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What Can You Expect From Hotel Credit Cards?
Rewards earning: About 83% of hotel credit cards earn at least 1.5 points per dollar on hotel purchases.
Rewards redemption: You can redeem hotel rewards flexibly with about 72% of hotel credit cards, either with cash back or through a program that offers redemption or transfer options. Others earn rewards that can be redeemed with multiple partners, such as with a hotel group’s brands.
Sign-up bonus value: You can earn a sign-up bonus worth at least $500 with about 52% of hotel credit cards. All but one card offer a sign-up bonus of at least $100.
Annual fee: You’ll pay an annual fee with 66% of hotel cards, but about 17% of them waive the annual fee the first year.
APR: A minimum APR of 15% to 18.99% is typical for hotel credit cards, as 79% have a minimum APR within this range.
Benefits: Expect excellent benefits from about 59% of hotel credit cards, with perks such as a free hotel stay, hotel status or a travel credit.
How Do Hotel Credit Cards Work?
As you spend with a hotel card, you earn points that can be redeemed for free award nights and other rewards with the hotel or its partners. Most co-branded hotel cards award the most points for spending with the affiliated hotel brand, while general travel cards usually offer a flat rate on all purchases or a higher rate for specific categories, such as travel or dining.
Free award nights are typically the greatest appeal of hotel credit cards, but that’s not all they have to offer. Some hotel cards carry automatic hotel loyalty status, which may provide perks such as late checkout, free room upgrades, complimentary breakfast and guaranteed room availability.
Types of hotel credit cards
Co-branded: A hotel chain may partner with a credit card company to offer a co-branded card that earns the most points through spending at one of the chain’s properties. Points must be redeemed with the hotel brand, although many general travel rewards programs and some hotel loyalty programs allow point transfers to airlines or other partners.
Use of a co-branded hotel card is an excellent way to earn points for a hotel’s loyalty program, as cardholders often earn rewards at a higher rate. Depending on the card, new users may start at the lowest membership level or receive an advanced status level upon sign-up.
The following are some of the most popular co-branded hotel cards:
General travel: General travel cards have their own rewards programs and are not attached to specific hotel brands. They may award travel spending at an elevated rate compared with everyday spending or offer a flat earning rate on all purchases. Rewards can be redeemed for statement credits on travel purchases or for trips booked through the issuer’s travel portal, or they can be transferred to travel partners. Other redemption options, such as cash back, gift cards or merchandise, may be available.
The following are some of the most popular general travel credit cards:
What Are Some Pros and Cons of Hotel Credit Cards?
Hotel credit cards are not for everyone, and understanding the pros and cons of this type of card is important.
Rewards: The most popular form of rewards is free award nights. However, depending on the card, you may have other options.
Hotel membership perks: Co-branded hotel cards often provide membership to the brand’s loyalty program. These perks vary by hotel, but they may include:
- Late checkout
- Complimentary breakfast and/or refreshments
- Guaranteed room availability
- Free stays and room upgrades
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
- Complimentary club-level access
Also, some hotel credit cards come with a free night’s stay each year.
Cardholder benefits: Credit card companies often provide their own benefits through hotel cards beyond hotel membership perks. For example, Visa Signature hotel cards usually include:
- Fraud protection
- Extended warranty
- Price, purchase and/or return protection
- Auto rental insurance
- Trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance
- Trip delay reimbursement
- Baggage delay insurance
World Elite Mastercards feature many of the same benefits as well as:
- Complimentary FICO score access
- 24/7 concierge and luxury travel benefits
- No foreign transaction fees
Complicated rewards structures: Similar to airline co-branded cards, co-branded hotel credit cards sometimes require you to navigate complex rewards structures. Hotels usually designate their properties by category based on amenities, room rates, time of year and other factors, with more luxurious locations requiring more rewards to book. Understanding exactly what you might be able to redeem your points for can be difficult.
Restrictions: With some hotel cards, you can only earn bonus rewards with the hotel brand or its partners. General travel cards could offer the ability to earn bonus rewards with a wider group of travel providers, but these cards might not match the rates of co-branded cards for in-brand spending.
Redemptions for anything other than travel might not provide good value for points, and with co-branded cards, you might be limited to a single hotel chain and its partners.
Fees: Many hotel credit cards charge annual fees, and hotel cards typically have above-average APRs. If you carry a balance or pay an annual fee, this might outweigh the value of your rewards and benefits.
Credit score requirements: Most hotel credit cards require a minimum FICO score of 670 to qualify for a card.
High spending requirements to qualify for sign-up bonuses: Hotel cards that come with sign-up bonuses could require at least $1,000 in spending in the first few months as a cardholder to qualify.
Is a Hotel Credit Card Right for You?
- You spend a significant amount of money on hotel expenses. Hotel credit cards are great for rewarding hotel spending, but some are poor for rewarding everyday spending. Unless you’re a fairly frequent traveler, a cash back card could garner rewards much more quickly.
- You have good credit. In most cases, you’ll need to have good or excellent credit to secure a hotel credit card. A FICO credit score of 670 is the minimum score you should have before applying for a hotel card.
- You can pay off your balance each month. Because of the relatively high interest rates of hotel cards, interest charges can quickly negate any rewards you’ve earned.
How Should You Choose a Hotel Credit Card?
Hotel brand loyalty, spending habits and other preferences are different for every traveler, so the best hotel card for you may not be the same as another traveler’s. A co-branded hotel card may offer excellent rewards value, but it’s not valuable to you if you don’t regularly stay with that hotel brand or can’t reach the sign-up bonus spending threshold.
When choosing a hotel credit card, consider these criteria:
- Pick the right rewards program for you.
- Calculate earning potential.
- Factor in introductory bonuses.
- Calculate redemption value.
Pick the right rewards program for you. For co-branded hotel cards, the rewards program is the hotel’s loyalty program. For general travel cards, the points you earn are used with the broader rewards program for your credit card company.
The key in choosing a hotel card is to determine which type of program fits your reward goals and travel habits. Maximizing rewards with a co-branded card requires devotion to a particular hotel brand as well as frequent spending with that brand. A co-branded card can deliver exceptional value, especially if you travel enough to earn elite member status, but your earning and redemption options are limited. A general travel card offers greater flexibility but often a lower volume of rewards and fewer travel perks.
For your first hotel credit card, general travel rewards cards are usually advisable, unless you can guarantee multiple hotel purchases with one brand. After that, a second co-branded card that partners with your favorite hotel chain’s loyalty programs may make sense if you pay off your balance each month.
Calculate earning potential. Hotel credit cards reward cardholders at different rates for different spending categories. For co-branded cards, the highest rate will be for spending with a specific hotel brand. Both co-branded and general travel cards may also offer bonus points for other types of spending, such as gas, grocery or dining purchases. For example, the Hilton Honors American Express Card earns seven points per dollar on Hilton purchases, five points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, and three points per dollar on all other purchases.
Knowing the details of your spending habits will help you estimate your earnings. Opt for a card that lets you maximize your point earnings with categories where you do the most spending.
Factor in introductory bonuses. Some hotel cards offer one-time bonuses for signing up if you meet a certain spending level within the first few months. These bonuses can be worth hundreds of dollars in free hotel stays, but they are only valuable if you would normally spend the amount needed to achieve the introductory bonus within the given time period. It’s never advisable to exceed your budget just to receive a bonus or reward.
Calculate redemption value. Every hotel rewards program has its own way of valuing points or converting points to a dollar equivalent. With general travel rewards programs such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, this is typically a straightforward valuation of 1 cent per point. Point valuations for hotel loyalty programs, however, vary between brands and even among properties of a single brand; values can range from less than 1 cent per point to 2 cents per point, on average. They also vary based on whether you redeem your points for hotel purchases or other types of rewards, such as merchandise or experiences. Hotel rewards typically offer the best value.
It’s helpful to calculate an average for each hotel card you’re interested in, as valuations can vary significantly based on the category of hotel, the dates you want to stay and the location. Your calculations should reflect travel purchases similar to the kind you intend to make.
Check out our points guide to learn more about the value of hotel points.
What Are the Best Strategies to Maximize Rewards and Benefits?
Combine a co-branded hotel card with a general travel card. Using a general travel card with a co-branded hotel card carries a number of benefits. A general travel card could still earn a solid rate of points, even when you don’t stay with that particular hotel brand and it fills in the earnings gaps a co-branded hotel card might not cover, such as flights, cruises, ferries and other travel expenses. Depending on the program, you might be able to transfer points to your hotel loyalty program.
Maximize rewards in a co-branded hotel program.
- Understand the range of rewards. Loyalty programs offer much more than just free hotel stays, so do your research to know what perks you have coming to you, whether it’s additional bonus points for stays, gifts or services such as spa treatments.
- Protect your trip. Don’t forget about travel protections, purchase protections and other benefits that may come with your card.
- Focus your spending. Maximize returns on eligible bonus categories that align with your regular spending.
- Take advantage of promotions. Hotel programs frequently run special promotions, during which you can earn higher-than-usual rewards for stays, capitalize on discounts with partners or for stays at specific properties, and score other good deals. Subscribe to the program’s email offers so you won’t miss any.
- Understand the range of redemption values. Co-branded hotel cards may offer several ways to redeem points, but hotel stays will almost always deliver the best value. Items such as gift cards, experiences and airline miles via transfer often result in less value than redemptions for hotel purchases.
Learn the ins and outs of membership tiers. Even if you sign up for a co-branded hotel card with automatic entry to an upper tier of a membership program, getting the absolute maximum value out of your membership takes a lot of attention to detail. Some of the things you need to be aware of include:
- The difference between nights and stays. Reaching the top tier usually requires a certain number of eligible nights or stays booked in a calendar year. A “night” is the basic unit of measurement for time at the hotel, while a “stay” can mean a single night or several consecutive nights. For a card that requires either 25 stays or 50 nights for top-tier status, you could reach this goal with 25 one-night stays or five stays of 10 days each within one year.
- How to qualify. No matter the brand, membership in the highest tiers takes a significant amount of spending, either directly with the hotel or with purchases on your hotel card. Your hotel card may credit you with stays and/or nights toward elite status every year, but you’ll still have significant earning to do. Keep close track of your account, and make sure your purchases are eligible for elite status.
- When qualifications expire. Elite-tier memberships that come with a co-branded hotel card should last for the life of the account, but memberships at tiers you have to reach by spending may be limited to a year or so.
Know how your card’s rewards and benefits work.
- Focus your spending to maximize returns on eligible bonus categories.
- Recognize that a card’s value can change over time, especially from the first year to the second year, depending on introductory offers and annual fees.
- Understand the criteria for earning sign-up bonuses, and plan your initial spending accordingly.
- Don’t forget about travel protections, purchase protections and other benefits that come with your card.