How to Stay for Free with a Hotel Credit Card
Dreaming of a free vacation stay? Here is how to earn a free stay with a hotel credit card using your reward points.
By Mike Faden | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
4 Min Read | January 17, 2020 in Travel
As you spend with a hotel credit card, if you are enrolled in the hotel program, you can earn points that you may be able to redeem for free stays and other perks at that hotel company’s properties (certain resorts have fees that may apply).
Some of the best hotel credit cards also provide benefits like additional free nights, room upgrades, and airport lounge access.
Hotel credit cards generally award the most points for spending at their properties, and in specific other retail categories; some also offer substantial sign-up bonuses.
There’s no denying that hotels offer unique attractions, even amid a growing choice of “sharing economy” accommodation options. There are little luxuries like room service, fresh sheets every day, a concierge on tap, and dining options a few steps away. And with the big hotel brands, there’s a predictable level of comfort and services you can usually expect wherever you go, worldwide.
A hotel credit card can further add to the appeal by letting you enjoy those experiences, for free or a low fee—at least for a few nights a year, and more if you spend a lot with the card. You can get many other perks, to boot, especially if you’ve chosen the best hotel credit card for your lifestyle and preferences.
This article can show you how to get free stays via hotel credit card rewards by explaining:
- The basics of how they work
- How to earn rewards points
- Ways to use those points for free stays and other perks
A hotel credit card is a type of rewards credit card that’s created by a hotel company in partnership with a major credit card brand. As you might expect, it provides the greatest benefit if you frequently stay in that hotel company’s properties.1
As you spend with a hotel credit card, you typically earn points if you are enrolled in the hotel’s rewards program. You can redeem them for free stays and other perks at the hotel company’s network of properties. That network may include many more lodging options than you might think: some big companies own thousands of hotels and resorts worldwide, operated under a variety of brand names. Of course, some hotels may add fees even to “free” stays—resort fees are a popular example.
While free hotel stays are the most popular reward, hotel credit cards also may provide a suite (pun intended) of other benefits, like complimentary breakfast and late check-out. Some big hotel companies offer several tiers of hotel credit cards, ranging from cards with no annual fee to premium cards with fees of hundreds of dollars a year. As you’d expect, premium cards offer fatter benefits, which may include free hotel nights. Experts say those benefits can be worth several thousand dollars if you’re a frequent traveler, which can help justify a premium hotel credit card’s annual fee.2
To get the most out of a hotel credit card, it may help to think about optimizing each of the two main aspects of using the card:
- Earning a stash of points
- Using those points toward free stays and other perks
The main ways that you can earn points with a hotel credit card are via the introductory bonus and by spending—especially at the hotel but also on everyday purchases.
Introductory bonus. When you sign up for a hotel credit card, you may qualify to receive an introductory bonus. The best hotel credit cards offer bonus ranges from tens of thousands to more than a hundred thousand points, depending on the hotel chain and the card tier. But to get the bonus, you usually must spend a threshold amount within the first few months.
Spending. With a hotel credit card you earn points for most types of spending, but you’ll rack up points fastest when you spend at the hotel’s properties or in specific retail categories. Specifics vary depending on the hotel chain and card tier, but in general hotel credit cards usually earn you:
- Six to 14 points for each dollar you spend at the hotel company’s properties
- Three to seven points per dollar spent in selected other categories such as restaurants, gas stations, supermarkets, and booking flights directly with airlines
- At least two points per dollar for purchases outside those categories
Now for the fun part—converting your hoard of points into free stays and perks. Hotel credit cards usually let you redeem a certain number of points for free stays (plus any applicable hotel fees that may apply).
Getting the most value per point. Though some hotel chains advertise that rooms start as low as 5,000 points per night, you may find “prices” much higher for your desired locations and dates. A search for rooms at two major hotel chains in Hawaii during August turned up a number of options at around 50,000-60,000 points, with some as low as 25,000 and the highest over 200,000. To figure out which rooms offer the best value per point, simply compare the price in points with the dollar price; you can often view both prices on the hotel company’s website. If you don’t have enough points for a room, you may be able to use a combination of points and cash.
Enjoying extra free nights and other benefits. If you have a hotel credit card and book a four-night stay using reward points, some brands give you a fifth night free. In addition, some hotel credit cards, especially the higher-tier offerings, automatically give you at least one free night’s stay per year. Some reward you with an extra night’s stay, over and above all the points you accumulate, if you spend more than a threshold amount with the card—say, $60,000.
Some hotel cards also come with cash credits that you can spend at the hotel. Hotel credit cards also often come with elite membership when you’re enrolled in the hotel brand’s loyalty program, which can bring you perks such as complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi, late checkout, room upgrades, and gym access. Furthermore, card issuers often provide a range of benefits in addition to the hotel company’s perks. These may include car rental insurance, free access to airport lounges, and extended warranties.
If you prefer to frequent a particular hotel company’s network of properties, a hotel credit card can reward you with free stays, room upgrades, and a wide range of other perks.