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I asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to discuss hotel credit card benefits and explain which ones you should look for when applying.
There are some standard benefits that every hotel credit card should have, such as earning multiple points per dollar on purchases within the hotel chain, and other bonus categories. There are also benefits that some hotel cards have and others lack, but which should become standard, such as waiving foreign transaction fees and offering anniversary bonuses or elite status boosters. Here are the benefits (aside from sign-up bonuses) you should expect when applying for a hotel credit card, and a few that you should expect with more premium hotel credit cards.
1. Hotel Purchase Bonuses: This should go without saying, but if you carry a specific hotel loyalty program’s co-branded credit card, you should be earning multiple points per dollar on all expenditures at those hotels. Pretty much every hotel credit card offers this as a standard benefit, but the number of points you can earn varies from program to program and card to card. Here’s a quick hit list of the top earners:
- Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa: 6x points per $1
- Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa: 10x points per $1
- Club Carlson Visa: 6x points per $1
- Fairmont Visa: 5x points per $1
- Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass: 12x points per $1
- Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve: 10x points per $1
- Amex Hilton HHonors card: 7x points per $1
- Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card: 6x points per $1
- Hyatt Visa: 3x points per $1
- IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card: 5x points per $1
- Marriott Rewards Premier Card: 5x points per $1
- Marriott Rewards Card: 3x points per $1
- Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express: 5x points per $1
- Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express: 5x points per $1
2. Other Category Spending Bonuses: Unlike most airline co-branded credit cards, a lot of the hotel cards out there offer bonus points on various merchant categories so that you can earn multiple points per dollar on non-hotel purchases as well. Here’s a quick rundown of the notable bonuses.
Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass: 6x points per $1 of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets, and at U.S. gas stations.
Hilton Amex: 5x points per $1 of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations
Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve: 5x points per $1 spent on airline and car rental purchases
Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card: 3x points per $1 of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations
Fairmont Visa: 2x points per $1 spent on airfare, car rentals, and transit and commuting
Hyatt Visa: 2x points per $1 spent on all dining, airfare, and car rental purchases
IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card: 2x points per $1 spent on gas, groceries, and dining
Marriott Rewards Premier Visa: 2x points per $1 spent on airline tickets purchased directly with the airline, and at car rental agencies and restaurants
Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card: 2x points per $1 on airline tickets purchased directly with the airline, car rental agencies, and restaurants
3. Automatic Anniversary Free Nights: Several of the top hotel credit cards offer anniversary bonuses for remaining a cardmember. The downside is that you have to pay your annual fee, but you can often get much more value out of that free night than the cost of the annual fee.
Some of the best anniversary bonuses include an annual free night at a Hyatt Category 1-4 hotel (including the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and the Grand Hyatt Istanbul) with the Hyatt Visa; a free night at any IHG property in the world with the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card; and an annual free night at a Category 1-5 hotel with the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card.
4. Automatic Anniversary Bonus Points: Some hotel credit cards offer a simple points bonus for renewing your card each year. For example, the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature offers 40,000 bonus points—enough for an award night in a Category 4 hotel. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card offers cardholders a 10% points bonus on all points earned from their card each calendar year.
5. Automatic Elite Status: Many hotel credit cards offer automatic elite status as a benefit, which can score cardholders perks like free internet, points bonuses, and extra conveniences like late check-out and more. Here are some examples:
The Hyatt Credit Card: Automatic Platinum status
IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card: Automatic Platinum Elite status
Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card: Automatic Gold status
Marriott Premier Rewards card: Automatic Silver status
Ritz-Carlton Visa: Automatic Gold status your first year
6. Elite Status Boost: While some hotel credit cards offer elite status outright, others just offer a boost—a credit of a few nights or stays that can help you achieve elite status faster. The Starwood Preferred Guest Amex, for example, credits cardholders with 2 stays/5 nights toward elite qualification each year. The Marriott Premier (15 credits toward elite status—enough for automatic Silver) and Marriott Rewards card (10 credits toward elite status—still enough for automatic Silver status) both award elite credits each year as well.
7. Spending Bonuses: Some credit cards offer spending bonuses based on the calendar year or cardmember year that earn cardholders everything from bonus points and free nights to higher-tier elite status.
Perhaps the best known of these is the Free Weekend Night certificates that you get with the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card, which are valid at Category 1-10 properties (aside from a few on the exclusion list). That card also offers Hilton Diamond elite status when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year. Diamond status normally requires 30 stays, 60 nights, or 120,000 base points in a calendar year. The Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass card also offers Diamond status when you spend $40,000 or more in a calendar year.
The Hyatt Credit Card offers automatic Platinum status, but you receive an additional 2 stays and 5 nights credit toward Diamond status by spending $20,000 or more in a calendar year, and an additional 3 stays and 5 nights credit when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year. That’s 20% of the way toward Diamond status, which requires either 25 stays or 50 nights.
With the Fairmont Visa card, every year you make $7,500 in net purchases, you’ll receive 1 stay credit toward the next Fairmont President’s Club status level (up to 2 stay credits per calendar year). You also get 1 free night stay at any Fairmont hotel or resort worldwide every year when you spend $12,000 or more.
The Ritz-Carlton card offers automatic Gold status the first account year; you can then maintain it by spending $10,000 each account year thereafter. You can also earn Platinum status by making $75,000 in purchases on the card each account year.
The Starwood Amex offers automatic Gold status when you spend $30,000 or more in a calendar year.
Finally, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card and Marriott Rewards cards offer cardholders 1 elite night credit for every $3,000 spent per calendar year, with no limit to the number of elite nights you can earn.
8. Discounted Awards: Like some airline cards, including the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage Visa and the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard, some hotel credit cards offer discounted award rates or points refunds that can help you stretch your points even further.
The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card refunds cardholders 10% of the points they use to book awards. So if you booked an award for 50,000 points, you would get 5,000 of them back. The Marriott Rewards and Marriott Rewards Premier cards award a bonus of 15,000 points when you redeem 7 nights at a Category 7-9 hotel.
The most lucrative of these award discounts, however, is from the Club Carlson co-branded cards, which offer cardholders the last night free for award stays of two nights or more. That can mean 50% savings if you’re booking two-night stays.
9. Waived Foreign Exchange Fees: If you travel internationally, it’s important to consider which hotel credit cards waive foreign transaction fees so that you’re not getting dinged by 1-3% surcharges, which can negate the value of any points you’re earning. Here are the major hotel cards that waive such fees.
- Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve
- Fairmont Visa
- Hyatt Visa
- IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card
- Marriott Rewards Premier Visa
For more information, see these posts:
- 7 Top Hotel Credit Cards For Free Nights
- Top 10 Hotel Credit Card Perks
- Hotel Credit Cards That Offer Free Nights Every Year
- Top 10 Almost Too Good To Be True Credit Card Benefits
- Maximizing Travel Credit Cards Calendar Year Spending Threshold Bonuses
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