Travel Tuesday Top 10: Hotel Credit Card Perks

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Update: The offers mentioned below for the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Cards from American Express has expired. View the current offers here – personal, business.

Apart from the obvious benefit of earning travelers hotel points on purchases, hotel co-branded credit cards offer a variety of other perks and benefits that add even more value to carrying them. Here are my picks for the top 10 hotel credit card perks (feel free to share yours in the comments).

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Signature Card  provides cardholders with Hilton Gold status.

1. Hilton Gold Status: Cardholders of the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Signature Card receive Hilton HHonors Gold status just for having the card (which has a $95 annual fee), while people who have the Amex Hilton Surpass card get gold status for the first year and then get complimentary silver status, though they can continue to hold gold status when they spend $20,000 on the card annually. Those who carry the Hilton Amex get complimentary silver status, but can earn gold status by spending $20,000 annually as well. Hilton Gold Status is normally achieved after 16 stays, 36 nights, or 60,000 base points per year. In my opinion, Hilton Gold is the best mid-tier hotel elite status with benefits that include a 25% points bonus, complimentary high-speed internet access and continental breakfast for two daily, and a a property-specific upgrade benefit which depends by brand but can include room upgrades (including executive floors which come with lounge access and if an Executive Floor room isn’t available, you can choose to get breakfast instead) or a 1,000-point welcome amenity, bottles of water, snack items, and GLON reduced-rate redemption opportunities. The current sign up bonus for the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Signature Card is two free weekend nights at any Hilton property worldwide including Waldorf Astoria hotels after spending $2,500 in four months. There is a $95 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees as well as chip and signature technology great for use abroad. The current offer to the Hilton HHonors Surpass is 60,000 points – 40,000 points after the first purchase, and 20,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. The annual fee is $75.

Earn Elite Status faster with the Starwood American Express.

2. SPG Night and Stay Credits: One of the benefits with both the Personal and Business Starwood Preferred American Express cards is cardholders receive stay and night credits which count toward SPG elite status. Each year, members will receive 2 stays/5 nights credit per card toward elite status, so if you signed up for both cards recently thanks to the 30,000-point sign-up bonus, you’d be 4 stays or 10 nights closer to elite status – almost halfway to gold, and 20% of the nights needed to qualify for SPG Platinum status. These nights do count toward the new SPG 50, SPG 75 and SPG 100 Platinum benefits so if you are trying for one of those to get the 10 suite night awards, Your 24 check-in and 4 points per dollar, or a personal SPG Ambassador, these added nights can make a huge difference. The current sign-up bonus for the SPG American Express is 30,000 Starpoints until September 4 – new cardholders are awarded 10,000 SPG points after signing up and 20,000 SPG points after spending $5,000 within the first 6 months. The $65 annual fee is waived the first year on both personal and business cards.

Hilton Diamond status can be attained after $40,000 in spending with this card. 

3. Hilton Diamond Status: Hilton HHonors’ top-tier status can be attained with either the Hilton HHonors Surpass or the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Signature Card when cardholders spend $40,000 or more during a calendar year. Diamond status, which normally takes 28 stays, 60 nights or 100,000 base points per year, provides a host of perks including a 50% bonus on all base points, free internet, a dedicated reservations center, room upgrades, access to the executive club lounge regardless of whether they are upgraded to a club room, 1,000 bonus HHonors points on each stay, complimentary continental breakfast daily for two, and other welcome amenities. To see how much value just one of these perks would be worth, let’s say you checked into the Hilton Arc de Triomphe in Paris in September. A standard King Deluxe Room would cost 565 euros ($695) while an upgrade just one category to a King Executive Room with access to the Executive Club with snacks, meals and beverage service would be 605 euros ($745), so you’d be getting an additional $50 in value per night. It would take just a two-night stay to more than make up for the annual fee on either card.

4. Hyatt Platinum Status: Cardholders of the Hyatt Visa automatically receive upgraded status to Hyatt Platinum, which normally requires 5 stays or 15 nights per year to achieve. Benefits of this status include a 15% bonus on earned points, room upgrades, complimentary in-room internet access, expedited check-in, 72-hour room availability guarantee and a 2pm late check-out. You will also receive Platinum Extra Awards after every third stay such as bonus points, food and beverage amenities and even free breakfast. The current sign-up bonus for the Hyatt Visa is two free nights at any Hyatt in the world, including top-tier Park Hyatts such as the one in Tokyo, where rooms can normally go for in the $400-500 range. Existing Hyatt Platinum members who sign up for this card also get two free suite upgrade certificates along with their two free nights, and Hyatt Diamond members get their two free nights in a suite. There are no foreign transaction fees with this card, and a $75 annual fee.

Club lounge at the Ritz-Carlton Istanbul.

5. Ritz Carlton Club Upgrades: One of the benefits of the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card is that it provides club-level access. Cardholders can upgrade to the Ritz-Carlton Club Level three times annually on paid stays of up to seven nights. Clubs provide workspaces, internet access, concierge service and complimentary food and beverage presentations throughout the day. Guests can apply their club level e-certificates at the time of booking to secure the upgrade. The current sign-up bonus for the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card is 70,000 Ritz Rewards points after $2,000 in spending, which translates to a free night at any Ritz-Carlton, and over two free nights at Tier 1 properties like the Ritz-Carlton Dallas, which only require 30,000 points for a free night. You also get complimentary Gold status for the first year and every year (based on when you open your account) after that you spend $10,000 or more, which confers more perks including a 25% bonus on base points, complimentary room upgrades, and free internet access. This card carries a hefty $395 annual fee, but remember, you also get a $200 airline credit each calendar year, hotel credits for expenses such as food and beverage on stays of two nights or more, and airport LOUNGE Club access.

Cardholders of the Hyatt Card could use their annual free night certificate at the Andaz West Hollywood.

6. Hyatt Yearly Free Night Certificate: Every year upon renewal of the Hyatt Visa, cardholders receive one free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt property. Some properties where that certificate’s value is maximized to far outweigh the card’s $75 annual fee include higher-end properties within those categories such as the Andaz West Hollywood in Los Angeles, Hyatt 48 Lex in New York, Hyatt Escala Lodge Park City and the Grand Hyatt Shanghai. To qualify for this, your account must be open and in good standing. The award night is good for one night in any available standard room within 12 months from the issue date of the certificate – based on your account anniversary – at any Category 1- 4 Hyatt property.

Use your annual free night at the Fairmont Plaza NYC. 

7. Fairmont Free Night: Cardholders of the Fairmont Visa Signature can earn one free night every anniversary with $12,000 in annual spending (so just $1,000 a month). This free night can be used at any Fairmont property such as the The Plaza in New York, or the Fairmont Orchid in Hawaii, where rooms can get up to nearly $1,000 a night, meaning this benefit easily negates the $95 annual membership if you plan strategically. The free night certificate may even be used in conjunction with Fairmont President’s Club Platinum room or suite upgrade certificates. The current sign up bonus for the Fairmont Visa Signature is 2 free nights with free breakfast at any Fairmont in the world when you make $1,000 in purchases within 3 months of account opening, and existing Premier and Platinum members receive an annual Fairmont Gold Room Upgrade. New members are given automatic Premier status. There is a $95 annual fee but no foreign transaction fees.

Priority Club’s highest status can be had with the Priority Club Select Visa. 

8. Priority Club Platinum Status: One of the best benefits of the Priority Club Select Visa is annual Priority Club Platinum status just for having the card. This is their highest level of elite status Priority Club offers, which normally requires 50 nights or 60,000 points per year to achieve. While Priority Club Platinum isn’t as generous as Hyatt Diamond or Starwood Platinum, it still has plenty of decent benefits, including a 50% bonus on base points, complimentary room upgrades, guaranteed room availability 72 hours in advance, priority check-in, and a dedicated Platinum Elite customer service phone number. The current sign-up bonus for the Priority Club Select Visa is 60,000 bonus points which can be used for up to 6 nights at certain Holiday Inn properties, but for between 1-2 nights at Intercontinentals. Cardholders also receive an annual free night at any Priority Club after the first year. There are no foreign transaction fees and this card has a $49 annual fee that’s waived the first year.

9. Hilton AXON Awards: There are two ways to book discounted reward stays at Hilton properties and this is where being a cardholder really pays off. One of them is VIP-only rewards (also known as GLON) that any member of HHonors with elite status – including cardholders of the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa, the Citi Hilton Visa, the Surpass card and the Hilton Amex – have access to since all those cards confer elite status. However, the other kind of reduced point-redemption award are called Amex-only rewards, or AXON. They are available to people with the Hilton Amex and Hilton Surpass cards. You can check out our earlier post with the full details of booking these awards and the discounts, but basically, AXON rewards are only available on stays in multiples of four nights (so 4 nights, 8 nights, 12 nights, etc.), and as I mentioned in my credit card comparison post, AXON redemption rates are applicable only to Categories 5, 6, and 7 hotels at the following rates:

AXON5 (four nights in a Category 5 hotel) = 125,000 points instead of 140,000
AXON6 (four nights in a Category 6 hotel) = 125,000 points instead of 160,000
AXON7 (four nights in a Category 7 hotel) = 145,000 points instead of 200,000

So as you can see, having an Amex can save you tens of thousands of points on redemptions, and if you have the no-fee Hilton Amex, you’ve saved even more points and money. The current sign-up bonus for the Hilton Amex is 40,000 HHonors points when you spend $750 in the first three months.

10. Priority Club Yearly Free Night: Every year, upon the account anniversary, cardholders of the Priority Club Select Visa receive a free night at any Priority Club property, including Intercontinentals, without category restrictions, so that’s like getting a 50,000-point bonus every year since high-end Intercontinental properties like the Intercontinental Hong Kong require 50,000 Priority Club points for free night redemptions and room rates can easily run well into the $400-500 range, more than making up for the card’s $49 annual fee, which is waived for the first year anyway.

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