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Best Hotel Credit Cards

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by Eric Rosenberg | Updated Jul. 11, 2017
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Overview

Road warriors and frequent travelers often swear by individual hotel chains. One thing they find difficult to agree on, however, is the chain itself and the amenities that come with it. Do you prefer one-of-a-kind luxury or an expansive network of hotels? Different hotel credit cards can offer some help in making the decision easier. Below, you can find some of the industry's leading credit cards that will help accelerate your hotel rewards, get you perks like free WiFi, elite status, and late checkout! Using data on hotel costs and the points required to redeem similar experiences, we looked at some of the top destinations within the U.S. to estimate the value of individual hotel rewards programs and, in turn, the values of different hotel credit cards currently in market. Below are some of our winners across a number of categories within the hotel industry. See More


Best Credit Card for Largest Selection of Hotels

More Details

  • Earn 80,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Plus, earn 7,500 bonus points when you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Enjoy 1 Free Night Stay at a Category 1-5 hotel every year after your account anniversary date!
  • Earn unlimited Marriott Rewards points and get Free Night Stays faster
  • Earn 5 points per $1 spent at participating Marriott Rewards & SPG hotels
  • 2 points per $1 spent on airline tickets purchased directly with the airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants. Plus 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else
  • The fastest way to earn Marriott Rewards Elite Status. Receive 15 Elite Credits guaranteeing Silver Elite Status or better.
  • All for an $85 Annual Fee

Annual Fee

$85

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

16.99% - 23.99% Variable

Benefits

Some hotel chains offer limited options. Marriott is now the largest hotel chain on Earth. Thanks to its recent Starwood acquisition, Marriott owns more than 5,700 properties with 1.1 million rooms in more than 110 countries — that’s more than one out of every 15 hotels rooms around the world. As a new Marriott Rewards cardholder, you earn an enormous -point sign-up bonus after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months you have the card. Get another 7,500 bonus points if you add an authorized user who makes a purchase in the first three months after opening your account. Earn 5 points for each $1 spent at participating Marriott and Starwood brand hotels, 2 per $1 spent on airline tickets purchased directly with the airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Get a free night after your cardholder anniversary each year and instant Silver Elite status as long as you have the card.

Things to Consider

This card has an $85 annual fee. Due to the recent merger of Marriott and Starwood, expect the two programs to merge at a future date. Although this merger has unknown consequences for both rewards programs, it is assumed that the Marriott program will remain relatively unchanged.

Our Verdict

If you want to stay at hotels all over the world with one credit card, this is the card for you. The massive sign-up bonus and free annual night are easily worth more than the annual fee. Plus this card is EMV chip enabled and charges no foreign transaction fees. Whether you are traveling around the United States or overseas, this card is an excellent choice.

Best Hotel Credit Card for Free Nights

More Details

  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
  • Enjoy a Free Night after each account anniversary year at over 5,200 hotels worldwide
  • Earn 5 points per $1 spent when you stay at an IHG hotel
  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants
  • IHG Rewards Club Bonus points are redeemable at hotels such as InterContinental® Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza® Hotels & Resorts and Holiday Inn®
  • Platinum Elite status as long as you're a Select credit cardmember
  • Automatic 10% points rebate on redemptions
  • $0 Introductory Annual Fee for the first year, then $49 a year

Annual Fee

$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $49

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

16.99% - 23.99% Variable

Benefits

IHG® is the company behind hotel brands including InterContinental®, Crowne Plaza® Hotels, Holiday Inn® and others. IHG® has a great rewards program that offers rewards nights at a diverse range of hotels around the globe. New cardholders earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months after opening an account. Earn 5 points for each $1 at IHG brand hotels, 2 points per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. This card has no foreign transaction fees. All cardholders get automatic Platinum Elite status and a free night each year after your cardholder anniversary. Cardholders get an automatic 10% rebate on redemptions, so your points get you even more free nights.

Things to Consider

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card charges a $49 annual fee, but for the first year it will be an introductory $0. Purchases and balance transfers are subject to 16.99% - 23.99% Variable APR. Pay 25.99% variable on cash advances.

Our Verdict

If you want free hotel nights, look no further. IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card offers plenty of opportunity to earn free nights. With a 80,000-point bonus, lucrative earning options and a free night annually, this card will have you on vacation in no time. This is our favorite card for free hotel nights.

Methodology SmartAsset has developed a quantitative and independent system for evaluating the relative value of a credit card offer versus other offers in the marketplace. Our system evaluates cards based exclusively on their features, such as their rewards earning rate (if applicable), fees, perks, and rewards program redemption options. The annual rewards values on this page are calculated using annual spending assumptions in various categories such as, but not limited to, gas, restaurants, airfare, and US supermarkets. These spending assumptions are built on research that SmartAsset has conducted on existing hotel credit cardholders. Our promise with our credit card recommendations is that we will always strive to have the most comprehensive, accurate, and objective method of evaluating credit card offers. Any recommendations are solely determined by the result of this research and model, and is never influenced by any fees, commissions, or other forms of compensation that SmartAsset may receive from credit card issuers for leads generated on our website.

Hotel Credit Cards:
Everything You Need to Know


The Basics


A hotel card is a credit card tied to a particular hotel chain. Your spending on a hotel card earns you points that you can put toward hotel stays and other perks. If you travel frequently and you have a preference for a certain hotel brand, a hotel credit card could be a useful addition to your wallet.

Hotel credit cards exist for high-end hotels and for budget options. When you’re evaluating whether a hotel credit card is right for you and which hotel credit card to get, it’s important to think about your own travel style and budget. If you frequently travel internationally and plan to get a hotel credit card, you’ll likely want to make sure that the hotel chain that sponsors your card has international options for you and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. In short, doing your research before getting a hotel credit card is always a good idea.

We should also note that you don’t need a hotel credit card to get free stays in hotels. You can use a travel rewards card and redeem your points for hotel nights. The benefit of using a hotel-specific rewards card is that you may be able to rack up hotel rewards more quickly. However, if what you value is flexibility when it comes to redeeming your credit card points and you’re not loyal to a particular hotel chain, you might prefer a travel rewards card to a hotel credit card.


What Are Hotel Credit Cards?


Hotel credit cards are what are known as co-branded cards. Co-branded cards have two sponsors – the card network (Visa, American Express, etc.) and the hotel, airline or store associated with the card. Co-branded cards don’t have the flexibility of a general points card, but they can net you rewards and perks at a high rate. They make the most sense for those who are loyal to a particular hotel brand. If you usually stay in an Airbnb, boutique hotel or bed and breakfast, you may not get the most value out of a hotel credit card.

But if you find yourself staying at the same hotel chain trip after trip, it might be time to get some rewards in exchange for your loyalty. The best hotel credit cards don’t just offer points you can redeem on hotel stays. They also offer sign-up bonuses such as a lump sum of points or a few free nights in the hotel. Hotel credit cards may also offer perks like free in-room wifi, late check-out or elite status in the hotel’s loyalty program.

Then there are the features of the credit card that aren’t travel- or hotel-related. It’s also important to consider whether the hotel credit card charges an annual fee. Plus, how high is the APR on the card? Are there penalties and fees you should worry about? Is the credit card network widely accepted in the places you’d want to swipe the card?

Just because you’re, say, a loyal Marriot customer doesn’t mean a Marriot credit card is automatically the best credit card for you. For example, if you have balances from older credit cards that are racking up interests at high rates you might prefer to get a card that offers a 0% introductory APR so you can enact a balance transfer and pay down your debt without adding new interest charges.

Bottom line: A hotel credit card doesn’t make sense for every consumer. However, for loyal customers of particular hotel chains a hotel credit card can be a boon for the budget.


The Difference Between Hotel Credit Cards and Other Credit Cards


Searching for a new credit card? You might be wondering whether you should opt for a hotel credit card or go for a general rewards credit card, such as the much-discussed Chase Sapphire Preferred card. The short answer is that if you’re not a fan of staying in hotels, you’d rather redeem your rewards points for flights, or you prefer to try out a lot of different hotel brands, you may be better off with a general travel rewards card. Hotel cards come into their own for people who are loyal to a major hotel chain.

Both hotel credit cards and general travel rewards cards often come with sign-up bonuses. The sign-up benefits for hotel credit cards generally fall into one of two categories: points or free nights (or a combination of the two). These benefits are usually tied to a spending minimum. For example, a card might offer you two free nights in one of the card brand’s hotels if you spend $2,500 in your first four months as a cardholder.

Hotel credit cards (and other branded cards) may have a few tiers for earning rewards. For example, a general travel rewards card might offer you two points on travel spending and one point on everything else. A hotel credit card, on the other hand, might offer you one rewards rate when you spend on rooms and perks at that hotel chain, another rate on travel spending outside of the hotel chain and a third, lower rate, on all other spending.

Hotel credit cards, unlike cash back cards, are unlikely to have rotating categories. What’s a rotating category? It’s a category of spending that will net you benefits at a higher rate. For example, a cash-back credit card may offer rotating categories each quarter. If you spend in that category in the relevant quarter you’ll earn 5% cash back instead of the base rate of, say, 2%.

Some consumers opt to combine a cash back rewards card with rotating categories and a rewards card such as a hotel credit card or travel rewards card. They’ll use the cash back card when they’re spending in the bonus category so they get that high rewards rate. Then, they’ll swipe their rewards card for their other spending.


The Benefits of Hotel Credit Cards


For most people the end goal with hotel credit cards is free nights in hotels. However, other people who value perks like room upgrades may look to a hotel credit card to net them stays in nicer rooms than they could otherwise afford. Different hotel credit cards offer different benefits. That’s why it’s important to know what you want and do your research before you apply for a hotel credit card.

If you travel frequently for work, a hotel rewards card could be a great way to save money. You could charge your hotel stays to your hotel credit card, expense what you spend on hotels for work to get a reimbursement from your employer and then redeem the points you’ve earned on hotel stays during your days off. Hotel credit cards can also be great for small business owners who travel frequently and need to limit business expenses.


How a Hotel Credit Card Could Save You Money


Before you commit to a hotel credit card, take a look at your previous year of spending. How much did you spend on hotels? Was that spending in a certain hotel chain? A certain city? That’s important background information to have when you’re deciding whether a hotel credit card would save you money.

If you consistently spend on chain hotel rooms, a hotel credit card could save you money by allowing you to book rooms with points you earn by swiping your card. But it’s not just hotel spending that’s relevant to your rewards.

As we’ve mentioned, hotel credit cards often offer more than one rewards rate. For example, you might earn 12 points per dollar you spend with the hotel chain, six points per dollar you spend on restaurants, supermarkets and gas and three points per dollar on all other purchases. So when you’re evaluating a given hotel credit card, take a look at all the rewards categories. To return to the example above, if you don’t spend much on restaurants, supermarkets and gas you won’t benefit much from the higher rewards rate in those categories.

While you’re doing your hotel credit card research you may face a trade-off between flexibility and rewards. The cards that offer the best perks on things like free rooms and upgrades might lock you into their hotel chains. Other cards might have fewer perks but let you transfer points to airline frequent flyer programs and book flights. Some cards even give you a bonus when you transfer your points to an airline frequent flyer program. It’s up to you to decide what kinds of rewards are the most enticing to you and which rewards would save you the most money.

One note of caution: While everyone likes getting upgraded to a nicer room, be cautious about including the value of upgrades when evaluating a hotel credit card, unless you currently pay cash for upgrades. Say your current travel budget allows you stay in mid-level hotel rooms. Getting a credit card that would allow you to upgrade your rooms isn’t exactly a savings. It’s an extra. Free nights in hotels, on the other hand, would represent a true savings over what you currently spend on travel. Keep that distinction in mind when you’re deciding on a hotel credit card.


The Drawbacks of Hotel Credit Cards


Hotel credit cards aren’t perfect for everyone. They more or less tie you to a particular hotel chain, for one. Depending on the hotel credit card, there might be blackout dates for booking rooms with rewards. In short, if flexibility is your priority, you would probably be better off with a general travel rewards card that lets you earn points you can then redeem on flights, lodging, taxis and other travel-related expenses.

Another drawback with hotel credit cards is that they may have a minimum redemption threshold. For example, your credit card may require you to acquire, say, 5,000 points before you can redeem points. That threshold may be even higher for fancier rooms and fancier hotels within the chain. Compare this to cards that let you redeem points or cash back in any increment and hotel credit cards are a less flexible option. You may find yourself sitting on thousands of points that you can’t use because you haven’t hit the redemption threshold. Unless the hotel lets you combine cash and points, you’ll have to wait before you can get a free room with the points you’re earning.

Even hotel credit cards that offer greater flexibility by allowing you to transfer points to an airline frequent flyer program might not be the best deal. Check the point-mile exchange rate on a given card to evaluate how many points you’ll have to spend to get a mile with a participating airline. The lower that ratio is, the greater the value of your hotel credit card points. Ideally, you’d have a card with a 1-to-1 ratio of points to miles.


Paying Your Hotel Credit Card Bill


When it comes time to pay your hotel credit card bill, you have options. You can mail a check when you receive your statement in the mail, pay online or pay in a mobile app. If you’re worried that you might rack up interest on the card you could set up auto-payment and instruct your credit card company to charge you the full statement balance (not just the minimum payment) each billing cycle.

If you’ve had trouble paying your credit card bills in the past, it’s a good idea to look for a card with a low APR. Keep in mind, though, that most of the best hotel credit cards are available only to those with good or excellent credit. So if missing bills has been an issue for you and your credit is average or poor, you might not be a good candidate for a hotel credit card.


Redeeming Your Hotel Credit Card Rewards


What happens when you’re ready to redeem the rewards you’ve earned on your hotel credit card? That depends on the card you have. For example, the Starwood Preferred Guest program lets you browse rooms and upgrades on its website. You can also combine cash with points to get the room you want. In addition, you can redeem your points for flights, not just hotel rooms.

Not all cards are that flexible. Some cards have blackout dates for rewards customers, but may be able to relax the rules if you call. Say you get a hotel credit card and you don’t see any availability for the room you want on the dates you plan to travel. You can try calling the hotel directly to see if they have an opening that they haven’t released online.

The number of points you have to spend to get a hotel room will vary by card, hotel and room, too. A simple double room may cost a few thousand points, while a luxurious suite could cost you tens of thousands of points. As we’ve mentioned, you’ll probably have to rack up at least a few thousand points before you can get a free room. Unless your card lets you combine points with cash, you may be sitting on unusable points for a while until you can build up to that minimum redemption threshold.

To redeem your sign-up bonus (if the card offers one), you’ll need to be sure you meet the spending threshold. That could be, say, spending $4,000 on the card in your first three months as a cardholder. Once you hit the spending threshold it may take a billing cycle or two for the credit card company to credit you with the bonus points included in the sign-up bonus.


Who Should Apply for a Hotel Credit Card?


Who is the ideal customer for a hotel credit card? Someone who makes frequent hotel stays in a chain hotel that offers a credit card, and who plans to continue doing so. The ideal customer would value perks like room upgrades, free in-room wifi, etc. He or she would also have some flexibility around dates (or be highly organized), because finding a room you can pay for with credit card rewards can sometimes be tricky unless you book early.

Business owners who travel frequently (or whose employees travel frequently) can also benefit from hotel credit cards. Some hotel credit cards let authorized users on the card rack up points, too. So, if you’re a business owner and the primary cardholder, you and any employees you designate as authorized users can all accumulate points on the business hotel credit card. You can then use the points to save on future business travel stays. If you’re planning on using a hotel business card and adding employees as authorized users, make sure authorized users can accumulate points on the card you’re considering – before you apply for the card.


How to Evaluate Hotel Credit Card Offers


If your credit score is high enough, you may be getting offers to sign up for new credit cards. It’s a good idea to keep a clear head when you’re evaluating offers. You don’t have to sign up for a credit card just because the credit card company sends you an offer in the mail! Take a look at the annual fee, APR, sign-up bonus, rewards rate and ease of redemption before you take the plunge and apply for a hotel credit card.

Another factor to keep in mind is how long you plan to keep your hotel credit card. If you’ll only have the card for a year or two then the sign-up bonus will likely carry more weight in your decision. If you’re shopping for a card you can keep for the long haul, factors like the annual fee and the ongoing rewards rate will be more important in your decision-making process.

If you decide to apply for a new credit card based on offers you get or research you do, keep in mind that applying for a new card causes a temporary dip in your credit score. That’s why it’s not a good idea to apply for more than one card in a short period of time. Doing so can be a red flag to credit bureaus, who may think that you’re suddenly desperate for credit and are unlikely to spend within your limits.


What Matters Most When Applying for a Hotel Credit Card


Which of the factors we describe should play the biggest role in your decision-making process? That depends on your needs. You might want to look for the credit card that comes with the largest hotel selection if you travel widely. If you go to the same place(s) consistently, you might be more concerned about how many free nights a card offers. If you’re a business owner looking to rack up points when you and your employees swipe the card you might want to prioritize a hotel credit card that lets authorized users earn rewards, too.

In short, only you can decide what matters most and how you’ll balance different priorities when you’re shopping for a hotel credit card.


Budgeting for a New Hotel Credit Card


If you decide to take the plunge and apply for a hotel credit card, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the change that new card will bring. Specifically, you’ll have a higher credit limit. It’s a good idea to have a plan that will keep you from inflating your spending as your credit limit increases.

If you’re adding a hotel credit card to one or more existing credit cards in your wallet, how will you decide which card to use for which expenses? Working out a plan before you get your new hotel credit card will help you optimize the rewards from your various cards and avoid falling into an overspending trap just because you suddenly have more credit available to you.

As we mentioned above, some consumers opt to combine a cash back card and a rewards card. They use their cash back cards for spending in bonus categories that earn 5% cash back each quarter, and swipe their rewards cards on all other spending. For other consumers, having more than one credit card is too much of a hassle or too much of a temptation to overspend.

After you get your new hotel credit card, keep an eye on your credit card statement for the hotel card and any other cards you have. Has your spending crept up since you got the new card? If so, you may need to put yourself on a budget.


What to Do After Choosing a Hotel Credit Card


Think you’ve found the perfect hotel credit card? Before you apply, check the credit score range necessary for approval. It will (temporarily) hurt your credit score to apply for a new credit credit and you don’t want to take that ding on your score over a card you don’t stand a chance of getting. For example, don’t apply for a hotel credit card that requires excellent credit if your credit score is just fair.

It’s also a good idea to read over the credit card terms and conditions carefully before you apply. Again, applying for a card hurts your credit score temporarily. You don’t want to take that credit score hit only to decide that you don’t want the credit card after all because you’ve realized belatedly that the card charges a foreign transaction fee. Make sure the hotel credit card you choose ticks all your boxes before you go to the trouble of applying to become a cardholder.


How the Hotel Credit Card Rewards Process Work


Once you’ve started swiping your new card, you’ll begin earning rewards. However, redemption programs for rewards can vary considerably from card to card. In general, though, the process works like this: Hotels in a certain chain (or in a certain location of that chain) release rooms for reward purchase. Think of it like airlines opening up seats for customers who want to use miles. Hotels open up rooms for customers who want to buy with points/rewards. And just like with airline loyalty programs, with hotel loyalty programs you might not get your first choice of dates. You’ll have an easier time using your rewards if you’re willing and able to be flexible or if you can book well in advance of your trip.

You’ll need a certain number of points to be able to get a free room. The number you need depends on the card, the hotel and the room type. However, some rewards programs let you combine points with cash to earn free rooms more quickly. That way, you can use your points to essentially get a discount on a hotel room, even if you don’t have enough points to score a free hotel room.

Hotel stays themselves aren’t the only things you can get with your credit card rewards. You can also redeem points for things like upgrades, or transfer your points to a frequent flyer program. Before you commit to a hotel credit card you might want to read up on how easy it is to redeem points on the cards you’re considering and how flexible the rewards program is.


Should You Transfer Debt to a Hotel Credit Card?


Are hotel credit cards a good choice for consumers who want to enact a balance transfer? Ideally, the card you choose for a balance transfer would have a 0% APR for the first six, 12 or even 18 months you’re a cardholder. That way, the balance(s) you transfer to the new card won’t accrue interest for that 0% APR period, giving you time to pay down what you owe.

Here’s the thing: hotel credit cards tend not to have these 0% introductory APR offers. That means that most hotel credit cards are not the ideal choice for a balance transfer. However, there are some hotel credit cards that offer 0% APR on balance transfers, so if you’re determined to get a hotel credit card and you have old balances that you want to take care of, do some careful research to find a card that meets both of your goals. That way, you won’t have to choose between tackling debt from old spending and earning rewards for future spending. It’s a win-win.


How to Use Your Hotel Credit Card


Want to maximize your credit score? If so, we have some tips for how to use your hotel credit card. For your hotel credit card (and for all your credit card spending if you have more than one card) it’s important to keep the ratio of what you charge on your card to the credit limit you have under 30% if you can. So, for example, if you have one card with a $10,000 credit limit, it’s best not to charge more than $3,000 in a given billing cycle.

Unless your card offers a 1-to-1 points-to-miles ratio, you’re likely better off redeeming for hotel stays rather than transferring your points to a frequent flyer program and redeeming them for flights. Many hotel credit cards let you convert your hotel credit card points to frequent flyer miles by transferring your points to a mileage program. However, some only allow this transfer at a ratio of 5 or 10 points per mile earned. If you transfer for anything worse than 1-to-1 points-to-miles ratio you’re getting less value out of your points than you would if you used them to book a hotel stay. If you can find a hotel credit card that gives you a 1-to-1 points-to-miles ratio and a bonus when you convert points to miles, you’ll have hit the jackpot.


Should You Close Your Other Credit Cards After Getting a Hotel Credit Card?


If you already have a credit card and you’re thinking of getting a hotel credit card you may be wondering whether you should close your old card once you have your new hotel credit card. Some people find that combining a cash back card and a rewards card (like a hotel credit card) can be advantageous. For example, you could use a cash back card that offers 5% in certain bonus categories only for spending in the bonus categories and use your rewards card for other purchases. Ultimately, the decision of whether to keep your old card(s) after getting a hotel credit card is a personal one. You may not want to pay more than one annual fee, for example. Or, you might wonder if having multiple credit cards might tempt you into overspending.


Frequently Asked Questions:


1. Who can get a hotel credit card?

Consumers must meet issuers’ credit score requirements to get a hotel credit card. These credit requirements vary from card to card. Those with good or excellent credit scores will have access to the cards with the highest rewards rates and the biggest sign-up bonuses. In fact, in general hotel credit cards tend to require good or excellent credit.

2. How can I improve my credit score and qualify for a hotel credit card?

If your credit score doesn’t yet make the grade, don’t despair. You can work on building up your credit score and then apply for a hotel credit card once your score meets card issuers’ requirements. How do you build up your credit score? Tackling old credit card debt, paying your bills on time and in full and lowering your debt-to-credit ratio will all help push your score into a higher range.

How do you lower your debt-to-credit ratio? One way to lower your ratio is by reaching out to your bank and asking for a credit limit increase. Another way to boost your score is to decrease the amount you charge on the card. Both of these tactics will help you lower your credit utilization ratio, the ratio of the credit you use to the credit you have on your card(s). Experts recommend keeping your credit utilization ratio under 30%, but consumers with the best credit scores tend to have utilization ratios closer to 10%.

It’s also a good idea to check your credit report to see if there are any errors on your report that may be harming your score. You can dispute any errors with the credit bureaus. If the credit bureaus remove the damaging records that have erroneously been added to your credit report, your score will go up.

In the meantime, for those who are repairing or building up their credit, a low APR card, a balance transfer card or a simple cash back card with no annual fee can all be good options. Once your score is higher you can graduate to a rewards card like a hotel credit card.

3. How do I choose which hotel chain to opt for?

So you know you like hotels and you want a hotel credit card? How do you decide which card to get? You can look at the trips you’ve taken recently and see if you’ve been loyal to a particular chain. Alternatively, you can see which chains have locations in the destinations you tend to frequent. Or, if you’re truly indifferent between the various hotel chains that offer credit cards, you can opt for the hotel credit card that offers the most compelling rewards to you, whether that means the biggest sign-up bonus or the highest rewards rate.

4. Will opening a hotel credit card hurt my credit?

Applying for a new credit card can cause a temporary dip in your credit score. That’s because the credit card company will have to perform a credit inquiry when deciding whether to approve your credit card application. This is known as “pulling your credit.” Too many credit inquiries – or even just one – will cause a dip in your credit score. However, once you’ve been approved for your new hotel credit card your credit score could increase if having more credit available to you means your credit utilization ratio decreases. A lower credit utilization ratio translates to a higher credit score, as we’ve explained.

If you think your credit score is just on the edge of the acceptable range for a hotel credit card, you might want to boost your score slightly before applying for a hotel credit card. That way, you’ll know that you’re a solid candidate for the card and you won’t risk having your credit score dinged for a credit card application that doesn’t go through.

5. What kind of fees should I look out for?

Not all credit cards are created equal. Some charge no annual fee. Some charge an annual fee but waive the fee for the first year. Others charge an annual fee from the very beginning. But annual fees aren’t the only fees to watch out for. Many credit cards will impose a late payment fee if you make a payment past the due date. Balance transfer fees and cash advance fees are two more fees to look out for. A balance transfer fee is a fee that you pay to transfer balances from other credit cards to your new credit card. A cash advance fee is a fee you pay to use your credit card at an ATM to get cash as an “advance” tied to your credit limit.

Late payment fees, balance transfer fees and cash advance fees may be charged as percentage of the dollar amount in question or as a flat fee. All three fees may be tied to special APRs, too. For example, if you make a late payment you may be charged a late payment fee and be bumped up to a penalty APR that’s higher than your regular APR. If you enact a balance transfer, you may pay a balance transfer fee and have a special balance transfer APR on the amount you transfer to your new card. Balance transfer fees are usually lower than regular purchase APRs as an enticement for customers to transfer balances. If you get a cash advance you’ll probably owe a fee, and the money you get will start accruing interest charges right away. Cards often charge a special cash advance APR that’s higher than the regular purchase APR.

6. Should I use my hotel credit card to get a cash advance?

Speaking of cash advances… When money is tight, should you use your hotel credit card to get a cash advance? We can’t tell you what to do, but we can let you know that you that getting a credit card cash advance is an expensive way to get your hands on some cash. If you use a hotel credit card to get a cash advance you’ll most likely pay a flat fee (often around $35). Some cards charge a cash advance fee that’s the greater of either a flat fee or a percentage of the cash you take out.

The money you get from your cash advance will immediately be subject to an APR, and cash advance APRs are usually higher than regular purchase APRs on the same card. Like other forms of borrowing that promise fast cash, credit card cash advances can be costly and hard to repay.

7. Should I pay an annual fee for a hotel credit card?

The decision of whether or not to pay an annual fee for a credit card comes down to several factors. One is your budget. Another is the value of the rewards you expect to get from the card. Of course, you’ll want to at least break even on the annual fee you’re paying. Often, sign-up bonuses alone are enough to defray the cost of an annual fee, at least for the first year. Other hotel credit cards may waive the annual fee for the first year you’re a cardholder. Even after the first year, if your account is in good standing you can try calling the credit card company and asking them to waive the annual fee. It’s worth a try!

Some of the credit cards with the most impressive sign-up bonuses and rewards rates come with annual fees. That’s true for general travel rewards cards and for hotel credit cards, too. So, if an annual fee is in your budget and you want to maximize your credit card rewards, don’t write off annual-fee cards.

8. How can I find the right hotel credit card for me?

The first step in making a wise credit card decision is to be honest with yourself about your spending patterns – both your past spending patterns and your future spending patterns. How frequently do you stay in hotels? What kinds of hotels do you stay in? How much do you tend to spend on your hotel stays? Will you be enjoying more frequent hotel stays in the next year or two?

And don’t just consider your hotel spending. As we’ve mentioned, many hotel credit cards offer special rewards on other categories in addition to hotels, categories like supermarkets, gas and restaurants. If you have a clear picture of your overall spending you’ll have an easier time assessing the rewards rates that hotel credit cards offer.

9. How can I avoid paying interest on my hotel credit card?

If you’re new to the credit card game you might not know how to avoid paying interest on your credit card. At the end of each billing cycle, your credit card will “go to statement.” You’ll get a letter or email telling you how much you owe. Credit cards generally offer a grace period of around 23 to 25 days. If you pay the full amount of your statement balance before the grace period ends, you won’t pay interest. If you pay anything less than the full amount (for example, you make the “minimum payment”) you will accrue interest charges. Your APR gives you an annualized picture of the interest you’ll pay on any credit card debt you take on as a cardholder.

10. How can I make the most of a hotel credit card?

If you go to the trouble of getting a new credit card you’ll want to get the most out of that card, particularly if you’re paying an annual fee for the card. That means staying at the relevant hotel chain when you can, taking advantage of the sign-up bonus and being smart about redeeming your rewards. Remember, too, that you can take advantage of offers to combine points and cash if the hotel chain allows. That way, you can stay in your favorite hotel chain even when your points don’t quite meet the threshold for a rewards booking.

Keeping your credit utilization ratio below 30% and paying your balance in full each month will ensure that your hotel credit card keeps your credit score high. If you want to combine your hotel credit card with another card, be wary of lifestyle inflation. For your hotel card and any other plastic in your wallet, it’s a good idea to check your statements for any charges that shouldn’t be there. These could be fraudulent charges or simple mistakes. For example, the hotel may have charged you for a movie you didn’t watch, or failed to give you a discount you’re entitled to as a cardholder. A polite phone call from you to the hotel or the credit card company should be enough to take care of this problem for you.


Final Thoughts


Hotel credit cards are a less popular option than airline rewards cards and general travel points cards. That’s not to say that hotel credit cards never make sense for credit card holders. If you frequent hotels and you’re partial to a particular chain, using a hotel credit card can earn you major perks. If you and your employees travel frequently for business, a hotel credit card for you and a few authorized users can save your business serious money on hotel stays. In most cases, you’ll need good or excellent credit to qualify for a hotel credit card. Once you’re a cardholder, you may be eligible for a sign-up bonus if you spend enough in your first few months with the card. Sign-up bonuses add value to hotel credit cards, so if you can afford to spend enough to meet the target it’s in your interest to do so. You’ll be netting free nights in favorite hotel chain, after all.

Photo credits: ©iStock.com/DragonImages, ©iStock.com/PeopleImages, ©iStock.com/andresr

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