points.

A screenshot showing a marriott booking at the St. Regis Jakarta for only 37,000 points per night

💡 Pro tip: Marriott allows you to top-up your free night awards with up to 15,000 extra points, hence how I was able to use my 35k certificate for a room that costs 37,000 points.

Here’s another example of an evergreen promotion: Hyatt’s Brand Explorer.

I wrote about this more in-depth in a previous newsletter, but here’s the basic idea:

For every five brands that you stay at with Hyatt, you’ll earn a Category 1-4 free night award.

For reference, there are currently 28 brands in Hyatt’s portfolio, meaning you can earn up to five free night awards from this method alone…

A screenshot from Mike's Hyatt account showing his current Brand Explorer status

Which free night awards are the best?

That’s an easy one. Hilton.

Wow, that was a pretty fast response, eh…? Why am I so confident in that answer, you ask?

Because Hilton free night awards have no cap or limit on where you can use them.

Hilton awards are also pretty easy to earn. They have numerous credit cards that offer awards either as an annual perk or for spending a certain amount of money in a year.

To make things even better, they frequently include free night awards as part of welcome offers on these cards as well.

A screenshot from an email from Hilton indicating that Mike has earned a Free Night Award

In fact, I signed up for a card a couple of years ago that has a $0 annual fee but came with a welcome offer of 100,000 points and a free night award (the bonus has changed since then, but it's still pretty good).

I used the 100,000 points to book a 5-night stay in Dubai (at a lower-tier property) and then used the free night award to stay at the Waldorf Astoria Palm Jumeirah in a room that was priced at over $2,000 on that particular night.

A photo of the Waldorf Astoria In Dubai, where mike redeemed a Hilton Free night Award

So, let me reiterate…

I signed up for a FREE credit card that will never cost me a penny to hold and ended up getting 6 FREE nights in Dubai, one of which was at a super-high-end hotel in the Middle East.

Can I get an appropriate reaction, please?

A man with his mouth wid open and applauding

Free night awards are a core part of my travel-hacking strategy, but I want to give a quick disclaimer. These free night awards are not exactly “free.”

To get them, you usually need to either pay annual fees or spend money at hotel chains, even if you can do so very strategically.

Still, you can think of this as investing some amount of time and/or money to acquire awards that FAR outweigh the investment, which is still a fantastic outcome.

Later this week, I’ll tell you about a couple of limited-time ways to rack up even MORE free night awards, along with some examples of how to stretch their value.

But for now, I’ll give you a little break. 😉

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Wow, that was a doozy… I won’t take up any more of your time today, but I hope you learned a little bit about the magic of free night awards.

Before you get on with your day, I have a question…

Have you ever earned or redeemed a Free Night Award?

If so, tell me about your best redemption!

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

See you tomorrow ❤️

Mike Dodge
Head Writer, Daily Drop

6.8773° S, 107.6174° E