Card strategies for a longer hotel stay

Whether you’re paying for your hotel booking, or using reward points, you want your chosen currency to stretch as far as possible. Luckily, some credit cards and hotel rewards programs can prolong your vacation by giving you one extra night at the end of your stay, no additional money or points required.

How extra-night benefits work

If your program offers extra-night benefits, that extra night is generally tacked on to a stay of the required length. In other words, you book the requisite number of nights and then “unlock” the extra free night.

Some programs allow this privilege only on paid stays, while others allow it only for reward stays.

It’s a relatively rare perk, with only a smattering of hotel cards and a couple high-annual-fee premium cards offering it. Visa offers free nights via its Luxury Hotel Collection program at a subset of hotels in its portfolio and on certain dates. Club Carlson discontinued its three-award-nights-for-the-price-of-two benefit in June 2015.

The chart below shows which card and loyalty programs offer to extend your stay. Note that, for the hotel programs, no card is required – only enrollment in the loyalty program. However, getting the affiliated card can help you earn rewards points faster so you can book reward stays and take advantage of this perk.

Cards and reward programs with 'extra-night' benefits
CitiCiti PrestigeFree 4th night at any hotelMust book 4 consecutive nights.

Must book through card's travel-booking service.
American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner)(Business and personal card); CenturionFree 3rd, 4th or 5th night at certain hotels in AmEx's Fine Hotels & Resorts programValid only for consecutive-night stays.

Must book through AmEx's Fine Hotels & Resorts program.
StarwoodOnly enrollment in SPG program is necessary. Card not required.5th free night at Starwood properties for rewards staysValid only for consecutive-night stays.

Valid only for categories 3-7
HiltonOnly enrollment in rewards program is necessary – card not required.5th night free at Hilton properties for rewards staysFor Silver, Gold and Diamond elite members only.

Valid only for consecutive-night stays.
VisaEligible Visa Signature cards4th or 5th night free at hotels in Visa Signature Luxury Hotel CollectionMust book through Luxury Hotel Collection

Only valid for certain dates

Tips for maximizing this benefit

  • It only saves you money if you’d do it anyway: In fact, make this the mantra for all your rewards plans. If you were planning on staying at, say, a particular Hilton property for a week anyway, that free fifth night will save you money (or be a nice add-on if you planned on staying only four). If budget travel is your goal, though, you’ll probably end up spending less overall if you search for affordable properties on a travel-booking site.
  • Beware resort fees: Your “free” night may not be completely free, as many high-end properties these days charge “resort fees” to all guests for the privilege of having access to their extra amenities.
  • Make sure you understand the terms and limitations: If your free night applies to reward bookings, the same restrictions apply – namely, that the room booked must (usually) be a “standard” room. Hilton, meanwhile, requires you to have at least Silver elite status to unlock the free night benefit. If you’re booking through AmEx’s, Citi’s or Visa’s program, you generally have to book through the program’s website (or online with an agent) – so no booking through your favorite travel site or another card’s rewards portal.

Other, less-direct methods for longer stays

Your card or rewards program may not officially offer a “free extra night” benefit. Depending on the program, though, you can strategically lengthen your stay by doing the following:

  • Using your account anniversary night: Some hotel rewards cards give you a free night (usually good for at least six months) when you pay your annual fee. So, if you are planning a three-night stay, you could pay for the first two nights and then use your anniversary night as the third.

    Here are some cards that offer anniversary nights:

  • Taking advantage of points-and-cash options: Some hotel rewards cards allow you to book with a combination of points and cash. If you have only enough rewards for two nights and want three, for example, you’ll be allowed to throw a relatively small amount of cash at the problem and stretch your points into an extra night (Learn more how points-and-cash programs work).

The bottom line

If you frequently book stays of at least several nights in a certain program, the free-extra-night benefit can help you lengthen your vacation. However, if you crave flexibility and are on a budget, don’t get a card for this perk alone.

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