Manufacturing free nights (Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott)

Last week, Nick and I presented our different takes on which hotel chain (Hyatt, Hilton, or Marriott) was most rewarding (here and here).  We looked at how much you’d have to stay at those hotels in order to earn free nights. That was all fine and good, but not exactly what readers wanted to know.  Many readers asked a different question: Which credit cards are best for earning free nights?

To keep things simple, I tackled this question specifically for the same hotel chains discussed before: Hyatt, Hilton, and Marriott.

Credit Card Options

The following credit cards can be used to earn points in each hotel program:

Hyatt

Cards that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points are included above because Chase points can be transferred one to one to Hyatt as long as you have one of the cards with a fee.  In other words, you can earn 5X rewards with the no-fee Freedom and/or Ink Business Cash card and then move those points to a card with a fee (Sapphire Reserve, for example), then transfer to Hyatt.

Spend Category Best Options
No Category Freedom Unlimited 1.5X
Dining Sapphire Reserve 3X
Sapphire Preferred 2X
Ink Business Cash 2X
Hyatt 2X
Travel Sapphire Reserve 3X
Ink Business Preferred 3X
Sapphire Preferred 2X
Hyatt 2X or 3X
Phone / TV / Internet Ink Business Cash 5X
Ink Business Preferred 3X
Gas Ink Business Cash 2X
Shipping Ink Business Preferred 3X
Advertising via social media Ink Business Preferred 3X
Bill payment via Plastiq Ink Business Preferred 3X
Office Supply Stores Ink Business Cash 5X
Rotating Categories Freedom 5X

Hilton

Spend Category Best Options
No Category All Hilton cards earn 3X
US Restaurants
Aspire 7X
Ascend 6X
Business 6X
No-Fee 5X
US Supermarkets
Ascend 6X
No-Fee 5X
US Gas Stations
Ascend 6X
Business 6X
No-Fee 5X
Travel* Aspire 7X
Business 6X
Hilton Hotels
Aspire 14X
Ascend 12X
Business 12X
No-Fee 7X
US wireless, US shipping Business 6X

* flights booked directly with airlines, car rentals booked directly with select car rental companies.

Marriott

As with Hyatt, Chase Ultimate Rewards cards can be used to earn Marriott points (but in this case I don’t particularly recommend it).  Anyway, this table shows your best options, including Ultimate Rewards cards:

Spend Category Best Options
No Category Marriott Premier Plus 2X
Any SPG card 2X
Dining
(US only for SPG cards)
SPG Business Card 4X
SPG Luxury Card 3X
Sapphire Reserve 3X
Travel
(only flights booked directly with airlines for SPG card)
SPG Luxury Card 3X
Sapphire Reserve 3X
Ink Business Preferred 3X
US Gas Stations SPG Business Card 4X
Phone / TV / Internet
(SPG is 4X only for US wireless phone service)
Ink Business Cash 5X
SPG Business Card 4X
Ink Business Preferred 3X
Shipping
(US Only with SPG Biz Card)
SPG Business Card 4X
Ink Business Preferred 3X
Advertising via social media Ink Business Preferred 3X
Bill payment via Plastiq Ink Business Preferred 3X
Office Supply Stores Ink Business Cash 5X
Rotating Categories Freedom 5X

Points Required for Free Nights

The following table shows the number of points required for a free night with each hotel chain. The Marriott column is based on their “early 2019” award chart:

Hotel Type
Marriott Hyatt Hilton
Bottom Category 7,500 5,000 10,000
“Average” 18,272 7,561 29,236
Top Category 85,000 30,000 95,000

Let me explain…

  • Bottom Category Marriott: The “early 2019” award chart actually offers 5K off-peak properties, but I think it is fair to assume that finding those will be rare.
  • Bottom Category Hilton: Technically 5K points is lowest, but none of these are in the US so we went with 10K
  • Top Category Marriott: 85K is the standard price in the The “early 2019” award chart. Top category hotels will also be available for 70K (off-peak) or 100K (peak).
  • “Average” requires more explanation. Basically this is our estimate of how many points will be paid on average for a mid tier stay.  No single night will really price this way.  See my previous post for more details (found here).

Credit card spend required for free nights

Using the best available credit card for each type of spend, let’s look at what how much credit card spend will get you a free night:

Base Spend (No Category Bonus)

This chart shows the results of credit card spend at places that don’t offer category bonuses on any of the hotel cards listed above. Examples of such spend include shopping malls, drugstores, miscellaneous online shopping, tax payments (unless paid via Plastiq), etc.

Hotel Type
Marriott
Hyatt Hilton
Spend Multiplier 2X 1.5X 3X
Bottom Category $3,750 $3,333 $3,333
“Average” $9,136 $5,041 $9,745
Top Category $42,500 $20,000 $31,667

Hyatt is the obvious winner for non-bonus spend!

Supermarket Spend

This chart shows credit card spend using the best available card at supermarkets. This does not account for the fact that the Chase Freedom card sometimes offers 5X at supermarkets.

Hotel Type
Marriott
Hyatt Hilton
Spend Multiplier 2X 1.5X 6X
Bottom Category $3,750 $3,333 $1,667
“Average” $9,136 $5,041 $4,873
Top Category $42,500 $20,000 $15,833

Hilton is now looking really good, but it’s interesting to see that Hyatt is not too much more expensive at just 1.5X earnings.

Gas Station Spend

This chart shows credit card spend using the best available card at gas stations (US only for Hilton). This does not account for the fact that the Chase Freedom card sometimes offers 5X at gas stations.

Hotel Type
Marriott
Hyatt Hilton
Spend Multiplier 4X 2X 6X
Bottom Category $1,875 $2,500 $1,667
“Average” $4,568 $3,781 $4,873
Top Category $21,250 $15,000 $15,833

Here Hyatt and Hilton are pretty much neck-in-neck at the top end.  One caveat: some stores that code as gas stations with Visa/Mastercards do not necessarily code that way with Amex cards (Marriott & Hilton).

Travel & Dining Spend

This chart shows credit card spend using the best available card to pay for travel & dining. This does not account for the fact that the Chase Freedom card sometimes offers 5X at restaurants.

Hotel Type
Marriott
Hyatt Hilton
Spend Multiplier 3.5X 3X 7X
Bottom Category $2,143 $1,667 $1,429
“Average” $5,221 $2,520 $4,177
Top Category $24,286 $10,000 $13,571

While Hilton looks great at the bottom category, and not bad at the top, Hyatt looks best overall.  Marriott will offer 4X for US dining with the SPG Business card and 3X for some types of travel with the SPG Luxury card so I generously averaged it to 3.5 for this chart.

Office Supply Spend

This chart shows credit card spend using the best available card to pay at office supply stores (e.g. Staples, Office Depot, etc.).

Hotel Type
Marriott
Hyatt Hilton
Spend Multiplier 5X 5X 3X
Bottom Category $1,500 $1,000 $3,333
“Average” $3,654 $1,512 $9,745
Top Category $17,000 $6,000 $31,667

Wow.  With Hyatt and the Ink Business Cash card you need only $6,000 spend for a free night at a top-tier hotel.  Hilton cards don’t offer a comparable office supply bonus, but if you can make similar purchases at US shipping stores then you can earn 6X with the Hilton business card (and divide all of the Hilton numbers in this chart by 2).

Accounting for 4th Night Free

Hyatt swept most of the above categories, but it’s worth noting that Hyatt does not offer a 5th night free on award stays whereas Marriott and Hilton do.  If you assume that you will always spend 5 nights at hotels on award stays (seems unlikely to me!), then you can multiply all of the Marriott and Hilton spend totals above by .8 to get a more fair comparison.  For example, here’s the base spend (no category bonus) chart again after correcting for 5th night free:

Hotel Type
Marriott
Hyatt Hilton
Spend Multiplier 2X 1.5X 3X
Assume 5th Night Free? Yes No Yes
Bottom Category $3,000 $3,333 $2,677
“Average” $7,309 $5,041 $7,796
Top Category $34,000 $20,000 $25,333

Hyatt still looks best even when accounting for 5th Night Free awards.  So, let’s look at this again with supermarket spend (because I know that a lot of readers use their Hilton Ascend card at supermarkets):

Hotel Type
Marriott
Hyatt Hilton
Spend Multiplier 2X 1.5X 6X
Assume 5th Night Free? Yes No Yes
Bottom Category $3,000 $3,333 $1,333
“Average” $7,309 $5,041 $3,898
Top Category $34,000 $20,000 $12,667

Hilton was already looking good with supermarket spend, but when accounting for 5th night free awards, Hilton looks great.  Keep in mind that these numbers assume that you use the $95 Hilton Ascend card.

Conclusion

If you spend heavily at supermarkets, then the Hilton Ascend card offers your best option for free hotel nights.  In almost every other scenario, though, Hyatt is your best choice.  Use Chase Ultimate Rewards cards to earn big category bonuses then transfer your points to Hyatt to book awards.  Note though that you may sometimes do even better by booking travel with points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, especially if you have the Sapphire Reserve card (which offers 1.5 cents per point value towards travel).

For more about earning Ultimate Rewards points, please see our guide: Amassing Ultimate Rewards.

Last updated on May 17th, 2018

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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WR2
Guest
WR2

I just skimmed, but I think you neglected to mention the free nights after $15k on Hilton business and Ascend, as well as to a lesser extent a 2nd free night on Aspire at $60k. I think these need to be factored in if you are talking about MSing free nights.

Dan
Guest
Dan

For the last year and a half, I’ve used the chase travel mall to book hotels and car rentals. When Hyatt properties have been available, I have never found anything on the chase mall to be a lower point value. Hyatt always seems to have the best deal with a transfer for Hyatt place.

I suppose it’s possible you might find a roach motel on the chase mall for less than 8k points per nights, but that’s tough as the chase mall adds taxes to all hotel stays and the place won’t be as nice as Hyatt place.

Farnorthtrader
Guest
Farnorthtrader

One minor quibble, that you use the peak pricing for the Hilton top category (95,000) but use only the standard pricing for Marriott. My experience has been that particularly the top category at Hilton has been available at 80,000, however, I think the appropriate comparison would be for peak pricing for both. After all, peak pricing is peak pricing for a reason, that is when people will most likely be redeeming their points.
One additional caveat, which I have not seen discussed (although I may have missed it), Hilton and Hyatt offer last standard room availability, Marriott does not currently and I have not seen it noted that this is going to change. Marriotts have to offer at least one room every night, but don’t have to offer every standard room for points.

Leo
Guest
Leo

Very good point!

dave
Guest
dave

You have Hyatt as 1.5 on unbonused spend.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Chase Freedom Unlimited paired with a premium Chase card results in you getting 1.5 Hyatt points per dollar on unbonused spend

Lukas
Guest
Lukas

AMEX RAT team doesn’t have an issue with Hilton CC supermarket spend and gives out points like candy?

HoKo
Guest
HoKo

I was wondering this as well. Are people successfully doing grocery store MS on Ascend cards without issues? Weren’t there articles in the past 12-18 months about amex not giving points at all for GC purchases?

Vic
Guest
Vic

Not Hilton, but FWIW, I’ve met 3 SPG Biz MSR ($7k x 3) for other players in the household. All bonus posted. I feel Hilton should be safe for now.
I’m not doing MR cards in supermarkets.

PM1
Guest
PM1

Awesome article! I was too lazy to do this calculation but now I know. Hyatt is the easiest option for me. 🙂

Yuri
Guest
Yuri

You forgot to mention 2 good cards from Amex:
EDP: 9x HH or 4.5x Marriott on groceries
6x HH or 3x Marriott on gas
BBP: 4x HH or 2x Marriott on everything.

A B
Guest
A B

Not the best use of those cards, but good point.

Yuri
Guest
Yuri

The same is true for all Chase UR cards mentioned here

A B
Guest
A B

Why not also add a hotel spend category for those of us that mattress run?

MarkG
Guest
MarkG

So…bottom line…If I want to get a free Marriott night I will have to use a 2% cash back card …

Shadrach
Guest
Shadrach

Location, location, location. Marriott and Hilton rule when it comes to number of hotels and locations. That is why I manufacture free nights with Hilton and been doing it for years and don’t see anything changing the plan.

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[…] Manufacturing free nights (Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott) – Frequent Miler […]

Belinda
Guest
Belinda

Oh wow…now I just noticed from your analysis no bonus on grocery store on aspire car? Just 3 points?!??? I just upgraded. So I need to be sure to have my bcp with me at all times. What a ripoff. But like you said that card has tremendous value otherwise. I’m actually really excited to get it in the mail. I’m particularly happy about the new no foreign transaction fee…that irked me every time I had to pay it!

Brett W
Guest
Brett W

With recent Staples deal for no fee VGCs I was able to net 30,000 UR points, which having just spent a honeymoon at Park Hyatt Maldives at 25,000 UR –> Hyatt Points per night, just tickled me to death. Easily the best brand for free nights.

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[…] earn free nights with Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton (based on the new Marriott chart) — see: Manufacturing free nights (Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott). Under almost every condition Greg considered — from unbonused spend to grocery store spend […]

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[…] rewarding (Greg’s take was a bit different than mine) and then Greg ran the math on how Hilton’s not even a bad deal in terms of manufacturing free nights in some instances. However, I wrote a post a year ago about Hilton’s poor math skills when it […]

Miles Ahead
Guest
Miles Ahead

Just came across this article. Of course not with the World of Hyatt card and 15k spend for free night and 2x spend on that card in a number of categories, it changes the equation for Hyatt MS.
But re Hilton, this is why I don’t get all the hype around the Hilton Aspire. You lay out $450 and yes, in a very, very, very restrictive manner “can” recover your $450+. Or you could MS 40k spend to get your diamond status and then have 240k hh points to do as you please- very close to enough points in your pocket for 5 nights at your top tier, where having Diamond might actually be useful. All this for slightly more out of pocket for MSing at grocery store , plus of course $95, but also add in the free night you get for spending 15k.
So for someone willing to MS why would you choose the Aspire over Ascend?