Guide to Choosing the Right Hotel Credit Card

By Jackie Lam · March 15, 2023 · 9 minute read

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Guide to Choosing the Right Hotel Credit Card

A hotel credit card is a type of credit card that’s co-branded with a major hotel group. They work just like any other credit card, and you can use them to make purchases anywhere that a particular credit card network is accepted. The main difference is that when you use the card for purchases, you earn points, which allow you to save money on hotels. You can redeem those points for free hotel stays and additional perks with that hotel group.

Deciding which hotel credit card is right for you entails more than just finding a hotel you like. To know if a hotel credit card is worth it, you’ll want to know what to look for in a hotel credit card and the pros and cons involved, as well as how redemption rates can vary.

What Are Hotel Credit Cards?

As mentioned, a hotel credit card is a type of card that’s offered through a partnership between a credit card issuer, such as a bank or credit card network, and a major hotel. Hotel credit cards are considered open-loop cards, which means you can use the card to make purchases anywhere that type of card is accepted. This is in contrast to a private label credit card, which you can only use at a particular store.

Hotel credit cards feature a rewards program, which allows you to earn points for purchases made with the card. You can use the points you earn toward stays at hotels, allowing you to save money on hotels. These cards may also come with automatic elite status, which might include free wifi, extended checkout, and complimentary breakfast.

Keep in mind that hotel credit cards are different from a hotel loyalty program, which incentivizes guests to stay at hotels. In return for their stays, guests can earn rewards like free nights and complimentary meals. Hotel credit cards allow you to earn rewards more quickly by making purchases on your card.

How Do Hotel Credit Cards Work?

Hotel credit cards operate how credit cards work usually. You’re given a credit limit and can use your card to make purchases to that limit. You can pay your balance in full each month, or you can opt to pay it back over time, though this will lead to interest charges accruing.

The main draw of hotel credit cards is that there’s a rewards program and various extra perks offered. You rack up credit card points for using your card, and then can redeem them for free hotel rooms. Think of it like the hotel version of an airline credit card, which allows you to earn credit card miles for flights.

Each hotel credit card has a different rewards program and awards points at different rates. The amount you earn hinges on the hotel’s rewards policy as well as your card’s tier. That’s because the same card can have different tiers, with higher tiers enabling you to earn rewards faster.

What to Look for in a Hotel Credit Card

With so many hotel credit cards to choose from, here’s what you’ll want to pay close attention to when researching and comparing your options:

•   Hotel brand: As hotel credit cards only allow you to redeem credit card points for that particular hotel or group of hotels, which major hotel group the card is co-branded with is important. Where are their hotels located, and how many hotels are there? Can you redeem points for any of their hotels? Are there blackout dates?

•   Rewards program: You’ll want to look at the earning rate for the rewards program. Also investigate where there other perks, such as automatic upgrades, complimentary wifi and breakfast, and extended checkout. Some hotel credit cards even feature an anniversary bonus.

•   Sign-up bonus: Some cards feature an attractive sign-up bonus. For instance, you might earn a free night’s stay for simply signing up, or points if you spend a certain amount within the first few months after opening your account.

•   Additional perks: Beyond the basics, a hotel credit card might offer extras like credit card travel insurance and airport lounge access.

•   Credit card tier: As mentioned, a single hotel credit card might have several tiers to choose from. The higher the tier, the quicker you can earn points, and the more opportunities to earn points. Plus, higher tiers usually come with more perks. However, higher-tier credit cards also can be harder to qualify for. You might need a stronger credit score, higher income, and lower debt-to-income ratio than you would to qualify for a lower-tier card. Plus, a higher annual fee might apply.

•   Annual percentage rate (APR): If you plan on carrying a balance on your card, it’s particularly important to understand the APR of the card. Further, look at the terms and fees. What will you be charged for a late payment? Are there foreign transaction fees? Some credit cards, such as SoFi’s credit card, charge no foreign transaction fees.

•   Fees: If the hotel credit card comes with an annual fee, will you use it enough to offset the fee? Take the time to crunch the numbers before committing.

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Advantages of Hotel Credit Cards

When weighing whether hotel credit cards are worth it, consider some of these potential advantages:

•   Faster rewards earning: Compared to a hotel’s loyalty program, you’ll earn points faster with a hotel credit card. Plus, with a hotel credit card, there are usually more opportunities to earn rewards, as you rack points whenever you purchase something with your card. You might also earn additional points for booking at the hotel using your card.

•   Additional perks: As mentioned, a hotel credit card might come with added benefits, such as free internet, extended checkout, complimentary breakfast, and room upgrades.

•   Travel-related benefits: You might be able to take advantage of trip protection, credits that you can use to pay for room service or spa treatments, and credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

•   Automatic upgrade to elite status: If a card offers an automatic upgrade to their hotel program’s elite status, you might be privy to room upgrades, credits toward room service, or concierge services.

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Disadvantages of Hotel Credit Cards

Here are some downsides of hotel credit cards to consider:

•   Limited uses: Because hotel credit cards are co-branded with a specific hotel brand, you can only use the rewards and perks when you stay at that particular hotel. Plus, there might be blackout dates, meaning you can’t use your benefits on those particular days, which are usually during times of high demand.

•   Possible annual fee: A card might come with an annual fee. The higher the tier, the higher the annual fee, if one applies. However, there’s a chance you could dodge this by focusing your search on no annual fee credit cards.

Who Should Open a Hotel Credit Card?

Wondering if a hotel credit card is worth it? If you’re someone who travels frequently and enjoys staying at major hotels as opposed to an Airbnb, then a hotel credit card could be a good idea. You’ll want to make sure you use the card enough to rack up points accordingly, and understand all the perks so you can make the most of them.

If the card comes with an annual fee, determine first whether the cash value of your points is enough to justify the cost. This could influence whether opening a hotel credit card makes sense.

How Redemptions and Earning Rates Vary on Hotel Credit Cards

The “earn and burn” rates for this category of rewards credit cards can vary greatly. Some offer 0.5 cents a dollar, while others over 5 cents a dollar and upwards. Plus, higher-tiered cards typically make it easier for you to earn points more quickly.

As no two hotel credit cards are alike, before deciding on a hotel credit card, look carefully at how you can earn points and how many points you can earn for certain types of purchases. By looking into how you can redeem your rewards and if there are any restrictions, you can also figure out how to make the most of your card.

How to Find a Hotel Credit Card

You might receive a hotel credit card offer via mail or in your email inbox. But your options aren’t limited to offers you’re preapproved for. Rather, the easiest way to find a hotel credit card is by way of an internet search. You can start by searching for your favorite hotel brands to see if they have a co-branded credit card available.

From there, you’ll want to narrow it down to a few options and compare how those hotel credit cards stack up against one another.

The Takeaway

Hotel credit cards are a category of rewards credit cards that allow you to earn hotel points through your spending on the card. You can then use those points toward hotel stays and other perks at the hotel chain affiliated with the card. When shopping around, you’ll find that there are a slew of options for hotel credit cards. It’s important to review details like the card’s rewards programs and other perks, as well as the APR and fees involved.

In some cases, after weighing the advantages and drawbacks of hotel credit cards, you might decide a hotel credit card isn’t worth it for you. Instead, a more general rewards credit card could be a better fit. The SoFi Credit Card, for instance, allows you to earn cash-back rewards on all eligible purchases that you can then use to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt.


Does my marital status matter in a hotel credit card?

By law, credit card companies cannot consider your marital status when determining whether to offer you a credit card. By extension, whether you’re married or not doesn’t affect your odds of getting approved for a hotel credit card, nor should it impact your terms, rates, or benefits.

How much is charged by hotels on your credit card?

A hotel might charge your credit card when you book a room, check in, or at checkout. When your card is charged might depend on how you made your reservation and the hotel’s policies. If in doubt, read up on the hotel or booking platform’s policies.

Is your credit card charged when you check out?

If you’re booking for a prepaid stay, your credit card will be charged at the time you make your reservation. If it’s a standard booking, then the hotel will charge your credit card at checkout. Any incidentals — think room service, massage treatments, and meals at the hotel — will be charged at checkout.

Photo credit: iStock/Prostock-Studio

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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