Yes, there are a ton of vacation rental options available and there are lots of other alternatives to a hotel stay, but a survey from Citi found that 57% of U.S. travelers prefer to book a hotel when vacationing during the summer months. Another 27% stay with friends and family, while rental services including HomeAway and Airbnb manage just 6% of all accommodations. In fairness, vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts, which also represent just 6% of all summer accommodations, thrive in the cooler months and offseason -- and are more popular outside the 35- to 54-year-old demographic that Citi's partners at Wakefield Research targeted.
Then again, according to the survey, respondents who are full-time employees save about 37% of their vacation days for the summer, with 46% taking multiple weekend trips during the summer these days. Just five years ago, taking one long vacation was more popular. That short window makes hotels a more appealing option, but it also makes saving a bit on those hotel stays by using a hotel loyalty card just as intriguing.
While rewards cards have offered travelers airline miles for decades, card issuers have expanded rewards offerings so much that Walt Disney World, Sandals, Westgate, Universal, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian all have branded cards. That means a whole lot of freebies for cardholders who can stick to one brand.
“The most important thing to consider when choosing a travel rewards card is your travel habits,” says Amber Stubbs, managing editor of CardRatings.com. “If you are brand loyal, then a co-branded card is hard to beat. However, if you aren’t brand loyal, those points and perks are likely to go to waste.”
Even if you are sworn to one particular brand, it helps to have outstanding credit if you want to get the best perks. Stubbs notes that cards with more flexible rewards programs offer broader options, but often require spotless credit. If you have a clean sheet, however, folks in the credit card industry say perks should be nearly immediate.
“Great credit gets you the great signup bonuses, too,” says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. “For example, some cards are offering 40-50,000 points for a signup bonus, which can translate into a $400-$500 credit on your credit card statement. That’s a lot of money. Other perks include use of 24-hour concierge, access to airport lounges, hotel and rental car upgrades.”
In the hotel industry, those loyalty perks can add up quickly. With help from CardRatings.com, we came up with five hotel rewards cards that provide a whole lot of benefits on a very short schedule. Before you check into your hotel of choice again, check these out: