8 Ways to Nab Free Hotel Stays

Traveling is expensive, and a big part of that cost is lodging. But, it is possible to stay at hotels for a low price if you know how to use loyalty programs and credit card rewards. Loyalty and rewards points can help you earn free stays at the hotel of your choice. Here are 8 ways to nab free hotel stays on your next trip.

1. Hotel Loyalty Programs

The most obvious way to earn free hotel stays is to join a hotel chain’s loyalty program. Every major hotel chain has one. If you prefer one over another or if you just find yourself booking most of your hotel stays with one chain, signing up for their loyalty program is a no-brainer.

With most loyalty programs, you’ll rack up points for each stay that you pay for. And then you can redeem those points for free nights at the hotel chain. These loyalty programs also give you additional perks. For instance, joining the loyalty program can get you perks like free Wi-Fi or premium gym access. As you rack up points, you move up through the loyalty program’s tiers, which give you access to even more perks and upgrades.

There are many hotel rewards programs, including:

  • Hilton Honors
  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • IHG Rewards
  • Choice Privileges
  • Wyndham Rewards
  • World of Hyatt

Which one is right for you depends largely on personal preference, although some hotel rewards points are more valuable than others.

One great thing about these rewards programs is that you can often use them even when you’re traveling for business. When I travel for business, the expenses go on my company credit card. So I don’t get those credit card points. But if I book consistently with the same hotel chain using my loyalty program login, I still get the hotel loyalty points. Unless your company’s policy says otherwise, this is a great way to store points for later vacations and personal travel.

2. Hotel Rewards Cards

Although hotel loyalty programs are an excellent way to earn free hotel stays, the way you enroll makes a difference in how many points you earn. To get the most points, the best way to sign up is through a hotel rewards credit card. By applying for a co-branded hotel rewards card, you can rake in a gigantic haul of points when becoming a member. Here are some of our favorites:

IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card

The IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card earns an Anniversary Free Night at IHG Hotels & Resorts. Plus, enjoy a fourth reward night free when you redeem points for a consecutive four-night IHG® hotel stay. Earn up to 26 total points per $1 spent on IHG hotel stays. There’s an excellent welcome offer: Earn 5 Free Nights after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, you can earn the following elevated rewards on everyday purchases:

3x points
On all other eligible purchases
Earn 3 points per $1 spent on all other purchases.
5x points
Travel
Earn 5 points per $1 spent on purchases on travel.
5x points
Dining
Earn 5 points per $1 spent on purchases on restaurants.
5x points
Gas
Earn 5 points per $1 spent on purchases on gas stations.
26x points
Hotels
Earn up to 26 total points per $1 spent when you stay at IHG Hotels & Resorts.

The annual fee for the IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card is $99. If you’re looking for a credit card with no annual fee, check out the IHG One Rewards Traveler Credit Card. The welcome offer and rewards are not as high but it’s still a great card if you prefer IHG hotels.

World of Hyatt Credit Card

The World of Hyatt Credit Card gives you a decent welcome offer: Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 More Bonus Points by earning 2 Bonus Points total per $1 spent in the first 6 months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 Bonus Point, on up to $15,000 spent. You can also earn the following rewards:

1x points
On all other eligible purchases
Earn 1 Bonus Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
2x points
Select Categories
2 Bonus Points per $1 spent on fitness club and gym memberships
2x points
Airfare
2 Bonus Points per $1 spent on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline
2x points
Dining
2 Bonus Points per $1 spent at restaurants
2x points
Transit
2 Bonus Points per $1 spent on local transit and commuting
9x points
Hotels
4 Bonus Points per $1 spent on purchases at all Hyatt hotels. Plus, 5 Base Points from Hyatt per eligible $1 spent for being a World of Hyatt member.

Free nights at Hyatt hotels start at just 5,000 points. There are no foreign transaction fees but there is a $95 annual fee.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card has a big welcome offer: Earn 70,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points plus a Free Night Reward after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Card in the first 6 months of Card Membership. Offer Ends 7/31/2024. Terms appl. And there’s a $150 annual fee.

Here’s a look at the rewards:

3x points
On all other eligible purchases
Earn 3X Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
4x points
Select Categories
Earn 4X Points for each dollar on U.S. Online Retail Purchases.
6x points
U.S. supermarkets
Earn 6X Points for each dollar of purchases on your Card at U.S. supermarkets.
6x points
Dining
Earn 6X Points for each dollar of purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants.
6x points
Gas
Earn 6X Points for each dollar of purchases on your Card at U.S. gas stations.
12x points
Hotels
Earn 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio.

If you want a Hilton credit card with no annual fee, check out the Hilton Honors American Express Card. The welcome bonus is also quite large and you get elevated rewards on everyday purchases including at U.S. supermarkets and dining.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card gets you a free night’s stay every year on your account anniversary. Plus, there’s a generous welcome bonus:  Earn 3 Free Night Awards (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from your account opening. The annual fee for this card is a reasonable $95

Rewards:   

2x points
On all other eligible purchases
Earn 2X points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
3x points
U.S. supermarkets
Earn 3X points per $1 on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on grocery stores, gas stations, and dining.
3x points
Dining
Earn 3X points per $1 on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on grocery stores, gas stations, and dining.
3x points
Gas
Earn 3X points per $1 on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on grocery stores, gas stations, and dining.
17x points
Hotels
Earn up to 17X total points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy® with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Card.
   

See more: Best Marriott Credit Cards

If you’re already in the market for a new credit card, one of these might be right up your alley. Again, though, be sure that the hotels are ones that you would prefer to stay in, anyway. And if you want to travel internationally, be sure that the hotel has a portfolio in the countries you’re interested in seeing.

3. Cash Back Cards

Cash back cards are great because they provide so much flexibility. If you aren’t familiar with cash back cards, they are just what they sound like. Every time you spend on your card, you earn cash back. The cool thing is that you can spend this money on anything you like.

These cards don’t directly net you free hotel nights like the hotel-centric cards above. But you can always count any cash back you earn as vacation money that you can spend on hotels. Many cash back cards are available to consumers with average credit, unlike some hotel cards listed above, which are usually for those with excellent credit.

Cash back cards are also nice in that they tend to favor everyday purchases versus hotel purchases. If you’re not staying in hotels often (because you need to save up points for free stays, of course!), earning points on hotel and travel cards can be tough. But cash back cards give you points for the spending you do every day–like groceries, gas, and restaurant purchases.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers excellent everyday cash back. The card also has a decent annual fee of $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95. Plus a welcome offer: Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months. Terms apply. The cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit or on Amazon.com at checkout. Here’s a look at the rewards:

1% cash back
On all other eligible purchases
1% cash back on all other eligible purchases
3% cash back
Gas
3% cash back at U.S. gas stations
3% cash back
Transit
Cash Back on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more)
6% cash back
U.S. supermarkets
6% cash back on groceries up to $6,000 per year in purchases at U.S. supermarkets, then 1%
6% cash back
Streaming services
6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card

Another option to consider is a credit card that earns 2% cash back on all your purchases. The Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card is an excellent example. There’s no annual fee for this card and there’s a welcome offer: Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months.

2% cash back
All eligible purchases
Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases

The Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card also has great travel benefits and perks. Plus, if you need to make a big purchase or a balance transfer, you can get 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening, then a variable APR of 20.24%, 25.24% or 29.99%.

4. Flexible Rewards Cards

Flexible rewards cards are another way to earn free hotel stays. By far the best personal card in this category–and possibly the best rewards card, period–is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

If you only want one credit card in your wallet, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to make travel cheaper. The welcome offer is pretty high: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠. Here’s a look at the rewards:

1x points
On all other eligible purchases
1x points on all other purchases
2x points
Travel
2x points on all other travel purchases
3x points
U.S. supermarkets
Earn 3x points on online groceries (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs)
3x points
Streaming services
Earn 3x points on select streaming services
3x points
Dining
3x points on dining
5x points
Travel
5x points on travel purchased through Chase Travel(SM)

With this card, rewards are worth 25% more when you redeem them for travel through Chase Travel(SM). You can also redeem points for cash back but you won’t get that 25% boost in value. Or you can transfer them to a travel partner. For example, transferring the points to your hotel chain’s rewards account could increase their value (depending on the program). So this card is a great way to get flexible rewards that you can use on all of your travel needs, including hotel stays. There is an annual fee of $95, but if you travel regularly, or even occasionally, it can be worth it.

5. Combining Credit Cards

If you want to make the most of your rewards programs and credit cards, the best option is to combine them to maximize the points you can get for your spending. To do this, you’ll want to lay out all of your credit card rewards programs on paper. See which ones reward your spending in particular categories, and then use those cards to gain the most points on your purchases.

You’ll want to book any hotel stays with your hotel-branded credit card, as these will offer the best points for those hotels. But if you have one card that offers 5 points per dollar spent on groceries, use that card for groceries. Then use a gas-centric card for your spending at the pump.

Combining your credit card spending in this way–while being sure to pay off the balance in full each month–can help you get more points for every dollar you spend. Which you can then turn into free hotel stays and more.

6. Using Your Points Strategically

When you’re choosing a rewards program, be sure to pay attention to the little extras. For instance, when you book a 4-night stay with any Marriott hotel using rewards points or cash, you can get the fifth night for free. Some other hotel chains offer a similar free night option, as well. Whether or not you’re paying for all of your vacation nights in points, you can extend your vacation without paying more.

7. Use Booking Site Points

If your goal is always to get the cheapest hotel stay rather than to remain brand-loyal, book consistently through a site like Expedia. These travel booking sites have their own rewards programs, too. You can use points earned through your favorite booking site to get free hotel nights and other travel credits.

Of course, you’ll want to weigh this with the potential benefits of being a loyal customer for a single hotel chain. Look into the different programs, figure out where you want to travel, and then decide if you’re better off using an aggregated booking site and its rewards program or sticking with one chain that you love.

8. Work for a Hotel

Most hotel chains give their employees discounts on hotel stays within their chain. If you’re looking for a side gig, you might see if local hotels have part-time jobs that come with some perks like these. It’s not for everyone, but if you love to travel, your side gig could both fund your travel and give you discounts on places to stay when you do it.

If you want to travel, land a job with Marriott and stay for 25 years. Then you can join the hotel’s Quarter Century Club, which comes with complimentary rooms and special rates for life.

Bottom Line – Be Smart

Of course, earning rewards points doesn’t mean anything if you’re overspending and paying a lot of interest. You’ll also want to pay attention to the annual fees for each credit card you use. Look carefully to ensure that you’re out-earning that annual fee. If you’re not using the card enough to out-earn the fee, kick it to the curb.

Most importantly, be sure you’re spending within your budget and paying off your cards in full each month. Otherwise, you’ll have trouble saving up for travel, even if you are amassing tons of reward points. Travel safely and spend wisely. Your next trip awaits!