Home > Credit Cards > I Travel a Lot. Should I Get a Hotel or Airline Credit Card?

Comments 0 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure


Co-branded credit cards can be a great way for frequent fliers to pool loyalty and rewards points, maximize earnings, enjoy perks like a free checked bag or hotel Wi-Fi, and score upgrades like a first-class seat or a night in a suite.

In fact, for travelers who don’t carry a balance (and, subsequently, lose points to interest), the biggest dilemma is often the choice between using an airline miles credit card or a hotel rewards credit card. Here are some ways to determine which option may be right for you.

Airline Credit Cards vs. Hotel Credit Cards: The Pros & Cons

Credit cards that earn airline miles are tremendously popular, but not necessarily for their miles. For the past several years, many airlines have devalued their frequent-flier programs by requiring more miles for award flights, making fewer seats available for awards at the lowest mileage levels and changing up earnings so you get miles for dollars spent and not distance traveled. Nevertheless, these cards still offer valuable benefits, such as checked baggage fee waivers, priority boarding and discounts on in-flight food, beverages and entertainment. In addition, skilled travelers may still be able to realize exceptional value from their miles when redeeming them for last-minute award flights or for international awards in business or first class.

While hotel credit cards may not be as popular as airline credit cards, they can offer terrific value. Several of the top hotel loyalty programs offer award nights for any unsold standard room, so you don’t have to hunt for award availability like you do with many airline credit cards. (Hotel programs with this policy include Hyatt Gold Passport, Starwood Preferred Guest, Hilton HHonors and Wyndham Rewards.) At the same time, some hotel programs have also devalued their points in the past few years by increasing the number required for a free night’s stay. So, cardholders have to carefully review a card’s terms and conditions to make sure they understand its true earnings potential.

Hotel credit cards can also offer elite status, which entitles guests to perks such as late checkouts, room upgrades, free Internet service and even complimentary breakfast. Another benefit is that award stays may actually be free, since hotels tend to be taxed based on the rate paid, with award nights frequently escaping all taxes. In contrast, an airline award almost always involves paying some money, as these programs generally require the payment of any required government taxes, and will sometimes add their own surcharges.

You can find a roundup of the best airline miles credit cards and the best hotel rewards credit cards on Credit.com.

How to Decide What’s Right for You

If you could only use either an airline or a hotel credit card, you should choose the one that will offer you the most value towards your travel needs. For example, if you usually fly somewhere and stay with family or friends or stay at destinations without major hotel chains, then a hotel credit card will not offer you much value. Conversely, if you like to take road trips (or use trains or buses), then an airline credit card would be a poor fit for your travel habits. Likewise, if you need to use your airline miles for award flights during peak travel periods, then you are likely to be disappointed by the availability of airline mileage awards, and you might be better off with a hotel credit card. (Remember, if you choose a card affiliated with a program that offers any unsold room as an award, then you can use your hotel points for award stays at popular destinations during peak travel periods, so long as the property isn’t already sold out of standard rooms.)

For some consumers, it may be beneficial to have both an airline credit card and a hotel credit card. Holding multiple credit cards can increase your credit score by reducing your ratio of debt to available credit. But if holding additional credit cards gives you incentive to incur more debt, or becomes difficult to manage responsibly, then you are better off with fewer credit cards.

You also need to consider any costs associated with cards to determine which — or how many — you should carry. Many travel credit cards have annual fees that could be financially burdensome, particularly if you have more than one in your wallet. And you want to refrain from applying for too many credit cards in a short window of time, since each application generates a hard inquiry on your credit report, which could, in turn, ding your credit score. To see if you credit can handle an inquiry and another card, you can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

More on Credit Cards:

Image: haveseen

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team