Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Grant
When it comes to rewards credit cards, one of our favorites is the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express. While the card requires a hefty annual fee, the benefits are outstanding. Additionally, the annual free night reward can be leveraged for some fantastic experiences. So, let’s take a look at how to redeem a Hilton free night certificate for maximum value.
We’ve carried some version of a Hilton-branded credit card for more than 10 years now. Over that time, we have used the Hilton free night certificate in a variety of ways. Yes, you can use the certificate for a “normal” hotel room. For us, that would likely mean a value of about $100-125.
But why settle for small when you can book virtually any room for free?
Over the past couple of years, we’ve managed to use our free night certificate at Hilton properties easily worth $500-$1,000 per night. That includes stays at the Boca Beach Club by Waldorf Astoria in Boca Raton, FL and the Boulders Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, AZ.
Simply put, by maximizing the value of the Hilton free night certificate, we are able to have some fantastic experiences that we would not be able to afford otherwise.
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How to Earn a Hilton Free Night Certificate
The Hilton free night certificate is available to anyone who carries the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass, Aspire or Business card.
American Express currently offers three different personal Hilton Honors cards and a business card. The basic Hilton Honors Card has no annual fee and limited benefits. This is a good card for the occasional traveler just getting into the credit card rewards “game.” That said, it does not offer a Hilton free night certificate or any other considerable perks.
If you’re really serious about earning points, getting upgrades and earning free night certificates, you’ll need one of the more expensive Hilton Honors American Express cards.
Hilton Honors Surpass
The mid-level card is the Hilton Honors Surpass Card, which we carried for several years (called the Ascend at the time). This card has a $95 annual fee but comes with automatic Hilton Honors Gold status and the opportunity to earn a free weekend night certificate. You can EASILY balance out the annual fee by using the free night certificate.
The catch is that you only get the free night certificate after you spend $15,000 in a calendar year. If you use the card frequently, though, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
Additionally, Gold status gets you a food and beverage credit for up to two guests each night. This is typically $10-$15 at mid-level hotels that do not already include a free breakfast. For a couple, this means that you can get your money’s worth out of the annual fee with 4-5 nights in a Hilton Garden Inn or DoubleTree each year.
Note: Previously, Gold status included free breakfast. Currently, the food and beverage credit can be used towards breakfast or any other food/drink item, including room service, grab-and-go snacks or the restaurant/bar. We are unsure if Hilton plans on continuing with the credit (which is not really popular with frequent travelers) or returning to free breakfast for Gold and Diamond guests.
Combine the Hilton free night certificate with the food and beverage credit and you can certainly get more value than the $95 annual fee from the card.
And, there are a few other benefits to this card, including 10 airport lounge visits through the complimentary Priority Pass Select membership. Of course, with the card you earn Hilton Honors points at a higher rate at hotels and in many other categories. These points can also be redeemed for free nights.
Finally, if you spend $40,000 on the Surpass card in a calendar year, you will get upgraded to Diamond status. This is a huge benefit in terms of earning even more points and having a better chance of getting an upgraded hotel room.
Note: The benefits of the American Express Hilton Honors Business Card are fairly similar to those of the Surpass card.
Hilton Honors Aspire
For the serious traveler, there is the Aspire Card, which is what we currently carry. The $450 annual fee might send you gasping for air. But that’s fairly standard for a premium rewards card. And you can still get your money’s worth fairly easily since the benefits are so much better.
The Aspire card offers automatic Diamond status with Hilton, an annual Free Night Reward (with the opportunity to earn a second free night), a $250 Hilton Resort statement credit, a $250 airline extras credit, a Priority Pass Select membership and more. Of course, you’re also earning Hilton Honors Points at an even higher level. And, you also get the nightly food and beverage credit outlined above.
We have easily maximized the Hilton free night certificate to get a $450 value out of it. And, the resort credit helps to cover additional fees that are frequent at resorts, meaning you can actually enjoy the amenities. Add in all the other perks, which are great for serious travelers, and you can really get a lot for the money.
Redeeming the Hilton Free Night Certificate
So, how exactly do you use the Hilton free night certificate? Overall, it’s fairly easy, though there are a few things to consider.
With the Surpass card, you earn a free night certificate after spending $15,000 in a calendar year. Once you hit the spending threshold, you’ll get an email from Hilton letting you know that you’ve qualified for the free night. The email will provide a certificate number but Hilton should be able to look that up themselves.
If you carry the Aspire card, you’ll get your free night certificate with your card renewal each year.
Just recently, Hilton added the ability to “see” your free night certificate and its expiration date within your online account. This is especially nice since it’s sometimes difficult to remember if you’ve redeemed the certificate from year-to-year.
Booking Your Free Night
The one mildly frustrating part of using the free night certificate is that you do have to call and speak to a representative. Sadly, you cannot book a night with the certificate online or through the Hilton app. Thankfully, the booking process is still fairly easy.
You probably will want to find the right hotel before calling to book it. Of course, you can do all this research online or through the app. Just look up a hotel as you normally would. If you do need assistance finding the right hotel from a representative, they can help you over the phone.
The key is searching for standard room rewards. When you start your search, be sure to select “use points.” With that selected, look for “standard room reward.” You can use your certificate at most any hotel with a standard room reward.
We had to do this back in 2014 when looking for a hotel in the Denver area after visiting Dinosaur National Monument. For whatever reason, we had a tough time finding a hotel and had very spotty data coverage. Eventually, we got ourselves to a place where we at least had good cellular service and could make a phone call. The representative was very helpful in finding us a room and getting everything booked.
Once you’ve figured out the hotel you want to book (or at least the city you’re going to), you can just call the normal Hilton Honors line and the booking process is fairly easy. If you are staying more than one night, it will likely require two separate reservations but if you talk to the front desk manager when you check in, you should be able to stay in the same room for the entire stay.
Where to Use the Free Night Reward
You can use the Hilton free night certificate for double occupancy on any standard hotel room. You’ll have to check the hotel website to know exactly what qualifies as a standard room at each hotel. At a “normal” hotel such as Hilton Garden Inn, DoubleTree or Embassy Suites, this will include most rooms, though some are considered premium, so be sure to check.
But, it does mean that some rooms or even entire properties are excluded. In particular, you probably won’t be able to use the certificate at most all-inclusive resorts or at most of the Hilton Grand Vacations resorts. Still, the list of excluded properties is relatively small.
And, of course, where you use your certificate is how you really maximize the value of the free night certificate. For that reason, we suggest looking at a Hilton resort, especially if you have the Aspire card. The resorts tend to be more expensive and offer a different experience than just a night in a hotel.
Additionally, when booking a Hilton resort with a free night certificate (or with points), you do not have to pay taxes or the resort fee. That means your free stay is likely to actually be free.
Getting Your Money’s Worth
When choosing where to stay, the number one goal is to at least get your money’s worth out of the annual fee.
For those with the Surpass card, you definitely want to book a hotel worth at least $95, since that’s the annual fee. Let’s be honest… this will not be difficult. While it is possible to find Hilton properties under $100/night, it typically isn’t easy, depending on the city and the time of year.
But, when you can book virtually any hotel room, dream big! This is your chance to stay in a room that would otherwise be unaffordable. I’d suggest looking for a room that is at least $200-300 each night. And, of course, you don’t have to stop there!
If you carry the Aspire card, go for a room that is at least $450. Yes, these rooms are a little harder to come by but they definitely exist! Since the Aspire card includes a $250 resort credit, they are a great place to get even more out of your free night certificate.
Our best value out of the Hilton free night certificate, thus far, was a night at the Boca Beach Club. That stay alone was worth roughly $1,000. We’ve also had great experiences at resorts in Key West and both Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ.
Is Free Really Free?
So, will your free stay really be free? The short answer is maybe. It all depends on where you stay, what you do and which credit card you have.
The things you are most likely to have to pay for are parking and food. Of course, not all hotels charge for parking, so that can be avoided. Additionally, food costs are completely up to you. The nice thing is that you will get the daily food and beverage credit but, honestly, that does not always cover the food cost, especially at high-end hotels and resorts.
If you’re staying at a “normal” hotel, it is absolutely possible for your free stay to be completely free. Just be sure to avoid a hotel with parking fees.
This is a little more difficult at a resort, though, especially if you carry the Surpass card. For example, when we stayed at the Boca Beach Club, we had the mid-level card (the equivalent of the Surpass). Between parking, drinks and food, we ended up spending about $120.
We probably could have saved a little by going out of the resort for dinner but, honestly, with the hassle of valet parking that just didn’t seem worth it.
The Aspire card’s $250 resort credit will cover quite a bit of food and other expenses. Still, these prices can add up quickly, so be careful if you don’t want to spend anything out of pocket.
Where We’ve Used a Hilton Free Night Certificate
Over the years, we’ve stayed in many different locations at many different price points using the free night certificate. Here’s a look at the redemptions that made the most out of a free night.
It’s true that we didn’t always maximize the value of the Hilton free night certificate. But, we’ve learned from our mistakes and now have a better idea of how to do more than get our money’s worth.
Our first experience using the free night certificate was for a long weekend at the Hilton Phoenix Resort at the Peak (previously the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort) in 2013. On this trip, we combined the Hilton free night certificate with a credit on Delta for an inexpensive Spring Break getaway.
This trip was before we started blogging so you won’t find any additional coverage of this trip to Phoenix, but we enjoyed the resort and it was a great Spring Break destination.
Our room was upgraded to a small casita, which was basically a one-bedroom apartment. The casita had a full living room and a small kitchen and an eating area. The bedroom and bathroom were upstairs. Seriously, I think this hotel “room” was about as big as the two-bedroom apartment we live in!
The water park on the resort was fabulous and can entertain adults and kids alike for several days. We also enjoyed a day trip north to Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle National Monuments. A quick warning though… As we drove north the temperatures dropped quickly! One day we were sitting by the pool in bathing suits. The next day we were driving through sleet as the temperatures dropped below freezing! Just something to consider about Arizona in the spring.
The resort includes the “river ranch” water park with several different pools, a lazy river and other water features. There is also a spa, miniature golf, tennis court and health club on site.
Rooms here currently run about $300-400 for a weeknight in April. I’d say this is a great use of a free night certificate, especially if you have the Aspire card that will cover some of the extra fees you’re likely to encounter at a resort.
In September 2016, we chose to use our free night certificate at the DeSoto Hilton in Savannah, GA. We spent two days exploring the city, walking through the squares and driving out to Fort Pulaski National Monument.
Here, we actually used the free night certificate for one night and spent 40,000 Hilton Honors points for the other night. Considering the room was over $200/night plus taxes, we definitely got our money’s worth here (we had the Surpass card at the time).
This particular hotel has since left the Hilton chain but is still a great location and a great hotel if you’re looking for something in Savannah outside of the Hilton portfolio. Otherwise, there are several other Hilton properties in Downtown Savannah that run $250-$350 for a weeknight in September. Any of these would be a good use of a free night certificate.
Ocean City, MD
Our 2017-18 winter road trip through the mid-Atlantic landed us in Ocean City, MD on New Year’s Eve. This provided us with a great opportunity to use our free night certificate for a one-night stay. Indeed, the Hilton Ocean City Oceanfront Suites was a nice mini-splurge for the night.
The hotel is located right on the beach, though that was not a big draw for us at the end of December. Our suite included a separate living room area and a kitchen. The bathroom was huge with a large jacuzzi tub. Additionally, I think we got upgraded from a poolside to an oceanside room. There definitely are perks to having Diamond status!
Sadly, we weren’t there long enough to really enjoy the amenities or restaurants but we enjoyed the hotel nonetheless. Since we only stayed one night and had coupons to cover our breakfast, this truly was a free night. With rates in the $200-300/night range, we certainly feel like we made great use of our free night certificate here.
Boca Raton, FL
In 2019, we used our Hilton free night certificate following our Bahamas cruise. Since we only needed one night and south Florida can be very expensive, I knew that getting our money’s worth would be easy. We researched hotels in the Miami area and chose what at the time was the Boca Beach Club, A Waldorf-Astoria Resort in Boca Raton. Unfortunately, this property has since left the Hilton portfolio and is now an independent hotel known as The Boca Raton Beach Club.
The standard room that we booked was worth more than $800 for the one night we were there. We don’t mind splurging every now and then, but I don’t think there’s any way we’d ever spend that much on our own. That price point made this a great use of the free night certificate.
And, when we checked in we were upgraded to a room with a better view. Ultimately, I think the room we were in cost about $1,000 for the night we were there.
The hotel itself was free and, indeed, we did not have to pay the resort fee of about $45 per day. We also got a breakfast coupon for a free drink and pastry at the coffee bar. Alternatively, we could have gotten $15 off the breakfast buffet, though I think that still would have cost us and additional $15-20 each.
Still, this was the one certificate redemption that wasn’t exactly free. And, since we had the mid-level card at the time, we did not get the $250 resort credit. Between valet parking, a couple of drinks at the beach bar and a “cheap” on-site $50 dinner, we ended up spending about $120 for the one-night stay.
Was it Worth It?
I have to admit, the hotel room at the Boca Beach Club was one of the nicest rooms we’ve ever stayed in. The view was fabulous and the furnishings and decor throughout the hotel were definitely high-end. If this is an experience that you’re interested in, using a free night certificate is definitely worth it.
Still, this is one of those places where you will need to be prepared to spend a little extra, especially if you don’t have the Aspire card.
Overall, I’d say that $120 for the experience that we had was worth it. But, we weren’t necessarily expecting to spend that much at the time, so it was a bit jarring. If I were to do it again, I’d plan ahead and eat dinner out. Or, perhaps, bring some food and drinks with me to save a little money. Ultimately, it was a good use a free night certificate and we do recommend the hotel.
While this hotel isn’t in the Hilton portfolio any longer, there are a number of Hilton properties in the Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale area that would be a good use of a Hilton free night certificate and a similar experience.
Key West, FL
In August 2020, we were able to use two free-night certificates (the ones issued in 2019 and 2020 had longer expiration dates due to the pandemic) at the Casa Marina Key West, Curio Collection by Hilton. The room we booked here was worth about $500 each night and, once again, we got upgraded to an Oceanview room.
While the hotel isn’t in the downtown area of Key West, it is right on the beach and close to Southernmost Point. In fact, it has the largest private beach in Key West. And, you can reach Mallory Square and many of the popular attractions of Key West within a 15-20 minute walk.
Again, being a resort, the food costs added up quickly. But, this time we had the Aspire card, so we didn’t worry about it quite as much. Also, it was very easy to eat dinner off the resort. And, while the breakfast was expensive, it was also quite nice and definitely worth the price, especially when combined with the food and beverage credit.
The setting on the beach is fantastic and there is a ton of history to the hotel. While we aren’t really “beach people,” we were thankful that we had time on our last morning to sit by the pool before we had to drive back to Miami to catch our flight home.
This hotel typically is quite expensive and is generally a very good use of points. There are many different room types here, though, so be sure you are looking at a “standard room.” And, with any luck, you will get an upgrade, especially if you have Diamond status.
The more we have redeemed our free night certificates, the more we’ve learned how to maximize their value. Thus, we definitely strategized quite a bit when booking a stay at the Boulders Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, AZ. In fact, we built our entire Southern Arizona national parks trip around our stay here.
We made a point to do all of our sightseeing at the beginning of the week, then ended our trip with a relaxing two-night stay at the Boulders. While the resort’s big draw is the golf club, we found the property perfect for any outdoor lover. We only wish we had been able to secure an appointment at the spa. Alas, we waited too long and nothing was available during our stay.
For this visit, we made a point to work our itinerary so that we could arrive right at check-in and stay until check-out, maximizing our time on site. We also planned for expensive meals at the resort and budgeted accordingly. Additionally, since we had one entire day on site, we specifically ate a hearty breakfast and scheduled an early dinner, just skipping lunch entirely.
We mostly just hung out in our room, but we did enjoy the walking paths around the resort. There are a wide variety of paved paths circling the golf course and weaving among the namesake boulders. It truly was relaxing and one of our most memorable uses of a free night certificate to date.
Yes, it was expensive. But, we enjoy using the certificates for an experience we wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. And, having the Aspire card with the resort credit helps a lot! All told, we spent less than $200 for the two-night stay. That included two fantastic breakfasts and two amazing dinners at the on-site restaurants. For us, it was worth it.
Final Tips for Getting the Best Value from a Hilton Free Night Certificate
As you can see, there are many different ways to use a Hilton free night certificate. Booking your free night is easy. But, if you really want a memorable experience, you’ll likely want to do a little more thinking and planning.
This is especially true if you have the mid-level Surpass card. Expensive hotels often have hidden costs and tempting but pricey experiences. But, if you plan accordingly, you can still have a truly free night in a great hotel.
While we enjoyed our experience at the Boca Beach Club, we weren’t quite prepared for the extravagant food costs. Now that we know what to expect, though, we have learned how to plan better. And, it was definitely a different experience than our usual Hampton Inn or Hilton Garden Inn. For us, that is worth a little extra expense.
My biggest “warning” when using the free night certificate is to consider potential parking charges. The certificate will cover the nightly rate and any resort fees. Having Gold or Diamond status will get you a food and beverage credit. It might even get you an upgrade to a better room. You really can’t avoid parking charges, though.
The only way to avoid other on-site charges, though, is to have the premium Aspire card with the resort credit. Just think about that carefully before booking a resort or other hotel with expensive experiences that you will want to indulge in, such as a spa or golf course.
Finally, plan your itinerary carefully to maximize your time at the hotel or resort. There’s no sense in staying at a great hotel if you won’t have enough time to enjoy it.
If you plan it right, though, a free night certificate can lead to a great experience that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford, even if it does cost you a little extra.
What do you use to find a flight?
We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.
What do you use to find a hotel?
We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.
We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.
What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?
We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
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Who do you use for rental cars?
How about booking a cruise?
What if I want to rent an RV?
We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
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Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?
We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.