MTM101: Points And Miles For Beginners – Part 4: Hotel Credit Cards
In Part 4 of our Points And Miles For Beginners series, we will look at the topic of “hotel credit cards”. The credit cards we’ve talked about in parts 1-3 function a little differently than do hotel credit cards, so in this article we will explore hotel credit cards. What hotel loyalty programs offer credit cards? What things should you look for in a good welcome offer from a hotel credit card? You’ll see that not all cards are created equal, and not all hotel loyalty programs are created equal, either.
Recap From Parts 1-3
- In Part 1, we understood the gist of this hobby. We got our credit profile updated, we understand how credit works, and we answered some common questions.
- In Part 2, we applied for our first credit card. After it came, we activated it, enrolled for whatever perks it comes with, and now we are using it. We also created a system to stay organized and track all the information about our new credit cards.
- In Part 3, we talked about business credit cards and what counts as a business. We also signed up for loyalty program accounts with airlines and hotel chains, since we’re going to start using those for our free travel soon.
Most people think of free flights when they start earning points and miles. That part is rather obvious. Today, now that we’ve gotten our feet wet, we’ll look at the other side of the coin: hotel credit cards.
Hotel Loyalty Programs
Nearly every hotel chain has a loyalty program. There are a few exceptions, such as the ultra-luxurious Four Seasons, but the majority have some kind of loyalty program. Stay here enough times, you’ll become an ‘elite’ member and get perks. That’s how it works. Over time, many hotel chains were purchased by larger chains and formed mega-chains. There are other chains as well, but these are the biggest and most common in this hobby.
Because all of these brands are owned by Hilton, any points in your Hilton Honors account can be redeemed for any of these brands. Staying a night at any of these brands counts as staying a night with Hilton, in case you are trying to earn elite status or participate in a promotion. Their rewards program is called Hilton Honors. Hilton hotel credit cards are offered by American Express. When booking stays at Hilton with your points, you get the 5th night free after paying for 4 nights.
Hyatt is another big player in the points and miles world. As with Hilton, they have numerous brands that belong to them. Just like Hilton, your points in the World of Hyatt are valid at any of them, and your stays from any of the brands count as staying at a Hyatt property. Something interesting about Hyatt is what they call the “brand explorer” perk, which is worth checking out. Only Chase offers Hyatt credit cards.
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG)
IHG has a wide range of hotel brands, from luxurious to bargain. As with others, you can earn status and use points across their entire portfolio. If using points for a free stay, the 4th night is free after using points for the first 3 nights (must be 1 stay of 4 nights).
Marriott has the largest footprint of the hotel chains and numerous brands to its name. You can use your points and free stay certificates at any of the brands. They have credit cards offered from Chase and American Express. A great perk of Marriott’s program is that you get the 5th night free when booking 4 nights with points.
Comparing The Different Hotel Chains
Each hotel program has its own unique perks. Hyatt has the ‘brand explorer’ which rewards you with a free night for staying at 5 different brands in their portfolio. It’s also a favorite brand of many in this hobby, since you can easily rack up their points and free nights to earn elite status. Hilton has some great hotels and also lower-end options that don’t require a lot of points. With multiple Hilton credit cards, it’s easy to get a bunch of points and elite status. Marriott is a love it or hate it for many in this hobby. You can find their hotels pretty much everywhere, it can be easy to get elite status, but they’ve made some very anti-consumer changes in the past few years. Here’s Mark’s evaluation of what he thinks about hotel chains.
The biggest takeaway is thinking about places you want to go and understanding what hotels are in that area. You can use tools like awardmapper.com to see all the hotels in a city. That doesn’t tell you if there are rooms available, but it’s a starting point. The other thing that’s important to know is that 1 point isn’t the same as 1 point. You might find a Hyatt room at their lower-end hotel for 5,000 points. Across the street, maybe there’s a Hilton for 10,000 points. 5 isn’t better than 10 in every scenario, because hotel chains hand out their points in different ways. Do some research and some math before you book the room. It should be obvious that you’ll spend more points for a nicer room (such as a suite) at a fancier property (like a Ritz-Carlton).
The Best Hotel Credit Cards
Now that we’ve looked at hotel loyalty programs, here are the best hotel credit cards for each of the 3 major chains we talked about. Remember that each bank has its own application rules, so be sure to follow those when applying.
Business Hotel Credit Cards
Hilton Honors Business Card from American Express
The Hilton Honors Business Card has an annual fee of $95 and a welcome offer that should give you multiple free nights at a variety of Hilton hotels.
- Welcome offer: Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $3,000 within your first 3 months of card membership.
- Earning structure: Get 12X points for purchases directly from Hilton. Earn 6X points at U.S. gas stations and on shipping purchases. Get 6X points per dollar at restaurants, on rental cars, and on flights. Earn 1X on everything else.
- Key perks: Automatic Gold status with Hilton. 10 free visits with a Priority Pass membership. Earn a free weekend night stay after spending $15,000 on the card in a year.
Marriott Bonvoy Business Card from American Express
The Marriott Bonvoy Business Card has an annual fee of $125 and a welcome offer that should give you multiple free nights at a variety of Marriott brand hotels.
- Welcome offer: Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after you spend $3,000 within your first 3 months of card membership.
- Earning structure: Get 6X points for purchases directly from Marriott. Earn 4X points at U.S. restaurants, gas stations, shipping, and wireless phone providers. Earn 2X on everything else.
- Key perks: Automatic Silver Elite status with Marriott. Free night certificate every year when you renew the card, and earn another after spending $60,000 on the card in a year. 15 Elite Night Credits toward earning status, which can be stacked together with the credits from having a personal card. Use this as a shortcut to top-tier status.
Unfortunately, Hyatt does not have a business credit card.
Personal Hotel Credit Cards
All major hotel chains have a personal hotel credit card. Also, there are others beyond the major chains highlighted in this article.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
The Hilton Honors Aspire Card has an annual fee of $450 and comes with a mountain of perks.
- Welcome offer: Earn 150,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of having the card.
- Earning structure: Get 14X points for purchases directly from Hilton. Earn 7X points on travel and dining. Get 3X points on everything else.
- Key perks: Automatic Hilton Diamond status. Free weekend night certificate every year when you renew the card. $250 Hilton resort statement credit. $250 airline fee credit. $100 credit for spend at Hilton properties. Priority Pass unlimited membership. Temporary perks during 2020, as well.
IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card has an annual fee of $89 and falls under the Chase 5/24 rule.
- Welcome offer: Earn 125,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of having the card.
- Earning structure: Get 10X points for purchases directly from IHG hotels. Earn 2X points at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants. Get 1X on everything else.
- Key perks: Anniversary night certificate each year you pay the annual fee (capped at 40,000 points). Platinum status automatically. Up to a $100 credit for TSA Precheck or Global Entry every 4 years
World of Hyatt Credit Card from Chase
The Word of Hyatt Credit Card has an annual fee of $95 and falls under the Chase 5/24 rule.
- Welcome offer: Earn 25,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of having the card. Earn another 25,000 points if you spend a total of $6,000 within 6 months of opening the account.
- Earning structure: Get 4X points for purchases directly from Hyatt. Earn 2X points at restaurants, on airfare, and on transportation, plus fitness and gyms. Get 1X on everything else.
- Key perks: Automatic Discoverist status with Hyatt. Free night certificate every year when you renew the card. 5 nights of credits toward earning status. Earn a free night certificate if you spend $15,000 on the card in a year.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card from Chase
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card has an annual fee of $95 and falls under the Chase 5/24 rule.
- Welcome offer: Earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after you spend $3,000 within your first 3 months of card membership.
- Earning structure: Get 6X points for purchases directly from Marriott. Earn 2X on everything else.
- Key perks: Automatic Silver Elite status with Marriott. Free night certificate every year when you renew the card. Receive 15 Elite Night Credits toward status, which you can stack with the credits from having a Marriott business credit card. Use this as a shortcut to top-tier status.
What’s Special Here?
These look like credit cards, just like we’ve been talking about. What’s special here? There are a few unique things I want to point out about hotel credit cards.
- You probably don’t need more than 1 room. With airplane tickets, each person needs a ticket. Points disappear quickly with airline tickets. If you’ve got 3 friends or a couple or a family, you might need just 1 room at a hotel. You can really stretch your hotel points by staying at lower-end properties, sharing a room, and looking for places with extra beds, fold-out couches, etc.
- You can quickly achieve status using hotel credit cards. If you’re interested in free room upgrades, free parking, free breakfast and other perks that come from hotel elite status, each program has its own path. Some hotel credit cards even give you status automatically. That being said…
- It doesn’t make sense for both of you to have status with the same hotel chain. Unless you and others in your family consistently travel alone and really want those perks from hotel elite status, there’s not much reason to chase status for the same hotel brand. You’re probably better served by 1 of you having status with chain A and the other with chain B. Then, whichever hotel you’re staying at, put the reservation in the name of the person with the higher status (you can probably share your points with each other, too!).
Don’t Forget The Business Cards!
As we mentioned last time, those who are eligible for business credit cards can keep their “number of new accounts” low and can even remain under Chase’s 5/24 rule for longer by taking advantage of business credit cards. By getting the personal and business version of a hotel credit card, you can quickly rack up points to use for a great vacation.
Final Thoughts On Hotel Credit Cards
Getting somewhere with free flights is only part of the vacation. In this article, we looked at getting a free place to stay by understanding hotel credit cards. We talked about some basics of the 3 biggest hotel chains in this hobby and also looked at a few of the credit cards they offer.
Homework for next time
This one is the first homework that’s actually fun: start thinking about where you’d like to go on the first free trip with your points and miles.
Obviously, make sure it’s realistic. You’re not going to fly all of your cousins first class to Bora Bora now that you have a few credit cards, but start thinking about what you/your family really want. What do you want out of this hobby? What trip would you like to take? 5 days together at Disney World? Go to Hawaii for your first time? Visit grandparents far away that you haven’t seen in a long time?
Think about what you’d like to do, and we’ll look at how to start planning a trip in the next session. See you then!