Free room upgrades are a great benefit of elite status in a hotel loyalty program. Road warriors can earn elite status by racking up lots of paid stays, but for the rest of us, there is an easier way.
Many co-branded hotel credit cards offer automatic elite status, which can mean a free upgrade to a bigger room, a room with a view or even a suite.
How to get a hotel room upgrade through credit card perks
Some credit cards give you free hotel status upgrades just for being a cardholder. This can mean immediately gaining high enough status to score free room upgrades upon check-in at hotels in the program.
Status doesn’t guarantee that you will get a room upgrade every time you stay, as upgrades are typically based on availability at check-in. But from our experience, your chances are pretty good — especially when traveling in the off-season.
Most hotel credit cards that come with the status level to get you room upgrades will have an annual fee. When applying for one of these cards, consider whether the card perks are worth the cost.
Our favorite rewards credit cards for room upgrades
If your goal is to get a hotel upgrade for free, add one of these rewards credit cards to your wallet.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
If you are aiming for Hilton’s top status tier, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is the right choice. This premium card has a hefty $450 annual fee, but it comes with excellent travel perks, including automatic Diamond status in the Hilton Honors loyalty program. With this status, you’ll not only enjoy free room upgrades but also get executive lounge access and earn 100% bonus points on stays, along with a few other perks. Terms apply.
Other benefits of this card include:
14x Honors points per dollar when you use the card at Hilton hotels.
7x points spent on travel and at U.S. restaurants.
3x on all other purchases.
Up to $250 in Hilton resort credits on your card each anniversary year.
» Learn more: Hilton Honors Elite Status: Your complete guide
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card has a $450 annual fee but packs a punch when it comes to benefits. Cardmembers receive automatic Gold Elite status, which grants you free room upgrades when available, complimentary Wi-Fi, 2 p.m. late checkout when available and 25% bonus points on paid stays.
Other details of this card include:
Welcome bonus: Earn 125,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Plus, earn up to $200 in Statement Credits for eligible purchases at U.S. Restaurants within the first 6 months of Card Membership. Offer Expires 5/12/2021. Terms Apply.
6x Marriott Bonvoy points on eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels.
3x points on flights booked directly with airlines and at U.S. restaurants.
2x points on all other eligible purchases.
Up to $300 in statement credits each year for eligible purchases at Marriott hotels.
Earn Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status after making $75,000 in eligible purchases on your card in a calendar year.
World of Hyatt Credit Card
With an annual fee of $95, the World of Hyatt Credit Card offers cardholders complimentary Discoverist status as one of its main perks. With World of Hyatt Discoverist status, you can get upgraded to a room with a better view, on a higher floor or a corner room.
Discoverists also get complimentary internet access, 2 p.m. late checkout when available and elite check-in.
Other benefits of the card include:
Welcome bonus: Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 More Bonus Points by earning 2 Bonus Points total per $1 spent in the first 6 months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 Bonus Point, on up to $15,000 spent.
Free nights start at 5,000 points.
One free night at any Category 4 or lower Hyatt property after your cardmember anniversary.
Extra free night at any Category 4 or lower Hyatt hotel if you spend $15,000 during your cardmember anniversary year.
Automatic World of Hyatt Elite status and five qualifying night credits every year.
Two qualifying night credits toward tier status for every $5,000 you spend on your card.
4 bonus points per dollar on Hyatt stays (on top of 5 base points for a total 9x points).
2x for spending on restaurants, plane tickets purchased directly from the airline, local transit and fitness club memberships.
» Learn more: Complete guide to Hyatt elite status
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
As an IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card holder you’ll get automatic Platinum Elite status with IHG Rewards Club — a loyalty program that includes the likes of Holiday Inn, InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Kimpton, EVEN and Indigo hotels. Platinum elites get free room upgrades based on availability upon check-in plus 50% bonus points earning, elite rollover nights and more.
The credit card comes with an annual fee of $89. The perks you get include:
Welcome bonus: Earn 125,000 bonus points plus a Reward Night after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
One award night after each account anniversary.
One award night when you redeem points for a stay of four or more nights.
Additional 15 points per $1 spent on IHG hotel stays (on top of 10 base points, for a total of 25x points on stays).
2x points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants. 1x points on all other purchases.
Platinum Elite status as long as you remain a card member.
Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee credit of up to $100 every four years.
The bottom line
Quite a few hotel credit cards come with elite status that can get you upgraded to a better room for free. Weigh all the benefits of a credit card, including possible upgrades, against the annual fee to decide whether one of these cards is worth getting.
All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card