Why you need a hotel credit card in your wallet

Having a hotel credit card is one of the easiest ways to save money on hotel stays. Everyday people who don’t travel a lot think a hotel credit card won’t be worth it, but in reality, it’s just the opposite.

I get the most consistent value out of my two, no-longer publicly available hotel credit cards, the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card and IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card. And I don’t spend more than a few dollars on the them every year.

Overview: Hotel credit cards

While all hotel credit cards carry some sort of annual fee, it’s pretty easy for the cardholder to come out on top. Most hotel credit cards, and specifically the ones we’ll be outlining today, come with several perks, such as:

  • A sign-up bonus consisting of enough points to redeem for a couple of free nights
  • A free annual night certificate (although sometimes its restricted to certain properties)
  • Low-tier elite status
  • Ability to earn a higher-tier elite status by spending a certain amount of money on the card

For example, if you have the World of Hyatt credit card, you will be paying a $95 annual fee, but you will also receive an annual free night at a category 1-4 hotel. So you could stay at the Grand Hyatt in San Diego, a category 4 hotel that consistently goes for more than $300 per night, for just $95.

Free night certificates are the number one reason I have and continue to keep my two hotel credit cards. We usually take a couple trips every year, so I easily get value out of the free nights. You are able to combine these stays with award or cash stays, which makes them easy to redeem.

I rarely spend any money using these cards with the exception of a purchase every few months to keep them from automatically closing. I prefer to spend on my transferable-point cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or American Express Gold Card, so that I have more flexibility when redeeming points.

The best hotel cards for you

Below, we’ll outline the hotel credit cards that are easy for everyday people to get value out of.

World of Hyatt Credit Card ($95/year)

Hyatt is my favorite hotel chain because of it’s low redemption options and the ability to transfer in Chase Ultimate Rewards. For perks, not only will the card get you a solid stash of points for signing up, but you will also get a free annual night in a category 1-4 hotel every year. You will also get complimentary Discoverist status, which is good for late checkout and upgrades every now and then, among other things.

If you spend $15,000 per year, you can actually earn an additional free night. For a lot of people, this isn’t feasible or worth it. Especially since, like I mentioned above, you should be using your transferable points cards instead of directly earning Hyatt points, where they would be locked up with Hyatt.

You can find some really nice Hyatt hotels in great locations for less than 20,000 points per night. And even at the highest category redemption, rooms are just 40,000 points, which is a steal compared to other programs. Check out some of the redemption rates below.

IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card ($89/year)

Another one of my favorites, the IHG Premier credit card, also comes with a free night certificate. The free night can be redeemed at hotels that go for 40,000 points or less.

The Crown Plaza Kings Cross in London, which typically goes for more than $200 per night, can be redeemed for free with the IHG hotel credit card free night.
The Crown Plaza Kings Cross in London, which typically goes for more than $200 per night, can be redeemed for free with the IHG hotel credit card free night. Photo by IHG.

This card also comes with some other great perks. You’ll receive automatic Platinum Elite status, which will provide late checkout, complimentary upgrades, and internet access. The card also comes with a credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck once every four years.

With IHG, you’re also able to get a fourth night for free when redeeming points for stays, which can lead to a huge savings. IHG also runs a quarterly PointBreaks list for cheaper point redemptions.

IHG redemptions start at 10,000 points but cap at 70,000 points per night, so it tends to be a more pricy redemption than Hyatt.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card ($95/year)

Marriott just re-launched its loyalty program after merging with the Starwood Preferred Guest program, and with it, came their new credit cards. The Boundless card is the one most similar to the Hyatt and IHG cards.

For a reasonable $95 annual fee, you will get a free night certificate. The free night can be redeemed at rooms that go for 35,000 points or less. To put that in perspective, the cheapest redemptions start at 7,500 points and go up to 85,000 points. Again, you can check out some of their redemption rates below.

The free night here is actually pretty easy to redeem because there are more than 6,700 Marriott properties worldwide to choose from. Why not use your free night to jump start a stay at the Sheraton Resort & Spa on Tokoriki Island in Fiji?

Getting a hotel credit card like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card could net you a free night at the Sheraton Resort & Spa on Tokoriki Island in Fiji.
Getting the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card, one of our recommended hotel credit cards, allows you to redeem free night certificates. You could get a free night at the Sheraton Resort & Spa on Tokoriki Island in Fiji. Photo by Marriott.

The card will also come with Silver Elite status and free premium internet. And if you meet minimum dollar amount thresholds, you can increase your status. But again, that’s not a good strategy for the everyday traveler.

Other hotel cards

You will notice that we didn’t list any Hilton cards above. That’s because I don’t think there are straightforward ways to get value out of them. But, I don’t want to leave you without all of the information. So, I’m going to briefly outline the Hilton cards that you might find intriguing.

Hilton Honors Card

This card has no annual fee, but it also doesn’t come with any perks. It’s a great card to get for the sign-up bonus, but that’s about it.

Hilton Honors Ascend Card

This card has a $95 annual fee, but it doesn’t come with an annual free night certificate. You only get a free night by spending $15,000 on the card. It does come with Priority Pass lounge access; however, we don’t think that alone is worth the $95 per year.

Hilton Honors Aspire Card

This is Hilton’s premium card, and it carries a $450 annual fee. This card might be the best of the three. It comes with Diamond status, which will give you upgrades and many other perks when staying at Hilton properties.

It also comes with Priority Pass, a $250 credit at Hilton Resorts, a $250 airline incidentals credit, and a free annual weekend night certificate.

What is complimentary elite status worth?

For everyday people, complimentary elite status is likely the only way that any type of status is attainable. But you should never get a credit card just for the status.

The value will be relative to how much you stay at each hotel. So, if you’re not using your status a lot, it’s valueless. But, it can definitely be nice when it gives you premium internet access and late checkouts.

My Discoverist status with Hyatt has gotten me upgraded to an ocean view room at Waikiki Beach and a top floor room at the Hyatt Ziva in Puerto Vallarta.

The other think to keep in mind is that in order for your elite status to kick in, you usually have to book with the hotel directly. This means that when you purchase stays via sites like Hotels.com or Expedia, or even via the Chase Travel Portal, you won’t be able to use your elite status perks.

Final Thoughts

With free annual nights, it’s easy to recoup the cost of the annual fee with a hotel credit card. If you think about it, you are essentially just pre-paying for a hotel room in the form of an annual fee.

And you can benefit from other perks that come with the card, such a free internet access, room upgrades, and/or late checkouts.

As long as you make sure holding the card isn’t costing you money, getting a hotel credit card can absolutely be worth it for the everyday traveler.


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