The Key to Airline and Hotel Credit Cards

women sitting on bed with credit card and phone

Whether you’re a frequent traveler or someone who only gets away a few times a year, traveling can come with a price tag that’s sometimes hard to swallow.

While credit cards are supposed to make things easier, do they really? All the research you have to do to find the right credit card can be a pain, and trying to figure out points can be enough to might make you want to pull your hair out.

Amidst all the research, don’t ignore cards that focus on travel. Almost all larger hotel chains and airlines offer credit cards that may actually compliment your lifestyle. These cards are co-branded with major credit companies, allowing you to use them anywhere credit cards are accepted. In addition, they’ll earn you travel rewards (like hotel points and frequent-flyer miles) while making everyday purchases. If you have good credit and know how to do a little research, hotel and airline credit cards can be a great way to start earning points toward free flights or free hotel stays.

And we’re here to help. Read on for guidance in deciding if a hotel or airline card is right for you.

1. Consider Your Lifestyle

Before you make a decision, you have to get straight with yourself regarding your spending habits, financial goals, and travel frequencies to determine which credit card will help you get the most rewards and the best cost-savings plan.

For example, if you’re used to staying in mid-range priced hotels, then getting a Ritz-Carlton card would be pretty silly. But if free flights or companion ticket perks are high on your list of demands, then airline cards through Southwest, American Airlines, Delta, and United can be winners for you.

Be honest and aware of your financial capabilities. Just because a card offers astonishing signing bonuses or high-point reward systems doesn’t mean that a particular card is good for you. If you aren’t able to spend (and pay-off) the minimum amount to qualify for a sign-up bonus, then don’t do it. Don’t overspend just to rack up points or rewards.

2. Look at the Signing Bonuses

Many travel cards have introductory offers that can be pretty lucrative, just make sure you understand the requirements.

Some cards will only give you the promised 60,000 bonus miles if you spend $5,000 in the first three months of signing up. If you lose track of that, you also lose out on the bonus. So, before signing up, know what your travel needs are and whether you can spend $5,000 in allotted time. Even better, coincide a card sign up with the planning and booking of a big trip to meet the  spend requirement in one go.

For instance, if you’re planing a big trip abroad, a rewards card like the United Explorer Card could be a good option. In addition to getting 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $2,000 in the first three months of signing up, the card grants two miles for every dollar spent on dining out and hotels and one point for any other purchase you make. In other words, if you spend $2,000 during your trip on eating out and hotel rooms, you’ve just earned 4,000 additional miles.

3. Consider the Annual Fees

The annual fees for travel credit cards vary wildly. The best cards typically charge annual fees of $100 or less. Some high-end cards that provide club lounge access, free checked baggage, or a free stay annually, can cost you up to $450 per year.

If you travel frequently, a card with a higher annual fee may be worthwhile considering the savings and earning potential. The Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, for instance, has a high annual fee but rewards you with 14 points per dollar spent at Hilton hotels and seven points for every dollar spent on car rentals, dining out, and flights booked with participating airlines.

Also, be sure to read the fine print about interest rates, especially if you know you won’t pay off your card every month. Some introductory interest rates offered during your first couple months sounds great, but these can jump up dramatically after the promotion period is over.

4. What Are the Cost-Saving Perks?

If you’re a frequent flyer, perks such as free checked luggage and 25% discounts on airline food and beverages may be worth the fees. Co-branded airline cards also offer benefits such as priority boarding and on-board rewards. Other cards, such as The World of Hyatt card, have points that won’t expire, so there’s no limit to how many points you can earn.

If you stay at a specific hotel chain at least 20 nights per year, a hotel credit card will definitely be worth the fees. Otherwise, another credit card offering more-flexible rewards will probably help you save more.

5. Check Out Other Options

Be sure to examine other credit cards on the market that aren’t specifically associated with a hotel chain or airline. Many credit cards allow you to earn points that transfer into the frequent flyer programs you use most. In addition, these cards have additional bonus-earning opportunities for everyday purchases such as gas, dining, or groceries.

If this sounds more like your speed, consider the Bank of America® Premium Rewards®Chase Sapphire Reserve®, or the American Express® Gold Card.

Popular Hotel and Airline Credit Cards

If you’re sold on the idea of earning travel rewards while making everyday purchases, check out these popular hotel- and airline-branded credit cards in the charts below to learn more more about each card.

Hotel and airline credit cards can help you save big on qualifying flights and hotel stays. If you don’t yet have the rewards points you need to fund your next vacation, don’t give up. Spending small at your own pace can add up to big rewards in the long run.

When it’s time to book your next big trip, make sure to book your travel directly on the hotels’ and airlines’ own websites where you can be sure your credit cards will be most valuable. Head to roomkey.com to search for your next hotel stay across many hotel brands at once. When you’re ready to book, we’ll take you straight to the hotel’s website where you can complete your booking with the hotel of your choice.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express®

Key Features:

  • 100,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in first three months
  • Earn 6x points on purchases at Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2x points on other eligible purchases 
  • Earn 3x points at U.S. restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines
  • 1 free night per year at participating hotels after first year
  • Complimentary Gold Elite status
  • Free credit for Global Entry or TSA PRE
  • 15 Elite Night Credits each calendar year

Annual Fee: $95 | APR: 18.24% to 25.24% variable APR

marriott bonvoy boundless card

World of Hyatt Credit Card

Key Features:

  • 50,000 bonus points after spending $6,000 in first six months
  • Earn 4x points on purchases at Hyatt hotels plus an additional 5x points on purchases made as a World of Hyatt member
  • Earn 2x points on local transit, restaurant, flight, and gym membership purchases
  • Complimentary Discoversit status
  • 1 free night per year at participating hotels after first year
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual Fee: $95 | APR: 18.24% to 25.24% variable APR

world of hyatt card

World of Hyatt Credit Card

Key Features:

  • 50,000 bonus points after spending $6,000 in first six months
  • Earn 4x points on purchases at Hyatt hotels plus an additional 5x points on purchases made as a World of Hyatt member
  • Earn 2x points on local transit, restaurant, flight, and gym membership purchases
  • Complimentary Discoversit status
  • 1 free night per year at participating hotels after first year
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual Fee: $95 | APR: 18.24% to 25.24% variable APR

hilton honors ascend card

Hilton Honors Ascend Card

Key Features:

  • 125,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $2,000 in first three months.
  • Earn 12x points on purchases at Hilton Portfolio hotels, 6x points at restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, and 3x points on other eligible purchases 
  • 1 free weekend night per year after spending $15,000 
  • Complimentary Gold status 
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual Fee: $95 per year | APR: 17.74% to 26.74% variable APR

wyndham rewards visa signature

Wyndham Rewards® Visa Signature

Key Features:

  • 15,000 bonus points after first purchase plus 15,000 after spending $1,000 in first three months 
  • Earn 5x points on purchases at participating hotel stays
  • Earn 2x points on gas, utilities, and grocery store purchases
  • Complimentary PLATINUM Membership 
  • Earn 6,000 points annually after first year 
  • No foreign transaction fees 

Annual Fee: $75 | APR: 17.24% to 21.99% variable APR

best western rewards premium mastercard

Best Western Rewards® Premium Mastercard

Key Features:

  • 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in first three billing cycles plus 20,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 during each 12 billing cycle period 
  • Earn 20x point on Best Western hotel stays  
  • Up to 4 free nights 
  • Complimentary Platinum Rewards status

Annual Fee: $59 after first year | APR: 18.74% to 24.74% variable APR

ihg rewards premier card

IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

Key Features:

  • 80,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in first three months
  • 10x points on purchases at IHG hotels worldwide and 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants
  • Complimentary Platinum Elite status
  • 1 free night per year at participating hotels after first year
  • Free credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual Fee: $89 | APR: 18.24% to 25.24% variable APR

united explorer card

United Explorer Card

Key Features:

  • 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in first three months
  • Earn 2x points on dining, hotel stays and United purchases
  • $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees every four years 
  • Free first checked bag
  • Priority boarding and 25% back on in-flight purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual Fee: $95 after first year | APR: 17.99% to 24.99% variable APR

gold delta skymiles

Gold Delta Skymiles® Card

Key Features:

  • 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in first three months 
  • Earn miles on everyday purchases such as gas, groceries, phone bills, dining, etc. plus 2x miles on Delta purchases
  • Free first checked bag
  • Priority boarding 
  • 20% back on in-flight purchases 
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual Fee: $95 after first year | APR: 17.74% to 26.74% variable APR

southwest rapid rewards premier card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Card

Key Features:

  • 40,000 miles after spending $1,000 in first three months 
  • Earn 2x miles on Southwest flights and eligible hotel stays and car rentals and 1x miles on all other purchases
  • Earn 6,000 miles annually after your first year
  • Earn qualifying points toward A-List status
  • No foreign transaction fees 

Annual Fee: $99 | APR: 17.99% to 24.99% variable APR

AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

Key Features:

  • 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 in first three months and 10,000 after spending $6,000 in first 12 months 
  • Earn 2x miles at restaurants, gas stations and on American Airlines flights 
  • Free first checked bag 
  • Preferred boarding and 25% off in-flight purchases 
  • No foreign transaction fees

Annual Fee: $99 after first year | APR: 17.99% to 25.99% variable APR