Is It Really Worth Getting A Hotel Credit Card If You Don’t Have Elite Status?

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Yesterday I wrote about seven credit cards on which I pay the annual fee but don’t put much spend. Reader Nevsky left the following comment, which is a question I’ve been asked many times in the past:

I keep thinking of getting the Hyatt or the IHG card, but is a free night without status for someone used to upgrades, free breakfast, late checkout, etc. really that great? There might be some times that I could use it, but most of the time would rather have the benefits. As Lucky said, he gets Hyatt benefits. Because of the recent near elimination of the Hyatt program (except for those at the highest level), there is not much left in the way of benefits for those at the lower levels, even with a free night. Would be interested in the thoughts of others.

Up front I should mention that I’m a Hyatt Globalist member, so am not quite in the same position as Nevsky. as I get full Globalist benefits when using the annual free night certificate offered with The Hyatt Credit Card. However, I have no loyalty to IHG Rewards Club, aside from the annual free night certificate and Platinum status that I get for having the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card.

How much is a “free” night really worth without status?

A vast majority of people don’t have any sort of hotel status, so I think most people are happy with any sort of room at a hotel. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a similar hesitation when I first got the IHG Card, as I also considered how much it was really worth to me without elite benefits with my preferred hotel groups.

InterContinental-Amsterdam
Redeem your anniversary night certificate at the InterContinental Amsterdam

The card has only a $49 annual fee (waived the first year), which is among the lowest annual fees of any premium hotel credit card. Am I using the free night for super special trips? No, because I’d rather spend those at a hotel where I have free breakfast, suite upgrades, etc. However, IHG has a massive global footprint, and in many cases they have hotels in places where I need to be. Furthermore:

  • As an IHG Platinum member (which you get just for having the card) you should get pretty good treatment at Holiday Inns, Crowne Plazas, etc.
  • I also find it useful to use these certificates for quick one night stopovers; for example, rather than staying at an airport hotel in Paris or Amsterdam, stay at the IC Le Grand or IC Amstel, which are much more luxurious — most people probably couldn’t justify that at the retail cost, but when you’re using a certificate offered by a card with a $49 annual fee, maybe it’s a different story

InterContinental-Paris
A night at the InterContinental Le Grand for $49? I’ll take it!

I just recently used my annual free night certificate issued by the IHG Card at the InterContinental Hong Kong, and the year before used it at the InterContinental London The O2, prior to an Adele concert, where it was by far the best option. Since all hotels offer free wifi, that’s not a cost consideration either.

My point is, even as someone who is almost irrationally loyal to my preferred hotel chains, I haven’t felt like I’ve been making any sort of a compromise by using these certificates.

What about Hyatt, though? Hyatt has a smaller global footprint, and the Hyatt Card also has an annual fee of $75, which is $26 more per year than the IHG Card. The card offers Hyatt Discoverist status, which comes with preferred rooms and 2PM check-out. Admittedly that’s not a hugely valuable status, but it’s better than nothing.

I don’t think that card is for absolutely everyone, but I still think most would get value out of such a stay. Even for an annual stay at a convenient US airport hotel, you’d come out ahead with this certificate and the card’s $75 annual fee, rather than paying.

Here’s the thing — hotel elite status is valuable, but I don’t think it’s that valuable on all stays. Suite upgrades and free breakfast are nice, but sometimes you have a pretty quick overnight so don’t care about the size of the room, and sometimes you’re just as happy getting Starbucks or going to a local cafe, rather than eating at a hotel’s breakfast buffet.

So I understand the general hesitancy about getting a card with your non-preferred hotel chain, but it’s very hard to go wrong with a card like the IHG Card, which has a $49 annual fee and gives you access to over 4,000 hotels around the world. Even the Hyatt Card is tough to go wrong with as a non-Globalist, in my opinion, given that there are some great properties around the world where this can be redeemed.

What do you guys think —  is not having elite status a big hindrance in using these certificates, or are these cards still a great deal? 

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Comments

  1. Free night is a free night. Who cares if you don’t get an upgrade or free breakfast. If used well it can be worth good money.

  2. Using the certificate to stay at a hotel downtown for a quick stopover without including the cost of transportation is simplistic and not realistic. Traveling from CDG to the Opera district in Paris takes around 45 minutes each way and costs anything between 20 to 100 euro.

  3. There are many better ways to go, imo. The only hotel status I have now is from the Biz Plat AMEX, and since the value prop of that card is dropping I’ll likely dump it soon. Business travel will allow me to bulk up my Chase points on my Sapphire Reserve card, not having these lower quality branded cards gives me more freedom.

    But, as @Santastico says, a free night is a free night, whether it’s at a cheap or an expensive hotel.

  4. The focus is the free night, and redeeming wisely. We were in Japan last month with an overnight trip to Osaka and used the IHG free night at the IC Osaka. Great hotel/location for what equals out to $49. Sure status could have provide a better room and free breakfast, but saving hundreds on the room price is a lot more appealing.

  5. In my opinion, hotel status is really overrated. When I’m travelling I prefer to eat out at local restaurants rather than pick at a mediocre breakfast buffet. Furthermore I try to limit my time in the room as much as possible, so suite upgrades aren’t all that important. My main requirements for hotel rooms are cleanliness and a small space to work if needed.

  6. As someone with no elite status with any hotels (gasp, horror) I still find the Hyatt free night useful, especially because we are often choose to stay at limited service hotels even when paying, ex. with Hilton, I prefer Embassy Suites and Doubletrees to Conrads and Waldorfs. My boyfriend and I pooled our Hyatt anniversary nights to stay for a long weekend at the Hyatt Place Asheville, which was going for $349 a night, and really enjoyed it. We felt like we got really good value, so especially for domestic travelers I think it can make a lot of sense.

  7. I don’t really care where i stay, normally i pick the cheaper more central hotels over bothering with any hotel status.

    But when it comes to flying its a bigger deal for me.

  8. @Lucky. Thank your for the excellent answer. You have some great insights (as usual), which are similar to my thoughts. I basically come out where you do. In particular, I think that the IHG card is the more compelling option. Also, as some have pointed out, it would be especially useful for a stay at a limited service hotel where free breakfast is included and upgrades may be non-existent anyway, especially where late checkout will not be needed.

    In particular, if overnighting in Hong Kong, a free night could be especially useful, as hotels are generally expensive there and the airport options are very limited and fairly expensive, so a trip downtown on the Hong Kong Airport Express is almost a necessity.

  9. I have both cards because I find value. I used the Hyatt at Abu Dhabi Hyatt Capital Gate, very cool building and large deluxe room. I’ve used the IHG free night at the London Intercontinental Park Lane a couple times (also Intercontinental Ambassador for just 19,000 points a year, and lord I’ve enjoyed amazing IC weekends in London, Hong Kong (2x), New York, Los Angles, San Francisco & Tokyo (3x))

    But without status, you still get a cheap night, so pay for room service breakfast

  10. I’m in the camp that says hotel elite status is overrated. Top tier might be one thing, but the rest of them? Meh.

    I get huge mileage out of the IHG card… I’ve got the ability to plan my trips far in advance, and IHG just requires you *book* the stay by its expiration (although you can’t cancel it). So I can still make a weekend out of my IHG nights every other year.

    Hyatt is easy enough to pair with a C&P rate.

  11. I have used my IHG free nights for mini vacations at Intercontinental hotels in Los Angeles and Dallas. I will be using my current free night at the Intercontinental Amstel in Amsterdam, so it is a great deal for a $49 credit card fee.

  12. I use my free nights at airport hotels for international award flight connections that require overnights. In December I’m staying at the Hyatt Place Phoenix Airport on my free night.

  13. I agree that the IHG card is a no-brainer; unless you forget to use it, it’s basically impossible to not come out ahead getting an annual hotel night for $49. Even a random roadside HIX is probably $99/night, so that alone would net you $50.

    The Hyatt card is a much tougher proposition. You neglected to mention in your post that the annual night is both more expensive than IHG, but also category restricted (categories 1-4 only), which eliminates the vast majority of high-value redemptions. The IHG night is available at any IHG hotel in the world, which creates a lot more possibilities for high value redemptions.

    It’s no coincidence, I think, that every example you gave of actually using the annual night certificate was at an IHG property, not a Hyatt property.

  14. According to your numbers (Hyatt~$200 value for category 4, IHG~$400 value for any hotel) with the annual fee here is the discount offered by the annual free night certificate by the two:

    IHG: $49/400 = 0.1225 = 88% off
    Hyatt: $75/200 = 0.375 = 63% off

    I agree with your assessment that both cards are no brainers regardless of elite status. These credit cards encourage users to hold on to them long term, an admirable strategy.

  15. Every year I find the IHG free night helps when stuck out of town due to a missed late connection or a weather-related issue as well as a way to cost-reduce luxury stays.
    Recently, I returned to the metro area at 1AM, ensuring there would be no on-street parking spaces, so I used my annual free night voucher at an airport Crowne Plaza. Cost savings: $216. They even waived the $15 parking fee (it pays to be nice). We’ll worth it to me!

  16. I think the Hyatt still offers the 2 free nights at any category hyatt after $1000 of spending? At least that’s what I did last fall. It’s good even for hyatt in sydney and tokyo where the standard room was $900/night.

    I used it in London for 2 nights which was about $300/night. Also, at the time they matched mgm gold (but no longer). That was good for avoiding the $10/day parking and additional 20% off on hotel stays. That saved me a bit since I’m in vegas a few times/year for just a day or two

    I have since ditched the card since they no longer offer the mgm gold matching and their cat 1-4 annual free nights is only good for a overnight airport hotel type of stay.

  17. Grand Hyatt DFW for a free ($75) overnight vs. another connection after a long international flight or after a positioning flight to Dallas. Works for me.

    Also, my wife and I used 2 free ($49) nights at IC Times Square which is also a great deal even without a free breakfast.

  18. I am routinely disappointed with hotel loyalty programs, certainly when compared with airline programs and loyalty-neutral programs like Chase Sapphire Reserve. Even with status, which I have with a couple of hotel chains, it’s often just not worth the hassle.

    I’ve had better luck with hotels.com with their 10% off (a free night after ten nights paid stays) and then I can stay at the hotel I want rather than the one in my chain. And that matters because the properties vary for each chain – there is no one chain that is best in every city

  19. I dont get it. By having the IHG card are you saying we will get 1 free night no matter where we stay, always, no limits? Sorry Im just a little confused on the benefits of the IHG card.

  20. I hate to be a contrarian in the midst of all this IHG “love,” but surely this is a case of YMMV.

    One problem I foresee is that I rarely stay in a hotel for a single night. It happens occasionally¹, yes, but overwhelmingly I stay multiple nights. A free night is a free night, but I wouldn’t choose to stay (e.g.) at a Holiday Inn or Crowne Plaza by choice. But neither would I stay for a free night *there*, and then pack up and move to, say, a W or Westin, a Marriott or a Hilton. I’ll just stay at ____________ the entire time.

    Secondly, just for the sake of discussion, although the Hilton Honors Surpass Amex and the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Visa have differing levels of benefits, one thing they share is that they both come with automatic Gold status for as long as you hold the card. And Chase’s Marriott Rewards Visa comes automatically with Silver, though the actual benefits with that are slight.

    Third, applying for the IHG card would only further delay my ability to apply for the CSR.

    _______________
    ¹ Typically it happens when I can’t get a flight back to the States until the next morning, and I’m forced into an overnight layover @ LHR. When that happens, I’ll use points for a free night at the Hilton @ T5 and enjoy the excellent Indian cuisine at Mr. Toadwalla’s.

  21. @Roberto – I personally stayed at the PH Paris last year when overnighting for a connecting flight. Yes it was about 45 minutes from CDG but it was well worth the time and expense from our perspective. You’re right that it’s a bit pricey after factoring in transportation, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it unrealistic.

    One prime example where the Hyatt free night cert works great when overnighting to position for a flight is at LAX. The newly remodeled Hyatt Regency is the closest hotel to the airport (easily reaching the airport in under 15 minutes via a free 24/7 shuttle). Paid rates generally run about $225/night & it’s only a cat-3 hotel. Decent long term parking rates are onsite, too. I’m sure other examples exist, but that’s the one I use most frequently.

  22. I use hotels.com for most of my stays and am a silver member. I get 2-3 free nights per year and am happy with their customer service

  23. I’m strictly a leisure traveler. I have a number of hotel credit cards. Besides annual free nights, I manage to receive a number of other free nights on credit card spend. I find that holding the hotel chain’s credit card does, indeed, give me preferental treatment.

  24. Why no Marriott card free night analysis? Just got my first annual fee bill. Worth it for $85?

  25. Looking at a five day trip to London, IC Park Lane, Ambassador:

    Tue — annual Free night
    Wed — 60k pts
    Thur –60k pts
    Fri — L350
    Sat — Ambassador 2nd weekend night free
    Sunday — leave

    All that for a few points, and ~$450? That’s about $2,275 of great hotel Sign me up!

  26. We used the IHG free night at Intercontinental Montreal. Arrived on VIA Rail from Halifax at 10 a.m. Checked in early and left next day at noon, headed for Rail Station and took Amtrak to Portland, OR. Enjoyed our free night and time to explore Montreal! The Platinum status is always acknowledged around the world and occasionally a room upgrade is awarded. My wife and I each have a card so that is two free nights a year — helpful for us retired folk. My advice, for gosh sake don’t use the free night at a Holiday Inn Express in a small town somewhere — save it for a IHG upscale property 🙂

  27. For the Hyatt Visa, I think the better strategy is to get it for the 2 free nights (at any property) signup bonus and then cancel and repeat down the road. Wife and I both got the Hyatt Visa in early 2016 and scored a total of 4 nights at the Hyatt Park Sydney, which is an fantastic property/location. We could never afford to pay the cash rate there (~$900/night), but that Hyatt and the Queenstown bed & breakfast we stayed at really helped make our vacation trip.

    And the wash/repeat/rinse cycle for the Hyatt Visa would benefit Lucky too, I imagine. 🙂

  28. My husband and I both had the Hyatt card a couple of years ago and redeemed for 4 nights without status at the Andaz Maui. At the time the cards came with a $50 statement credit, so it was worth it. We usually are not up for big breakfasts so skipped the expensive-when-not-included-as-a-benefit buffet and just picked up coffee and yogurt at the market there. That was worth it at the time, but we have both cancelled the card when the fee was due, although we still got the anniversary free night and used them in Washington, DC. Based on our travels we don’t see the value of this card going forward.

    We both also have the IHG card, and have used the free nights at the Willard IC in Washington, DC, the Palazzo in Las Vegas, and the Indigo St. George in Rome. Yes, we have to pay for breakfast, and some fees, but the savings is still worth it to us. Most recent – the Indigo in Rome offered 50% off their very extensive breakfast buffet (somehow our appetites were raging in Italy….), and the use of a free smartphone with free calls back to the USA. We thought the location was much better than SPG options up on the Via Veneto or any other redemption options in Rome. No, it wasn’t a suite, but the room was very comfortable, had so many outlets for charging, and the staff was great. Well worth the free night certificate and points we used. Next up, the new Kimpton in Amsterdam. This card is a keeper.

  29. We’ve used Hyatt cat 1-4 nights at the Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica. The hotel is amazing, and paid rates in the winter (when we’ve been) usually start in the $500s or $600s. It’s probably the best use of the Hyatt certificates out there, and an easy flight from the US (hotel is only around 30 minutes from the Liberia airport). Here’s a post my wife wrote on the wonderful hotel and utilizing the Hyatt credit card for the stay: kenanhill.com/2017/02/revisiting-costa-rican-paradise-at-the-andaz-papagayo/

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