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Sometimes it feels like you need an advanced degree to figure out how redeem a reasonable amount of frequent flyer miles for an award flight. And even then, you’ll sometimes end up paying hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees. In contrast, most hotel programs are simple and can offer outstanding value. For example, many hotel programs allow you to redeem your points for any standard, unsold room. And since hotels are taxed on the amount paid, you often don’t have to pay taxes on your award stays.

Reward credit cards offer a simple way to earn free nights with your favorite hotel program. Here's how to get started:

Find the right hotel card for your needs

While you might choose an airline credit card based on the carrier that offers the best service to your home airport, you have a lot more flexibility when picking a hotel rewards card. To start off with, you might want to choose a hotel credit card that offers a generous sign-up bonus, good for at least two free nights at a mid-level hotel. Next, you’ll want to make sure that it offers competitive rewards for spending at hotels, on other purchases or both. You’ll also want to look at any benefits the card offers, such as elite status and credits towards higher levels of status. Finally, you’ll need to consider the card’s annual fee and other fees. For example, international travelers will always want to avoid cards that impose foreign transaction fees.

Some of the top hotel credit cards to earn free stays:

Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express

This card currently offers you 125,000 bonus points after you use it to spend $2,000 within three months of account opening. This can easily be enough for two free nights at many mid-level properties. You’ll also earn a free weekend night award after your account’s first anniversary. This card also offers you 12x points at Hilton Portfolio hotels, 6x points at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, and 3x points elsewhere. You instantly receive Hilton Gold status and can earn top-tier Diamond status if you make $40,000 in purchases in a calendar year. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.

The Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card

New accounts can earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 within three months of account opening. You’ll also earn a free night award each year on your account anniversary. You earn 6x points at participating Marriott Rewards and SPG hotels and 2x points on all other purchases. Benefits include automatic Silver Elite status each account anniversary year and Gold Status when you spend $35,000 each account year. Starting in 2019, you also receive 15 Elite Night Credits each calendar year. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.

IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

This card features a sign-up bonus of 80,000 points after you use it to spend $2,000 within three months of account opening. You can also earn another 5,000 bonus points after you add your first authorized user who makes a purchase within three months of account opening. You can earn 10x points at IHG hotels, 2x points for purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurant, and one point per dollar spent on all other purchases. You also receive automatic Platinum Elite status and a $100 statement credit towards Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every four years. There’s an $89 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.

Above image by Dmitry Kalinovsky via Shutterstock

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