Hyatt and Marriott Credit Cards Badly Need to Improve Their Annual Free Night Benefit

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Many hotel co-brand credit cards offer a free night each year so that you make the decision to keep the card in your wallet. But programs that cap the value of those nights undermine that objective.

Both the Hyatt and Marriott credit cards offer annual free nights… that are capped in category. You can redeem them at hotels in category one through four. That means it is a benefit that gets less and less valuable year after year.

Hotel chains increase the number of points required by:

  • adding new higher redemption categories

  • moving hotels upward from one category to one that requires more points.

Since Hyatt introduced this benefit on their Chase card they introduced a redemption category 7. (They first introduced category 6 right before launching their credit card.)

With Marriott there has been so much upward shifting of hotels into higher categories I would be hard pressed to use a category 5 night.

The category 4 and 5 caps need to be indexed. At Hyatt it needs to go up to category 5. At Marriott to 6 at least.

In contrast the annual free night benefit on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card is a free weekend night after $10,000 spend at almost any Hilton property in the world. (And the card, which gives you Hilton HHonors Gold status, also has a limited-time offer right now of a $100 statement credit when you spend $100+ on your first Hilton stay within 3 months of account opening.)

The best annual free night belongs to the IHG Rewards Club card. It is a free night at any participating property any day reward nights are available, just for having the card. That is a winner, and while I don’t love the earn on the card it makes the card worth keeping year after year.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You are correct with respect to the Marriott cards (the Premier Visa gives you a Category 5, but that is also of little use now with the category creep).

    You are incorrect with respect to the Hyatt card as you still get good value for holding the card and paying the annual fee.

    You are absolutely incorrect with respect to the HHonors Citi Visa for 2 reasons.

    First, you neglect to mention that the above free night certificates can be used 7 days/week as opposed to the Citi HHonors certificate that can only be used on weekends — when prices are generally less expensive at most places.

    Second, and more egregiously, you have completely and perhaps conveniently (?) have failed to mention that you only get that Free Citi HHonors Certificate AFTER SPENDING $10,000.00 ON THE CARD in the prior calendar year!

    You may think that accumulating 10,000, or 20,000 or even 50,000 HHonors points for that credit card spend worthwhile (but many others do not given HHonors serial devaluations in recent years).

    Better to get the Hyatt card and avoid the Citi HHonors Visa after the first year!

  2. @ Gary — The Marriott anniversary free night is good up to category 5, not 4. Still a pretty weak offering though.

  3. The Marriott card gets a Cat 5 cert after the first year. Category 5 certs are pretty useless too as you note. It really needs to be a Cat 7 or 8 to be usable domestically in any city of any size. For example Courtyard Santa Barbara Goleta, a category 8 property!

  4. Would be nice if you could use the cert on higher categories and just pay the difference in points. Another way to make them more valuable would be if Chase added spend levels to get certs with higher category cap (spend $X on the card and get a cert with one more higher category, spend $Y, get two higher categories, etc).

  5. The Marriott is indeed capped at Category 5 for renewal (the Category 4 certificates are given upon account opening), but I’ve seen even suburban Courtyards and big city airport properties go to Category 6 and beyond.

    There is still value in the Category 4 awards for Hyatt, though it used to be that you could get a room in every big US city with that (including NYC and LA), but with category creep that is no longer the case with those cities unless you want to stay by the airport. I suspect that next year may be the breaking point for the renewal benefit.

  6. We enjoy Hyatts but their cat 4(max) renewal is difficult to optimize. Perhaps drop the sign up to one free night anywhere then give another free night(no max) on renewal?

  7. canceled my hyatt card recently for this very reason. It has become basically unusable in NYC, etc.

  8. I’d also like to suggest that one free night by itself isn’t very useful. Are you really going to Bora Bora, Maldives, Hong Kong, etc for exactly one night? No, most likely you need to supplement that with additional nights, and you are not about to pay the market price. It would be nice if you can spend the additional nights in the same property with points (moving to a cheaper hotel is a hassle). So the ability to rack up boatloads of points in each program is vital.

  9. The Marriott card free night has been a pain for me to use (rarely can I find a Cat 5 in a town, let alone a city, that I want to stay in). But that being said, I have had it for 3 years and always found a way to use the free night in my travel plans.

    The Hyatt card on the other hand, while I can’t stay at a Park Hyatt in most cities with the AF free night (with the exception to a few) I can stay in pretty much any city with the free night benefit (I will take a free Hyatt Place, assuming it’s priced over $75, over a paid Park Hyatt any day, but maybe that’s just me). The Cat 4 is still fine in my opinion, would it be nice if they raised it, sure. But to think it’s not worth the AF, well, then honestly you’re not searching hard enough or something.

    Regardless though, with both those cards, I have been able to use their free night benefit every year for rooms that cost more than the AF, so I would consider that doing alright with them, even if it’s a pain sometimes.

  10. IHG is killing Hyatt in terms of credit card. Soon you will only be able to redeem the Hyatt free night at Hyatt Place properties. No thanks!!!!

  11. btw, I’m quite happy with Hyatt cat4. Unlike Marriott cat5, which as everyone said is pretty much useless and is equivalent to Hyatt cat2, I can easily find 10 desirable properties around the world to redeem with (several in US and Canada), even with Hyatt’s limited footprint.

    Another downside to Marriott’s cat5 cert is that it expires after 6 months. Those in the know know it’s possible to extend it, but most don’t.

  12. So to expand on my earlier point, while Hilton and IHG’s top properties are better than Hyatt’s cat4, each additional night sets you back 95K Hilton or 50K IHG (if you use the free night at the top tier). Unless I have a very high balance in those programs, I’d rather spend a block of consecutive days in a (very nice) cat4 Hyatt for only 15K per additional night, with plenty of points left for future stays. Hyatt cat4 is equivalent to Marriott cat7 IMO.

  13. The best thing holding the Hyatt credit card is the special promo this year of a 20% rebate on points used on hotel bookings. Holders of the card are getting 20% rebate on points thru July 31. I was feeling very meh about the card and then this came along.

  14. Yes, of course, the anniverary free night if category 5 and the signup free night is 4, both are roughly speaking equally problematic.

  15. Your thoughts on this post are the main reason I don’t have either one of these cards. A cat cap is like a dog helmet. Useless 🙂

  16. I thought the same thing, that the Marriott night would be useless, so cancelled my card after about 6 months. Come to plan vacation this year and what do I find, a new JW Marriott in Bodrum, Turkey, 399 Euro a night and Category 3! Doh!

  17. Marriott’s is pretty worthless as is their program. I’m co T&E admin for my company and am always amazed to see so many people remain loyal to Marriott and Hilton. I guess it’s due to their footprint being significantly larger than Hyatt and SPG especially in the rural areas we have customers in.

    Anyway last year on my trip to Japan/Hong Kong my fiancé and I made use of her hyatt free night at the Hyatt Regency Tsim Tsa Tsui which was great and going for something like $300 a night. We stayed the last two nights at the IC HK using each of our free night certificates. This year I’m trying to decide whether to use it for the LAX Hyatt Place ~$170/night in august before flight back to dc after our honeymoon or hold it for a potential weekend trip in October or a trip out west in December. However the only possibilities I’m seeing are Hyatts in Charleston (new in sept), Nashville, Houston, Savannah, or Austin.

    Definitely don’t think the hyatt free night is useless yet, but a category 5 cap would be amazing and I’d gladly pay $95 a year for the card. If they move up some more properties next year the cat 4 cap will be a dagger.

  18. I had the Marriott card for several years and was grandfathered in under the old annual fee of $65. Except this year they said goodbye to grandpa and moved it to $85. With the increase in fee and the devalued usefulness of the certificate, I said sayonara. I thought maybe Chase would have some sort of retention offer for a longtime cardholder in good standing but they offered nothing, zilch, nada. The only suggestion from the rep – “you could re-apply in a few days and I see that you are eligible to receive the signup bonus again.” Well…OK. From a business perspective, it seems like it would be less hassle/costly to retain me as a customer than force me to go through the re-application process. Instead of going for a retention offer, I am spending $$$ in Citi’s playground which has recently become more attractive. Sorry Chase.

  19. The Cat4 is the signup bonus certificate.

    You don’t get any Cat5 until after your first anniversary.

    Gary’s right. Had multiple Cat5 certs, 1 from the anniversary and multiple from a promotion. Struggled to figure out how to use them now. Used to be I could use them for say the Atlanta Gateway Marriott, but they moved up to Cat6. Damn near can’t find a Cat5 in any metro area or near an airport now. So I dropped the card. Burning off the rest of my points before my Platinum status expires early next year then it’s BUH-BYE!

  20. I can’t believe Chase would prefer that Eric cancel and reapply, and give him another 50K sign up bonus, and a cat 4 cert, rather than give him a retention offer along with the cat 5 cert. Not to mention their operational costs for opening a new card. What are they smoking over there?

    Since the AF is waved the first year, and the minimum spend is a mere $1,000, it’s definitely worth reapplying for, but certainly not worth spending on, nor paying to renew it.

  21. “After your account opening, receive a free night stay at a category 1-4 hotel. You’ll also receive a free night stay in a category 1-5 hotel each year after your account anniversary.”

  22. Gary, thanks for posting this message. Yes! i have dropped the Hyatt card because the cat 4 cap negates the value of the free stay. If included cat 5 I would likely have kept it. and since I don’t have the card I am focussing on other brands of hotel for stays,

  23. With the IHG rewards credit card one can use the annual free night at anywhere in the world at any category property even without elite status
    With the Hyatt Visa even Diamonds are capped at cat 4
    The principal is wrong because they woo you at sign up with an upgrade to a suite
    Then treat every customer the same with a cap on the free night renewal
    I’m ready to cancel the Hyatt Visa even for a reduced price cat 4 annually
    There are more rewarding cards to use daily
    This current Hyatt Visa rebate promotion may be awesome but its too little to late overall
    for a card sleeping in my wallet comatose!

  24. Yes, the IHG credit card is great. Now, all you singing the songs of it should be aware, but probably are not, that some time ago, Chase floated a questionnaire concerning this credit card with the free night vastly restricted and/or requiring a $10,000.00 annual spend.

    Not aware of it? Search FT.

    And, remember what US Bank just did with the Club Carlson card!

    So, just be aware that your new darling may be going away sooner than you think. Moreover, IHG has done this because so many of their brands and properties are considered toxic by many US customers — it has to rebuild its brand after letting Holiday Inn hotels slip within the consciousness of the savvy mainstream American traveler/hotel guest.

    I still maintain that the Hyatt card provides the best bang for one’s buck, outside of the IHG Chase MC and the poster who said that NYC hotels are now unreachable with the free night from the Hyatt credit card, I say, get real!

    I guess you expect that you are to get a free night at the Park Hyatt in any city, as well? Hyatt hotels, whatever the brand, consistently deliver on the whole a welcome and satisfactory hotel experience.

  25. My first year of having the Marriott Visa (2014), the category limit for the free night was 4, and I actually found a nice place to redeem it at. It’s not really so impossible, but I still agree that Marriott should bump it up a couple of notches.

    What I find even more annoying is that the Marriott credit card annual free night is valid for only 6 months! Not a year, but just 6 months. That is truly sad.

    Oh, I just noticed that another poster (italdesign) says that the 6-month limit can be extended — good to know, though I hate begging for special favors.

  26. Agree with ItalDesign. Cat 5 Marriott are worthless (doesn’t even get you into a midrange Courtyard or RezInn anymore) but Cat 4 Hyatts are still useful at many good properties. If you can use the Hyatt night then the card basically pays for itself and I also use the card for the 2x dining bonus. At Marriott and IC the 2x dining bonus is worth almost 50% less because the top hotels cost 50k points v. 30k at Hyatt. IC card is basically worthless except for the free night.

    Contrast to SPG – high annual fee, no free nights, but points are worth more than competition.

  27. Besides IHG, Hyatt has the best redemption offer. For instance, the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, which recently moved back to Cat 4, is charging upwards of $500 a night on some February dates. You’d be hard pressed to find a Cat 5 Marriott valued at $200 a night, so I wouldn’t lump Hyatt and Marriott card offers together.

  28. @Boraxo says: “Contrast to SPG – high annual fee, no free nights, but points are worth more than competition.”
    That statement is demonstrably false because SPG points are the toughest to earn. Bloggers value SPG points @ 2.2 cents each and HHonors at 0.4 cent each. However, one earns 6x more HHonors points a clip than one does starpoints. This means that in terms of SPG points HHonors points are worth 0.4 * 6 = 2.4 cents, i.e., SPG points are NOT worth more than the competition as conventional wisdom would have it.

    @COLIN says: “You may think that accumulating 10,000, or 20,000 or even 50,000 HHonors points for that credit card spend worthwhile (but many others do not given HHonors serial devaluations in recent years).”
    That statement is also completely and demonstrably false because HHonors awards are among the most competitively priced in the business. An Award night at Hyatt’s top category hotels requires 30K GP points/night. An Award night at top category Hilton hotels requires 95K HH points/night. However, one earns ~3x more HH points a clip than one does GP points, meaning that in terms of GP points, a top category Hilton hotel award night requires 95K/3 = 32K points, i.e., about the same as as one would pay for an award night a top category Hyatt hotel. The purported HH “DEVALUATION” is nonexistent.

    Please make statements that you can substantiate. To keep repeating falsehoods that have been debunked repeatedly does a disservice to folks who are trying to decide on a program that is most suitable for their travel pattern and funds!

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