Should you get a hotel credit card?

Hotel cards can offer great perks with a certain brand, but don’t offer general travel rewards. (iStock)

Hotel cards are travel credit cards issued by a bank that’s co-branded with a major hotel brand, such as Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton or World of Hyatt. These cards function the same as any other credit card, but they offer the chance to earn free hotel stays and get some extra perks every time you earn hotel points.

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If you’re thinking about switching to a hotel credit card, here’s what to consider.

Is it worth getting a hotel credit card?

As with any credit card, there are both benefits and drawbacks. Some advantages to earning hotel credit cards (including hotel reward points) include:

  • Free nights: You’ll earn points on every purchase you make with the card that you can use to book free stays with your favorite hotel brand. Hotel cards also often provide sign-up bonuses and extra rewards on certain purchases. Some even give you a free anniversary night’s stay every year when you renew your card membership.
  • Elite status benefits: Most hotel?cards come with automatic elite status, which can come in handy if you travel often. Benefits can vary depending on the hotel loyalty program and the level of status your card offers, but perks can include late checkout, room upgrades, free Wi-Fi and breakfast?and more.
  • Other travel perks: Some hotel cards also offer other travel-related benefits, such as trip insurance, resort credits, airline fee credits and airport lounge access.

If you're interested solely in travel perks, then you should check out some of the top travel credit card offerings out there. Financial marketplace Credible can break down some of the best cards in terms of flexible points and miles.

If you're in it simply for the rewards, Credible can help you compare the best rewards credit cards and find the best perks — from earning miles, cash back, points and more — within minutes.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO APPLY FOR A CREDIT CARD?

That said, hotel cards aren’t for everyone. Here are some potential reasons to think twice about getting one:

  • Inflexible rewards: Most hotel rewards programs offer a wide variety of rewards redemption options, but you typically won’t get much value unless you use your points to book free hotel stays. If you’re hoping for more flexibility to use rewards for flights, rental cars and other travel expenses, hotel cards aren’t a great fit.
  • Annual fees: Not all hotel cards charge annual fees, but most of them do. If you can use your card’s free anniversary night every year, you can usually recoup that cost. But if you’re generally fee-averse, it may not be worth the stress.

CREDIT CARD ANNUAL FEES CAN UNLOCK BETTER BENEFITS: HERE'S HOW IT WORKS

Who should open one?

Hotel cards are best suited for people who spend a lot of time in hotels. For example, business travelers can supplement the points and benefits they’re already earning on their stays with the rewards program and perks offered by a hotel credit card.

It may also be worth considering one if you already have a card that offers general travel rewards, but you want to take advantage of the perks hotel cards can provide. Carrying multiple credit cards can help you maximize the benefits of each one. You can use Credible to compare multiple cards at once, ensuring you find one that fits your needs.

CREDIT CARD CASH BACK VS. POINTS: WHICH IS BETTER?

However, if you don’t yet have a travel card and want flexible redemption options, such as the chance to use points to pay for hotels plus flights, rental cars, cruises and other types of travel, hotel cards might not be the right choice for you.

How to pick the best hotel credit card

There’s no single best hotel rewards program or credit card out there for everyone, so it’s important to consider a few card details before you apply:

  • Your credit score: Most hotel cards require good or excellent credit, which typically means a FICO score of 670 or higher. If your credit score is below that mark, work on improving your credit before you start shopping around.
  • Your travel plans: Some hotel brands have a wide global footprint, and others don’t. For example, Marriott has over 7,000 properties worldwide, while Hyatt has roughly 900. Depending on where you plan to travel, one hotel brand may give you more options than others.
  • Your preferences: If you already have a favorite hotel brand, it may make sense to get a card with that brand, so you can cement your loyalty and get rewarded for it. The best hotel credit card offers also come with huge bonuses, which can give you a head start on your earning.

It’s also important to consider whether you’re willing to pay an annual fee and how much. Most hotel cards charge under $100 per year, but some charge several hundreds of dollars. The premium — or ultimate rewards — cards can provide enough perks to make up for the annual fee, but only if you travel regularly enough to maximize them.

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