What Credit Card Should I Be Using for Hotel Incidental Charges?

Jan 30, 2018

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Starting today, “Reader Questions” will be answered twice a week — Tuesdays and Thursdays — by TPG Assistant Editor Brendan Dorsey. Brendan has been with TPG for a year and a half and hails from Northern California.

A common question many people ask is, “what’s the best credit card for a particular purchase?” This was TPG reader Ross‘ dilemma regarding a recent points stay at a hotel in Hawaii, and purchases he charged to his room…

I am staying at the Marriott in Waikoloa, HI and booked using points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve. When I go to check out of the hotel should I pay the bill (drinks / food / any room charges) with the Amex Platinum I gave the desk when I checked in or the Sapphire Reserve?

TPG Reader Ross

We need to break down this question into two parts. First, does Ross have to use his American Express Platinum Card, which he gave to the Marriott Waikoloa when he checked in, even though he booked the stay with points from his Chase Sapphire Reserve? And second, what card should he use to pay for his hotel incidentals, i.e.: for food, drinks and any room charges?

Let’s start with the first question. The answer is pretty simple: no, Ross doesn’t need to use his Amex Platinum just because he gave it to the desk when he checked in. He also doesn’t need to use his Chase Sapphire Reserve for incidentals, even though his stay was paid for with Ultimate Rewards points.

The Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. Image courtesy of Marriott.

The more complicated question is the second one. Which card is the best to use for hotel incidentals?

In Ross’ case. he’s asking whether he should use his Amex Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve. The Platinum card gets 5x points on hotels, but that’s only when booking through Amex Travel for prepaid hotels. Meaning once Ross actually gets to the hotel, his Platinum would only earn 1 point per dollar.

Ross will have better luck if he uses his Sapphire Reserve, which gets 3x points on all travel and dining purchases. So anything he buys at the property — be it from the poolside bar or hotel spa — and charges to his room will likely code as a hotel purchase, and should net him the 3x points.

It’s also important to note how much different points are worth, which you can find in TPG’s monthly points valuations. Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards are both quite valuable and flexible when it comes to redemptions. Membership Rewards points are worth 1.9 cents apiece while Ultimate Rewards are worth 2.1 cents.

Let’s say Ross charges $300 to his room during his stay. Not only will the category bonus be higher if he uses the Sapphire Reserve, but the points are worth more:

Card POint Bonus Hotel Charges points earned Value earned
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3x $300 900 $18.90
The Platinum Card® from American Express 1x $300 300 $5.70

As we can see, Ross will be getting significantly more value if he uses the Sapphire Reserve — a full $13.20 more.

Now, not everyone is going to have this particular card combo, as both of these are premium cards with high annual fees. But what you can personally take away from this question is that when you’re staying at a hotel, make sure you’re using a card that gets bonus points or miles on travel or hotel purchases.

Lower annual fee cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card both get 2x points (miles on the Venture) on all travel purchases. In Ross’ case, since he’s staying at a Marriott, he could also use a card like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, which would get him 6x points on all purchases at a Marriott or Starwood property. Or if he had a Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, that would net him 5x Marriott Rewards points on any similar transaction. You could even use a card like the new Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card that comes with a $250 Hilton Resort statement credit if you’re staying at an eligible Hilton property.

So if you’ve booked a hotel with points or a certain card, just make sure you look through your wallet once you actually get to the property and figure out which card gets the highest category bonus for travel or hotel purchases — it can mean a real difference in return. Thanks for the question, Ross, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image by Phil Boorman/Getty Images.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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