Racking up hotel points fast

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As I mentioned yesterday, I got an unusual number of questions last week when I talked about, of all things, doing surveys for miles. I like surveys-they’re easy and I can do them while watching TV. But most of the questions I got were about sign-up bonuses. I don’t know why that particular post led to emails, but it’s a topic worth rehashing. I’m going to start with hotels and move on to airline miles and cash back at a future date. The links will sort of be in order of preference and all cards can be accessed through either my banner at the bottom or at the company’s website.

Starwood tends to be the go-to card for frequent travelers.  The parent of Sheraton, Westin and W (among others) offers 25,000 points as a sign-up bonus.  That 25,000 number looks lower than the 40K-70K that others offer, but Starwood’s points are worth about 3c each, triple what some of its competitors’ are worth, and convert to airline miles at a much higher rate than other hotel points.  It’s the first travel card I got and one that I use frequently.  Added bonus: If you use the card at a Starwood property, you get bonus points, so even a base member of the program earns four points per dollar spent (a rebate of about 12%, in addition to the cash rebate you get when you book hotels at a cash back shopping site).  Added bonus: Starting August 11, the company is throwing in a few more benefits, including free Boingo Wi-Fi (which is lousy, but better than nothing), free premium internet at Starwood hotels and no foreign transaction fees.  Note: The $65 annual fee is waived the first year and goes up to $95 on August 11.

Hyatt: The buggers at Hyatt refuse to give me a banner, but I love them anyway because their card is so strong (and can be found at their website here).  Two free nights to start and a free first year, with a $75 annual fee each year afterward.  You’ll also get Platinum status at Hyatt, their first tier in the two-tier elite program.  The only downside to Hyatt is that it doesn’t have as many hotels as most of its competitors, but the hotels that it does have are very nice and service is top-notch.

The Next Tier

A lot of bonuses are based on personal preferences, so I’m going to try and order them based on upfront value, regardless of brand.

Marriott: It’s kind of squishy here, but 50,000 points from Marriott is one of the better deals out there, even if Marriott myself isn’t the greatest program.  50,000 points will get you a night at most Ritz Carlton hotels and a couple of nights at most of its other properties.  No annual fee for the first year, Marriott silver elite status for however long you have the card and a free night every year after the first all make the card a winner.

Intercontinental/Priority Club: I have a perennial love-hate relationship with this program.  Its elite status is awful (You get platinum with the card.) and customer service at the call centers isn’t much better, but the card may be the best one in the industry.  The current sign-up bonus just dropped from 70,000 points to 60,000 points, but that’s still enough to get you more than a night at any of the high end Intercontinental properties (or a couple of nights at Holiday Inn).  And for your $49 annual fee, which is waived for the first year, you’ll get a free night each year at any hotel throughout the chain, such as the Intercontinental Paris.  It’s really hard to say no to that kind of deal.

Club Carlson: Who?  Oh yeah, those guys, with brands such as Radisson, Park Inn and Country Inn & Suites.  Not the most exciting brands, but they certainly get the job done and offer a decent sign-up bonus, with up to 85,000 points, which will get you nine nights.  That’s a very nice road trip.

Hilton: And then there’s Hilton.  While the link below will get you the 40,000 point bonus and a fee-free card, the website itself has four options, including the aforementioned freebie.  You’ll get Silver Elite status with the freebies.  For over an annual fee and you’ll get Gold status plus 60,000 points or a couple of free weekend nights.

So that’s what I have for hotel bonuses.  You can find any of the cards except the Hyatt or a couple of the Hilton cards by clicking through the banner on this page..  If I were starting from scratch, I’d probably go with the Starwood card at the top of the list, but with any of them, you’ll start with enough points to get a couple of nights of vacation.  Hey, get a bunch of them and take a couple of weeks.  You deserve it.

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