Hotel cards can be well worth the trouble for even casual travelers.
In many cases, a travel credit card only really makes sense if you travel often. After all, those airline miles don't do you any good unless you're going to fly somewhere. But unlike some other travel cards, you don't actually need to live out of a suitcase to make the most of a co-branded hotel credit card.
For one thing, most major hotel brands offer not one, but several credit card options, each with a different set of features. And while you'll need to pay somewhat hefty annual fees for the cards with the most perks, the freebies can make it a worthwhile investment for even a casual traveler.
One of the most common perks offered by co-branded hotel credit cards is elite loyalty status, a benefit that can upgrade both annual vacations and monthly business trips alike. You'll also earn your way to free stays faster -- sometimes just for paying your annual fee. Here's a look at three valuable reasons to get a hotel credit card.
1. Complimentary elite status
The first time you see an elite member check into a hotel can be an eye-opener. Depending on their status, they can score huge room upgrades, complimentary meals, even free gifts at check in. And it makes sense. It can take months' worth of hotel stays to reach the highest status tiers, and hotels should reward that sort of loyalty.
Or -- you can take a shortcut. Specifically, you could get elite hotel status just for opening a co-branded hotel credit card. With the best hotel cards, you can jump straight to top-tier status, with all the benefits that entails.
The status tier you receive will vary a lot with the annual fee charged by the card. If your hotel card doesn't have an annual fee, expect an elite status only a level or two above what's available to non-cardholders. For the highest elite status tiers, expect your card to come with an annual fee around $450.
2. Faster points accrual
Although anyone can join a hotel loyalty program and earn points on their hotel stays, co-branded credit cardholders can fast-track their earnings. First off, as noted above, many hotel cards bestow elite hotel status, which often allows you to earn more points per stay than guests at a lower loyalty tier.
But that's not the only way you earn more points with a hotel card. You'll also earn bonus hotel points for every dollar you spend on hotel purchases when you use your co-branded credit card to pay. Plus, many hotel cards offer bonus points on non-property purchases like groceries or dining.
And let's not forget the big jackpot that can be the sign-up bonus. Hotel credit cards typically come with some sort of sign-up bonus; the more expensive the card, the larger the bonus you can likely earn. These bonuses can easily hit six figures, giving you enough points for a free night at nearly any in-brand property in the world.
3. Free night certificates
Between sign-up bonus and elite status boosts, most travelers can expect to earn enough points for at least one or two free nights courtesy of their hotel credit cards. But you could also earn free nights directly thanks to free night certificates, which are basically vouchers you can redeem for hotel stays.
In most cases, free night certificates are granted on your anniversary each year (starting with your first cardholder anniversary). While you see free nights as a perk most often with the expensive hotel cards, even mid-tier cards -- those with annual fees around $95 to $125 a year -- can offer valuable free night awards. Either way, smart redemption of a free night certificate can easily make the annual fee worth paying.
Swipe your way to a better stay
Whether you travel for business or pleasure, to visit family or escape them, chances are good you'll stay in a hotel at least once during the year. And where you stay while you travel can heavily influence the quality of your trip.
Between elite status perks and free-night fast-tracks, having a co-branded hotel card in your pocket can have a lot of upsides. Of course, travel cards of any kind are only as useful as their rewards. So pick a hotel card for the brand you visit most often and put your hotel points to good use.
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