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Hotel credit cards can deliver a host of great perks, from bonus points-earning opportunities to built-in benefits like late checkout. But given the number of cards available — not to mention the sometimes confusing inclusions and exclusions — there are several mistakes you could be making with your credit card.
Or shall we call them missed opportunities to earn better rewards?
The usual dangers of using hotel credit cards include taking on too much debt and spending money that you don't have. These major mistakes aside, you might be skipping other benefits that make traveling more convenient or affordable.
Whether you're new to travel credit cards, are a seasoned points and miles nerd or are gearing up to choose a hotel credit card, here are some hotel credit card mistakes that could be holding you back from experiencing their maximum potential.
Hotel credit card mistakes to avoid
No one likes to leave free perks on the table, especially if you’re paying off your card balance each month in full.
1. Using the wrong card for a purchase
Hotel credit cards, like others in your wallet, often have bonus spending categories which offer more points for specific types of purchases. For example, with the World of Hyatt Credit Card, you can earn 2x points on dining, local transit and gym memberships.
If you don’t have another card in your wallet with a higher earning rate, you should put these types of purchases on this card. Otherwise, you may end up using a card that only offers 1 point per dollar spent on these purchases.
When staying at a particular hotel brand, you should only use the associated hotel credit card to get maximum points.
2. Missing the sign-up bonus offer
Many hotel credit cards come with a sweet sign-up bonus that rewards bonus points for meeting a certain spending threshold within a set number of months. Keep an eye on this timeline and don’t miss this opportunity for a large number of points all at once.
Each card is different, so be sure to read the fine print.
» Learn more: The best travel credit card welcome bonuses right now
3. Forgetting free night credits and statement credits
Many hotel credit cards offer an anniversary night certificate that can be used at eligible hotels in the portfolio, which are traditionally awarded after your cardmember anniversary date each year. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card comes with a free night award valued up to 50,000 points. The same card also offers up to $300 in statement credits per year when using it to pay for eligible purchases at Marriott properties. Terms apply.
Free night awards and statement credits can be lucrative, helping you easily offset the cost of the annual fee. It is easy, however, to forget that you have these perks in your account.
4. Letting points expire
Ouch! This is a rough one. If you paused travel and haven’t been using your hotel credit card, you could be at risk of losing points. In some programs, points expire (or are forfeited) when there is no activity in the account after a set amount of time.
For example, World of Hyatt points are typically forfeited after 24 consecutive months of inactivity. While some programs have put their points expiration on pause during COVID-19, be sure to check your account.
Even if you stopped using a hotel credit card or staying with a particular brand, it would be a shame to see all those points disappear. Be sure to either use them for a stay or find a way to keep the account active by spending a small amount on the card.
» Learn more: The best hotel credit cards right now
5. Not using all of the benefits
Use the included perks that matter to you — and maybe your travel companions.
For instance, some cards come with a statement credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership. If you already have these, use your card to pay for a family member when they sign up. The statement credit is tied to the credit card that is used, not the person who applies for the program, so there is no additional expense.
If you don’t use it, you’re letting a relative spend cash when they don’t need to.
Certain cards require you to activate benefits to enjoy them. For example, cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card come with Priority Pass Select membership. You may need to call American Express, however, to request the membership card and activate it. If you forget, you might miss out on airport lounge access when you travel. Terms apply.
6. Paying foreign transaction fees
Some hotel credit cards, like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, waive transaction fees when using the card overseas. This can save you cash if you travel internationally, but not all cards include this benefit.
Be sure to read the fine print and only pay for international purchases (or for charges in any foreign currency) with a card that does not impose these fees.
» Learn more: What if I book my overseas hotel on a U.S. site?
7. Signing up for the wrong card
You see an enticing offer with lots of bonus points, and you think you may start to stay with that hotel brand eventually. Well, if you don’t, take a look at that annual fee. If you’re paying a hefty fee each year, but not taking advantage of using the card with a particular hotel chain or any of the associated benefits, it’s time to cut the cord.
Another important consideration is weighing the cost of the annual fee with the projected benefits you expect to receive from the card. If you end up spending more on an annual fee than the value of the perks you receive (anniversary nights, bonus points, airport lounge access, etc.), then you may be signing up for the wrong card.
There are some hotel credit cards with lower fees that might offer better perks that match your lifestyle and habits.
» Learn more: How do hotel credit cards work?
Avoid these hotel credit card mistakes
Hotel credit cards can deliver great perks on low spending. Assuming you would make these purchases anyway, using the right card for specific types of purchases and in the appropriate way can have you enjoying travel-related benefits in no time.
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 2022, 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