Which Hotel Credit Card Offers a Free Night With the Smallest Dollar Spend?

With the current influx of ways to create spending by using gift cards and such, it’s possible that you, like me, are starting to wonder which credit cards offer the most value for cycling some of your extra spending.  In this post, it will be impossible to compare the quality of free hotel nights, but I want to see if we can muddle through hotel credit cards and determine which ones will give us the quickest access (smallest dollar spend) to free nights.  Of course, this would probably be a more accurate analysis if we stuck to only one city, but that will make this analysis too narrow.

How many dollars do you need to spend on your hotel brand credit card (without any spending at that hotel) to get a free night?


With the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card® from American Express,  you’ll earn 1 point per dollar you spend at non-Starwood locations.

Spending to a free night = $2,000

Starwood category 1 hotels start at 2,000 per night for a weekend night.

If a person is interested in a cash and points option, they could get a cheap hotel stay after spending $1,500 and the $30 cash.

Club Carlson

The Club Carlson Premier Visa will give you 5 points per dollar at every non-Club Carlson location.

Free Club Carlson rooms start at 9,000 points per night.

Spending to a free night = $1,800.

** An extra bonus with the Club Carlson Visa is that, as a card holder, you could actually get a free bonus night. So your $1,800 spend could actually get two nights at a low level Club Carlson property.


The Chase Hyatt credit card awards you with 1 point per dollar spent at non-Hyatt locations.

With an award chart starting at 5,000 point per night, you’d need to spend $5,000 to get a free hotel night.


The Marriott Rewards Premier Visa card has some bonus categories that offer 2 points per dollar (airline tickets, car rentals, and restaurants).  However, the rest of the spending is 1 point per dollar.

With free nights starting at 7,500, you’ll need to spend $7,500 at non-Marriott locations to get a free hotel night.


There are several different Hilton earning credit cards.  We’ll just look at three to give us a sample.

Hilton free nights start at 7,500 Hilton HHonors points.

  • Hilton Surpass credit card holders get 3 points per dollar (6 on restaurants, supermarkets, and gas).  You’ll get a free night after spending $2,500 on this card.
  • Hilton Citi Reserve credit card holders also earn 3 points per dollar on everyday spending.  As such, you’d also need to spend $2,500 on this card to get a free night.  
  • HIlton HHonors card from American express also earns 3 points per dollar on everyday spending.  You’ll get a free night after spending $2,500 on this card.

Choice Privileges

The Choice Privileges Visa Card offers 2 points per dollar on every day spend.  Free hotel nights start at 8,000 points.

Spending to a free night = 4,000 points.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Clearly, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is not a hotel branded credit card, but since the points can transfer to both Hyatt and Priority Club, I decided to include it in the analysis here.

Hyatt free nights start at 5,000 points, and Priority Club has PointBreaks locations starting at 5,000 points per night.

The card earns 1 point per dollar spent. (You get 2x on dining out and travel.)

A free Hyatt night or PointBreaks would require $5,000 spending for a free night.

Ink Bold

While there might be an extra layer of expense, I thought it would be valuable to add it to the analysis if you bought $200 Visa Gift Cards at Office Depot/Office Max/Staples.

5x at office supply stores plus $5.95 per $200 gift card.

After spending $59.50 in fees and making $1,000 in gift card purchases, you’d have enough points to transfer 5,000 to Hyatt or PointBreaks.

Conclusion: Best Hotel Credit Card With Smallest Dollar Spend

  1. Club Carlson = $1,800 in spending gives you two free nights.  If you’re looking for cheap free hotel nights and you have a category one hotel in at your preferred travel destination, it would be hard to beat two free nights with a $1,8000 spend.
  2. Starwood = $2,000 in spending for a free night
  3. Ink Bold = $1,000 in spending plus $59.50 in fees for a free night
  4. Hilton Surpass, Reserve, HHonors = $2,500 in spending for a free night
  5. Choice Privileges = $4,000 in spending for a free night
  6. Hyatt, Chase Sapphire Preferred = $5,000 in spending for a free night
  7. Marriott = $7,500 in spending for a free night

Other Considerations:

This analysis does not include the value of the hotel rooms.  

As an example, a mid-June rate at the Park Inn Kaunas (Club Carlson category 1) costs about $75 per night.  A mid-June rate at the Bali Hyatt is $160 (Hyatt category 1).

This analysis may show different values, depending on your destination.

As an example, if you’re traveling to Kuala Lumpur, there is no Club Carlson location, while there is an Aloft in Kuala Lumpur for 4,000 points per night.

This analysis does not include where you shop for your gift cards to earn points.

As an example, If you bought gift cards at supermarkets, then you’d earn 6 points per dollar instead of the 3 points per dollar used in the calculation.  If you used your Ink Bold card at a grocery store, you’d only get 1 point per dollar instead of 4.

This analysis does not include multiple night bonuses.

If you stay at a Starwood location, you can get your fifth night free using points (categories 3-7).  Hilton offers discounts for stays of 4 nights.


  1. Michael says

    Craig …another great article. I really enjoy your blog. I was wondering about your thoughts regarding the Priority Club card. You mention the Sap Pref in connection to Pointbreak hotels but not the actual Priority Club card.

    • says

      Thanks for mentioning the Priority Club card. It does have a great sign up bonus (you can usually get a 80,000 point sign up bonus). As far as spending I’d rather spend on the Chase Sapphire Preferred because you could use 5,000 points for either Priority Club PointBreaks or Hyatt category 1.

  2. James says

    Craig – the latest Hilton devaluation did move their Cat 1 hotels to 5,000 points, but just try to find one (I believe there are 7 in North America)

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