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Get elite status at hotels faster with rewards cards, promotions

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Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Cathleen McCarthy
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Cashing In,
I have more miles than I can use, thanks partly to my credit cards -- sign-up bonuses and spending on personal and business. I don't feel like chasing after higher levels of elite status on airlines. I'd rather focus on hotels now, especially getting enough points to achieve elite status. I'm a member of a few hotel loyalty programs, but I'd like to focus on one or two. Is there a particular program and/or related credit card you'd recommend for this, or tips for best use?  -- Sharon

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Sharon,
As you've found with your airline cards, the fastest way to maximize hotel rewards is via credit card -- especially sign-up bonuses. Since elite status is what you're really after, you should also keep an eye open for seasonal promotions that allow you to multiply points fast. Now is when many loyalty programs start announcing first-quarter promotions, so this is an excellent time to get into a hotel loyalty program with a good credit card.

Starwood's American Express card is my go-to hotel rewards card, and I've recommended it here before. I like the hotels under Starwood's umbrella -- which include Westin, Sheraton, W, St. Regis, Le Meridien, Element and Aloft -- and can usually find one where I travel. The card's benefits and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program itself can't be beat.

Since you use your cards for business expenses, you qualify for the SPG Business card as well. One reason these are such popular cards is that SPG Starpoints are easily transferrable to non-hotel travel options -- including 1:1 transfer to 350 airlines with no blackout dates. Since you're already swimming in frequent flier miles, however, I assume you're more interested in upgrading your hotel experience.

Starwood's business and consumer cards both offer up to 25,000 points at sign-up -- I got in on one of the 30,000-point bonuses they offer periodically -- and the $65 annual fee is waived the first year. You earn five points per dollar spent on more 1,100 Starwood hotels and one point per dollar on everything else. You also earn credit for five nights and two stays annually toward the next level of SPG elite status.

Starwood just announced its SPG Power Up promotion. Between January 15 and April 15, you can earn up to 18,000 Starpoints at any hotel in the SPG program -- 2,000 bonus points for every four-night-stay that's eligible (up to 16 nights and 8,000 points). Stay 20 eligible nights and you get an extra 10,000 points.

Another option that may work better for you, depending on where you travel, is Club Carlson, the loyalty program for most hotels in the newly dubbed Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. The company recently introduced the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature card. You get up to 85,000 Bonus Gold Points for signing up -- 50,000 after first purchase, 35,000 points after $2,500 charged within the first 90 days.

The card earns 10 points per dollar spent at participating hotels and five points per dollar elsewhere. Plus, you get automatic Gold Elite status with first use. If you're already a Gold or Concierge Elite member, you receive 15 qualifying nights toward obtaining or maintaining Concierge Elite status. You also get a free night's stay whenever you redeem points for two or more consecutive nights.

Carlson Rezidor has more than 1,300 hotels in 81 countries, and all but 300 are covered by the Club Carlson loyalty program -- including Radisson, Park Inn and Country Inns & Suites. So you have a good shot at finding one when you travel.

Carlson just announced its own first-quarter promotion: Club Carlson Triple Points. Members can earn triple Gold Points for eligible night stays starting and ending between now and March 15. You can register for the promotion at clubcarlson.com. There's no cap on points or eligible stays during the promotion.

See related: What to consider before getting a hotel credit card, How to get rewards for rural hotel stays

Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts
Vexed by a personal finance problem? CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers every weekday. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.
Gary Foreman, New Frugal You columnist Gary Foreman,
"New Frugal You"
Sally Herigstad, To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad,
"To Her Credit"
Cathleen McCarthy, Cashing In columnist Cathleen McCarthy,
"Cashing In"
Jane McNamara, Let's Talk Credit columnist Jane McNamara,
"Let's Talk Credit"
Elaine Pofeldt, Your Business Credit columnist Elaine Pofeldt,
"Your Business Credit"
Erica Sandberg, Opening Credits columnist Erica Sandberg,
"Opening Credits"

Published: January 15, 2013



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