If you have bad or fair credit, you may assume it excludes you from credit cards with lucrative rewards programs or opportunities to earn enticing room upgrades. Fortunately, there are many options available for people with fair or bad credit to start racking up rewards immediately. While a fair or bad credit score might keep you out of reach from cards such as the Platinum Card® from American Express or Chase Sapphire options, you may be surprised at how much you can earn with these picks for best hotel cards for bad credit.

Best hotel credit cards for bad to fair credit

Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for simple, straightforward rewards program

The Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards card is a secured option offering a generous rewards program and no annual fee. You earn 1.5 percent cash back on all eligible purchases and an unlimited 5 percent cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, making it an excellent choice for people specifically interested in hotel rewards. Another bonus with this card is the ability to earn back your security deposit as a statement credit once you have established a responsible track record with the card.

One drawback to the card is the higher APR, which you can avoid by paying the balance in full each month if possible.

Credit One Bank Wander® Card: Best travel rewards potential

The Credit One Bank Wander Card offers a great opportunity to check for preapproval without a hard inquiry from the application on your credit score — ideal for someone concerned about a negative impact to their credit score or is on the fence about applying for a credit card. The rewards program is generous too, as it earns 10X points on eligible hotels and car rentals booked using the Credit One Bank travel site, 5X points on eligible travel, dining and gas purchases and 1X points on all other purchases.

This generosity comes at a price though, with a hefty annual fee of $95, so ensure that you can earn back that much in rewards each year.

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card: Best secured hotel rewards card

The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card is another consideration for best travel cards for fair credit or bad credit along with no annual fee. For starters, the rewards program offers three percent cash back in a category of your choosing (either gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores and home improvement/furnishings), which means you can use this as a hotel credit card if you prefer. You can also earn two percent cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and one percent back on all other purchases.

One drawback with the program is there is a combined cap of $2,500 in spending each quarter for categories that earn three or two percent cash back, then it drops to 1 percent, which could hinder any rewards earnings past that cap.

Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for students

The Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card is a strong unsecured card contender for people with a fair credit score or who are just establishing their credit history. The rewards program is unusually generous, offering up to 10 percent cash back for Uber purchases and five percent cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel. Plus, the welcome offer is a rarity among starter cards, with a chance to earn a $50 cash bonus after spending $100 within the first three months and with no annual fee either.

Although it is labeled as a student card, there are not any student-specific features, but it can still be a decent beginner travel card for students studying abroad and dining out on their travels.

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for international travel

If you are looking for a hotel rewards card specifically for traveling outside the country then the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is worthy of review. You can earn an unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases and unlimited five percent cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, all of which can help you save on your trips. To top it off, the card features no foreign transaction fees, which means you can use it outside the United States without incurring costly transaction fees for every purchase. This card does have a $39 annual fee though, so keep it in mind when comparing it to other hotel credit cards for bad or fair credit.

How to choose a hotel card for bad credit

There are many choices for hotel credit cards and it can make choosing one feel overwhelming. Before you dive into your search, use these questions to guide you and narrow down the best hotel card for bad credit.

How much can you afford for a security deposit?

Secured credit cards typically require a security deposit to establish a credit line. The amount required varies depending on the card, so this is an important piece of information you’ll want to understand upfront. Typical security deposits start around $200 but can increase from there. Keep in mind the security deposit is often equal to your initial credit line but there could be opportunities to earn your security deposit back over time, depending on the credit card. If you don’t want to pay a security deposit at all, consider an unsecured credit card if your credit score is high enough for the best approval chances.

What is your credit score?

Before you apply for a credit card, it is important to know your credit score rating. Credit card issuers use your credit score as a determining factor for approval. Some credit card issuers have a minimum threshold for what credit score will be accepted, which could impact which credit card you apply for. If you’ve established fair credit, then you can apply for unsecured cards with more perks than secured cards and won’t have to put down a security deposit. However, people with bad credit may need to solely consider secured cards and apply with a security deposit to access hotel rewards.

What rewards and perks are important to you?

Not all hotel credit cards have the best travel perks and benefits. Especially if you have bad or fair credit, you’ll rarely see benefits like free nights or account anniversary bonuses. If earning the highest possible rewards on hotel stays is the most important to you, a card like the Credit One Wander card is one of the best options. For people who want to earn rewards on general travel, then a Capital One travel card may be a better fit.

Are you willing to pay an annual fee?

Credit cards are not always free, and in fact, many charge an annual fee for simply being a cardholder. Generally speaking though, the higher the annual fee, the more perks and rewards are associated with the card. You will need to balance how much you are willing to pay annually versus how much in rewards you can realistically earn, so you can ensure you are getting your money’s worth with the card and the annual fee is worth it.

A guide to maximizing your bad or fair credit hotel card

Once you have access to the hotel credit card, there are steps you can take to maximize the potential. Not only do some of these actions help improve your overall credit score, but taking full advantage of card perks will often save you money while traveling.

  • Always pay off your balance: Paying off your balance each month means you avoid costly interest charges, potential over-the-limit fees and it keeps your credit utilization in check.
  • Pay on time: When you make on-time payments, not only do you avoid pricey late charges, it can improve your credit score since your payment history is reported each month.
  • Take advantage of rewards and perks: Look for a credit card offering miles or points, which allows you to convert your purchases into cash back or travel rewards. When you manage these cards wisely, you are rewarded for purchases you would make anyway.
  • Choose a card with automatic hotel status: If possible, select a hotel credit card where you receive elite status with the hotel loyalty program. This gives you access to money-saving advantages, such as free breakfast, lounge access or complimentary room upgrades.

The bottom line

Having fair or bad credit does not necessarily limit your opportunity to access amazing rewards and hotel credit cards, it simply means you will need to select a card that can get you closer to your financial goals. With responsible usage, such as paying off your balance monthly and on-time each month, you can use a hotel card for bad or fair credit to potentially improve your credit score or even save money towards your future travel amid inflation.