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Check out how to check in with hotel rewards credit cards
A hotel credit card is a type of card that rewards its users for brand loyalty. You earn points in the hotel chain’s loyalty program by using the card to book rooms at the chain’s hotels or resorts, and in some cases by making eligible non-travel purchases. Other incentives may include free nights, free room upgrades and access to the hotel chain’s travel partners.
Hotel credit cards can help you make the most of your travel experience, especially if you prefer to stay at the same brand of hotels wherever you travel. Additionally, some general-purpose travel cards have partnerships with certain hotel chains.
Which hotel rewards card is best for you? Read through our guide to help you decide.
Compare Bankrate’s top 2020 hotel credit cards
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
||2x miles per dollar on all purchases
|Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
||Flexible travel with no annual fee
||1.25x miles per dollar on all purchases
|Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
||Rewards for Hilton loyalists
||12X points per dollar on eligible Hilton purchases
|Hilton Honors American Express Card
||Hilton card with no annual fee
||7X points per dollar on eligible Hilton purchases
|The Platinum Card® from American Express
||Premium cardholder benefits
||5x points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amextravel.com and on eligible hotels booked through Amextravel.com
|The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
||Flexible business travelers
||5x points per dollar on flights and prepaid hotels booked through Amextravel.com
|Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card
||6x points per dollar at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
How to choose the best hotel credit card for you
There are essentially two types of hotel credit cards: co-branded hotel cards that partner an issuer with a popular hotel brand, and general travel cards that offer hotel-related perks.
Choosing the right card for you comes down to how much flexibility you need from your rewards.
If you’re a beginner traveler or someone who doesn’t always stay in the same hotel brand when you travel, you’ll probably find more value in a general travel card that offers a lot of redemption flexibility. However, those who frequently stay with the same brand might get more out of a co-branded card that offers elite status and additional hotel stay perks.
Questions to ask before applying for a hotel card
- How often do you stay at hotels? Estimate how much you spend on hotel stays in a typical year. Even if it’s just a few thousand dollars, the rewards you earn with a hotel card could be economically worthwhile.
- Which hotel chain do you prefer? Credit card issuers tend to partner with national and international brands rather than smaller, regional chains. Most hotel credit cards carry the names of chains such as Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt and Radisson.
- What are your travel goals? If you like a bit of luxury, choose a card with the most generous room upgrade benefits. If you’re more of a no-frills traveler, look for value over perks.
- What other rewards credit cards do you already have? Having a general-purpose travel card might be enough for a casual traveler who isn’t dedicated to any particular hotel brand.
The answers to these questions will help you find the right hotel credit card for you. The perfect hotel card will give you benefits you actually use, upgrade your travel experience during every trip and complement the benefits that you get from other credit cards.
Are hotel credit cards worth it?
There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to co-branded hotel credit cards. Whether or not one is the right choice for you really depends on your hotel booking habits.
- Welcome bonuses. Hotel cards regularly offer high welcome bonuses for those who hit qualifying spends. These bonus points are often worth multiple free nights at a hotel, depending on where you’re staying.
- High rewards rates. A co-branded card will most likely offer a higher-than-average rewards rate compared to a general credit card. Most of the time, they’ll offer anywhere from 5x points to 15x points on brand-specific purchases.
- Perks you won’t find anywhere else. Late check-in, complimentary breakfast, and room upgrades are pretty standard across co-branded hotel credit cards. Hotel cards also offer expedited pathways to elite status, which can come with even more specialty perks.
- Rewards increase with spending. Hotels with loyalty program tiers reward customers with greater benefits for greater spending.
- Convenience. A hotel credit card offers a convenient way to book your hotel stays and earn hotel-specific rewards all at the same time.
- Complicated rewards structures. To get the most from your card, you will have to be a member of hotel loyalty programs. Plus, the award price for free nights varies greatly depending on a variety of factors, including time of year and award availability.
- Devalued points. It’s easier to rack up a lot of points with co-branded hotel cards, but those points are not worth as much as general travel card points/miles.
- Limited redemption options. You’re only getting real value from your hotel points when you redeem them for award night stays. Although you can usually transfer hotel rewards points to partnering airlines for discounts on flights, points lose their value dramatically when used that way.
- Annual fees & high APR. Whether you opt for a co-branded hotel card or a general travel rewards card, you’ll most likely have to pay an annual fee of $95 or more. Make sure you don’t carry a balance either, as APRs are typically on the higher side.
Co-branded hotel cards vs general travel cards
General-purpose travel cards generally offer a less lucrative rewards structure, but they often compensate with greater flexibility and more consistency in redemption values.
For example, the Capital One Venture earns 2x miles on every purchase. Those miles can be used as a statement credit for just about any travel expense. The card also comes with nice perks like a statement credit (up to $100) for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.
A card like the Hilton Honors offers 7x points on eligible purchases directly from Hilton, plus bonus points in other categories. Cardholders receive automatic Silver status, plus an upgrade to Gold status through the next calendar year after you spend $20,000 on eligible purchases with your card in a calendar year. Elite status offers bonus points on every stay, late check-out, 5th reward night free (when booking a rewards stay for five consecutive nights or more using points), elite tier rollover nights and more.
If you travel frequently and prefer a certain hotel, opt for their co-branded card. If you’d rather keep a flexible rewards program rolling, go for the general travel card.
Pairing a general card and a co-branded card is also an option for those who want the best of both worlds. The Hilton Honors card doesn’t come with an annual fee, which makes it a great card to pair with the Capital One Venture or Chase Sapphire Preferred.
How to get free nights at hotels
Getting free nights, sometimes called reward nights, at your favorite hotel chain is one of the most straightforward benefits of a hotel credit card. How you earn that benefit varies depending on the card and its associated loyalty program.
Here’s a list of a few ways you could enjoy a free stay:
Under the typical hotel loyalty program, a free stay is one of the options for redeeming your points. The required number of points usually runs in the thousands — 10,000, 20,000 or higher.
Some hotel credit cards offer a free-night bonus for opening an account rather than awarding points. As with any sign-up bonus, you have to meet the spending requirement during the specified period of time after signing up.
Depending on your card, you might be eligible for a free night every year on the anniversary of becoming a cardholder. If the card has an annual fee, the yearly free stay could offset that cost.
Loyalty program status
Some hotel loyalty programs have different levels, or tiers, of membership. Earning “elite” status could make you eligible for additional free nights.
Despite their undeniable appeal, remember that free hotel stays may be subject to certain restrictions, including location and room availability. Read your loyalty program’s terms and conditions carefully, and contact the hotel where you want to redeem your free night before booking to avoid surprises.
How to earn elite status with a hotel loyalty program
In most cases, the road to elite status runs through frequent use. You become eligible after you stay a required number of nights in a year. One example is Marriott Bonvoy:
|Marriott Bonvoy status
||Qualifying nights per year
However, you might be able to find a shortcut to elite status through a credit card offer. Examples of cards that offer complimentary elite status for becoming a cardholder include:
The information about the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless, the Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card and the World of Hyatt Credit card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.
How to maximize hotel rewards points
Hotel credit cards are only worth it when you take full advantage of the hotel rewards programs and associated perks that come with earning hotel rewards. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your card and the points you’ll earn:
- Make sure you’re a member of the associated hotel rewards program. They’re free to sign up for and will provide you with extra resources on how to get the most out of your booking. As a loyalty member and co-branded cardholder, you’ll earn points in two ways for every stay.
- Pair multiple credit cards. Your new hotel credit card will give you big point totals for hotel purchases, but not necessarily on everything else. Hotel cards are excellent complementary cards—use them in addition to cash back cards and other travel cards with higher rewards rates on spending in other categories.
- Book directly through the hotel or issuer’s shopping portal. You usually glean extra value by booking your room through the hotel’s website or an issuer’s shopping portal, like Chase Ultimate Rewards. Booking through third-party sites may not qualify for the expected rewards rate.
- Use your rewards. While it can be tempting to hoard points for a huge payout, it’s actually much smarter to redeem more frequently. Award night pricing changes often, especially for hotels that have dynamic pricing. When a deal comes your way, take advantage of it.
Frequently asked questions about hotel refund and transfer policies
Do hotel points expire?
Hotel rewards points don’t usually expire if your account is open, active and in good standing. However, exact terms and conditions can vary by program. A 2019 Bankrate credit card survey found that 46 percent of hotel and airline loyalty program members have let rewards expire at some point.
Here’s a chart with rewards expiration policies for several popular hotel loyalty programs:
|Hotel Rewards Program
||Rewards Expiration Policy
||Rewards expire after 12 months of no qualifying activity.
|IHG Rewards Club
||Rewards expire after 12 months of no qualifying activity
|World of Hyatt
||Rewards expire after 24 months of no qualifying activity
||Rewards expire after 24 months of no qualifying activity
||Rewards expire after 18 months of no qualifying activity, and after 48 months regardless of activity
Keep in mind that “qualifying activity” is pretty broad. While the exact terms vary from program to program, usually any sort of account activity will keep your account active — including earning points, redeeming points and transferring points.
Bankrate guides to hotel loyalty programs
Learn more about some of the programs that reward hotel customers who stay loyal to their favorite brands.
Do hotel credit cards reimburse you for cancellation?
Getting reimbursed for canceling a hotel reservation depends largely on:
- The hotel chain
- Which card you booked with (or if you booked with rewards)
- The advance notice you’re giving before cancellation
- The circumstances of your cancellation
Typically, hotels charge a fee if you cancel within two days of your reservation, so you’ll want to see if you can get a cancellation fee waiver. Common hotel card benefits usually include statement credits and later check-in for the respective chain, which can help alleviate costs like cancellation fees and resort fees. However, hotel cards themselves usually don’t waive cancellation fees as a benefit.
Fortunately, many major hotel chains are currently reimbursing reservations and waiving cancellations for bookings made from March 30 through June in some cases — as long as you provide at least 24 to 48 hours’ notice, depending on the hotel. Check in with Bankrate’s guide to hotel cancellation policy changes to stay informed about recent changes.
Are hotel points transferrable to use for anything else?
In some cases yes, but transfer and redemption options generally aren’t very flexible. Several hotel loyalty reward programs allow you to transfer points to partner airlines or redeem for travel, gift cards and merchandise, but you typically lose a lot of value in translation.
Here’s an overview of transfer and redemption options for two popular rewards programs:
Marriott Rewards points can be used for booking over 200 airlines and car rental companies across the globe, but booking air travel or rental cars through the Marriott Air and Car Program reduces the estimated point value by about one-half. The same loss in point value applies when you redeem points toward a free cruise with Marriott Cruise With Points.
Marriott Bonvoy members can also redeem points for travel experiences, merchandise and gift cards at a lower value. Instead, you may want to consider either transferring points to any of Marriott’s 43 partner airline loyalty programs or pooling/gifting them.
Likewise, Hilton Honors rewards are best used for free nights if you don’t want to lose point value. Your rewards can also be used toward travel experiences through Hilton, Lyft rides and rental cars, or even toward Hilton event credits in case you have a private party or business event coming up.
Hilton has 42 airline and rail partners to transfer points to, but your non-travel redemption options extend to merchandise and gift cards through Hilton’s online mall or Amazon.com purchases.
Are travel rewards more flexible than hotel rewards?
You may find a bit more reward redemption flexibility outside hotels with general travel cards, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or The Platinum Card® from American Express. Travel cards can also provide more robust perks like travel insurance to cover each step of the journey.
Just like with branded hotel cards, you can use points or miles on rooms, airfare, rental cars and other travel packages with these cards. Outside of gift cards, merchandise and online retailer purchases, Capital One Miles and American Express Membership Rewards can also be redeemed for cash back toward everyday purchases. Both allow point/mile transfer to partner airline and hotel loyalty programs — Capital One has 10+ miles transfer partners while American Express has 19 airline and three hotel partners — at possibly better rates than hotel branded cards (1:1 value with many Platinum Card partners).
Can you earn hotel points from home?
Yes, you can. Some flat-rate travel cards earn miles/points on any purchase, but certain co-branded hotel cards also earn points on non-travel purchases. With hotel cards, though, you typically earn the highest rewards rate for hotel purchases.
If you’re not sure you’ll be making enough hotel bookings to justify an annual fee, the Hilton Honors American Express Card is an example of a co-branded hotel card that offers generous rewards rates in multiple non-travel categories: 5 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations and U.S. restaurants and 3 points per dollar on other purchases. Whenever you do travel, the card earns 7X Hilton Honors bonus points per dollar spent at Hilton hotels and resorts.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that Hilton Honors points have about half the estimated value of typical hotel rewards points.
How we chose our list of best hotel cards
Our credit card experts can help you find a top-rated hotel card to help you fund your next family vacation, business trip or overseas getaway.
The best hotel rewards card is one that accommodates your personal travel needs. There’s not much reason to accrue Hilton Honors points if you frequently find yourself in Starwood-Marriott locations. Our 5-star scoring system takes a host of elements into account, but for hotel credit cards, we’ve emphasized:
Rewards value and redemption flexibility
Some cards offer the capability to transfer hotel points to different chains while other cards have their rewards tied to specific loyalty programs, To help you earn the most rewards possible, at the highest redemption value, we comb through the numbers to rank each card on the value that each swipe brings.
A lot of high-end hotel rewards cards charge fees, but offset this cost with luxury benefits like free room upgrades and trip insurance. We examine how each of these add-ons as we determine whether the annual fee is worth the cost.
Sign-up bonuses offer an easy way to earn hotel points. Within three months, you can hit the spending requirement and quickly amass enough points to redeem for a free night. We compare each of these welcome bonuses as we determine which cards deliver the strongest offerings on the market.
Learn more about hotel cards and loyalty programs
When it comes to hotel credit cards and travel tips, Bankrate has a huge collection of resources at your service:
Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, loans, mortgages and other personal finance products for Bankrate since 2018. His work has also appeared on websites including Nasdaq.com, Zillow.com and The Simple Dollar. He was previously an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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