Are IHG, Marriott & other Hotel Branded Credit Cards with “Free” Nights Worth Keeping? Just what do they pay for your free night?

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WoW – That is cheap vs what WE pay!

One of my hands down favorite cards, that I just about never use, is the Chase IHG Hotel card. I have said over and over here on the blog and at different seminars that as long as Chase does not change the card in any way I will keep it till the day I die and keep paying the reasonable $49 yearly fee with glee. Why? It really is simple. Value.

As you can see from the above I recently used a soon to expire cert at the Crown Plaza LAX airport. It is by no means an amazing hotel but it is very near the airport, the shuttle runs 24hrs a day and the rooms are clean and beds are comfortable. As a Platinum in the past (as a perk of the IHG card btw) I got into the club lounge with free breakfast and evening snacks and drinks (including beer and wine). Now you have to “Spire” elite (what a stupid name) to get in but that is the way of hotel devaluations as of late.

Anyway, I would not pay $120 to stay at the Crown Plaza but since I had a cert about to expire anyway it was a great value to me. These certs can be highly restricted as to when you can use them at an IHG hotel but the key thing is you can use them at just about any hotel in the system including high end hotels like Intercontinental locations – that is, they do not restrict them by category or such that other hotels do.

my free night cert for my chase marriott card

What about CAT 6-9 NOPE!

For example the Chase Marriott Signature hotel card does not reward you with status but stay credit to help you reach status faster much the same way the AMEX SPG cards do as well (i.e. if you hold both personal and business SPG you could get 4 stay credits and 10 night credits towards status). This has it’s perks if you are close to earning status but all but worthless if you only stay a few nights a year – in the latter case then “instant” status is better for you. EDIT: You do get 15 stay credits = Silver status.

But the Marriott card also comes with a free night perk but notice the e-mail alerting me to my free night. Yep, it is category restricted and HIGHLY restricted at that since all 6-9 category hotels are a no-go. What is better, the IHG unrestricted version with limited availability or the Marriott that simply blocks you?

Beyond the restrictions we have to consider value and I am really on the fence here with my Marriott card. With the category restriction I am hard pressed to more than, maybe, break even with the cost of the $85 annual fee and the value of the free night. Plus, with no instant status, the stay credits do not really benefit me either.

club carlson card perks for card membership renespoints

I like points. I like status. But is it enough for the fee? Humm..

Then we have the other cards like the US Bank Club Carlson Hotel card. This card, in the past, had amazing free night perks as well as a bunch of other amazing perks. Now they simply give you 40,000 bonus points for paying the $75 yearly fee (and instant Gold status). Here we have a hybrid of the free night approach. Having points gives you lots of flexibly but does also not give you any room but does not restrict you either and depending on the price of the hotel it could mean a number of free nights (or points and cash nights). Plus, the annual fee is even a bit between the two cards mentioned so far. An interesting approach.

So is there a best choice in all of these options and are all of them worth holding? Much of it depends on your stay patterns. For me, being a hotel free agent, I like the instant status options. Also, being flexible, I like unlimited hotel choices or the choice to mix it up. Bottom line I am likely dumping my Marriott card this year.

That just leaves SPG. For now I will keep paying that card’s yearly fee because SPG points are still, without question, one of the most valuable travel points in the travel space. One day with the Marriott merger I am sure that will change but until then I will keep that hotel card as well (but I really wish I could get the current new card bonus).

So what do you think. Are hotel cards worth the fee? Will you keep (or get) SPG AMEX cards with the current limited time 35,000 point promotion that ends 4/5? What about the Club Carlson or Marriott cards? Let us know in the comments below! – René




  1. Yes, very much worth it. The Hyatt Visa provides an excellent value. We are seriously considering getting rid of the Hilton Reserve. There is great value with the annual free night but a trade off in that you must spend $10k on the card each year to get it.

  2. Uhm, the Marriott Visa gives you 15 night credits per year, more than enough to qualify for Silver status.

  3. I’ve had the Marriott cc for a few years. My renewal is coming up,&I haven’t used the free one night credit yet – exactly for the reason you mentioned – the extreme limitations by category. We’re planning trips to Vancouver & SFO, with no eligible options for use. Nothing in my local area (NYC) for a staycation either…. Worth keeping? I’m just not sure..

  4. We are keeping the Marriott cards as we do get the use of the free night (for $85) usually at a cat 5 so good value for the most part. We also are elite and like the bonus points/stays that are attached. Dumped the Hilton as noted above. Would consider the Hyatt, but it is Chase and we are over 5/24.

  5. @Miles – Well, yes, but Silver Marriott is not worth much compared to other cards that give you mid or near top status. But noted!

  6. Just used the IHG free night to stay at the Intercontinental in Tokyo…well worth the annual fee

  7. I think they are very much worth it! I have the IHG and Marriott cards and have never had an issue using my free night. I just booked the Astor Crowne Plaza on Bourbon Street for a night April with no issue. Marriott is a little harder, but you can still find a nice, clean place to stay for a night in the cat. 1-4 group.

  8. What is the connection between the two sentences “Are IHG, Marriott & other Hotel Branded Credit Cards with “Free” Nights Worth Keeping? Just what do they pay for your free night?” I think the IHG card is great. It is hard to imagine not finding a hotel worth $49 and I have never had any difficulty using the certificates. My best value was an overnight stay in the InterContinental Park Lane London when they were asking over $600 for a room! My worst was a Holiday Inn which you can get for 10,00 points or $79 in cash, but even that was well worth it!

  9. I have IHG, Hyatt, Club Carlson and Marriott cards. For now I find them all worth it. These are in the order I value them (Marriott being at the bottom).

    I also got the Hilton Reserve for the 2 weekend nights signup bonus, but will drop it before AF. I won’t spend the $10K required for a an addition award night.

    In the past I have dropped the Marriott and then come back to get the sign-up bonus again. It’s pretty borderline some years.

  10. I agree with Lynda (comment # 3). After swapping my Marriott points for AAdvantage miles with a nice bonus, I dropped the Marriott card –in part because of the 1-4 restrictions. Club Carlson works much better for me, both in the number of points gained and the availability of many Raddison Blu hotels in London and elsewhere in Europe–either through points alone or points-plus-cash deep discounts.

  11. As a chase ihg cardholder must I still stay at least one nite each year to prevent my points expiring? Or will they not expire because I hold the card?

  12. @Dave – Perk Do IHG® Rewards Club Points expire?
    To reward our guests who choose to stay with us more often, we focus more programme benefits toward members who earn and redeem on a regular basis. All points will expire after 12 months if there’s no account activity. But it’s easy to maintain your points balance. Just earn or redeem once a year through any of our IHG hotels or partners.

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