Hotel Credit Cards Where the Annual Fee Pays for Itself

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It is probably no surprise but I have MANY credit cards currently in my wallet. Many credit cards = a decent amount spent on annual fees. While I do not love paying an annual fee on a credit card (I mean, who does?!) there are a few I keep on an annual basis even though I hardly use them for making purchases. There are a select hotel credit cards where you will get a free night annually and this benefit outweighs the cost of the annual fee. While of course each have their own limitations and requirements, the free night can be well worth it! Here is a list of those cards where you will not mind keeping the card purely for the free night annually:

  • Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

    • Credit card spend required = None
    • Hotel category = Standard room at a category 1-5 hotel
    • Expiration = 6 months
    • Restrictions = None
    • Other things to know = Keep the expiration date in mind when you are applying for the card – if you want to use the free night in the winter, for example, make sure to apply within 6 months of when you will typically use it
    • My take – Is the annual fee worth it? The annual fee is $85/year, but I always am able to use my certificate at a hotel that is $150/night at the bare minimum. I even got a $250 value out of it while in Hong Kong. However, earlier this year Marriott raised many of their hotel categories so many category 5 hotels are now category 6’s and this certificate is capped at a category 6.
    • Application link for elite members (70,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months); Application link for non-elite members (50,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months). Blog Post
  • Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card

    • Credit card spend required = $10,000 in your cardmembership year (rolling 12-months, not calendar year)
    • Hotel category = All
    • Expiration =12 months
    • Restrictions = Excludes Hilton Grand Vacation properties, all-inclusive Resorts, and Waldorf Astoria hotels that do not offer standard rooms; Only valid on weekend nights (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
    • Other things to know = Limited to just one free night per cardmembership year regardless of how much you spend on the card
    • My take – Is the annual fee worth it? While there are some restrictions on the days of the week it can be used and not available at some of the high end Waldorf Astoria hotels, there are no category restrictions! This means you can use the free night at an expensive hotel in Europe, Tokyo, Maldives, and The Seychelles (there are others too). You also get automatic Gold status with the card, so that means free breakfast during your free night! The annual fee is $95/year so if you can put $10,000/year on the card then I think the free night is worth it if you plan on a high end vacation. $10,000 spend is easy when you take part in Vanilla Reloads and/or Amazon Payments.
    • Application linkBlog Post
  • The Hyatt Credit Card
    • Credit card spend required = None
    • Hotel category = Standard room at a category 1-4 hotel
    • Expiration = 12 months
    • Restrictions = None
    • Other things to know = None
    • My take – Is the annual fee worth it? The annual fee is $75/year so at the bare minimum you should even out. While there are not as many high end category 4 hotels in the Hyatt portfolio, there are definitely enough to make this worth it. You can easily find a category 4 hotel charging over $250+/night. You also have the entire year to use this free night and no minimum spend required.
    • Application link; Blog Post
  • Fairmont Visa Signature® Credit Card
    • Credit card spend required = $12,000 each cardmembership year (not calendar year)
    • Hotel category = All, no exclusions
    • Expiration = 12 months
    • Restrictions = None
    • Other things to know = Limited to just one free night per cardmembership year regardless of how much you spend on the card
    • My take – Is the annual fee worth it? This really depends on how you typically travel. There are not too many Fairmont’s world wide, but when you find one in the destination you are going to you’ll be in pure bliss. Fairmont hotels are typically on the very high end cost wise so if you can pay the annual fee of $95 for a free night it will be well worth it. The $12,000/year spend though to get the free night is not great, but again, you can rack that up easily with Vanilla Reloads and/or Amazon Payments.
    • Application link
  • IHG® Rewards Club Select Visa®
    • Credit card spend required = None
    • Hotel category = All
    • Expiration = 12 months
    • Restrictions = None
    • Other things to know = Valid at any hotel within the IHG Rewards Club brand
    • My take – is the annual fee worth it? For $49/year, absolutely! This free night can even be used at the $500+/night resort in Bora Bora! Since you have 12 months to use it, you will probably always find somewhere to redeem. Even if you only find yourself at a $79/night airport Holiday Inn hotel you are still making out ahead.
    • Application link
  • Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card
    • Credit card spend required to obtain free night = None
    • Hotel category = All
    • Expiration = N/A
    • Restrictions = Must use points
    • Other things to know = This free night is different than the other cards. With every reservation using points you’ll get your last night of the reservation free. You can get this free night an unlimited number of times throughout the year. For example: a 2 night reservation means you are only paying for 1 night with points; a 7 night reservation means you are only paying for 6 nights with points.
    • My take – is the annual fee worth it? If you plan on staying at Club Carlson hotels then YES! This is one of the best hotel credit cards with getting free nights as with just a two night stay you can get away with only paying for one night every time! This even includes a $300 hotel in Europe, for example. With this card you get free points every year so you should always have points to use for a reservation.
    • Application link; Blog Post

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. As always, thanks for the support and enjoy traveling on a deal!

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.



  1. Great post. One clarification: The Club Carlson last-night-free benefit is limited to 50 nights per year. Not quite unlimited, but few of us will reach that ceiling!

  2. Very nice post. Most bloggers get very wordy so it is refreshing that you provide the best content so efficiently. Thanks!

  3. I think that the Club Carlson Card gives you 40,000 points when you renew and pay for the annual fee. For 40,000 points, you can stay at a decent hotel and the second night is free so it can be totally worth it.

    • @Al – The SPG card does not give you any free night hotel benefit annually, like the other ones. The benefit it gives you is the 2 stays/5 nights towards status – so if that is something you are slightly short on than it is worth it to keep. The SPG card is good for every day spend as I personally value my SPG points and to transfer your points to airlines is in your favor, mostly.

  4. I’ve been able to get Marriott to extend their 6 month certificate out to a further date. I did that to use it in Petra and also SLC on two successive years.

  5. Perhaps the real question is “is keepimg the card over a year better than cancellling and resigning up a year later?”

  6. Your logic is missing quite a few elements.

    1. Bloggers always state “I got a free room which was listed at $300/night”, implying that they saved $300. What isn’t mentioned is that (a) no one pays the rack rate – there are always 33% off promos, corporate rates, etc. (b) with the freebie you don’t earn points (which can often be worth 20% of the cost), (c) when paying cash you earn rewards on that spending and (d) the cash spending counts towards status

    2. Liquidity – would you prefer to have (a) $100 in cash which you can invest, or spend on anything you want during the year, or (b) a credit for a $100/night room which must be used at a specific chain hotel and often for limited dates. Obviously (a) is far more valuable.

    3. The sooner you cancel a card, the sooner you can reapply and get the very lucrative signup bonus again. You are effectively losing a percentage of this bonus every year you keep the card active.

    • @Cogswell – I agree with most of your points, however, whenever I state my “free room” value it is always compared to the best price available that I could get, not the rack rate. There is most definitely an opportunity cost when you use a free night, but with that said there is an opportunity cost to everything in life. When you buy a $3 coffee, for example, you think of it as a $3, not a $4 (just making up numbers here!), because you could have invested that $3 and eventually it is worth $4. I also am not a big card churner, so do not talk about the opportunity cost of not canceling and re-applying later on, but for those that are, you are 110% correct.

  7. Wow! Great, concise post! This is a great one for me to share with family and friends when they ask about which card they should get. Thanks!! 🙂

  8. Dealswelike,
    you mentioned easy spend with Amazon Payments.I don’t know how it works. Do you have a link where it is explained?

    • @Marina – Through Amazon payments you are allowed to pay someone up to $1,000 a month through their system via credit card with no fee.

  9. I have the IHG card. At the end of the first year you get your free night but you are then charged the annual fee $49. We used it in Scottsdale at the Intercontinental a $150+ night hotel at the time. Even if we stayed at a Holiday Express it would be a $100+ night in Phoenix. Plus my card has no Foreign Transaction Fee which I use in Europe.

  10. Here’s a real example of the value of the IHG card annual free night. Last June I had to go to NYC on short notice and stay overnight. I looked for a room and everything was at least $250 for a night. I remembered I had the free night, and booked at the Barclays Intercontinental. The actual rate was,with tax, just over $300. Not bad for a $49 annual fee…….

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