Most travel hackers choose a new credit card based on the sign-up bonus. After all, 50k-100k miles or points are valuable for free travel, especially when doubled with a spouse’s stash.
But several travel rewards cards come with other worthwhile benefits that are good throughout the year or on your cardholder anniversary. For some hotel credit cards, free night renewal certificates make the credit card work keeping year after year.
Why Are Hotel Renewal Certificates a Big Deal?
Hotel credit card renewal certificates are a way to lock in a cheap price for an annual hotel stay. In most cases, you just need to pay the card’s annual fee (around $100 or slightly less) to get a free night. You have 12 months to use the free night from the time it was issued.
If you have a spouse with the same hotel credit card and you time your applications right, you will get two renewal certificates around the same time which you can use for a weekend getaway.
In the past, some credit cards had fewer restrictions on where you could use your free night. Now, most renewal certificates have constraints. But still, it’s easy to pick a hotel that runs $200-$300+ a night and get a lot of value out of your renewal certificates.
Marriott/SPG, Hyatt and IHG all have credit cards that give out anniversary renewal certificates. Which one is best?
Amex Marriott/SPG Renewal Certificates
For Amex SPG renewal certificates, you must own the Amex SPG personal card (my referral link) or business card. The personal card is going away tomorrow, 2-12-19 (see Leana’s post), so if you are thinking about getting this card I suggest applying today. If you’ve owned the card in the past, you are not eligible for the bonus again. The annual fee is $95 (although the business card’s fee will increase to $125 starting 3-28-19).
The free night from the renewal certificate is valid at Category 1-5 properties that cost 35,000 points or less. Marriott/SPG has over 6000 hotels worldwide that fall into Categories 1-5, even with upcoming category increases that go into effect in March 5, 2019.
Note that sometime later this year, Marriott will start using a peak and off-peak redemption chart. During peak times, category 5 hotels will cost 40,000 points and won’t qualify for stays with renewal certificates.
Despite the cost increases coming this year, Marriott still has a large footprint with thousands of qualified hotels to use the renewal certificates. In New York City, you can use renewal certificates to stay in Manhattan at several hotels that cost $300+ a night including Courtyard New York Manhattan/Fifth Avenue, Springhill Suites New York Midtown Manhattan/Fifth Avenue, Courtyard New York Manhattan/Herald Square, Moxy NYC Times Square and Element New York Times Square West.
Marriott/SPG also has plenty of hotels and resorts to put together a weekend beach getaway with renewal certificates. Some good options include Sheraton Kauai Resort, Sheraton Sand Key Resort (see my review), Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pompano Beach and Four Points by Sheraton Destin-Fort Walton Beach.
World of Hyatt Visa Renewal Certificates
To obtain Hyatt renewal certificates, you must have the Chase World of Hyatt credit card (my referral link), which is subject to 5/24. The annual fee is $95. You earn one free night at your cardmember anniversary, and you also earn another free night if you spend $15,000 a year on your card.
Hyatt has a much smaller footprint than the other major hotel brands with only ~700 hotels worldwide. Renewal certificates are valid at Category 1-4 hotels which cost up to 15,000 points per night.
While there are definitely some great locations where you can use your Hyatt certs, the selection is way more limited than Marriott/SPG. For example, if you want to use a renewal certificate in the NYC area, you cannot stay in Manhattan. None of the Hyatt hotels in Manhattan fall in Categories 1-4. You would need to stay in nearby Queens at Hyatt Place Flushing/LaGuardia Airport or at Hyatt Place Long Island City/New York City.
In other major cities, Hyatt renewal certificates are very useful for staying in heart of the city. Hyatt Regency Tokyo is a short walk from Shinjuku station, and Grand Hyatt Denver is in an ideal location near the 16th Street Mall. Most major cities have a few Hyatt properties where you can use renewal certificates, although Hyatt is absent from many smaller cities.
If you’re looking for more of a fun, family-friendly resort, Hyatt has a few popular resorts that qualify for renewal cert nights. Hyatt Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica has pools, beaches and a kids club! Within the U.S., Hyatt Regency Coconut Point is a great choice (both Leana and I have stayed there–see this post and this post). I also recommend Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa in San Antonio (see my review here). Update: Based on award category changes Hyatt just announced this afternoon, Hyatt Andaz Papagayo and Hyatt Regency Coconut Point will no longer qualify for renewal certificate stays.
IHG Renewal Certificates
If you have the Chase IHG Premier Rewards Club card (my referral), which is also subject to 5/24, you get a free night certificate at your anniversary after paying the $89 annual fee. The hotel must cost 40,000 points or less. IHG has over 4900 hotel properties that qualify.
Unlike Marriott/SPG and Hyatt, which allow points bookings for every standard room, IHG has a limited numbers of rooms allocated for award stays. For peak dates, you need to book far in advance.
The good news is that despite IHG’s award night changes last month, there are still plenty of properties which qualify for a free night with the renewal certificate. In New York City, you can stay in Manhattan at the Holiday Inn New York City—Wall Street, Holiday Inn NYC—Lower East Side and Holiday Inn Express Manhattan Midtown West.
IHG renewal certificates are also very handy if you have relatives in a rural area. Many times, Holiday Inn is the only chain in town.
For a more resort experience, you can use your IHG renewal certificates at Holiday Inn Club Vacations Galveston Beach Resort, Holiday Inn Resort Catalina Island and Holiday Inn Club Vacations at Orange Lake (see Leana’s review here).
Who Wins the Battle of Renewal Certificates?
On paper, the renewal certificate from the Amex SPG card wins. The brand has the most number of locations that qualify for the renewal certs, plus for NYC stays you can stay in the heart of Manhattan.
But in reality, the correct winner in the battle of renewal certificates depends on you and your circumstances. The ease of use will vary depending on where live and where you travel. If you live a few hours away from Hyatt Regency Coconut Point and you look forward to staying there every year at a greatly reduced price with your renewal certs, then the Hyatt card is the right card for you. Or, if you travel to see your parents in a small town and the IHG certs work for your yearly visit, then the IHG card is right.
Where do you spend your hotel credit card renewal certificates? Do you change your redemption spot every year, or do you stick to the same hotel? Do you own more than one hotel credit card?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.