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Elite status in a hotel loyalty program can get you room upgrades, free breakfast, late checkout and other on-property perks. Normally, you earn elite status by racking up lots of stays at participating hotels. But there is an easier way. Certain credit cards come with automatic status in hotel programs.
Many travelers sign up for a hotel card just to get card benefits like free annual night certificates and statement credits. But credit cards with free elite status at hotels can pile on even more perks that, in many cases, are worth more than the card’s annual fee.
» Learn more: A beginner's guide to hotel elite status
Here are five cards that come with hotel elite status.
Top credit cards with free hotel status
1. World of Hyatt Credit Card
Status: Complimentary Discoverist (worth $25).
Annual fee: $95.
What you need to know: Though Discoverist is the lowest tier of World of Hyatt status, the World of Hyatt Credit Card delivers on the number of perks that come with its slim annual fee. Normally, members must stay 10 nights or earn 25,000 base points in the year to reach Discoverist status. For 2021, those thresholds were halved, requiring members to stay just five nights or earn at 12,500 base points to reach Discoverist. It also comes with five qualifying nights toward the next tier of status, Explorist, which normally requires 30 nights in a calendar year but was lowered to 15 nights for 2021.
That means the card comes with automatic, entry-level status while putting you on the path to mid-tier elite status with Hyatt. Benefits of the card include an annual free night certificate. Benefits of free Discoverist status include waived resort fees at participating properties, bonus points, space-available room upgrades and bottled water.
2. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card
Status: Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite (worth $3,314).
Annual fee: $650.
What you need to know: To earn Platinum status in the Marriott Bonvoy program, you normally have to stay 50 nights during a calendar year. But if you have the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, you automatically qualify for Platinum status, which gets you space-available upgrades to select suites, faster wireless internet during stays, late checkout and Marriott’s ultimate reservation guarantee. Though this is not the top Marriott Bonvoy elite status, it is the easiest way to launch yourself up the Marriott loyalty tier ladder.
Other perks that come with the sizable annual fee are Priority Pass Select membership (enrollment required), a Free Award Night worth up to 85,000 points and up to $300 of statement credits (up to $25 each month) for eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide. Terms apply.
In September, the $300 Marriott credit will be replaced with a new benefit of up to $300 in statement credits per calendar year (up to $25 per month) for eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide.
» Learn more: The best ways to rack up Marriott Bonvoy points
3. IHG® One Rewards Premier Credit Card
Status: Complimentary Platinum Elite (worth $1,710).
Annual fee: $99.
What you need to know: Platinum is a middle tier in the IHG One Rewards program. The card also comes with an annual free night and the ability to get a free reward night when redeeming points for three nights (or more).
The IHG® One Rewards Premier Credit Card has such a low annual fee that Platinum status (including space-available upgrades and bonus points) is just icing on the cake.
» Learn more: IHG elite status tiers
4. Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Status: Complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond (worth $4,296).
Annual fee: $550.
What you need to know: The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card gets you Hilton Honors’ top status tier. Typically, Diamond status requires at least 30 hotel nights, 15 stays or 60,000 base points (qualifying spend) in a calendar year. But this card comes with automatic Diamond status, which means you can immediately start enjoying the benefits like access to hotel executive lounges, continental breakfast, bonus points and space-available room upgrades.
Other perks of the card include a complimentary weekend anniversary night, Priority Pass Select membership (enrollment required), a $250 airline fee credit (enrollment required), a $250 Hilton resort credit and a $100 on-property credit each year. Add that up and the value of just those benefits alone exceeds the annual fee.
5. The Platinum Card® from American Express
Status: Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite (worth $960 and $126, respectively).
Annual fee: $695.
What you need to know: If you can’t decide which program you want to commit to, The Platinum Card® from American Express is a definite winner. Though its annual fee is hefty, so too are the benefits and automatic elite status with not just one, but two hotel brands. Cardholders enjoy two mid-tier elite statuses with Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold elite (enrollment required). Both come with space-available upgrades and bonus points.
The card can yield benefits worth more than the annual fee. For example, a $200 airline credit (enrollment required), $200 worth of Uber credits (rides or UberEats orders in the U.S. up to $15 each month and $35 in December), two $50 Saks Fifth Avenue credits (enrollment required), and Priority Pass Select (enrollment required) and Centurion lounge access add up to more than you pay to renew the card each year. That’s not to mention the bonuses that come with two hotel elite status options.
Other credit cards with free elite status at hotels
Besides the five standout cards above, a number of other credit cards come with free hotel elite status, usually at a low or middle tier.
The Choice Privileges® Mastercard® comes with free Gold status, the lowest elite tier in the loyalty program for Choice Hotels.
The Wyndham Rewards® Earner℠ Business Credit Card, which provides automatic Diamond status (the program’s highest, which NerdWallet values at $837), is a great option for regulars at Wyndham Rewards properties. Diamond members can also gift Gold status to someone else, plus they get bonus points, suite upgrades and welcome amenities on stays.
The bottom line
The right credit card can be your fastest route to elite status in your preferred hotel loyalty program. And one of these cards can be especially handy when staying at a hotel brand that you do not regularly frequent, since it may provide your only path to status. If you can take full advantage of status benefits and other card perks, you could get value well exceeding the card’s annual fee.
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 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card