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How to pick a hotel credit card

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    A co-branded hotel credit card can help you ramp up your hotel rewards points and get a head start on your next vacation. Get the facts about hotel credit cards — and be prepared to do some research — to ensure you pick the best hotel card for your traveling habits.

    What is the best hotel credit card?

    Hotel credit cards are bucketed into three major categories: cards that are co-branded with a hotel chain, cards that are co-branded with a group of hotels, and general travel cards. Here's a breakdown of these three hotel credit card types.

    Single chain hotel credit cards: best for travelers who prefer one hotel brand

    Hotel cards that are co-branded with a single hotel chain can be suitable for travelers who mostly book stays with that chain — if, for example, their travels take them to regions that are heavily served by one hotel brand. 

    While committing your loyalty to a single brand can enhance your ability to earn and redeem rewards and climb the levels of membership, the association with just one hotel chain can be limiting, especially if the brand doesn't cover the region in which you most travel.

    Pros of a single-chain hotel card

    • Single-chain hotel cards provide points in that chain's rewards program. You're likely to earn rewards points for using the card — particularly for purchases with the hotel company. These points can be redeemed for reward nights or other perks.
    • Single-chain hotel cardholders may be able to get preferential rates. When you book with your hotel card, you may be able to get a discount for stays at its linked hotel chain.
    • Fees are often lower. Because of their relative simplicity, single-chain hotel cards typically charge low or no annual fees.

    Cons of a single-chain hotel card

    • Rewards may not be as flexible to earn. Single-chain hotel credit cards tend to offer the most rewards points for spending with that chain. Other kinds of spending may be rewarded, too — but typically at a lower level.
    • Your reward redemption options may be limited. It's not just earning rewards that are limited with a single-chain hotel card. Often, you'll only be able to redeem your rewards with that hotel.

    Hotel group credit cards: best for travelers who like having options

    Recent decades have seen a wave of consolidation in the hotel industry. Today, many large hotel groups offer co-branded cards that offer perks at any of the hotels under their umbrella. And these groups can be massive: the largest among them have millions of rooms around the world.

    Pros of a hotel group card

    • You may be able to achieve elite membership status more quickly than with traditional credit cards. Some hotel group cards may elevate your status in hotel loyalty programs which could help you earn perks including room upgrades.
    • You gain additional flexibility in earning and redeeming points. Hotel group credit cards let you earn and redeem miles at any of their properties. Some large hotel groups have thousands of facilities around the world at a variety of amenity levels.
    • There are typically multiple card tiers. Large hotel groups generally offer a variety of cards, with higher-fee cards offering exclusive perks. If you frequently stay with one hotel group, you can likely find a linked credit card that fits your budget and your needs.

    Cons of a hotel group card

    • Your rewards are limited to the hotels in the group. While hotel group cards give you more options than a single-chain card, your rewards accruals and redemptions are limited to the properties in the group.
    • Annual fees are common. Many hotel group credit cards have an annual fee, which typically ranges from $100 to $500 — but some cards may charge even more.

    General travel credit cards: best for travelers who favor flexibility

    General travel credit cards allow you to earn points with all kinds of travel purchases, including airline tickets, train tickets, and cruise packages, in addition to hotel stays. But you'll typically earn fewer points for your hotel bookings than dedicated hotel cards afford you.

    Pros of a general travel credit card

    • You'll get rewarded for many kinds of travel activity. Hotel cards generally earn the most rewards on hotel spending. But general travel credit cards earn rewards for many different kinds of travel expenditures: plane tickets, hotel stays, car rentals, and more.
    • Your rewards can be used in different ways. You can typically redeem a general travel card's rewards points with all kinds of travel companies, not just hotels.
    • General travel cards empower those who shop around. General travel credit cards favor those who like flexibility. Book one night at one hotel chain and the next night at a different hotel chain: With a general travel card, both nights will earn rewards.
    • Foreign transaction fees are usually waived. Many travel credit cards come with no foreign transaction fees. That can mean big savings if you travel internationally.

    Cons of a general travel credit card

    • The rewards may be less generous than hotel card rewards. Frequent hotel guests may earn more in rewards when they book their stays on a hotel credit card. In addition, hotel reward redemptions often go further with a dedicated hotel card.
    • You may get fewer hotel perks than a dedicated hotel card. While co-branded hotel credit cards offer valuable perks like rewards nights and statement credits, general travel cards may offer these kinds of benefits — but specific reward levels will differ by card.

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