Travel & Hotel Credit Cards

Whether or not you're a frequent traveler, being equipped with the right type of credit card may help you save quite a bit of money during your trips. Nevertheless, one way that frequent travelers are able to save quite a bundle is by leveraging the use of travel and hotel credit cards. You can earn mileage points and other rewards points that can allow you to upgrade your airline seating or bookings at a particular hotel, enough to help you enjoy your travel experience so much more, for much less. Many of the cards in our list also provide extra services and perks for the traveler, including concierge services, upgrades and access to exclusive airport lounges, assistance for lost luggage, travel insurance, and so much more.


Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express


Reviews & Mentions:

Intro APR Intro Period Regular APR Annual Fee Balance Transfers Credit Needed
None N/A 15.24% - 19.24% Variable $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65 Yes Excellent
See Terms for Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN

Intro APR Intro Period Regular APR
None N/A N/A [You must pay your balance in full each month]
Annual Fee Balance Transfers Credit Needed
$450 N/A Excellent
See Terms for The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN

USAA Rate Advantage MasterCard®

Intro APR Intro Period Regular APR
None N/A 6.9% - 23.9%
Annual Fee Balance Transfers Credit Needed
$0 Yes Excellent
See Terms for USAA Rate Advantage MasterCard®

American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card

Intro APR Intro Period Regular APR
None N/A N/A [You must pay your balance in full each month]
Annual Fee Balance Transfers Credit Needed
Introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $175 N/A Excellent
See Terms for American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Credit Cruiser May 15, 2009 at 11:13 am

When traveling, I feel “safer” when I use a credit card rather than if I carry cash or a debit card. That’s because it seems easier to lose track of cash spent when you’re on the go. So given that concern, I tend to choose credit cards to make my transactions while traveling.

Sue May 16, 2009 at 9:53 am

You could rack up extra foreign currency exchange fees with a card. My bank has charged me a lot of extra fees on trips. Yep, you pay for the convenience of using plastic even as you claim that it is safer.

The Digerati Life May 18, 2009 at 10:00 am

You are right, most credit cards charge a currency conversion fee. But there are actually a few that don’t. Check out Capital One and Charles Schwab. However, applying for such a card for the purpose of getting a short term deal on a trip may not be worth the effect this new card will have on your credit score.

There are ways to minimize the exchange fees though. For one, use cards with the best terms for travel and evaluate your existing cards to find out which have the lowest charges for currency exchange (these usually range from 0% to 3%) and which have the best terms for use during travel.

Contrary to what you might expect, currency exchange through other avenues can actually cost more! So if you change currency at the hotel, airport, through local merchants or tourist traps on a cash basis, you can be charged more. So using a credit card may actually turn out to be a better deal.

Bank Track May 19, 2009 at 5:22 am

I also agree that you should avoid changing money at local merchants as they’re looking to make a little extra from your transaction. I’d like to add my .02.

I would use ATM and debit cards when you can’t use credit. For better exchange rates, use your ATM rather than visiting a currency exchange location.

A corollary to that is to avoid getting cash advances on your credit card. It’s going to cost you to get money from the ATM using your credit card because rates for cash advances are typically higher.

Sarah May 19, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Are you sure that Capital One doesn’t charge fees for currency exchange? We used my husband’s Capital One last year in Greece and was charged 1% since my cards were both 3%.

Eric May 20, 2009 at 1:01 am

*Raises hand excitedly*

I’m actually in Australia right now so I think I can relay some tips. Woohoo. 🙂

I’m carrying a Capital One card (No Hassle 1% cashback) which I use exclusively here in Australia because it’s widely accepted (Mastercard), does NOT charge any foreign transaction fees (answer to Sara’s comment above), and gives me rewards at the same time. I also have a Bank of America checking account which is partnered with Westpac Bank in Australia (one of the four big banks of Australia) through their Global ATM Alliance. This allows me to use my BoA ATM card to withdraw Australian money (fee-free) from any Westpac ATMs (numerous here). Between those two cards, I have all my access to funding without any fees. The only thing is that the current exchange rate has been dropping since I first got to Australia in February. 🙁

As for booking flights, you should definitely check Qantas Airlines for ongoing specials. I know you live in the Bay Area and I also live in Northern California so I’m positive about the deals. Google for the Qantas specials webpage and you can get deals as low as $715 roundtrip (including taxes). That’s how much I paid for mine and I believe the promotion is still going on. Plus, Qantas is a lot better than United Airlines to fly to Australia but you can check United to see if they have specials also.

Lastly, if you’re ambitious, you can apply for a Citi Premierpass Elite card and charge the flight to the card, netting you 20,000 Thank You points as a sign up bonus, plus thousands of more points for the miles you flew and the dollar amount of the flight itself. This can be worth a domestic flight to you or several $100 gift cards. I used this strategy myself earlier and got loads of points. I remember you did a review of the Citi Forward card (not sure if you actually own one) but you can link all of your Thank You point accounts together to pool all the points.

Anyways, these are the things that I did for my trip to Australia. Feel free to email me if you’re interested in more tips or have any questions. Be happy to help! 🙂

Craig @ Help Me Travel Cheap May 20, 2009 at 6:31 am

Agreed. In my opinion ATM’s are the best way to access cash overseas – depending on your bank of course. Some banks like Bank of America do not charge any fees if you get cash from ATMs within their network (Westpac in Australia). Otherwise, if you have a credit union you are likely to get great rates. I am currently charged 1% when I get cash overseas at any ATM.

If I use a credit card it is always a Captial One as they do not charge any fees. Any other credit cards are not worth the fees (2.7% for AMEX – 3% for Citicards).

Another option if you are interested in having cash is signing up for an account at You can send a check to yourself in Australian dollar currency. All rates are shown before you proceed with the transaction.

Rajeev Singh May 20, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Great list. I think these cards can be of use to us but we also need to be aware of the opportunity being thrown by the airlines and various other intermediaries as well. They can be equally good. Using ATMs when you need money is a good idea too.

Kristy @ Master Your Card May 21, 2009 at 7:54 pm

I’d be careful about doing the exchange at the ATM, too. In addition to the exchange, the ATM you use may charge you a fee, and the financial institution you use may also charge a fee. Personally, any time I travel out of the country, I carry small amounts of cash in the currency of the country I’m traveling to and I take two credit cards to cover any other purchases. Typically I don’t use my debit card but that’s only because it’s a pain to notify Visa that I’m traveling. I can let me credit union know, but Visa doesn’t see the notes on the financial institutions side, so if they flag my card for being used overseas, they freeze it and I have to call in to get it unfroze. Not really that big of a deal, but inconvenient most of the time.

Mikael @ Retire Rich Roadmap May 22, 2009 at 3:00 pm

One of the “dangers” of using credit cards is that you can find yourself in a situation where someone (restaurants or other) will copy your card without you noticing it and then start spending your money. Often times you’ll not find out until you’re back home and check your account.

I’ve had a few friends experience this (even in supposedly civilized countries).


Wings May 30, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Generally whenever I travel internationally I try and use ATM or debit cards for monies.

Linda June 5, 2009 at 10:58 am

My son is being asked if he wants the credit card charged in American dollars or australian dollars — he is using a capital one. What is the best choice?

Joshua June 8, 2009 at 9:17 pm

ATMs are the best way to access cash overseas almost in any City and any Country you can find them. But you have to be careful with it because if you have all your money in your bank and you lose the card maybe you’d have to come back walking home.

Kay October 19, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Generally, traveler’s checks serve the best or ATMs.These modes used to be a hassle but not anymore. I personally use credit cards as they are the most convenient and I don’t have to keep a check on my spending that way 🙂 . I would still go with traveler’s cheques, they are accepted everywhere.

Wendy B. April 2, 2010 at 1:29 am

I used my ATM card in France and had no problem getting $20.00 here and there. The bank does charge $5.00 every time it is used at the ATM. I wish I knew that before I used it. 🙁

Sean B June 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

You should always watch out for the sort of machines you use your card on. Some are set up so that they steal all your details, so be more vigilant.

Mia Kelly February 10, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I always use credit cards while traveling. If you’re going on a trip anyway, it only makes sense to have a rewards card ready.

ewallet February 10, 2011 at 11:34 pm

I agree with some, I only use debit cards or cash, and put them in a safe spot close to me, especially while traveling in 3rd world countries where theft is a major issue.

Investing Toolkit August 21, 2011 at 11:27 am

A credit card is the best choice for monetary transactions. They’re cheaper than traveler’s checks (which are no longer widely accepted), they’re convenient and can serve as a buffer if problems arise.

Ciara March 3, 2012 at 10:51 am

I normally travel a lot as a part of my profession as well as my passion. Using a credit card is safe for monetary transactions, IMO.

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How To Maximize Your Travel & Hotel Rewards

Frequent travelers often use rewards cards to accumulate points that are redeemable for airline tickets, free hotel rooms, and many other things. For those cardholders who carry hotel rewards cards, here are a few tips you can use to maximize your points.

  1. Choose a card that works for you. While this seems like an obvious tip, many cardholders choose cards that simply don’t fit their spending habits. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to carry a card that rewards you for staying in a Comfort Suites Hotel if you prefer to stay at a Holiday Inn. Also, choose a hotel chain that has a hotel in the places you actually visit. Many people vacation in the same places over and over, so it would make sense if they racked up rewards points for a hotel stay in the areas they often visit.
  2. Limit your credit card use to a couple of cards. You will amass a redeemable level of points more quickly if you stick to using one or two cards instead of trying to spread your rewards over several cards at once. Since many business travelers are stuck staying in hotels they may not be carrying a personal card for, it may make sense for travelers to obtain a card for the “corporate approved” chain as well as one for their personal preference. Also, it might make sense to look into a rewards program that will allow you to redeem your points outside of the chain.
  3. Find cards that operate in multiple rewards currencies. Some hotel rewards programs allow you to swap your hotel points for air miles, or for retail and restaurant rewards. This makes owning this card extremely valuable to travelers that can take advantage of rewards earned through extensive business travel, allowing one to earn a truly free vacation.
  4. Use your rewards points when it makes the most sense. Economic uncertainty may lead people to plan fewer vacations and to take fewer unnecessary trips, but with rewards points, this doesn't have to be the case. Lodging makes up a significant portion of vacation expense, but redeeming your hotel points for free stays takes the sting out of vacationing while the stock market is down. Other people have used their rewards points in an even more creative fashion. Some are choosing to stay rent free in hotels while they search for jobs or find new homes after a foreclosure at different locations.

No matter how you look at it, a free hotel stay is definitely a perk worth having when it comes to using credit cards. Since more and more hoteliers are turning to multiple currency programs, it becomes a lot easier to plan a vacation each year where you can rack up hotel rewards points.

How To Stay In A Hotel For Free

Many folks have become pretty creative about keeping their costs low while on a trip, while still finding ways to travel in style. Even if you prefer to take a staycation rather than travel far distances, there may be times when you may appreciate hitting the road and visiting with a room service menu and a pool. Instead of paying full price when you travel, here are a few ideas on how to stay in a hotel for free.

  1. Be loyal to your hotel chain. One key to getting free nights at your favorite hotels involves your participation in loyalty programs. In most cases, these loyalty programs award you points that you can accumulate to use on future stays. When you’re seeking a new program, look for offers that include bonus points. As one example, Hyatt Gold Passport’s The Great 10K promotion gives you 10,000 bonus points once you spend 5 nights as a Hyatt guest. During regular hotel stays, you can earn 5 points per dollar you spend when you check in. When you’re ready to redeem your points, you can use them at a variety of Hyatt hotels around the world.
  2. Use a hotel rewards credit card. If you like to use credit cards for your purchases, then a hotel rewards credit card (such as those we've listed above) can pick up a lot of points for you. Take the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. It's a popular card that allows you to earn bonus points upon your first purchase, which may be worth several nights at some Starwood hotels. You can get double (or multiple) points for using the card at Starwood properties and one point per dollar spent on the rest of your eligible purchases. At some of these Starwood hotels, you can get free weekend nights for a certain number of points. The Marriott Rewards cards also function in the same way.
  3. Check out other travel rewards credit cards. A lot of people tend to focus on the airline miles they can earn, but you can look for free hotel stays from general travel rewards cards, too. These general travel cards have the advantage of being more flexible about the usage of rewards points or miles. Escape by Discover Card lets you use your accumulated miles for travel credits to your account. Since you can earn thousands of bonus miles in your first 25 months and you get double miles for purchases, it isn’t difficult to accrue enough for a hotel night. You'll be able to swap points for travel credit.
  4. Check for deals on the hotel’s website. If you’ve ever wanted to spend an extra night in paradise without paying for it, then you should peruse the deals on your hotel’s website before you leave home. One package from Marriott offers a free additional night and breakfast in Hawaii! These deals tend to change often, so give yourself a few chances to look around before you settle on a particular destination.
  5. Should you entertain casino hotel offers? Casinos have always been known for their hospitality, so if you're open to staying in one, this tip may prove helpful. If you happen to visit casino hotels often while traveling or trying your luck, then you should check out any available rewards programs. One friend of mine earned points for a few minutes of his time during our lunch out. Harrah’s Total Rewards program offers discounts and free room stays for different levels of membership. Platinum, Diamond, and Seven Stars members can earn two to three nights and a tournament entry to the Summer Fest and Winter Fest tournaments.
  6. Join a travel site’s rewards program. If you prefer to book your stays through a travel site, then see if there’s a rewards program you can join. and Capital One have teamed up to offer a credit card that gives you breaks if you book through Orbitz. Also, HotelClub has a free membership program that lets you earn Member Dollars for your bookings. These Member Dollars can be applied to future stays. There are three levels of membership, so the more you book, the greater your benefits.
  7. Complain. If something beyond the ordinary goes awry during your stay, you should voice your complaint. Negotiating with the front desk or manager may lead to a comped stay for the future. If you can’t find the assistance you need on a local level, then check with the hotel chain’s customer service.
  8. Piggyback on business. How about killing two birds with one stone? If you're scheduled to go on a business trip through your employer, you may want to negotiate with your boss about transforming the trip into a partial vacation. If you are traveling for your own business, then you can make this happen more easily -- plus, you'll be able to consider some of your travel expenses as a tax deduction. But make sure to consult with your tax attorney or CPA before using this strategy.

Getting away can be a great treat, but there’s no need to commit your entire vacation budget to it. By employing strategies such as joining a loyalty program and using a travel rewards credit card, it’s possible to earn free stays at hotels.