- Having hotel elite status – even a lower level – can have a big impact on your stay, and get you a ton of value.
- While you typically need to stay in hotels a certain number of nights a year to get hotel elite status, you can get it for free with certain credit cards.
- Major hotel brands have their own co-branded cards that often come with complimentary elite status, like the Hilton Honours American Express Aspire Card that offers Diamond Hilton status.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express is the rare card that offers Gold elite status with two hotel brands: Hilton and Marriott.
- Even if you stay in hotels just five or six nights a year, the perks that come with status can be particularly valuable, ranging from extra points to free breakfast.
Two people can book the same exact hotel room for the same exact price, but have totally different experiences. One person may end up in an upgraded room on a high floor in a corner, with extra space and a couch, all while enjoying free breakfast, free premium internet, and earning a ton of extra points, checking in early and checking out late.
The other person might get a fine standard room, maybe on a lower floor next to the elevator. Basic internet might be included, but if that person plans to use it heavily for work or streaming, they may want to pay a few dollars a day to upgrade to premium. The breakfast buffet is $US20 per person, and late checkout isn’t available, even for a fee – although the hotel is happy to hold their bags until their late flight.
These two people booked the same exact room using identical booking methods (directly with the hotel.) So what gets the first person here such better treatment?
The answer: elite status. And you don’t need to spend dozens of nights on the road each year to earn it; some credit cards will grant you status just for having an account in good standing. Read on to see which credit cards offer these free benefits, as well as what you can get when you hold one.
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards.
When you’re working to earn credit card rewards, it’s important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically,
treat your credit card like a debit card
The best hotel credit cards
If you’re not too particular about which hotel brand you stay at, the Platinum Card could be the perfect option. That’s because it offers complimentary elite status at two major chains – Hilton and Marriott – that together offer more properties than any other brand.
At Hilton, Amex Platinum cardholders who connect their accounts get complimentary Gold level status. This mid-tier status is particularly valuable at Hilton, including free breakfast at most hotels, room upgrades and late checkout subject to availability, a fifth reward night for free any time you stay for four nights using points, an 80% bonus on points earned during paid stays, free water bottles in-room, and more.
Amex Platinum card review
Platinum Card members also get Gold status at Marriott, although Gold perks at this brand are slightly different. You’ll get a room upgrade at check-in when it’s available, as well as check-out time as late as 2 p.m., complimentary premium internet, a 25% bonus on earned points, and a small welcome gift of bonus points.
Finally, for independent hotels, Platinum cardholders can book through Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program to get perks at a ton of different properties.
The Amex Platinum card comes with plenty of other perks too, including access to airport lounges, up to $US200 a year in Uber credits, an annual $US200 airline fee credit, concierge services, access to exclusive events, and more.
Marriott and Starwood merged their hotel loyalty programs, and as a result their portfolios of credit cards were updated and merged as well. Thankfully, the days of confusing branding are behind us – all cards have Marriott Bonvoy branding, but some credit cards are issued by Amex, and some are issued by Chase.
In addition to the Amex Platinum Card, which comes with Marriott Gold status, here are the cards that get you status with the Marriott Bonvoy brand.
This Marriott co-branded card from Chase gets you Silver-level elite status with Marriott.
While Silver doesn’t get you much, it’s still something – you’ll get a 10% bonus on points earned, priority for late checkout, access to a dedicated customer service line, free Wi-Fi, and more. While it’s not a published benefit, you may also be given preferential rooms. When you spend $US35,000 on the card in a given year, you’ll earn Gold status instead.
The card offers 6 points on every dollar spent at Marriott hotels, and 2x points on everything else. After your first year, you’ll get a free night certificate every year on your account anniversary, good for any property that costs 35,000 nights or fewer.
If you haven’t had this card before – and you haven’t opened a Marriott card in the past few years – you can get 75,000 Marriott points when you spend $US3,000 in the first three months. The card has a $US95 annual fee.
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant offers Gold status just for holding the card – just like the Amex Platinum – which includes room upgrades and a 25% bonus on earned points.
If you spend $US75,000 or more on the card in a calendar year, you can get Platinum status for the next year, which includes better upgrades, free breakfast, and access to hotel lounges.
In addition to elite status, you’ll get a $US300 annual credit for Marriott and SPG purchases, an annual free night certificate good for hotels that normally cost up to 50,000 points, access to Priority Pass airport lounges, and plenty more to make up for the $US450 annual fee, which isn’t waived the first year.
The Bonvoy Brilliant earns 6x points on Marriott purchases, 3x points at US restaurants and flights booked directly with the airline, and 2x points on everything else.
Hilton’s loyalty program, Hilton Honours, can offer hotel guests a great value – even if Hilton points aren’t worth quite as much as other hotel loyalty points, like Marriott, it’s often easier to earn them quickly.
Plus, the status you can get from a credit card is particularly valuable. While there are three cards that offer various levels of status, only two of those cards are worth considering.
At Hilton, holding Silver status doesn’t get you a ton, but you’ll still be eligible for things like late check-out, free water bottles in your room during stays, a free fifth night on award stays, and bonus points. When you spend $US20,000 on the card in a calendar year, you’ll get upgraded to Gold status, which includes the same perks as Silver, plus free breakfast, room upgrades, and more bonus points.
The card offers 7 points per dollar spent on Hilton purchases, 5 points per dollar spent at restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets within the US, and 3x points on everything else.
When you open a new account, you can earn a welcome bonus of 75,000 Hilton Honours points when you spend $US1,000 in the first three months. For a no-fee card this is pretty solid, but you can do better with the other Hilton options.
With an annual fee of $US95, including the first year, the Hilton Surpass is the best mid-range option in Hilton’s line-up.
The Surpass offers complimentary Gold status, which potentially an incredible deal. The free breakfast alone can make up for the annual fee in just a few days – hotel breakfast is expensive, often costing over $US20, but sometimes it’s the only option.
If you spend $US40,000 on the Surpass card within a calendar year, you’ll be upgraded to Diamond status. In addition to the same benefits you’d get from Gold status, Diamond gets you higher priority for room upgrades, executive lounge access, and more. The card also comes with 10 free day passes to Priority Pass airport lounges.
When you open a Surpass card, you can earn 125,000 Hilton Honours points when you spend $US2,000 in the first three months. You’ll also get a free weekend night’s stay if you spend $US15,000 on the card within a calendar year.
The card also has a better earning rate than the regular Hilton card. It earns 12x points on Hilton purchases, 6x points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and US supermarkets, and 3x points on everything else.
The Aspire is the premium Hilton card, and even though it has a $US450 annual fee, including the first year, it offers an absurd amount of potential value to blow that away.
The card comes with complimentary top-tier Diamond status without any spending requirement, getting you those room upgrades, executive lounge access, and more, in addition to all the benefits of lower tiers such as free breakfast.
It features up to a $US250 airline fee credit per calendar year, and up to a $US250 Hilton resort statement credit each card member year – right away that’s $US500 in value. But it doesn’t stop there. The Aspire card also offers a $US100 Hilton on-property credit every time you book a stay of two nights or longer at a Hilton property – you just need to book through a specific website for cardholders.
Cardholders also get a free weekend night reward each year – regardless of how much you spend – and a second if the spend $US60,000 on the card in a calendar year.
The Aspire, naturally, has the highest rewards earning rate of the Hilton cards: 14 points per dollar spent with Hilton, 7x points on flights booked wit the airline, car rentals, and at US restaurants, and 3x points on everything else.
Hilton Aspire Amex credit card review
Hyatt loyalists only have one credit card option, but it’s a solid one. If you’re a fan of the brand and prefer to stay there, here’s the card you should consider to earn elite status.
The World of Hyatt card offers complimentary Discoverist status – Discoverist is the first of three Hyatt elite tiers, followed by Explorist and Globalist. Discoverists are entitled to bonus points during stays, complimentary premium internet, free water bottles, late check-out on request, preferred rooms (though not upgrades), and more.
You’ll also receive 5 qualifying night credits each year toward the next elite tier, and you’ll earn an additional 2 night credits every time you spend $US5,000, making it easier to earn enough stays for Explorist or Globalist.
The Hyatt card earns 4 points per dollar spent on Hyatt purchases, 2x points at restaurants, on flights purchased directly from the airline, local transit, and gyms, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
The card offers a sign-up bonus of up to 50,000 Hyatt points – 25,000 points when you spend $US3,000 on the card within the first three months, and an additional 25,000 points when you spend a total of $US6,000 in the first six months. It has an annual fee of $US95, which isn’t waived the first year.
IHG doesn’t have quite the same brand recognition as chains like Hilton and Mariott, but don’t let that fool you; the mega-chain, which encompasses brands like Holiday Inn, InterContinental, Kimpton Hotels, Hotel Indigo, and others, is one of the world’s biggest hotel companies with more than 5,400 properties in more than 100 countries around the world.
The IHG Premier card offers free Platinum elite status to cardholders for as long as they keep the account open. Platinum elites are entitled to room upgrades (where available), late check-out, complimentary internet, a welcome gift, bonus points, free drinks in some hotels, and more.
The card comes with plenty of other benefits, including a free night certificate – good for any property that costs up to 40,000 points – on your card anniversary, a fourth night for free during award stays, and up to a $US100 credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck.
IHG Rewards Club Premier card review
The IHG Premier card earns 10 points per dollar spent at IHG hotels, 2 points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Currently, though, new cardholders can earn 25x points on IHG purchases for the first 12 months and 4x points on everything else for the first 12 months.
The card’s currently offering a 125,000-point sign-up bonus when you spend $US3,000 in the first three months. It has an $US89 annual fee, which isn’t waived for the first year.
Ultimately, which card is best for you depends on which hotel brand you tend to stay with, how often you stay, and which elite perks you value. If you’re a Hyatt or IHG fan, there’s only one card – if you stay with Hilton or Marriott, there are more choices.
Unless you’re an absolute loyalist, the Amex Platinum may be the best. It comes with mid-level status at two of the biggest chains, includes free breakfast at Hilton properties, and offers excellent non-hotel perks, like airline lounge access.
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