The 5 ways I use my hotel card benefits to travel in luxury
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It was only recently that I dove into the world of hotel credit cards. For years, I was hyper-focused on transferable card points and airline miles. A coherent hotel card strategy just wasn’t on my radar.
Many people newer to points and miles initially gravitate toward airline programs. That isn’t a huge surprise — the ability to get to your destination for almost free is the first step. But what about once you arrive? One option, among many, is a higher-end hotel stay.
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Over the last couple of years, I’ve been able to leverage hotel cards to fundamentally change how I travel. While I love staying at Airbnbs in certain instances, hotels have given me the opportunity to have premium experiences — all while still on a budget.
Let’s dive into the five ways of how these cards help me travel — and stay — better.
Cashing in on elite perks
One of the best perks of hotel credit cards is the automatic elite status that you get just from having the card. Forget about 60-night stay requirements or high levels of spending needed to get elite status. Unless you’re a frequent business traveler (which no one is during the pandemic), many of those thresholds would be tough to meet.
But thanks to hotel cards, you can enjoy the same awesome perks that even the most loyal guests experience. For instance, my Hilton Aspire card comes with Hilton Honors Diamond status. Although it comes with a steep $450 annual fee (see rates and fees), our TPG Points Lab team values Diamond status at up to $3,000.
Since I am not a frequent Hilton guest, I don’t estimate my status to be worth quite as much, but between extravagant free breakfasts, occasional suite upgrades and Executive Lounge access, I do get to make use of Honors elite benefits.
And no, you generally won’t be treated differently just because you earned your hotel status from a credit card.
Free nights and benefits for the win
Free night awards are the best perk with select hotel credit cards — and frankly, it’s an underrated one.
Besides Hilton Diamond status, the Aspire card offers one weekend night reward each cardmember year (with more flexibility to use the credit during COVID-19). Even the most expensive Hilton properties (think: Conrads, Waldorfs and more) qualify to use this night reward.
The top-tier Hilton card also gives you up to $250 annual credit for airline incidental fees and up to $250 Hilton resort statement credit each year. Plus when you book a two-night minimum stay at hiltonhonorsaspirecard.com, you’ll get up to $100 in credits at participating Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts. All of these perks combined more than offset the Aspire’s $450 annual fee.
In fact, I used a reward night certificate last year at the Waldorf Astoria Berlin, where cash rates were going for more than $400 a night. That’s $400 in value merely from this one card perk alone.
Meanwhile, my Hilton Surpass card will help me get a second weekend night reward. This mid-tier Hilton Surpass card gives cardholders a complimentary weekend night reward after you spend $15,000 on purchases in a calendar year. Here, I employ a one-two Hilton card strategy to get two nights with both the Surpass and Aspire.
The World of Hyatt card
The World of Hyatt card offers an annual free-night certificate at a Category 1-4 Hyatt property which you’ll receive every account anniversary. This can be worth much more than the card’s $95 annual fee, but note that it doesn’t include more premium properties in the Hyatt portfolio.
However, I’ll also get a second free Category 1-4 night after spending $15,000 in a year.
Maximizing card promotions
Cobranded cards sometimes run promotions to entice cardholders to utilize the specific hotel program and to spend money on the card. This is particularly true during the pandemic when fewer cardholders are traveling.
If you’re redeeming Hyatt points, it gets even better. All World of Hyatt members get 15% of their points back when they book and stay through Oct. 8, 2020. And for Hyatt cardholders like myself, that points rebate gets bumped up to 25%.
This summer, I’ve been able to make use of these promotions for more local getaways to the newly opened Miraval Berkshires and Hyatt Place Long Island/East End.
Finally, don’t forget about card-specific deals directly through the card issuer: Amex Offers or Chase Offers, There is a current Chase Offer for 10% off a Hyatt stay on The World of Hyatt card. And it can be stacked with the 3x bonus promotion.
Leveraging transferable points
Another consideration is that both the Hilton Honors program and World of Hyatt program partner with transferable points currencies.
You can transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to Hilton and you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt. Transferable points are a powerful tool. If you don’t have enough points with a specific program, you can easily shift points over from another program.
Best of all, both Hyatt and Hilton allow points pooling between accounts (although Hyatt has a clunky process that requires a PDF). This is perfect for booking with friends. A friend can transfer from Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards to a hotel program and then combine points together with you for a specific redemption. I’ve done that a few times with friends to simplify how I get paid back when booking on points.
Staying at expensive (in cash) properties
These hotel credit cards have helped open the door to properties I wouldn’t even have considered staying at previously.
For instance, I recently stayed at the Miraval Berkshires, an all-inclusive wellness property that commanded a nearly $3,000 price tag for a weekend stay. However, because of a buy-one-get-one offer along with the 25% points rebate for having The World of Hyatt card, I was able to use just 48,750 points. (That’s also my best hotel redemption ever at 6.2 cents per point in value.)
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Brand new resort opening during COVID? Crazy, but it just might work. Miraval Berkshires opened on July 15, and I stayed this weekend—kayaked, made pottery, got massages, hiked, and ate (a lot). Miraval is an all-inclusive(ish) wellness brand and this Berkshires location is an ideal weekend spot near major Northeast cities. Thanks to a BOGO promotion and points rebate for having the World of Hyatt card, 2 nights costs ~50k points for 2 people. (Not cheap but the cash rate is over $3,000). There were a lot of operational issues but overall, I’d recommend a stay here—once things get ironed out in a month or two. Even with some problems, it was still the perfect antidote and detox from the news cycle and life in the city (especially being in New York since the early stages of COVID).
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With complimentary night rewards with Hilton, I also have my eyes set on the Conrad Koh Samui in Thailand once it is safe to travel. In non-pandemic times, a hotel of that stature can easily command $1,000 per night for a room. With a couple of reward night certificates and a stash of Hilton points, several days at an exclusive property like that is within reach.
Related: Best high-end Hilton redemptions
As I’ve come to discover, it’s not all just about airline miles. Thanks in part to my hotel cards, a stash of Hilton and Hyatt points and a commitment to finding the best deal, I’ve been able to stay at some fantastic properties while on a (relative) budget.
Featured photo courtesy of Conrad Koh Samui.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.
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