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What Hotel Credit Card Upgrades Mean for Your Bottom Line

August 2, 2018
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards, Travel, Travel Credit Cards
What Hotel Credit Card Upgrades Mean for Your Bottom Line
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If you had a dollar for every time a co-branded hotel credit card got updated this year, you would have enough money to raid the minibar on your next stay.

Since January, several major hotel brands have overhauled their co-branded cards. New benefits have been added, high-end cards have been announced and some legacy benefits have disappeared.

And it’s all happening at a startling pace.

“I’ve probably never seen anything quite like it in this kind of compressed time frame,” says John Grund, managing director at Accenture Payments, a firm that provides consulting services for banks and payment providers. For travelers, this influx of new offers is potentially valuable.

Hotels cards get spruced up

The major hotel cards that were revamped this year all happen to be issued by either Chase or American Express. Among the flurry of updates:

  • AmEx debuted an updated portfolio of four cards with Hilton Hotels & Resorts in January.
  • Chase added two new cards to its InterContinental Hotel Group portfolio in April.
  • Chase launched a new Hyatt co-branded card in June.
  • Chase launched a new co-branded card with Marriott International in May; it will update the hotel’s business card benefits in August.
  • AmEx announced it will update its Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express consumer card and launch a new high-end card in August.
  • Chase announced that its Ritz-Carlton® Rewards Credit Card will stop accepting applications; however, existing cardholders will get new benefits on their cards in August.

In part, the improved hotel cards of this year are the result of big contracts signed last year.

“These contracts between banks and non-banks … when they come up for expiration, the incumbent bank is normally trying to renew and retain that relationship,” especially if it is a large flagship brand, Grund says. At the same time, the non-bank partner — the hotel, in this case — is looking to offer better credit card benefits for the consumer or make sure it has a deal that’s in line with the rest of the market, he says.

For example, after Marriott International acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide in 2016, it negotiated new multiyear contracts with Chase and AmEx at the end of 2017. That agreement translated to a downpour of generous new offers for its hotel brands this year. Similarly, American Express’ Hilton credit card portfolio improved after the hotel chain went exclusive with AmEx after a bidding process last year.

Demand for hotels is strong

For issuers, offering co-branded hotel cards is another way to appeal to travelers and affluent consumers. Even in the age of Airbnb, the hotel business is booming.

“In 2017, we reached another record occupancy level for the hotel industry. The industry is very healthy,” says Jamie Lane, senior economist at CBRE Hotels’ Americas Research, the research division of a firm that does consulting for the hospitality industry.

While neither Chase nor AmEx discloses the number of cards in each hotel portfolio, representatives for both say their hotel cards are performing well.

“We have seen [year-over-year] growth in new accounts as well as spend from existing cardmembers for our hotel card programs,” said Leslie Gillin, the president of co-brand cards at Chase, in an email. All of Chase’s hotel partners have grown their loyalty membership programs, she says.

Meanwhile, the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card portfolio is AmEx’s second-largest co-brand portfolio.

“We continue to see strong demand and high satisfaction among Hilton Honors and Starwood Preferred Guest card members alike,” said Eva Reda, executive vice president of partnerships and product development at American Express, in an email.

What do the changes mean for you?

For cardholders, the updates to co-branded hotel cards have been mostly positive. Here’s what you’ll find:

  • New rewards and benefits. Among other perks, for example, The World Of Hyatt Credit Card offers a way to earn an additional anniversary night each year. Some new offers from Chase and AmEx also include perks like access to airport lounge benefits or credits for those who apply for faster security checks with Global Entry or TSA Precheck credits.
  • More high-end cards with rich benefits. Earlier, AmEx debuted its Hilton Honors Aspire card. In August, it will launch the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card. Both cards have annual fees of $450 and many perks.
  • Some cuts to legacy benefits. Though the new Chase cards have piled on plenty of new perks, they’ve also eliminated a few older ones. For example, the new offers lack price protection of the older versions, and the anniversary night benefit on the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card has been reduced.
  • Welcome bonuses will become harder to get. On Aug. 26, Marriott will introduce new restrictions to earning welcome bonuses. Under these new rules, cardholders may not be eligible for a welcome bonus if they have or have had an existing card relationship or have recently received a bonus associated with one of Marriott’s three programs, Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest.

Information related to the Ritz-Carlton® Rewards Credit Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.

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