How to use hotel birthday bonuses and credit card perks
Loyalty programs and card perks can help make your celebration extra special
Upcoming birthday? While it might pain you to see that extra candle on the cake, there is one silver lining: you’re eligible for countless hotel and travel perks just for ringing in another year.
Many companies – particularly those in the travel industry – offer freebies on special occasions, and birthdays top that list. From free nights to bonus points to discounted rates, there’s no shortage of offerings you can take advantage of on your special day.
If you have certain co-branded credit cards or are a member of a hotel loyalty program, you might stand to gain even more.
What you need to know about hotel credit cards and loyalty programs
Hotel credit cards and loyalty programs can deliver numerous benefits throughout the year. Perks such as late checkout, free upgrades, bonus points toward rooms and travel and trip protection can often mean the difference between a good trip and an extraordinary one.
And while many of these programs also go the extra mile to celebrate special occasions (your membership anniversary date, your birthday, a wedding anniversary, etc.), membership isn’t always necessary to get the perks. Many of them are discretionary rewards, meaning the concierge or hotel manager can offer them at-will, as they see fit.
How to access birthday and special occasion benefits
So, how do you take advantage of these birthday and special occasion perks, especially if you’re not a program member or there’s no specific perk advertised?
First, you’ll want to talk to the hotel at booking. If you’re booking the hotel online, include something in the notes section about celebrating your birthday, anniversary or other special occasion. If you’re booking by phone, mention it to the agent in conversation. They might be able to upgrade your room or make a note to include freebies (food, drink vouchers, etc.) right then and there.
You can also email or call the hotel a few days before your trip to let them know of your special occasion (or remind them, if you already included it at booking). While you’re on the phone, consider booking a reservation at the property’s spa or restaurant. This shows them that you plan to spend money during your stay and gives them a little extra impetus to help you out.
If you’re a loyalty member or have a co-branded hotel credit card, mention it – and use it for your booking. These programs often come with upgraded rooms and other perks, even if it’s not your birthday. Plus, when you use a co-branded card for your booking, you often earn 10 times the loyalty points or more – meaning additional discounted travel.
Many co-branded credit cards automatically qualify you for a hotel loyalty program, and some even come with high-status membership. You can have a hotel card from one chain and be a loyalty member of dozens of others. Each program and card offers unique benefits, so the best bet for your situation really depends on a few factors:
- Where you travel most and what hotels are available there
- What sort of perks you’re looking for (discounts, free rooms, discounts to shows/events)
- How much you’re willing to pay annually, and how much you’ll use the perks
Keep in mind that some hotel chains are affiliated with other properties or may be subsidiaries of each other. By going with a card or loyalty program from a larger umbrella organization (Marriott or Hilton, for example), you typically get to enjoy benefits and points across all properties under their umbrella. That means more travel potential across the board.
Know what’s available
Though some rewards are discretionary, a lot of them are advertised, so make sure you do your research. What are you entitled to as a co-branded card holder, loyalty program member or just a hotel guest with a birthday on the horizon? Check the fine print of your card, log into your rewards program portal and call up the hotel directly. What are they able to offer?
With Marriott’s Rewards program, for example, you get one free night during your birthday month (just make sure to add your birthday to your Rewards member profile.) At IHG hotels, which include Holiday Inn and Candlewood Suites, you get 1,000 points on your birthday if you’re a member of the IHG Rewards Club. You’ll want to keep these on your radar as your birthday approaches so you can take full advantage.
You can also use the chart below for some guidance. Notice that some of the rewards and discounts aren’t automatic. You might need to make a certain amount of purchases (or purchases at specific businesses or types of businesses) in order to qualify, or you may need to hit a date (your birthday, cardmember anniversary, etc.) before you’re eligible.
Senior discounts and perks
Sometimes, it’s not your exact birthday that brings in the perks, but your age. A number of hotels offer senior discounts, which typically fall around 10 percent off the going room rate. Marriott hotels are among the higher discounted chains, offering 15 percent off for senior citizens.
Keep in mind that hotels vary in what they consider a “senior.” At some properties, it’s as young as 50 (Red Roof Inn, for example), while others require guests be 62 to enjoy the discounted senior rate. You also may need an official AARP membership in order to qualify at some properties.
Rather than celebrate member birthdays, the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program – which covers all Starwood, Marriott, Sheraton and Westin hotels – has a unique perk that lets guests pay their birth year for every second or third night. The catch is you’ll need to pay full price for the first night upfront, and it’s non-refundable. After that, you’ll get the discounted rate for the following night. For example, if you were born in 1980, your rate would be $80. If it’s 1950, you’ll pay just $50 that second night.
Other discount options
If you’re not a member of a loyalty program, don’t have any branded cards and can’t find a hotel that offers birthday perks where you’re headed, you still have other options.
For one, you can use airline miles toward hotel stays. If you’re a member of a frequent flier program, you’ll likely be able to use your balance to pay for nights at certain hotel locations. Log into your frequent flier account to see what rewards you’re eligible to use miles for (and what your balance is.)
Before you book anything, make sure to head to the hotel’s website or, better yet, call the front desk. Make sure the number of miles you’re redeeming is worth the going rate. If you’re giving up 30,000 miles for a $150-per-night rate, it’s likely not saving you any cash – and you could probably make better use of those miles.
You can also use a points-earning credit card to pay for your hotel stay. Many cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, let you earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on travel. You can then redeem those points to purchase flights, hotels and a long list of other products and services. You may even get extra points for using it at certain chains and companies.
Promotions and bonuses
Below is a list of the most popular co-branded hotel credit cards on the market. You can also check with your bank or credit union to see if they offer any co-branded travel cards you can take advantage of.
|Hotel||Co-branded credit card||Benefits||Bonus points|
|Hilton||Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card||
|Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express||
|Hyatt||World of Hyatt Credit Card||
|IHG||IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card||
|Marriott||Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card||
|Radisson||Radisson Rewards Premier Signature Visa Card||
|Starwood||Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express||
As for loyalty programs, your options run the gamut. Here are some of the more popular ones on the market:
The bottom line – Read the fine print
Before you sign up for any reward programs or co-branded cards, make sure you know what you’re responsible for as a member. Many hotel cards require an annual fee (some as high as $450 per year), so do the calculations and make sure you can afford it and will use the card enough to reap the benefits.
Finally, when it comes to cashing in on birthday rewards, perks and bonuses, remember that many of them are discretionary. The businesses don’t have to provide them, so abide by the honor system (don’t lie and say it’s your birthday when it’s not) and be polite and respectful when talking to hotel concierges and staff.
No guest is entitled to perks unless they’re specifically laid out in their credit card or loyalty program’s fine print.
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