Are Hotel Credit Cards Worth It for Summer Travel in 2023?

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  • Hotel credit cards provide a lot of perks into their little plastic packages, but those perks need to make up for the big annual fees most of these cards also sport.
  • Free night certificates and statement credits are the best way to make an annual fee worthwhile.
  • Elite status is good for upgrades, but it's also great for boosting how quickly you can earn points.

The most common piece of advice I offer to folks asking about their credit cards is to regularly audit your cards to ensure you're getting the most bang for your buck. This can be especially important when you're talking about travel credit cards, as most of them have annual fees.

For example, most hotel credit cards worth getting have fees of at least $95 -- and some can be over $400 a year. With such a high out-of-pocket cost, it makes sense to wonder if the cards are worth keeping (or getting).

The answer will depend a lot on how much -- and where -- you plan to travel this summer. But if you're taking at least one or two trips this year, it could be worth having a hotel credit card in your wallet.

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Elite status can be surprisingly valuable

The most immediately useful perk of most hotel credit cards is the elite status many convey. Complimentary status can propel you up the elite tiers, unlocking exclusive benefits.

Sure, the less-expensive cards only give you mid-tier status, at best, but even that can be valuable if you can get upgrades or extra points. And if you have a card that comes with higher-tier status, then the perks can get seriously valuable.

For example, some programs give free breakfast to elite members (this is usually some sort of food and beverage credit these days). And the higher you are up on the food chain, the better your upgrades will be. (The first time your regular room is upgraded to a suite is an awesome experience!)

Free night certs and credits

As nice as elite status is, it can be hard to eek enough value out of it to actually make the annual fee worth it on status alone. But, thankfully, elite status is rarely the only perk you get with a hotel card.

The best hotel credit cards also convey annual free night certificates every year after your cardmember anniversary. These certificates can be redeemed for a free night at any eligible property. While these certs are rarely without limits -- most have a points-equivalent cap (e.g., only good on rooms up to 40,000 points) -- but they still provide a ton of versatility and a good value proposition.

Don't forget about the statement credits, either. The most expensive hotel cards help make up for their fees by offering statement credits for on-property purchases or other travel-related expenses. If you can maximize the free night certificates and credits, most of these cards pay for themselves.

Points accrual acceleration

Another big perk of hotel cards that can be often overlooked is the boost to how many points you can earn. Hotel cards tend to offer a bonus category for brand purchases, and these bonuses can be huge. We're talking about 5X, 10X, or even 14X points per dollar huge.

On top of the card bonus, don't forget about that elite status. The better your status is, the more points you'll earn per dollar spent, no matter which card you use. Faster points accrual means you'll be that much closer to earning free nights.

Outlook is positive

Before you get -- or decide to keep -- a costly hotel card, you need to do the math for yourself. Will the card pay for itself this summer, or at least this year? The answer may be "yes" more often than you think.

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