Best ways to earn free hotel stays with your credit card

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, earning free hotel stays is a great way to save money. There are several ways you can use a credit card to get free nights at your favorite hotels. Here’s everything you need to know.

[Read: Best Hotel Credit Cards.]

Try a Co-Branded Hotel Rewards Credit Card (and Get Extra Perks)

With a co-branded hotel credit card, you can make purchases anywhere, but you earn additional rewards when you book hotel stays. Some hotel cards may also come with a large sign-up bonus for new cardholders, which could help you score a free stay right away. And some cards offer a free hotel night each year as a cardholder benefit or the chance to earn a free night by reaching an annual spending threshold, such as $15,000.

As a co-branded hotel cardholder, you’ll likely earn bonus rewards when you spend with the hotel. For example, you could earn five points per dollar on qualifying hotel bookings when you use your credit card. Pair your credit card with a hotel loyalty program, and you might earn even more.

Most co-branded hotel cards offer a sign-up bonus, which is generally worth at least $250. That’s enough to book one night or more at most hotels.

It may be tempting to open multiple hotel cards to snag bonus rewards or free nights, but consider your strategy. Uri Abramson, co-founder of personal finance blog Overdraft Apps, says the best hotel credit card is the one you’ll use over and over again and that offers benefits beyond free nights. If you tend to book stays with one brand most of the time, it may be smarter to charge all of your purchases to that hotel’s card to accumulate rewards.

Also, consider the annual percentage rate if you think you’ll carry a balance, as well as the card’s annual fee and your travel habits. A hotel rewards card that charges no annual fee and offers multiple opportunities to earn and redeem rewards for free stays may be more valuable for the occasional traveler, compared with one with a steep annual fee.

[Read: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards]

Earn Rewards With General Travel Rewards Credit Cards

While co-branded hotel credit cards can take you far in earning free nights, general travel rewards cards can also help you save on hotel stays. These cards can offer you points or miles when you book any type of travel expense, including hotels, airfare, car rentals, cruises and vacation packages. Additionally, these cards can offer rewards for everyday purchases, such as entertainment, dining, groceries and gas.

When considering a general travel rewards card, consider what you hope to get from the card and what you’re willing to pay. A premium travel rewards card, for instance, may offer access to premium hotel collections, hotel upgrades or free nights, as well as complimentary lounge access, free checked bags at the airport or fee waivers for travel programs like TSA Precheck and Global Entry.

Cards with t hose benefits may, however, have a higher annual fee. If you don’t stay at hotels as often, you may consider a card that still offers great rewards on travel but has a lower or no annual fee.

Also, consider whether you may be able to apply your rewards with travel partners for free stays using your travel card’s online booking portal. Some travel cards allow for points transfers between hotel programs as well as with airline partners. If you’re considering applying your points for free stays, calculate the transfer value first to understand what each point is worth at different hotel partners.

Consider a Cash Rewards Credit Card

Hotel and travel rewards cards may offer the most bang for your buck overall when angling for free hotel stays. But Abramson says not to count out cash back cards for travel. “A plain 2% cash back card can still be more profitable than a points card,” he says.

With a hotel or travel rewards card, the highest rewards rate is typically reserved for travel or dining. But if most of your spending revolves around groceries or everyday purchases, you might benefit from having a cash back card that pays out a maximum benefit on supermarket purchases.

For example, you may have a card that offers tiered cash back rewards, allowing you to earn 5% or 6% at supermarkets, 3% on entertainment and dining, and 1% on everything else you spend. If you only book hotel stays a few times a year, you could charge the stay to your cash back card, then redeem the cash back you’ve earned as a statement credit. Meanwhile, you can continue racking up cash back based on your regular spending habits.

Regardless of which card you use to book hotel stays and earn free nights, consider how you’ll pay off any remaining balance not covered by your rewards. If it takes months to pay off a family trip to Disney or a solo spa getaway, the interest can cancel out the value of any free nights you’ve earned.

“Always do the math before putting a considerable spend on your credit card,” Abramson says.

[Read: Best Cash Back Credit Cards.]

Cash In on Hotel Loyalty Programs With Your Card

Stacking rewards earned with a hotel or travel rewards card with a hotel loyalty program’s points can be a relatively easy way to earn more free nights. The premise is simple: You earn rewards through the hotel’s loyalty program when you book, and you also earn rewards with your card when you use it to reserve a room. That allows you to double up on rewards that you could then apply to your next stay.

Hotel loyalty programs are generally free to join, and you can enroll in as many as you like. If you’re loyal to one brand, however, you may be able to accumulate points and free stays faster by using just that program.

J.R. Duren, senior editor and personal finance analyst at consumer review site HighYa, says you may be able to earn additional rewards by using your card for on-property purchases. He says some loyalty programs offer a points multiplier as a bonus incentive to encourage guests to spend. So minibar purchases or a spa visit, for example, could help you get closer to free nights faster.

You could also wrangle savings on hotel stays by leveraging referral bonuses with your credit card or hotel loyalty programs. Many hotel and travel cards offer a rewards bonus when you refer a friend or family member who is approved for a new account. You could also look into whether the same option is available through your hotel loyalty program. Just be sure you understand the issuer’s rules for earning referrals and how many referral bonuses you can get each year.

Understand Booking Rules

Knowing your hotel’s rules for earning points isn’t technically a way to earn them, but it is important to making sure you can get credit for all of the points you’re expecting.

Booking through a third-party travel site using your credit card can sometimes be problematic for earning hotel loyalty rewards. The hotel’s loyalty program may specify that you have to book through the hotel or your co-branded card’s travel portal to earn loyalty rewards.

That means if you don’t follow the rules for booking, you could shortchange yourself on rewards. You also have to pay attention to merchant codes. These are the codes credit cards use to categorize transactions and determine how many points or miles you’ll earn per dollar. Certain travel credit cards will categorize third-party travel sites as travel purchases, but not every card does.

Capital One offers a solution by partnering with Through January 2020, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card holders earn 10 miles per dollar on hotel stays booked through You can also enroll in the rewards program to take advantage of special discounts and earn one free night for every 10 eligible nights you book.

Remember to read the cancellation policies carefully if you’re booking with loyalty or credit card points through a third-party site, versus directly with the hotel or through your credit card’s travel portal. “Most won’t refund you your points if you cancel within 24 hours of your reservation,” Duren says. A hotel, on the other hand, may handle refunds differently if you need to cancel at the last minute.

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