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Hotel Rewards Credit Cards

Galavante Confidential - The Power of Plastic
July 11, 2012
By , Galavante Contributor

All credit cards are not created equal. Besides the cash returns, hotel points, and airline miles, there are lots of other benefits. This is a case where checking the fine print works in your favor. If you’re escaping for a romantic weekend à deux (or à trois…no judgment here), plastic has the power to get you an automatic room upgrade. It can be your little secret that you didn’t actually splurge on a suite. And when that Vegas hostess is less than accommodating to you and your entourage, the right credit card will have you saying hello to prime-time reservation privileges.

For the big hitters, titanium isn’t just shiny––it also gives back. Big time. Perks include private concierges, first-class upgrades, and personal shoppers. Practically the only thing it doesn’t give you is a travel companion. Then again, flashing the black card probably won’t mean you’re solo for long. In any case, we say charge on, but charge wisely. While money talks, plastic gets it done without saying a word.

Time is Money

On vacation, time really is money, and those credit cards points are better than cold hard cash.  Just ask Gary Leff, co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com and a Condé Nast Traveler specialist. “The right card can be ten times more rewarding than the wrong one,” he says. But with so many card offers stuffing your mailbox and filling your inbox, how can you decide which is best for you?  It turns out that why you travel is as important as where.

Dive In: British Airways Visa

Sometimes t’s best to commit to one card instead of playing the field. British Airways Visa will help you eat, pray, and love your way to rejuvenation, whether this means diving the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia or sailing around the Aegean on a Blue Cruise.

The sign-up bonus alone earns 50,000 Avios points on the first purchase and up to 25,000 more for each of the first and second $10,000 you put on the card during the first year. Entice any family members to sign up with souvenir bottles of Leeuwin Estate wines and boxes of Güllüoğlu baklava, and collect their points under a household account, thereby earning you 100,000-plus points right off the bat. Plenty to get you to Europe in business comfort.

Cards with Benefits: American Express Platinum and Centurion Cards

Ever wish those credit card points could be used for your relationship? Cash them in for a weekend in Paris at the Plaza Athénée if you’ve got the Amex Platinum (or Centurion for real hitters).

If the automatic room upgrades, complimentary breakfasts for two, guaranteed 4pm check-outs, and buy-one-get-one-free first-class ticket doesn’t help you get lucky, the $100 credit towards spa treatments and dinner for two should do the job. Weekend didn’t go as planned? No problem.  Change that flight guilt-free, because card-holders also receive a $200 annual airline fee credit.

Family Fun: Chase Sapphire Preferred

No, you can’t yet leave your kids in the care of your credit card while you go out for canapés and cocktails at the curved black-resin bar of Bali’s Bulgari Hotel. But, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card can smooth out the turbulence while traveling with children. The zero foreign transaction fees save a ton when swiping away the incessant pestering for souvenirs, beach supplies, and tickets. Plus, it won’t be nearly as painful to pony up for the gut-busting restaurant bills when you consider the two points received for every dollar spent on dining. In fact, topping $3,000 earns you 40,000 more points – plenty to reward your stellar parenting with gift cards, cash back, or a solo night at the hotel at Mandalay Bay in Vegas.

Sweeten the Deal: Chase Ink Bold and Starwood Preferred Guest

Since making money means spending it, cards like Chase Ink Bold can make it a snap to maintain your business charm while covering your partner’s tab at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in London.

The card flexes its biggest muscles while racking up five points to the dollar off the cost of office supplies, cable and satellite TV, and your wireless and landline phone, but also provides full collision and theft coverage for car rentals and complimentary airport lounge access. However, since this is a charge card, you’ll need to pay it off in full each month.

If you prefer to keep your business purely creditory, opt for Amex’s Starwood Preferred Guest Business card, winner of the 2011 SmarterTravel award for “Best Travel Rewards Card.”

The winning touch might be the 4x points (5x for gold status members) earned while staying at more than 1,000 participating SPG hotels and resorts worldwide, but the card’s fraud protection, identity theft assistance, and emergency card replacement service add yet another layer of icing to the cake. You’ll also earn valuable points currency, which can translate into a free night in a St. Regis Hotel presidential suite overlooking the Arno River in Florence. Furthermore, each transfer of points into 20,000 miles adds a 5000-mile bonus.

Girls (and Guys) Gone Wild: Alaska Airlines Signature Visa

You may not wake up with a tattoo on your face, a tiger in the bathroom, or a missing buddy, but Alaska Airlines Signature Visa card will get your bromance or girls-gone-wild party on the road.

But that doesn’t limit you to just shooting caribou from a helicopter or mushing dogs across the tundra. Alaska Airlines makes stops in Vegas, Hawaii, and Mexico, and the 25,000-mile sign-up bonus (plus 1,000 more if you apply by phone) will take you and your mates much of the way, especially when you add in the ultra-flexible companion ticket at just $99.

Visa Signature’s concierge service also gets you prime-time reservations and recommendations at top restaurants like the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Vegas. Or, take it “Sideways” at complimentary tastings at more than 60 wineries in Sonoma Valley. Also add in the Airline Companion Fare benefit - you buy one first class, you get one free.  To increase your chance of getting lucky this weekend, you better be flying that sig other out First Class, up in the Sky.