You can rack up points with hotel cards much the same way as you can collect airline miles with airline cards. Pay with your hotel card for gas, dining and groceries, and your next vacation hotel stay might be free.
And if you’re the type of traveler who lives out of your suitcase (like I often do), points on your hotel card are just gravy compared to the savings and perks you can get as a cardholder.
Let me count the ways hotel credit cards and hotel loyalty cards (you get even more points when you pack both) reward cardholders with big savings.
1. Everyday spending leads to free stays.
Hotel stays aren’t cheap. It’s difficult to book a basic room in any metro area for less than $100 a night – and that’s at a budget chain and before taxes. If you want to stay in a premium hotel or resort, you’re looking at double or triple that price or more – especially in peak seasons.
Here’s how savvy Utah traveler Kwin Peterson used his hotel card to cut his costs for a hotel in pricey New York City, where room rates sometimes are as high as those skyscrapers.
“On our most recent trip we wanted a Manhattan hotel close to Chinatown and Little Italy,” Peterson says. “We spent three nights at the Indigo Hotel Lower East Side (rack rate $450 per night) for free.” Peterson says.
To get two free nights, Peterson used a combination of points earned with his IHG Rewards Club Select credit card from Chase and taking advantage of online hotel promotions. The third night he covered with the annual free night certificate he gets as an IHG cardholder. With tax, this stay would have been $1,500 out of Peterson’s pocket.
2. A free night’s stay at sign-up and sometimes annually.
With most hotel cards, the sign-up bonus if you meet the minimum spend is a heap of points that can get you a free night’s hotel stay or at least take a chunk out of your stay at that hotel group’s properties.
As an annual bonus on your card anniversary, many hotel credit cards, including the Hyatt credit card and Marriott Rewards Premier card, also offer a certificate for a free night’s stay. These free nights often can be redeemed at properties that cost hundreds of dollars more than the annual fee you pay to keep the hotel card in your wallet.
3. Automatic upgrade to elite status.
While nearly every airline card offers priority boarding and free bag check privileges to cardholders, not a single airline credit card offers free elite status in their loyalty program. Hotel credit cards do this.
In most cases, the simple act of carrying a co-branded hotel card makes you elite in their respective loyalty program. If you have the Hilton Honors Surpass card from American Express, for example, you’re automatically upgraded to Hilton Honors Gold – this is the second-highest level of Hilton status and normally reserved for guests who stay 40 nights a year at Hilton properties.
This gives you all the same benefits of the road warrior who actually spends that many days in the Hilton: Free premium Wi-Fi, late checkout, room upgrades, access to executive floors, free breakfast and hotel club lounges in many cases. The cost of free breakfast alone for two people in a city like London or New York can save you $50 or more a day.
4. Hotel credit card + hotel loyalty card = even more points!
With some hotel cards, you’ll score earn even more points if you have the hotel group’s loyalty card.
For example, with the Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard, you earn 10 points per dollar on Best Western stays, but that jumps to 20 points per dollar if you combine your hotel card with your Best Western Rewards loyalty card.
Meanwhile, with the First National Bank La Quinta Rewards Visa, you earn 5 points per dollar spent on hotel stays, but that jumps to up to 17 points per dollar when combined with La Quinta’s rewards loyalty program.
5. Some hotel cards make it easy to transfer points to airline miles.
Should you find you have a haul of hotel points with no plans to use them, you have options.
If you earn points in the Starwood Hotels SPG loyalty program, for example, you can transfer your hotel points to your choice of more than 30 airlines! With the Club Carlson Rewards Visa Signature card from U.S. Bank, you can transfer your hotel points to 20-plus airlines.
Once you see how hotels reward their credit card holders, you might put more of your everyday spending on your hotel card and your next stay may be free. Note that with many hotel cards, you earn bonus points when you use your card to pay for certain purchases, such as car rentals, gas or dining. And with some hotel cards, you’ll get discounts off the price of any booking and sometimes you can pay with points and cash, too.
Vacation or romantic getaway, anyone?
See related: 5 tips for choosing the right hotel card, Our three best hotel cards of 2017, How card travel insurance can save you bucks, headaches, Our reviews of hotel credit cards