Free Hotel Night Certificates – Anniversary Gifts from Credit Cards

Numerous credit cards offer a gift for your card anniversary. Some of those gifts are more flexible than others, but it really depends on the card. Two credit cards I have which offer 1 free night certificate are the Hyatt and IHG credit cards from Chase. However, these certificates are not equal, aside from being for different hotel groups.

The certificate from Hyatt allows for 1 night at any hotel from Categories 1-4, versus the sign-up bonus of 2 nights at any hotel (even the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome). IHG, on the other hand, allows any hotel, regardless of Category level.

What doesn’t make sense with this difference is the annual fee for the IHG credit card is about half that of the Hyatt card.

My anniversary certificates posted to my accounts earlier this year and they came in handy during my vacation to Europe. I used my Hyatt cert at the Hyatt Regency Cologne which was an exception hotel and room.

For IHG, I booked a night at a Holiday Inn Express in Queens for the night between landing in JFK and leaving from LGA to go home.

Getting to Europe via Flexible Rewards and Airline Miles

My recent post announcing I’m going to Europe mentioned I will be flying business class on Brussels Airlines. I booked that flight with Membership Rewards (MR) points I earned from sign-up bonuses. However, that flight is from the East Coast and I live on the West Coast of the USA.

Getting to New York could have been done multiple ways:  a long road trip; flying an early morning, direct flight from SMF to BWI then taking a bus or Amtrak to New York; swimming through the Panama Cannel; and many others. I wanted to keep things simple, and comfortable, so I chose to fly Delta from Sacramento (SMF) to New York (JFK) with a stop in Minneapolis (MSP). This splits the cross-country flight into two 3-hour flights in economy, something more bearable for someone with long legs.

However, I could have picked a flight with American Airlines using the points from the sign-up bonuses from the Aviator Red and AAdvantage Platinum cards. We would have flown into a different airport, but still in the same area a day early so it would have worked out.

Or we could have used United miles from either the United MileagePlus Explorer card or Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to United’s program from the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP). Another option could have been transferring my MR points to Alitalia and flown from SFO to Amsterdam for 80,000 points roundtrip.

What I’m getting at is there are so many options. And there are probably more than 1 that will be a great choice for any one trip.

The biggest reason I chose to fly Brussels Airlines from the East Coast is because I didn’t want to be on a flight for half a day if I flew out of California. I also wanted to try out a few different “products.” “Products” meaning the type of airplane, seating arrangement, seats, and in-flight service offered by an airline.

Flying Delta from Sacramento to Minneapolis to New York (SMF-MSP-JFK) allows me to be more comfortable flying cross-country and trans-Atlantic, while experiencing lounges (which can reduce my cost of food) in MSP, JFK, and Brussels (BRU).

My reasons for not flying American Airlines to get to New York include not being able to visit a lounge in my layover (or not having a layover), and saving my AA miles for another big trip, either with both of my parents or a solo trip in a business or first class cabin to Asia.

The biggest take-away anyone should get from this is that regardless of what points (or how much cash) you have, there are countless options, including some you may never have heard of yet.

I always check Google Flights for cash prices, and I track prices for a flight to be notified if a flight increases or decreases in price. It also gives me the flexibility to search several Departure airports and multiple arrival airports to find the cheapest flight for a trip.

What to do When Annual Fees Post

Many credit cards with annual fees waive the annual fee the first twelve months. Twelve months have passed since I got my first credit cards with an annual fees (AFs) so my twelve months of waived annual fees have ended. This means I have to decide what to do with these cards.

My three options are:

  1. Cancel the card and not pay the annual fee;
  2. Keep the card and pay the annual fee; or
  3. Keep the card, but product change the card to a no-AF version

Keeping a budget for the entire year has meant I budgeted enough money each month to be able to pay any annual fees (AF) once it came time to pay up. However, a year of use has helped me learn more about my spending habits, and how much I value each of the cards I have acquired.

So what am I doing with these cards?

The biggest reason I’m okay with signing up for credit cards is knowing I am building credit history, so I prioritize options 2 and 3 from above.

Now, I could cancel all of my cards and the accounts would continue to increase my Age of Credit History for 10 years until they fall off my credit report (10 years from now), but I’d rather keep them forever and have 30+ year old accounts. Plus, keeping as many accounts open helps me build a relationship with banks.

Product Changing

I wrote about flying to Hawaii using points from the United MileagePlus Explorer card and flying to the east coast to visit family using American Airlines miles from the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card last year. And I decided to product change these two cards instead of canceling or paying the AFs.

By product changing (PCing) these cards within 30 days of the AF posting, the $95 annual fees were refunded to my accounts. If the cards did not have fee-free versions, I would have canceled the cards and still been refunded the annual fees.

Canceling

Another card mentioned in the post about flying to Hawaii was the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card. I am still unsure of what to do with this card because it offers good category bonuses, but I’m not sure if I would benefit from earning Membership Reward points since I don’t spend enough to accumulate enough for a full trip. Fortunately, I have a couple more months to decide whether I will cancel the card or pay the AF.

A third card I used during my Hawaii trip was the Barclaycard ArrivalPlus. This card allowed me to redeem points to zero out the cost of the GoCity Card I bought to hit all the tourist attractions. These points are very flexible, but the ArrivalPlus requires a minimum of 10,000 points ($100) to redeem against a travel expense. I could have changed the card to the no-AF version, but I had too much trouble with the card so I ended up canceling it.

Keeping and Paying the Annual Fee

At the other end of the spectrum, I am planning to keep the Hyatt and IHG credit cards from Chase and pay the annual fees because I get a free 1-night stay from each card every anniversary. The Hyatt certificate restricts use to category 1-4 hotels. However, the IHG annual certificate has no restrictions on hotel categories, so I could spend the night in Times Square for the $49 annual fee on the card.

IHG PointBreaks Official Hotel List For April-July

IHG has published their list of PointBreaks hotels after publishing a preview list on Friday.

These hotels are only 5,000 points/night but they’re also generally not the most popular hotels. One hotel I’m looking at is the Holiday Inn Express Karlsruhe City Park which is normally 20,000 points/night or about $120/night in July.

Chase offers an IHG credit card which has an offer of 60,000 points which amounts to 12 nights of PointBreak stays. If you don’t want the IHG credit card, you could transfer Ultimate Rewards points to IHG if you have either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Sapphire Reserve.

I’d recommend getting the IHG credit card because you get that big sign-up bonus (sometimes the bonus can be found for up 80,000 points) and every card anniversary you’ll get a free 1-night stay at any hotel.

IHG PointBreaks Hotels: April – July 2017

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) offers select hotels every 3 months at a discounted rate for reward stays. These are called PointBreaks and stays can be booked for just 5,000 points/night. IHG released a preview of the list for April 24 – July 31 today which can be found here.

With the current sign-up bonus of 60,000 points for the credit card from Chase, someone could stay at a single PointBreaks hotel for 12 nights OR 12 hotels for 1 night each.

PointBreaks hotels typically won’t be for the fancy luxurious hotels that typically cost $400+. They are, however, more for a road-trip or a quick overnight visit to a nearby city.

This means the list isn’t going to include the InterContinental New York Times Square during New Year’s Eve, but it does include hotels like the Holiday Inn Express Karlsruhe City Park which runs for about $120 in July.

I’m still making my reservations for my upcoming Europe trip this summer so that Holiday Inn Express in Karlsruhe could be a nice overnight stop on my way through Germany.

Again, the list found above and here are only previews. Trying to book the Holiday In Exress for July before Monday will still show reward nights as 20,000 points/night. Starting April 24, the hotels listed will have a lowest possible price of 5,000 points/night.

A Guide to Ultimate Rewards from Chase

Chase offers 4 personal and 2 business credit cards which earn points called Ultimate Rewards (UR) and that I introduced in my Chase Branded Credit Cards post. Chase advertises the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited cards as cash back rewards cards, but the Sapphire cards and Ink+ can make those rewards worth much more.

These points can do a lot of things:

  • 1 cent/point ($0.01/point) Value
    • cash back
    • redeem for gift cards
  • More than 1.25-1.5+ cent/point
    • book airfare or hotels
    • transfer to airline or hotel partners (1:1 point transfers)

Ultimate Rewards (UR) points can be redeemed for cash back either as a statement credit or by sending the cash value directly to a checking account. In the Ultimate Rewards portal, there is a search engine for travel which allows for UR points to be redeemed as if they were cash. The different cards offer different values for the points:

  • Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, Ink Cash
    • 1000 UR points = $10.00
  • Sapphire Preferred, Ink+
    • 1000 UR = $12.50
  • Sapphire Reserve
    • 1000 UR = $15.00

Let’s say you look up a flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Los Angeles (LAX) and you have either the Freedom or Freedom Unlimited, you would see something like this:

screenshot-2016-10-12-22-21-48
Ultimate Rewards flight search results

There are different flight options with various airlines and departure times to choose from. On the right side you see the price in both $ and pts (UR points). If you did this search with a Sapphire Preferred or Ink+ card you would see the pricing as:

  • $58.10, or
  • 4,648 pts

And searching with a Sapphire Reserve would yield the results:

  • $58.10, or
  • 3,873 (or 3,874 depending on Chase’s rounding)

The difference in points required is because, as listed above, UR points can be worth more through the UR search with different cards.

Another option is transferring Ultimate Rewards points to hotel or airline partners like United or Southwest, or Marriott or Hyatt. Let’s look at an example where it would be cheaper to transfer points from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards to an airline instead of paying through the UR travel search.

screenshot-2016-10-12-22-29-56
Ultimate Rewards flight search

 

screenshot-2016-10-12-22-30-07
United website search results

 

Booking a flight from SFO to Tokyo (NRT) on December 14, 2016 would cost just under 130,000 (129,290) UR points with the Freedom cards. This is just over 100,000 (103,432) UR points with a Sapphire Preferred or Ink+, or 86,193 UR with a Sapphire Reserve. Booking with United, however, would cost only 75,000 points, making transferring points 11,000-54,290 points cheaper depending on the card you have.

There can be situations where transferring UR points does not make sense like with the SFO to LAX flight. United would cost 10,000 points for the one-way trip, nearly double the points it costs through the UR portal.

One benefit to booking travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal instead of transferring to the partner airline or hotel is using points to pay acts as if you paid cash, so you can earn airline or hotel status through the UR search.

Review

Ultimate Rewards points earned from Chase branded credit cards have a wide variety of uses and have a minimum value of 1 cent/point ($0.01/point). Depending on your personal needs and situation, redeeming for cash back can be the best option or transferring to an airline or hotel will save you loads of money on a trip you otherwise would not have the money for.

 

Introduction to the Chase Branded Credit Cards

Chase has a variety of name branded credit cards and all but one of them, the Slate, earn Ultimate Rewards points. Each card has its own perks and advantages and this post will compare these benefits across the Chase branded credit cards.

The Chase Slate card is a good choice for people who are looking to either build credit, pay off credit card debt with a 0% APR or balance transfer, or someone looking to get a credit card which gives a credit score on each statement. For someone looking for a rewards credit card, the other Chase credit cards are going to what you’re looking for.

Chase Rewards Cards: Ultimate Rewards (UR) Earning Cards

The Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited credit cards offer:

  1. Freedom
    • 5 points/$ for rotating categories (changing every 3 months)
    • 1x points on all non-category spending
  2. Freedom Unlimited
    • 1.5 points/$ on all purchases; no 5x or 1x categories.

Owning both cards means someone will earn either 1.5 or 5 points/$ spent at no cost because both cards have no annual fee. This quarter (October-December 2016), the 5% category for the Freedom is department stores, wholesale clubs (Sam’s Club or Costco), and drug stores.

Chase offers the Sapphire Preferred (CSP) with:

  • 2 point/$ on travel and dining
  • 1x on all other purchases
  • Redeem 1000 UR points for $12.50 of travel through the UR portal
  • Transfer UR points to partner airlines and hotels
  • No foreign transaction fee

This cards works well to fill the gap between 5x restaurant categories on the regular Freedom and earns more than the flat 1.5x of the Freedom Unlimited. Car rentals are considered travel expenses and the CSP offers primary rental insurance making the CSP a way to reduce the cost of renting a car by not needing to pay for rental insurance.

Chase recently released a new card called the Sapphire Reserve (CSR) and has an annual fee of $450. The perks include:

  • 3 points/$ on travel and dining (compared to 2x for the CSP)
  • 1 point/$ on all other purchases
  • $300 annual travel credit (not just airline fees)
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Global Entry or TSAPreCheck reimbursement
  • 1000 UR points = $15.00 in the UR portal
  • Lounge access through Priority Pass Select with unlimited guests for free

This card fills what I felt was a big void left by Chase for many years. This directly competes with the Amex Platinum and Citi Prestige more than the Chase Palladium did because someone had to be a Chase Private Client (available to people with at least $250,000 in Chase accounts) to apply. $300 annual travel credit is more broadly applied and greater than the $200 and $250 annual airline fee credits offered by the American Express and Citi cards.

Business owners can apply for either the Chase Ink Cash or Ink Plus business credit cards. Both cards earn:

  • 5 points/$ on select business purchases
    • office supply stores
    • cell phones
    • landlines, internet, and TV
  • 2 points/$ at gas stations and hotels
  • 1 point/$ on everything else

The major differences between these two cards is the Ink Cash has a maximum category bonus of the first $25,000 spent in each category and no annual fee whereas the Ink Plus maxes at $50,000 in each category with a $95 annual fee which is not waived.  Also, the Ink Plus has no foreign transaction fee and the Ink Cash has the 3% foreign transaction fee, the same as the Freedom cards have.  Both cards earn UR points and can be switched (product change) to the other after at least 12 months of the card being open.

Ultimate Rewards Points

Like American Express Membership Rewards points, Chase’s Ultimate Rewards (UR) points have a variety of uses, but better with better redemption rates. I will go into detail on how the UR points can be used in a later post, so stay tuned.

 

You can apply for the Chase Freedom from this link and earn 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points (worth $150 in cash back or more) after spending at least $500 in the first 3 months of the account being open.