How to get maximum value from Hilton free night certificates
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest information.
The demand for travel this summer (and beyond) continues to grow as the industry rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic. And with so many travelers looking to hit the road, lodging rates are beginning to creep up. This is where free-night hotel certificates can come in handy — especially if you’re sitting on a handful with expiration dates that were extended but may be looming in the not-too-distant future.
One program that offers a variety of these certificates is Hilton Honors, as some Hilton credit cards provide these to cardholders based on spending, at your cardmember anniversary or in both scenarios — including the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card.
Today, we’ll highlight how to earn these certificates and go through some tips and suggestions for making the most of this perk.
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Overview of Hilton free night certificates
Let’s start with the basics. In a regular, non-pandemic year, the certificates you earn with select Hilton credit cards are valid only on weekends — defined as a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night. They’re also typically valid for just one year from the date of issuance and can only be used for standard award availability. They can’t be applied to Premium Room Rewards.
However, with the significant travel restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic — many of which remain in effect — Hilton announced a few notable updates to these certificates in March 2020 and October of 2020, then again on May 27, 2021.
First, all unexpired, free-night certificates can now be used on any night of the week.
In addition, there have been multiple extensions to the validity period of any unexpired, unused certificates you have in your account — though the details depend on when (exactly) your certificate was first issued. Here’s a table that should provide some clarity:
|If your certificate was issued …||Then it’s valid …|
|On (or before) April 30, 2020||Through Jan. 3, 2022|
|Between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020||For 24 months from the date of issuance|
|On any date in 2021||Through Dec. 31, 2022|
Again, these are restricted to standard room types (defined individually by each property), which may not always be available. However, they’re valid at virtually every participating property in the Hilton Honors program — with just a few exceptions.
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.
Related reading: The best hotel credit cards that come with an annual free night
How to earn free-night certificates
Three separate credit cards award free-night certificates in the Hilton Honors program.
If you open the Hilton Aspire Card, you’ll receive one free weekend night upon opening the card and each year after your account renewal. You also have the ability to earn a second free weekend 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, and 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.
Both new and existing applicants for the Hilton Surpass card can earn a free night certificate after spending $15,000 in 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 required). The card has a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Current welcome bonus: Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $2,000 in eligible purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership. Plus, you earn an additional 50,000 points after spending a total of $10,000 in purchases on the card in the first six months.
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 required), all for a reasonable $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Current welcome bonus: Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.
Related reading: How to choose the best Hilton credit card for you
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 properties are excluded, including all-inclusive resorts and many Hilton Grand Vacations or other “distinctive resorts” in the program. You can see the full list of these excluded properties at this site.
When will you receive your Hilton free night certificate?
All of these certificates are sent electronically to your email address on file. When it comes to timing, the Hilton Aspire‘s terms and conditions indicate that your initial free weekend night should arrive within 8-14 weeks after opening the card. Your annual certificate should arrive within eight-14 weeks of your anniversary date.
For certificates earned through spending on any of the three cards, you’ll receive them 8-12 weeks after reaching the spending requirements.
That being said, I found the process to be much quicker. I hit the $15,000 spend on my Hilton Surpass with a U.S. supermarket purchase, and just four days later, I received the following email from American Express with the subject line “You’ve earned a Weekend Night Reward from Hilton Honors.”
Then, just five days after receiving that email, I received another email from Hilton Honors with the subject line “Your Reward Night has arrived!”
In other words, it took just nine days from hitting the spending threshold to have my certificate in hand. However, I’ve read reports indicating that both the initial and annual free night certificates on the Aspire card typically take at least eight weeks to appear, so keep that in mind.
How to use Hilton free weekend 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.
Related reading: How to redeem points with the Hilton Honors program
In this example, for a two-night stay in New York City, you could use your free night certificate for the first two properties. But since the DoubleTree only has “Premium Room Rewards” available, you wouldn’t be able to do so there.
Some hotels may use multiple room types under the “Standard Room Reward” designation. For example, if you wanted to book a room at the Conrad New York Midtown, you could use a certificate for either a king suite or a two-queen suite, even though the nightly rates vary slightly.
Again, the key is the word “standard” from the search results.
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 weekend 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:
Note that 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.
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 then use these free weekend night certificates on the three Hilton American Express cards is only one part of the puzzle. It’s also critical to think about how to maximize them.
Related reading: Maximizing redemptions with Hilton Honors
Here are some of the strategies I’ve used to help get as much value from these certificates as possible:
1. 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 typically max out at 95,000 points for standard awards — with one notable exception.
So when you’re searching for properties at which to use these free weekend nights, try to get as close as possible to that 95,000-point threshold. Since Hilton points are worth 0.6 cents apiece based on TPG’s most recent valuations, and since these certificates are essential substitutes for using points, you’d be looking at saving up to $570 (or more) per night.
Here are some terrific options for properties that normally require a high number of points per night:
- Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
- Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills
- Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa
- Conrad London St. James
I’ve personally stayed at the last two on the list and highly recommend both of them. However, with international travel still largely restricted for American travelers, it might make sense to use them for more practical purposes or properties closer to home.
Related reading: How to use a free night reward during the pandemic
2. Look for high paid rates
Another strategy to extend 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 $396 at the Conrad Maldives, while the Conrad St. James can have rates as low as ~$293 in the off-season.
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 where the property is charging the maximum award price, that’ll correlate to high paid rates — and thus get you solid value for your certificate.
3. Combine with other reservations
If you only have one or two certificates and need to stay at a given hotel for a longer time, consider utilizing the free weekend night(s) in conjunction with a paid stay or a regular award stay. While these would 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, so this gives you the flexibility to pay for the cheaper night and attach the certificate to the pricier one. This is also true if you’re planning to combine a standard free night award booked with points and a free weekend 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 book a five-night stay with one free night certificate and then four paid nights with the Citi Prestige® Card to get your fourth night free. You could also combine a free night with a separate reservation through a program like Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts via The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.
The information for the Citi Prestige 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.
You could talk your way into an upgrade. A final possible strategy for scoring an upgraded room would be to combine a free weekend 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 part of the way through your stay.
All that being said, it’s worth noting that you cannot use the free-night certificate as part of a five-night stay and still get the fifth night free. So if you need to book a trip that’s exactly five nights, I’d suggest redeeming points for the entire stay and saving your certificate(s) for another time. Here’s an example of why that makes sense for a room that would ordinarily cost 60,000 points per night:
- Option 1: Book a four-night award stay for 240,000 points and use a free night certificate for the fifth night.
- Option 2: Book a five-night award stay for 240,000 points.
You’re spending the same number of points in both scenarios, so you wind up using the certificate for (literally) no reason.
However, the free night certificates can be a great option for stays of six or seven nights. You’d use the certificate on the front (or back) end of your stay and then redeem points for the other five or more nights, thus retaining the fifth-night-free perk and also using your certificate(s).
4. Carefully plan your spending
A fourth (and final) way to maximize the Hilton Amex free night certificates is to plan your spending during the year carefully. If you do this right, you could end up with two, three, or even four certificates valid at the same time. Here’s what you’d need to do to make that happen:
As noted above, the Hilton Amex Surpass awards you a free weekend night certificate when you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year. However, if you almost always book weekend trips of at least two nights, having a single certificate may be mostly useless. Fortunately, you can time your spending to ensure that you’ll get two overlapping certificates.
The key is to wait until the very end of a calendar year to reach the $15,000 spend threshold and then, once the calendar flips to a new year, quickly spend $15,000 again. If you can hit that amount in, let’s say, eight weeks, you’ll have two certificates valid at the same time for roughly 10 months.
If you’re looking to get three overlapping certificates, consider the Aspire card. You’ll want to start by applying for the card in the late summer or early fall to ensure that your anniversary certificate arrives toward the end of the year. Then you’ll want to spend $60,000 before the end of the year, followed by another $60,000 as soon as possible in the new calendar year (yes, I realize that’s a lot of spending).
Depending on how quickly you reach this second threshold, you could wind up with three free-night certificates in hand all at once that could all be used for a long weekend (Friday through Sunday night).
You could follow the same strategy outlined above for the Surpass card to get two overlapping certificates. Like the Aspire, there’s a way to get three overlapping certificates on The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card every other year.
First, wait to hit the $15,000 spending threshold until late in the year (say, November). Then, spend another $45,000 before the end of the year to earn a second one. Once the new year arrives, quickly spend $15,000 to get a third. Again, that’s a lot of spending, but if your company’s purchases tend to be clustered into the end and/or beginning of a calendar year, it could be a great option.
Keep in mind that none of these strategies are repeatable every year. Given the timing of when you meet the thresholds, you’ll only be able to have two or three overlapping certificates every other year on the Surpass or Aspire (respectively). However, you could consistently get two overlapping free weekend night certificates on both the Aspire and business cards, as follows:
- Aspire: Time your purchases to reach $60,000 right around your cardmember anniversary date.
- Business: Time your purchases to reach the $60,000 threshold at the end of the year and then spend $15,000 as quickly as possible in the new year.
These final two strategies are repeatable year in and year out to ensure you aren’t left with one random certificate that you struggle to redeem.
Related reading: The best ways to earn points with the Hilton Honors program
The current slate of Hilton Honors cobranded cards provides a wealth of opportunities to earn free weekend night certificates, awarded each year on your cardmember anniversary (Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express) or by reaching various spending thresholds (the Aspire card as well as the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card and The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card).
Normally, these are only valid for stays on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. However, most unexpired certificates and those issued on or before Dec. 31, 2021 can be used any night of the week. In addition, you can redeem them at any standard property in the Hilton Honors portfolio, giving you numerous ways to get tremendous value.
Hopefully, now you’ve got some concrete strategies for making the most of them.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Business card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Amex card, click here.
Additional reporting by Chris Dong.
Featured photo of the Casa Marina Key West courtesy of Hilton
This is The Points Guy’s permanent page for maximizing Hilton weekend night certificates, so you can bookmark it and check back for updates. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older offers below.