Please note: this post has been edited to reflect changes to certain credit card names, images, and earning structures.
Many hotels promise extra loyalty program points when you use their co-branded credit cards to pay for your stay at their properties.
For example, the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card currently offers 25 points per dollar spent on IHG stays during the first year you hold the card. The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card (learn how to apply) rewards 12X bonus Honors points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged during stays.
Not bad, right?
But the only way hotels track your bonus elite point eligible spend is when you charge purchases to your room. I can’t tell you how many people lose out on points because they assume using the hotel credit card at the gift shop, spa, or restaurant during their stay gets them those nice bonuses. (The same thing goes with Amex Offers for hotels.)
Conversely, they expect to earn bonus loyalty points when patronizing a hotel restaurant or bar when not staying on property.
Just because you spend money on a hotel’s credit card while staying with them doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll earn all the points you think you might.
So here are some good practices for using your hotel credit card (or paying with a different card, in some situations).
Charge Everything to Your Room During Stays
Whether it’s room and tax, gift shop purchases, hotel bar and restaurant tabs, spa, parking, (you get the point), charge everything to your room and pay for it all during checkout. This ensures you earn your credit card points and whatever elite bonus points you earn, as well.
For example, say you’re staying at the awesome US Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego.
You go to the hotel’s restaurant and order this amazing Pork Benedict.
If you hand to the server your Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card, you’ll only receive 1X points — the card’s going rate for restaurant purchases. You won’t earn the 3X points you would if you simply would charge the bill to your room.
The same thing goes for Amex Offers.
Let’s pretend I use this Caesars Entertainment Amex Offer on my Platinum Card® from American Express (learn how to apply). I must spend $200 on room rates and charges to receive 4,000 bonus Membership Rewards. I stay at Caesars Palace Las Vegas. Let’s say my room costs $150. I venture Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen in Caesars for dinner. My tab is $50. If I pay at the restaurant with my Platinum card, that $50 will not apply to the Amex Offer. If I charge it to my room, though, it will count and I’m 4,000 bonus Membership Rewards points richer (and whatever Total Rewards points the stay earns me).
Visiting Hotel Bars and Restaurants — When Not Staying There
Say you’re in downtown San Diego. You’re thirsty for a beverage and hungry for some late-night eats. Ah-hah! You walk past our post’s favorite hotel: the US Grant! You’re not staying there but visit the bar. You order a drink and mini-feast.
The bill comes and you’re excited. Why? You’ll pay with your Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card and earn 3X points. Right?
You’ll get a measly point per buck.
Sadly, you don’t receive bonus elite bonus for patronizing a hotel’s restaurant or bar when not lodging there. Even if you tell them you hold elite status, the most you’ll probably get is an “Oh, that’s nice,” from the staff.
A family friend is planning a big family dinner this Thanksgiving dinner at his local Marriott’s restaurant. “I’ll use my Marriott card and get a bunch of points!” he said. He was a tad crestfallen when I broke the bad news about 1X points on his Bold card. (As an aside: Perhaps someone can confirm or clarify in the Comments section — but did Starwood occasionally run points promotions for locals dining in their restaurants?)
If you visit a hotel bar or restaurant when not staying on property, you’re usually better off paying with a credit card earning bonus points on dining purchases.
When restaurants are the Chase Freedom Flex card’s 5X quarterly bonus, that’s obviously a great choice. Otherwise, consider the American Express® Gold Card, U.S. Bank Altitude Go, or Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card (learn how to apply), both of which reward 4X on dining.
Questions? Data points? Please share in the Comments section below!
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