The Ultimate Guide to Hotel Rewards Programs and Hotel Credit Cards

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Last updated on August 23rd, 2023

Are you considering getting a hotel credit card? Or, maybe you already have one and are looking for tips on how to maximize your points or award redemptions. No matter what you are after, you’ll find it here in our ULTIMATE guide to hotel credit cards.

Why Choose a Hotel Credit Card?

One of the most popular uses for credit cards is booking vacations. Travel – and especially hotels – is expensive. Fortunately, there are loyalty programs that help customers earn rewards and book free nights. These programs also offer co-branded credit cards with some of the largest credit card issuers in the industry. These cards allow account holders to make purchases that earn additional rewards points per $1 spent– and may even offer extra perks during their stays. 

A hotel credit card may provide free nights as a welcome bonus, on account anniversaries, or for meeting spending requirements, provide perks like free breakfast, enhanced Wi-Fi, or late check-out, and offer other exclusive benefits not available to other regular customers. 

Here is a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of applying for a hotel credit card:

Pros Cons
Earn points you can use towards free night stays at select hotels. Points only apply to one hotel brand and affiliated programs.
Some hotel credit cards provide free nights as a welcome bonus, on account anniversaries, or for meeting spending requirements. You might need to pay an annual fee if you want to get the best rewards or hotel benefits.
Many cards offer complimentary elite tier status in the loyalty program. Limited award availability on some redemption options.
Hotel-specific perks, like lounge access, free high-speed Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast, upgrades, and more. Some hotel loyalty programs are inflexible on award bookings making it tough to get the value you want.

Which Hotels Offer Credit Cards?

You might be surprised how many co-branded hotel rewards card are on the market in the United States. If you can imagine a loyalty program, you can probably apply for a credit card for it – here are all the hotel loyalty programs that offer a US personal or business credit card offers:

Best Western Rewards guide ACaesars Rewards guide Choice Privileges guide Drury Rewards guide
Hilton Honors guide IHG One guide Marriott Boonvoy guide MGM Rewards guide
Radisson Rewards guide Sonesta TravelPass guide VOILA Rewards guide World of Hyatt guide
Wyndham Rewards guide

What Credit Score Do You Need to Get a Hotel Credit Card?

Hotel cards differ from other types of co-branded rewards credit cards in that there are no secured credit card options. Unlike airline cards, for instance, there are no hotel cards for people with bad or fair credit. A good credit score is a minimum to receive a hotel card. In reality, however, most card issuers require an excellent credit score.

An excellent credit score varies depending on the scoring model. According to FICO Score – the credit scoring model that more than 90% of issuers use – “excellent” is any score between 800 and 850.

The VantageScore model is the option commonly used scoring method. Under this model, an excellent credit score is between 781 and 850.

Tips for Raising Your Credit Score

If your credit score isn’t high enough to get a hotel card with great rates and fees just yet, don’t worry. Millions of Americans struggle with bad credit and low credit scores.

There are several steps you can take today to help raise your credit score, including:

① Check your credit score The first thing you should do is check your credit score to see where you stand. You might already know your credit score is bad, but how far down on the scale, does it go? Knowing how fast you can improve your credit from “bad” to “fair” is crucial to making a financial plan of attack.
② Get a credit card for subprime credit Part of boosting your credit score is increasing your use of credit. For those with bad credit, this may seem counter-intuitive. Fortunately, there are many unsecured credit cards for poor credit and secured cards that can help you repair your credit score.
③ Pay on time each month As seen in the scoring models, payment history is the biggest factor in your credit score. Because payment history is so important, paying your credit card bill on time each month is essential to boosting sub-prime credit. Missed payments stay on a credit report for seven years.
④ Keep your credit use low Credit utilization is as important as paying on time. Credit utilization shows lenders how you use your credit. Those who keep their credit use below 30% can expect their score to improve, while those who use less than 10% can expect a much faster score rise.

These steps are easy to implement and can show results in as little as a month. Realistically, however, these best practices may take three to six months before your score rises significantly.

What to Look for with Hotel Rewards Credit Cards

Card issuer features are credit card perks, benefits, and security protections specific to the bank or credit card type. American Express, Visa, and Mastercard all offer unique in-house features to cardholders. These features also vary depending on the level – or tier – of credit card in the payment network hierarchy.

Here are some of the more critical features to look out for when deciding on a co-branded hotel credit card:

① Find the hotel loyalty program that’s right for you One of the reasons why hotel rewards cards are so popular is that they savings across multiple brands under one hotel’s umbrella. If you prefer staying in a Marriott, for example, the Marriott Bonvoy program might be best for you.
② Sign-up bonuses Hotel credit cards often feature amazing welcome bonuses for new and successful applicants. It’s not uncommon to see sign-up bonuses of 100,000 points or more.
③ Flexibility of rewards Rewards flexibility is another critical consideration when it comes to this type of card. Many hotel rewards credit cards have fairly strict terms of redemption. These are typically for hotels within the hotel’s portfolio, or transfers to other partners, such as airline rewards programs.
④ Hotel perks Before you apply for a hotel rewards credit card always be check out the benefits you can expect from card membership. The higher the annual fee, the better the perks. The same rationale applies to other perks, like lounge access at airports.
⑤ Consider another rewards card Because co-branded credit cards feature more restrictive reward redemptions than proprietary rewards cards from banks like Citi, Chase, or Amex.

Other Things to Look for

Annual Fee

Many co-branded credit cards come with “free” and “premium” versions. Premium versions come with an annual fee of between $50 and $495, with an average yearly charge around $95 (such as the impressive Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card).

Free versions are also known as no annual fee hotel cards. These cards offer rewards at a lower rate than premium cards but without a yearly membership fee – with one prominent example being the Hilton Honors American Express Card.

Should you apply for a no annual fee hotel card or opt for the premium version?

No annual fee credit cards offer a hassle-free way to expedite your earnings within your favorite hotel loyalty program. Since they don’t require any out-of-pocket fees, these types of cards are perfect for folks who may not travel enough to warrant paying for hotel-related perks.

The easiest way to determine whether applying for a card with an annual fee is right for you is to:

  1. Examine your current traveling habits
  2. Check if your spending levels match the minimums that the premium card requires to qualify for bonus points after spending that amount in the first months of card membership.

How to downgrade to a no annual fee version of a hotel credit card

An alternative reason why you might consider a hotel card with no annual fee is that your travel needs are changing. Whether you were traveling for business or pleasure, if you’re not flying to destinations as often, you may find no longer need the premium paid version of a hotel credit card or that you are unable to take advantage of the perks the card offers you.

If you find yourself in this boat, downgrading to a no-annual fee card is an excellent alternative to closing a credit card – the account stays open (which is good for your average age of credit). Still, you are no longer obligated to pay the costs of the premium card.

Whether you want to upgrade or downgrade your credit card, simply call the card issuer and let them know. The one caveat, however, is that you may not be eligible to earn the card’s signup bonus to which you are switching.

No Foreign Transaction Fees

If a significant source of your credit card bonus points come from a hotel stay or travel-related purchases that are generated abroad, then choosing a hotel credit card with no foreign transaction fees is a necessity. Credit cards with this feature allow international travelers to work – or play – and swipe outside of the United States without any penalty charges.

What are foreign transaction fees?

Foreign transaction fees are charges from card issuers for transactions at non-U.S. retailers. However, these fees occur for more than physically paying with your credit card overseas. Foreign transaction fees include online purchases to foreign companies, ATMs, or currency conversion fees.

Currency conversion fees occur when the payment networks (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, etc.) charge the card issuer (Capital One, Chase, Wells Fargo, etc.) a processing fee. Typically, 1% of each U.S. dollar spent. While currency conversion fees are not the same as foreign transaction fees, they are often included together on a credit card statement.

Tips for Using Credit Cards Abroad:

  • Be careful of foreign ATMs as they sometimes carry an international surcharge in addition to the ATM fee
  • Notify your card issuer before your departure, the unfamiliar location could be flagged as suspicious activity and potentially cause your card to be canceled – leaving you financially stranded in a foreign country
  • Check whether your card allows you to earn rewards for international purchases

Targeted Offers

Credit card companies, as well as hotel and airline loyalty programs, often offer exclusive promotions to their customers that are invite-only. Card issuers offer these discounts on criteria like credit history, spending habits, and geographic location.

The metrics used to determine who gets what offer vary by the credit card company, but unless you have an excellent credit score, clean credit history, and are actively using revolving credit (and are a member of the rewards program that’s being targeted), you may not see a targeted offer in your mailbox.

Hotel Terms & Tips

Early Check-in and Late Check-out

Flexibility is important when traveling, as itineraries can change due to flight delays, traffic, or bad weather. Missing a flight or a connection, or a train that’s running late can mean you miss the window you’ve scheduled to check-in at a hotel; perhaps you spent the evening enjoying a few drinks, or after celebrating a friend’s wedding and you got back to your room.

Common Hotel Check-In Policies

On average, hotel guests can expect to arrive at their hotel and check-in to the room they’ve booked beginning at 3 or 4 pm. Hotels typically require guests to vacate the room they are in by noon on the day they are scheduled to check out, and each room needs to be cleaned and “turned over” by the hotel staff to ensure the next occupant (you) receives a room up to the hotel’s standards.

When you arrive at your hotel before your scheduled check-in time, you’ll likely want to check in to your room so you can drop off your bags and relax a bit. Unless you’ve called ahead, odds are you will not be able to access your room immediately.

Although you can leave your bags with the hotel concierge and explore your destination while you wait for your room to be ready, you’ll need to return at your scheduled time in order to get into your room. This inconvenience can be avoided with proper planning – and by leveraging hotel loyalty programs, along with co-branded credit cards.

When you join a hotel rewards program, either via a co-branded credit card or directly, you open the door to a variety of suite, exclusive benefits not available to the average customer – and depending on the program, early check-in (when available) is at the top of that list.

Common Hotel Check-Out Policies

As mentioned above, noon is a standard check-out time with many hotels, although technically guests will notice that unless they request a later check-out time they will be asked to turn in their keys as early as 10 am. A late check-out time is not standard fare for most hotel guests and must be requested at check-in. However, participation in hotel loyalty programs often will grant members automatic late check-out times as a perk not available to guests who are not a member of the rewards program.

If you have a co-branded credit card that offers rewards points for spending money, you may also be eligible for a late check-out time, if the hotel whose card you use offers it as part of their loyalty program. Check the fine print for your co-branded credit card for more details.

Tips for getting room upgrades

There are many strategies that travelers employ to score a free room upgrade; sometimes, all you need to do is ask nicely! Fortune favors the bold – hotels often reserve special treatment for guests who are polite when requesting their upgrade, and it never hurts to ask – if you don’t ask for a room upgrade, odds are you won’t automatically be given the keys to that penthouse suite.

While it pays to be proactive, your best bet when looking for a room upgrade is to participate in that hotel’s loyalty program.

Some hotels will automatically bump you up to a higher room category based on your membership to their rewards program, while others allow you to cash in points in exchange for a nicer room.

Free Breakfast

The only thing better than waking up in a hotel swathed in the buttery soft sheets with sunlight poking through the window in a beautiful new place is starting your journey with a delicious free breakfast provided by your hotel.

Some loyalty programs offer  complimentary breakfasts. While this perk may not be explicitly offered as one of the card’s features, many co-branded hotel cards provide automatic membership upgrades within their loyalty programs. Here’s who offers free breakfast:

Brand Eligiblity
Best Western Best Western doesn’t require a specific level of membership to score breakfast. Enjoy your first meal of the day on the house whenever you book at a Best Western breakfast. Their options typically include an assortment of pastries, cereals, and oatmeal, as well as hot breakfast options such as eggs and waffles.
Drury Rewards When it comes to making their customers feel at home, Drury Hotels does more than talk a good talk. Their trademark ‘The Extras Aren’t Extra®’ freebies include a host of hotel perks that don’t require a credit card or a specific membership level in their reward programs to receive free hot breakfast with every stay.
Hilton Honors Gold status required. To earn the Gold level of membership within the Hilton Honors membership program requires either 20 stays within a calendar year; 40 nights within a calendar year; or 75,000 Hilton Honors Base Points within a calendar year
IHG One Sadly, even elite IHG cardholders and customers aren’t guaranteed complimentary breakfast through the IHG loyalty program. The Intercontinental Ambassador tier, which can be purchased for a flat rate of $200, offers complimentary breakfast for stays in Greater China – and unless your travels frequently take you to Asia, this membership perk would be hard to take advantage of. However, IHG’s Holiday Inn Express and Staybridge Suites offer free breakfast to all patrons regardless of the length of stay or membership level.
Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status required. Elite status is the upper mid-tier level of the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program. Achieving this status is refreshingly straightforward; however, it does require 50 nights per year to reach.
Radisson Rewards Platinum status required, which requires a minimum number of either 60 nights within a year or 30 stays within a year
World of Hyatt Only the most frequent of Hyatt hotel-goers are eligible to receive complimentary breakfast as Globalist status is the 4th and highest tier of World of Hyatt membership. Earning Globalist status requires either 60 qualifying nights or 100,000 Base Points per year
Wyndham Rewards Sadly, no level of elite status or the sheer number of hotel reservations will yield free breakfast within the Wyndham rewards program. Fortunately, several Wyndham hotels brands offer this amenity for merely making a reservation.

What Are Hotel Rewards Points Worth? 

The value of a hotel card is only as great as the worth of the points they offer. Here are the latest point valuations for the major hotel loyalty programs:

These valuations change depending on how you redeem points or which partners you choose to transfer points to.  For more information on loyalty program partners, keep browsing to explore partners with the leading loyalty programs.

Browse Our Ultimate Hotel Guides

Looking for a comprehensive guide to your favorite hotel loyalty program? Chances are the we have it! Browse our Ultimate Guides:

Best Western Rewards guide ACaesars Rewards guide Choice Privileges guide Drury Rewards guide
Hilton Honors guide IHG One guide Marriott Boonvoy guide MGM Rewards guide
Radisson Rewards guide Sonesta TravelPass guide VOILA Rewards guide World of Hyatt guide
Wyndham Rewards guide

Editorial Disclosure – The opinions expressed on's reviews, articles, and all other content on or relating to the website are solely those of the content’s author(s). These opinions do not reflect those of any card issuer or financial institution, and editorial content on our site has not been reviewed or approved by these entities unless noted otherwise. Further, lists credit card offers that are frequently updated with information believed to be accurate to the best of our team's knowledge. However, please review the information provided directly by the credit card issuer or related financial institution for full details.

About: Cory Santos
Cory Santos

Cory is the senior credit card editor at BestCards, specializing in everything credit card-related. He’s worked extensively with credit cards and other personal finance topics, including nearly five years at BestCards. Cory’s extensive knowledge is an essential part of the BestCards experience, helping readers to live their best financial lives with up-to-date insights and comprehensive coverage of all facets of the credit card space, including market trends, rewards guides, credit advice, and comprehensive credit card reviews.

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