5 Hotel Credit Card Points Programs That Can Score You Swanky Stays

See recent posts by Margot Bigg

While most people associate travel loyalty clubs with airline frequent-flier-mile programs, plenty of hotel chains reward customer loyalty with generous point packages that can quickly add up to free nights. Like miles programs, all of the major hotel loyalty clubs have tie-ups with credit card companies that make it easy to rack up free nights at ultra-luxurious hotels -- even if you usually stay in more modest digs. Here's the lowdown on what kind of offerings are out there, along with some suggestions on where to maximize the impact of your rewards points. 

1. Starwood Preferred Guest

One of the biggest hotel companies on the planet, Starwood Hotels and Resorts manages a range of properties around the world, with popular chains such as Westin, Sheraton, W Hotels, Aloft, and Le Méridien under its umbrella. Guests staying at these properties can enroll in the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program. It’s is free of charge and points never expire — just as long as you make sure to keep your account active, either by staying at one of the hotels or by using the SPG American Express card at least once a year. In addition to getting points for staying at SPG hotels, cardholders get one point per dollar spent (two points per dollar at SPG hotels). Best of all, there are no blackout dates. 

Spending 7,000 points will get you a night at Le Meridien Bali Jimbaran, a five-pearl luxury resort with elegant, locally inspired rooms, a kids’ club, and a gorgeous spa. While this hotel doesn’t have direct beach access, it does have a nearby beach club, not to mention an enormous saltwater lagoon pool that weaves its way throughout the expansive property.

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2. Marriot Rewards

The Marriott Rewards program is a good option for travelers who like to stay in a wide range of hotels, from luxe Ritz-Carltons to budget-friendly business options such as Courtyard and Residence Inn. Members earn between five and 10 points per dollar that they spend on rooms, and those who opt to sign up for the Marriott Rewards Visa can earn even more points by simply spending. Cardholders get the typical one point per dollar common to most programs, along with two points per dollar for travel and dining purchases (e.g., money spent on restaurants, car rentals, and airline tickets). Tack on another five points per dollar spent at any of Marriott’s many hotels, and you can rack up points pretty quick. Cardholders also get one free night a year in a category one to five hotel (all Marriotts are ranked on a scale of one to 9, depending on location, brand, and snazziness level). 

While this won’t get you a free stay at the ocean-facing, category 8 Marriott Wailea Resort on Maui, 40,000 points will. Though it’s the oldest resort on Maui’s south side, this Marriott underwent a $60 million makeover in 2008 and features gorgeous manicured lawns, excellent restaurants, and five pools, including an adults-only infinity pool complete with floating cabanas. Just set aside a little extra for resort fees, as they aren’t included. 

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3. IHG Rewards Club

You don’t have to be a die-hard fan of the upscale InterContinental Hotels to benefit from InterContinental Hotels Group’s IHG Rewards Club; stays at the Kimpton, Crowne Plaza, Candlewood Suites, and even the Holiday Inn can get you points, and if you’re ever short when it comes time to redeem, you can either buy extra points or book hotels using a combination of points and cash. The club also offers a MasterCard that grants cardholders one point per dollar, two points on gas, groceries, and restaurants, and five points on IHG hotels. Add an “authorized user” (such as a spouse or someone you really trust) to your account and you can get another 5,000 points. 

Those who spend at least $2,000 in the first three months of having the card can get an additional 70,000 points, which is a particularly sweet deal considering that a night at the InterContinental Resort Tahiti will only set you back 40,000 points. This gorgeous resort sits on the main island of Tahiti near the airport, and while it’s not as well-known as some of the other upscale properties on nearby islands such as Moorea and Bora Bora, it still has all the accoutrements for which French Polynesia luxury properties are known: overwater bungalows, French fine-dining, and great lagoon snorkeling opportunities.

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4. Hyatt Gold Passport

Although the Hyatt Gold Passport doesn’t cover as many properties as some of the other hotel rewards programs out there, it does have plenty of attractive benefits. A big plus is that members aren’t restricted to hotels; the program includes 28 airline partners around the world through which members can either earn or redeem points (by converting points to miles). Members can also buy points or combine points with other members, making it a good option for friends traveling together who want to split a room. A longtime favorite among points-obsessed travelers, the Hyatt credit card entitles new cardholders to two free nights, just so long as they spend a minimum of $1,000 within the first three months of opening their account. 

In addition, members get one free night per year in any of the Hyatt’s category one to four properties (Hyatt ranks its properties on a scale of one to seven). This means you could technically spend a free night at the category-four Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort in Costa Rica every single year, though you’d probably want to extend your stay at a reasonable 15,000 points per night for a Standard Room. This gorgeous cliffside property is located out in the jungle, overlooking two small private beaches. It also features a huge indoor/outdoor spa, an upscale seafood restaurant, and sleek, minimalist rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and decadent bathrooms.

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5. Hilton HHonors

Hilton has a good range of hotels under its belt, includnig Waldorf Astorias, DoubleTrees, Embassy Suites, and budget-friendly Hampton Inn and Suites, making Hilton HHonors one of the more popular rewards programs out there. Their points program is comprehensive to the point of being borderline confusing to navigate, but the gist is that you usually get at least 10 points per dollar spent on most rooms in the program, plus bonus points in some if you have stayed at enough Hiltons or affiliates to get to an elite status.

You can also earn points when renting cars, cruising, or even while getting gouged by your phone company with international roaming charges — and the program offers the option of earning miles good toward airline tickets. They also have a couple of equally complicated credit cards through Citibank (Visa) and American Express; the former gets you a two-weekend-night sign-up bonus if you spend $2,500 in four months, while the latter earns you a full 60,000 points if you spend $3,000 in three months. The AmEx gets double points for restaurants, gas, and supermarkets and the Visa gets five points per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals. 

While the AmEx charges foreign transaction fee, making it a poor choice for globe trotters, it’ll get you into the upscale Waldorf Astoria Park City pretty fast. Rooms here start at 50,000 points and come with sleek decor (think wood and leather accents) and cozy fireplaces. Some also have kitchens, and there’s an upscale restaurant for those who’d rather not cook for themselves. Note that a daily resort fee, which covers parking, Wi-Fi, and use of the area shuttle, is tacked on. 

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