I spend a lot of time talking about Hilton, Marriott, Starwood and Hyatt because of the breadth of their programs but, the truth is, if you want the best rewards programs, you often have to look elsewhere. The same may hold true for credit cards.
Two Cards That Pay for Themselves
I view credit cards as the single best way to accumulate points fast, but many of them come with pesky annual fees. Fortunately, those cards often pay for themselves with the benefits that they offer. Here are two from smaller programs that not only cover their costs but also require absolutely no action on your behalf to get the renewal benefits.
Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card
In general, the longer the official name of the card, the better the benefits are. It doesn’t always hold true, but it’s a good indicator. And this card has some good benefits.
Club Carlson is the Avis of the industry. It’s in the second tier, so it has to try harder. There are seven redemption categories and points are worth anywhere from 0.4-0.5 cents each. You earn 20 points per dollar spent at a hotel (before elite benefits) and can redeem for hotel rooms or gift cards (at about 1/3 the value of the room redemption). Club Carlson brands include Quorvus, Radisson and Park Plaza, among others.
The “No Action Freebie”
Here’s where the freebie comes in. Forget the 85,000 points you get for signing up for the Premier Rewards Visa and spending $2,500 in the first three months, the Gold Elite status or free night you get at any hotel when you spend $10,000 in a year.
The big No-Action Freebie is the 40,000 points that you get each year when you renew. Pay your $75 and you’ll get 40,000 points added to your account. If we value the 40,000 points at the 0.4c valuation, you receive $160 value in hotel stays. You’re up $85 for doing nothing except owning the card. Worst case scenario: You never need to stay in a hotel. You can still redeem the points for about $60 worth of gift card value.
IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card
IHG is the owner of, among other brands, Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn. Forget the 60,000 point sign-up bonus, 10% rebate on all redemptions and first-year waiver of the $49 annual fee.
The “No Action Freebie”
This deal is about as good as it gets. Each year that you renew (The fee is waived for the first year.), you get a free night anywhere in the Intercontinental Hotels system. See that room above in London? You can be there. Or Paris. Or any place with an Intercontinental property. It makes a great date-night room or stay for any other occasion. If there’s a room available in the inventory bucket, it’s yours. In 6-7 years of having this card, I’ve only not gotten my first choice once. It’s a great card to have.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes, you can get something for nothing. Or at least really close to nothing.
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