Whether you're a frequent traveler or getting ready to go on your first big vacation, using a hotel credit card will allow you to make the most of your trip.
What is a hotel credit card?
A hotel credit card features points and rewards that you can save up to redeem for travel perks, cash back and other options. The two different types of hotel credit cards are general travel cards and co-branded, hotel chain-specific credit cards.
What are the types of hotel credit cards?
Co-branded hotel credit cards (chain-specific)
A co-branded hotel credit card is a credit card that is usually issued by a credit card company in partnership with a hotel chain. Cards affiliated with hotel brands offer points and rewards that you can earn and use when staying at hotels within that chain. The types of perks offered may include hotel nights, hotel room upgrades, travel discounts and various other hotel perks. Additional spending you make while staying at the hotel or affiliated properties often allows you to earn more points when making purchases at the hotel.
General travel hotel credit cards
Unlike co-branded hotel credit cards, general travel credit cards earn rewards on travel-related purchases and may allow you to earn extra rewards for certain travel categories. What qualifies for travel category spending will depend on the card issuer's terms, but typically, spending with your card on hotels, flights and rental cars will allow you to earn reward points. These types of travel credit cards are not affiliated with any hotel brand in particular, giving you more flexibility when you spend on travel.
The difference between co-branded hotel credit cards, general travel credit cards and traditional credit cards
Co-branded hotel credit cards are affiliated with specific hotel brands, so they offer rewards related to their brand in addition to other categories. With co-branded credit cards, you may have opportunities to explore benefits that are exclusive to a specific hotel.
A general travel credit card does not offer rewards for a specific hotel brand. Instead, these cards can help you earn rewards and get perks from spending money throughout your vacation, such as purchases for dining, rental cars or flights. While this can give you more options in selecting a hotel or travel plans, general travel cards don't usually offer loyalty or reward programs designed for frequent customers of a specific hotel brand or chain.
Traditional credit cards can offer rewards, but not all of these are specific to hotels or travel. Using a traditional credit card will likely not have a higher earning rate for travel, but if you typically make non-travel related purchases, it may be a better option. You will still be able to redeem your points for travel or get cash back to use towards your next trip.
The benefits of using a hotel credit card when traveling
Rewards and perks
Having a hotel credit card can earn you some great rewards for traveling. By making purchases using your hotel credit card, you can earn points and save them to redeem for different perks. These perks vary between credit cards but can include discounted nights at hotels, along with other rewards including merchandise and travel deals.
If you sign up for a co-branded hotel credit card, you may become a member of the hotel's brand loyalty program. Besides the rewards you can save up and eventually redeem, some perks of being in the loyalty program can include late checkout, a free stay, room upgrades and complimentary breakfast.
Many hotel credit cards also offer a new cardmember bonus, also known as a sign-up bonus, in which you can receive bonus points, rewards or miles for spending a certain amount of money in the first few months. These offers are optional and may have specific rules and eligibility requirements.
When you have definite travel plans, opening up a new hotel credit card can allow you to put your hotel reservations on your card so you can start earning rewards or start earning toward the sign-up bonus soon as you start using the card.
What should you watch out for when choosing your hotel credit card?
When choosing your hotel credit card, check to see if the card has an annual fee. Many co-branded cards have low or no annual fees, or they may be higher than traditional credit cards. Before you sign up for a card with an annual fee, make sure that the cost of the fee is worth the value of any rewards you can get when using the card each year.
Sign-up offer spending requirements
Another factor to consider when finding the right hotel credit card is how much you have to spend to earn any sign-up bonuses. If you have a bigger spending budget per month, consider how much you plan to use the card to determine if you'll be able to meet the spending requirements to earn the bonus. If you spend less per month, you could get a card with lower spending requirements.
If you have new travel plans that you're aiming to put on a new hotel card, you may be able to coordinate to find the card that gets you to your bonus spending requirements on your first charge.
How to pick the best hotel credit card for you
Pick a card with the perks you want
To choose the best hotel credit card for you, you should first decide on what rewards and perks would benefit you the most. Think about what your preferences are when you go on a trip, what you spend your money on, and how much you spend each month.
Pick a card with your preferred hotel chain
Because hotel credit cards are associated with a particular brand or chain, choosing a co-branded card will give you benefits for staying at that hotel brand. If you have a certain hotel chain that you love, picking a card to match your favorite hotel brand is a no-brainer.
Pick a card for any hotel chain preference
If you do not have a hotel chain preference or like to switch up the hotels you stay at when on vacation, you should consider a general travel credit card.
Pick a card based on the points value
Whether you're looking to sign up for a hotel credit card affiliated with your favorite hotel brand or don't have a preference, you should find a card that earns points/rewards on categories of purchases you make. Compare the points values of different hotel credit cards to see how many points it will take to reach the rewards you want. If you're aiming to get a free night at a hotel, check to see how many points you would have to save up. If the amount you expect to spend earns enough reward points, then this card may be right for you.
Pick a card based on your travel frequency
Frequent travelers can get a higher point accumulation by booking through specific hotel credit cards. These cards allow you to earn points and redeem them for travel rewards. Hotel credit cards reap great benefits that can come in the form of travel discounts, cash, or a free night at your favorite hotel. Whatever type of traveler you are, you can find a hotel credit card that will save you money and score you some great deals down the line.