Three Best Hotel Credit Card Perks

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At my recent Intro to Miles and Points sessions at both the Frequent Traveler University and the Chicago Seminars, one of the points that I tried to make was to not overlook hotel credit cards.  For whatever reason, airline cards seem to get a little more of the spotlight on them, but hotel cards can be just as lucrative, and the rewards are often even easier to use than airline awards.  You frequently need some base level of knowledge to get the most bang for your buck out of airline miles, but hotel points are more straight forward since you don’t need to know about partners, routing rules, award chart sweet spots, etc.  You just need to know when you want a room, where you want a room, and perhaps a quick glance at the return per point you are getting based on the going rate.

This post is actually dedicated to my four favorite hotel credit card perks that you get beyond just the initial sign-up bonus, though I will mention the sign-up bonus as well.

1.  Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature last award night free

The card comes with a 85,000 point signup bonus — 50,000 after first purchase and 35,000 more after $2500 spend within 90 days ($75 annual fee), but that’s not my favorite perk.  My favorite perk on this card is the “last award night free” AND the 40,000 points you can at the renewal each year.  You also get Club Carlson Gold Elite status just for having the card!  There is still a bunch of confusion out there about the “last award night free”, but what it means is literally what it says.  When you make an award reservation you get the last night in that stay free.  This means that a two night award stay will result in being charged the points for the first night, and the second night is free.  In a four night award stay, you are charged the points for the first three nights and then the fourth night is free.  This means that on two nights stays, you are essentially getting a buy one (with points), get one free deal!  You can do this up to 50 times in a calendar year.


Great use of 50k Club Carlson points at the MayFair in London

2.  IHG Rewards Club Credit Card annual free night certificate

The IHG Rewards Club Credit Card gives you up to 80,000 points when you sign-up (details here) and spend $1,000 in the first 3 months, but the best parts of this card go well beyond the sign-up bonus.  The card comes with top-tier Platinum status, a 10% rebate on redeemed points, has an introductory $0 annual fee the first year and then a very reasonable $49 per year in subsequent years.  This $49 annual fee is more than off-set by my favorite perk of this card, the annual free night that you get to use at any of their almost 5,000 hotels worldwide.  I know many who use their free night (which is valid for 12 months from date of issue) at the Intercontinental Times Square that can easily go for $500 per night.  A $49 annual fee that results in a free night at a hotel that can go for $500 per night?  Sounds like a great perk to me!

3.  The Hyatt Credit Card Category 1-4 annual free night

Hyatt is one of my favorite hotel chains and their credit card has one of my favorite hotel rewards card perks.  In addition to the two free nights you get at sign-up after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months and mid-tier Platinum status, one of the best perks is the annual free night you get at a Category 1-4 hotel at each anniversary.  This card has a $0 introductory fee the first year and a $75 annual fee in subsequent years.  As a reward for renewing the card each year you get a free night at a Category 1-4 hotel. Hyatts go up to Category 6, so you can’t use this at all Hyatts, but you can use it at hotels such as: Hyatt Place New York MidTown, Andaz West Hollywood, Hyatt at Olive 8 (Seattle), Hyatt Chicago Mag Mile, and Hyatt Escala Lodge at Park City.  It is easy to get several hundred dollars in value out of that annual free night at some of these very nice properties!  If you are a big spender, note that upon spending $20,000 in a calendar year, you’ll receive 2 stay and 5 night credits toward elite status, and upon spending $40,000 in a calendar year, you’ll receive an additional 3 stay and 5 night credits. To get the best sign-up bonus on this credit card, pay attention the next time you are making a reservation on to see if you get a special offer!


Enjoy the indoor pool at Olive 8 with your annual free night

I think that those three hotel credit cards have the best ongoing perks, but there are a couple of others that should at least get an honorable mention as they can also be very valuable, so here are two honorable mentions that I love, but didn’t quite crack the top three in terms of ongoing bonuses.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card annual free weekend night + Gold elite status

This card gives you two free weekend nights at sign-up after hitting the spending requirement (Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night), but it also gives you HHonors Gold status which will land you free breakfast for two and possible upgrades for your family on trips!  If you put $40k on it annually, you get top tier Diamond status.  If you put $10k on the card each year you can also get a free annual weekend night when you renew for $95 each year.

Starwood Preferred Guest Amex or Starwood Preferred Guest Business Amex nights/stays toward elite status and SPG points

Beyond the sign-up bonus of 25,000 points (10,000 after first purchase and 15,000 after spending $5,000 in six months), the two things I like best about this card aren’t flashy, but they can be very useful.  First, putting spending on this cards is one of the few ways to rack up SPG points since SPG doesn’t have anything like an online shopping portal, dining plan, etc.  That is kind of a lame perk in some ways, but an extraordinarily useful one in others.  Also, if you go for elite status with SPG, a useful perk is that each one of these cards gives you 2 stays and 5 nights toward elite status, and yes you can get that perk from both cards at the same time.  My husband is making good use of that perk to re-qualify for SPG Platinum status this year!


Using elite status and SPG points at the Westin Moana in Waikiki

Did I hit on some of your favorite perks of hotel rewards credit cards?  If I left off your favorite, please let me know!


Disclosure, some (but not all) of the credit cards in this post are my affiliate links and I do receive a commission if you are approved for a credit card using one of my links.  All are to the best offers I am aware of.  Thanks for your support!

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. I’m a particular fan of the Club Carlson bonus. I got the card a while ago and met the spend – and I have 4 award nights(two stays) in Reykjavik at the Radisson 1919 next summer. Thanks to TPG for the review of the hotel.

    The IHG card is next on my list, as IHG does points & cash that will put me in 5-star luxury for 3 nights in Bahrain for the same cash (or less) as I’d pay for a cheap hotel.

  2. MP, you do know that on any even-night stay you can effectively get half the nights free? Just book them as a series of 2-night awards. The only requirement is it has to be done from alternating accounts so either you and spouse alternate, or you and your business card account.

  3. @frequent churner: Another way, for those of us who travel solo, is to alternate hotels. 2 nights at hotel “x”, two at “y”, two at “x” again.

    The *worst* thing about Club Carlson awards is that staying for just one night feels like you’re leaving something on the table!

  4. For some reason I am very skeptical about club carlson card. I have a very strong feeling that this card will be devalued very soon. It is not a matter of if but when. I don’t know why I feel that way but for this reason I am sitting on the sidelines. I hate to apply for a card and then see the benefits melt away.

    • @caveman: That’s not unlike any hotel or airline, isn’t it? Hilton devalued their system this year, inducing trauma amongst those with a mountain of hilton points. Redemption on various airlines have changed in the last year. US Airways miles are leaving *A and moving to Oneworld.

      Life is change, and you just need to deal with it. As I’ve read several times, these miles/points are not for saving, but for *using*. My $75 investment in the club carlson card netted me an immediate return of four nights in a $325/night hotel in Iceland. Is it a great long-term “investment”? Probably not. But $1300 return on a $75 investment in 2 months. Clearly worth it.

  5. You just mentioned one use of IHG Rewards Club Credit Card annual free night at Intercontinental Times Square where you get a lot of value for free stay. I wonder what are other places known for best value across the world and America.

  6. My family just used my free IHG night at the
    Intercontinental Times Square a couple of weeks ago! During that
    time, the rates showing up online were over $600! We are looking
    forward to returning sometime for a longer stay. Awesome

  7. I think the reason many of us value airline cards more than hotel cards is that there are many alternatives to chain hotels most places, so that the real value of the savings for free nights might not be that much. If I could get a room that’s perfectly acceptable to me for $60 at a local place, then the free night at a $200 place isn’t worth $200 to me. For intercontinental airfare, there really aren’t many alternatives, so the free flight is a big saving each time.

  8. @Rob – i suppose you can go hotel hopping, but why bother with the stress and wasted time when you can just stay in one place the whole time?
    As for devaluation, CC doesn’t have the clout of Hilton to be able to afford such things, and USBank probably doesn’t want to suddenly lose all our spending either. I hope it lasts a few years at least.

    • @frequent churner: Indeed, hotel hopping isn’t optimal. In my specific case in Iceland I’m actually staying at the CC hotel at the beginning and end of a 17-day trip for a little luxury on each end of a trip that’ll be mostly hiking, tenting and shelters.

      Another way I read to maximize CC stays if you’re going to be somewhere for a week was to book day 1-2 then day 5-6 and then day 3-4. Clearly that’s violating the spirit of the rules, but when booking online it apparently works just fine. When checking in, you just let the hotel know that you’re there for 6 nights and to leave you in the same room, or check in/out 3 times, taking advantage of any complementary upgrades you might get.

      I don’t disagree about the devaluation. But I am a fan of more or less continuously earning & burning miles & points. As Mommypoints’ earlier posting about Chemist661 points out, sometimes bad things happen and it would suck to have accumulated a pile of miles & points for that one “big” trip rather than taking advantage of fun opportunites more frequently.

  9. Rob, I am also a big fan of that bonus and thanks for weighing in with all your thoughts!
    Frequent Churner, that is an effective strategy! I am rarely in a spot for four nights, but it works great for those who stay put better than I seem to.
    Caveman, I think your intuition is correct, but that shouldn’t stop someone from taking advantage of how good it is now. The Intercontinental in big cities in the US will usually give the best bang for your buck.

  10. Was thinking of getting the Fairmont card..two nights free anywhere in the world. I stayed at the Banff and the Lake Louise properties years ago and was thinking I’d love to go back.

  11. Leo, it’s not bad. They just had out Cat 1-5 certs like candy with promos throughout the year, so it doesn’t seem quite as special.
    Kristen, that is a very good card. Didn’t quite make the cut for this post since the focus was on ongoing perks, but it absolutely would if I was talking about sign-up bonuses.

  12. I could not agree more about The Mayfair. It was one of the best hotel experiences I’ve had in London. I stayed 2 nights, went across the street to the Holiday Inn Mayfair for 1 night, then back to The Mayfair for 2 nights. 4 nights for 100K points – love the CC card.

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