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Resort cards vs. travel credit cards for all-inclusive getaways

If all-in stays are only a small part of your travel spending, travel cards are the way to go

Summary

Considering a resort card for an all-inclusive vacation? You may be better off with a travel rewards card as they can offer more flexibility and better benefits and terms.

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All-inclusive resorts can simplify your travel experience by combining hotel accommodations, dining, entertainment and activities. With everything available on-site, you never have to leave the property from check-in to check-out.

When booking an all-inclusive stay, you may be invited to open a resort credit card. Before saying yes, consider what resort cards bring to the table when compared to traditional travel rewards cards.

Here’s what to look for when comparing credit card options for an all-inclusive vacation.

See related: All-inclusive vacations: How to book with rewards points

Resort card benefits for all-inclusive travel

Resort credit cards tend to overlap in the types of benefits you can enjoy.

  • All-inclusive resort stays earn rewards for each dollar spent.
  • Many resort credit cards also allow you to earn rewards on everyday spending.
  • Card extras may include resort credits, an introductory points bonus, priority check-in and/or automatic room upgrades.

5 major resort credit cards at a glance

There are several resort credit cards on the market. Briefly, here’s how they compare:

Credit card nameRewards offeredAdditional featuresFees
Beaches Visa Signature2 points per dollar on Beaches and Sandals purchases.
1 point per dollar on everyday purchases.
Introductory 10,000 bonus points when you make a purchase within 90 days of account opening.
Visa Signature benefits.
$0 annual fee.
No foreign transaction fee.
Diamond Resorts International Mastercard2 Diamond Plus Points per dollar on Diamond Resorts International purchases.
1 Diamond Plus Point per dollar on everyday purchases.
Earn 2,500 bonus Diamond Plus Points after making your first purchase.
Earn 500 bonus Diamond Plus Points for every $2,000 in spend
Complimentary concierge service.
$0 annual fee.
3% foreign transaction fee.
M life Rewards Mastercard3 points and tier credits per dollar at M life Rewards destinations.
2 points and tier credits per dollar on gas and supermarket purchases.
1 point and tier credit per dollar everywhere else.
Earn 10,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 billing cycles.
Automatic upgrade to Pearl Level status.
Priority hotel check-in at M life Resorts.
$0 annual fee.
No foreign transaction fee.
Sandals Visa Signature2 points per dollar on Beaches and Sandals purchases.
1 point per dollar on everyday purchases.
Introductory 10,000 bonus points when you make a purchase within 90 days of account opening.
Visa Signature benefits.
$0 annual fee.
No foreign transaction fee.
Westgate Resorts Mastercard2 points per dollar on all Westgate purchases.
2 points per dollar on gas and grocery purchases.
1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
Earn 4,000 bonus points when you spend $500 in the first two months.
Preferred check-in.
$0 annual fee.
3% foreign transaction fee.

How to stack rewards on all-inclusive stays

On the pro side, resort credit cards give you flexibility for earning rewards beyond booking an all-inclusive stay. As an added plus, you may have an opportunity to stack rewards on every stay.

“Check to see if the resort has a loyalty program that’s free to join,” says Christy Brockman, manager, loyalty marketing for Sandals Resorts at Unique Vacations, Inc.

  • Sandals Select Rewardsoffers 5,000 bonus points when you join, along with rewards points on every Sandals stay.
  • The Beaches Select Rewards Clubgives you 5,000 bonus points for joining, plus tiered rewards on Beaches bookings.
  • The M life Rewards programoffers tier credits on virtually every resort purchase, including hotel accommodations, dining, entertainment and gaming.

Resort loyalty programs can also run member-only promotions, yielding additional benefits.

“At Sandals, for example, if you stay 70 nights at any Sandals or Beaches resort, you earn a free seven-night stay,” says Brockman.

Resort cards may come with higher APRs, limited redemption options

On the other hand, you might want to check the interest rates for resort cards before applying if you plan to carry a balance.

  • The Sandals, Beaches and Diamond Resorts International cards all feature a 0 percent introductory APR on purchases for the first seven months.
  • The Diamond Resorts Mastercard offers a 0 percent APR for six months on purchases and 15 months on balance transfers.
  • Regular variable APRs for all five cards range from 14.99 percent at the low end for the Sandals and Beaches cards, to 26.99 percent – depending on your creditworthiness – at the high end for the Diamond Resorts International Mastercard.
  • By comparison, the national average APR for rewards cards currently stands at 17.52 percent, according to CreditCards.com weekly rate report.

There’s also a potential downside to redemptions.

All the resort cards highlighted limit you to redeeming rewards for purchases only at those resorts. That could make them less appealing if all-inclusive stays are only a small part of your travel spending.

Travel rewards cards offer enhanced rewards, flexibility

Compared to resort credit cards, travel rewards cards leave you more wiggle room in terms of earning and redeeming rewards.

And while many travel rewards cards charge an annual fee, some of them waive it the first year or don’t charge it altogether.

In addition, rewards travel cards can also offer better incentives when it comes to travel perks or rewards bonuses.

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) offers a 50,000-point introductory bonus when you spend $4,000 in the first three months and, when redeeming for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, you get a 25 percent rewards boost.
  • The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year) pays 2 miles per dollar on everything you spend, including resort stays, and 10 miles per dollar on hotel rooms booked and paid through hotels.com/venture.
  • The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card (no annual fee), gives 3 points per dollar spent on dining, travel, gas and transit purchases, plus a 30,000-point bonus if you spend $3,000 in your first three months.

Some cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Preferred cards, allow you to transfer points to airline and hotel travel partners on a 1:1 basis. Premium travel cards, including the Platinum Card® from American Express, combine a higher travel rewards rate with perks such as airline fee credits, airport lounge access and Global Entry or TSA Precheck credits.

Bottom line, unless you stay at all-inclusive resorts several times a year, you’ll likely get more mileage from a travel rewards card compared to a resort credit card.

Leverage hotel loyalty, travel cards when booking to save on fees

When planning all-inclusive stay, be on the lookout for hidden fees, such as resort or booking fees.

“If you’re an elite status member in a hotel loyalty member program, check to see if resort fee waivers are included as a membership perk,” says Keri Danielski, consumer finance expert and spokeswoman for Intuit Mint and Turbo.

Or, “book with a premium travel rewards card that offers property credits or travel credits to members,” she says.

  • The Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers a $300 annual travel credit that can be applied to resort fees.
  • Hyatt Globalist members enjoywaived resort fees on free night awards and eligible rates.

If your hotel or resort loyalty program or travel rewards card allows for points transfers to other loyalty programs, check to see if you’re getting your money’s worth before making a swap, says Danielski. “You could lose value, so, make sure to do the math and figure out the best return on investment.”

See related:Figure out what your points are worth before you redeem

Don’t overpay during your all-in stay

Before booking a resort trip, “make sure you understand what all-inclusive really means,” says Danielski. “Different activities and amenities are included, and you’ll want to make sure the activities you have in mind are part of your package.”

Look for ways to save while you’re at the resort, says Carrie Bradley, travel blogger at Flying With a Baby.

“See if the hotel provides free shuttles to other attractions so you can explore the local area rather than spend money on a taxi,” she says. “Alternately, look for a hotel that’s within walking distance to other attractions.”

Bradley advises investigating whether there are any sister properties that allow a day pass or restaurant visit. If you’re traveling with the whole family, check to see if free on-site child care or kids-eat-free deals are available.

If you’re not aware that you’ll need to pay extra for those things, “your budget and careful planning can swiftly go awry,” says Bradley.

Finally, check to see if the resort offers a rebooking option. Sandals, for instance, allows guests to re-book before they leave the resort.

“This can award you great deals when booking a future trip while on your current trip,” says Brockman.

 

The information related to Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card has been collected by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.

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