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How to Maximize Hotel Credit Cards

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Hotel credit cards are some of the most rewarding travel credit cards available, with perks that go far beyond simply earning points that you can redeem for lodging. In fact, many hotel credit cards come with valuable benefits like automatic loyalty program elite status, anniversary reward nights and on-property credits.

If you're thinking about applying for a new travel rewards credit card, or simply looking to make the most of the ones you already have, focusing on using a hotel credit card might be just the strategy you need to earn the travel rewards you can get the most use out of. Here's what you need to know, and some of the most important benefits to look for in a hotel credit card.

This article will focus on hotel co-branded cards and not rewards cards that accrue points you can transfer to hotels, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Platinum Card® from American Express. If you're interested in cards that earn transferable points, or points with a specific hotel chain, you can get personalized offers through Experian CreditMatchTM.

Earn and Redeem Points Where You Actually Stay

Before you settle on a particular hotel credit card, make sure it earns points and offers perks at the hotels where you actually stay. You wouldn't want to earn a stash of World of Hyatt points if you usually only stay at Hilton properties, for example. As you begin to focus on getting a hotel credit card, think about which chains you visit most and where you want to use the points you earn for reward stays.

The good news is, the major hotel companies all include a lot of brands these days. For instance, Marriott now comprises 30 brands ranging from luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotels to mid-range Sheraton and budget-friendly Residence Inn locations. The Hilton brand includes some familiar names including Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, DoubleTree and Embassy Suites. So you should be able to find places to stay no matter which company you eventually settle on.

A Good Introductory Offer

Like other rewards credit cards, many hotel cards offer what is known as a welcome offer when you open a new account. These offers are usually worth tens of thousands of points, which is typically enough for one or more reward nights. To earn them, you usually have to meet certain spending requirements within a specific period of time.

For example, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card is currently offering 125,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you use your new card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership. That's enough points for two standard reward nights at many Hilton properties, and enough to cover one standard reward night at most of the chain's higher-end properties in the Waldorf Astoria and Conrad brands. Terms apply.

When it comes to choosing your new hotel credit card, look for a good welcome offer with as many bonus points as possible. Just be sure you can meet the spending requirements without overextending your finances; otherwise, you might resort to carrying a balance that could wipe out the value you receive from the points you earn with late fees and interest charges.

Great Bonus Categories

Many hotel credit cards earn bonus points in a variety of spending categories, not just when you pay for stays at partner hotels. That means you can quickly rack up points for reward nights by using the card to pay for things like meals and grocery shopping. But it pays to think about cards that earn bonus points at specific merchants, and then picking the one that will rack up the most at the places where you tend to spend the most money.

For instance, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card earns 12 Hilton Honors bonus points per dollar on eligible purchases made directly with hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio. However, it also accrues 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations. It earns 3 points per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

The World of Hyatt Credit Card from Chase, meanwhile, earns 4 bonus points per dollar on purchases at Hyatt hotels, then 2 points per dollar at restaurants and on airline tickets purchased directly from airlines, on local transit and commuting, and on fitness club and gym memberships. It earns 1 point per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

If you tend to spend more on groceries and gas, the Hilton card is probably a better choice for you. But if you buy a lot of airline tickets, dine out frequently and use rideshare services or mass transit, you might get more bang for your buck from the Hyatt card. Any hotel credit card you open should earn bonus points on a variety of purchases, and especially on the ones you would use your card for the most.

Annual Reward Nights

Some of the best hotel credit cards give cardholders either an automatic reward night or the opportunity to earn one through spending, every year. For example, folks with the high-end Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card receive one weekend night reward when they open their card, and one every year after renewal and annual fee payment. They can earn an additional weekend night reward after spending $60,000 or more on purchases with their card in a calendar year. These reward nights are typically valid for Friday, Saturday or Sunday stays in standard accommodations at most Hilton properties around the world, including pricier locations such as the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal in Mexico. Terms apply.

Among the other hotel credit cards that offer some kind of automatic annual anniversary reward night perk are the World of Hyatt Credit Card, the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ credit card from Chase.

Travel Statement Credits

Some of the more premium hotel credit cards offer statement credits for a variety of purchases. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is one of the most generous in this respect. Cardholders can enjoy up to $250 in statement credits each card membership year toward eligible purchase made directly with participating Hilton Resorts, plus up to another $250 in statement credits each calendar year for incidental fees such as checked baggage and in-flight refreshments on a qualifying airline that the cardholder designates. When they use their card to book a two-night minimum stay through the card's Hilton portal, they also get up to $100 in credits for qualifying charges at participating Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts. Terms apply.

Others, like the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, reimburses cardholders for their Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee via a statement credit of up to $100 once every four years, which can make getting through the airport a lot faster and easier.

When looking for a hotel credit card, be sure to find one that offers at least some kind of annual statement credit that you can use to save money or time when traveling. If the card requires an annual fee, make sure to factor it in when calculating your potential rewards.

Elite Status

One of the standout features of many hotel credit cards is that they offer automatic elite status with their associated hotel loyalty program. That means cardholders can enjoy perks including room upgrades, free Wi-Fi during stays and even complimentary lounge access or breakfast in some cases without having to spend many nights in hotels each year—something that's usually required.

For instance, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card extends complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status to cardholders (and the opportunity to move up to Diamond status by spending $40,000 on eligible purchases on the card in a calendar year). Gold status normally requires spending 40 or more nights (or 75,000 base points) at Hilton properties in a calendar year and confers perks like earning bonus points on stays, space-available room upgrades and complimentary continental breakfast. Depending on how often you stay at Hilton properties, these benefits may add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars in value each year. In terms of this type of benefit, look for a hotel credit card that offers you a tier of elite status you would not be able to achieve on your own simply through bookings, but that provides perks you will also be able to use often enough to justify paying the card's annual fee. Terms apply.

Travel Protections and Savings

Finally, remember that these are travel rewards cards, so they should offer some sort of savings and protection when using them to pay for travel expenses. If you frequently travel internationally, it pays to pick up a card that waives foreign transaction fees. Credit card issuers tack these annoying charges (usually ranging from 1% to 3% of every transaction) on to purchases you make abroad, which can really add up over time.

Paying for trips using a credit card with comprehensive protection can also cover you if things go wrong. The World of Hyatt Credit Card, for instance, offers trip cancellation and interruption insurance with reimbursement of up to $5,000 per trip for prepaid and nonrefundable travel expenses in case your trip must be canceled or cut short for covered reasons like severe weather or sickness. You'll also be covered for lost and delayed bags under certain circumstances and with certain caps. Hopefully, you won't have to invoke any of these protections, but having them available can offer peace of mind when you're away from home.

Hotel Rewards Cards Make Valued Travel Companions

Hotel credit cards are fantastic for earning points toward reward stays, but many also offer other benefits including travel protections, elite status and annual statement credits or reward nights. That makes hotel credit cards an essential part of anyone's travel strategy. If you are thinking of applying for one, make sure you get the best possible introductory offer with manageable spending requirements, and that the specific card you choose earns bonus points where you tend to make the most purchases. That way, you can rack up the rewards for vacations even faster.

All information about The World of Hyatt Credit Card, IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, and Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ credit card has been collected independently by Experian and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card.

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