best travel credit cards: co-branded cards

Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, Southwest, United, Delta  There’s so many different brands and so many credit cards to get- how do you choose? In this edition of our Travel Hacking series, we’re going to focus on the Supporting players of your wallet. These shouldn’t be your first choice to open or for every day spending- those were covered in our last travel hacking episode. But they’ll take your travel hacking game to the next level with top tier benefits and savings.

Hotel Co-Branded Cards 

There are a few questions that you want to ask yourself when you go to open a hotel credit card. First of all- do they give me a free night certificate? Most hotels cards with an annual fee include a free night certificate so don’t ignore ones with annual fees! As long as you know you’ll travel at least once a year, for one night- the card is worth having in your wallet. Second of all- do they offer status or a road to status? Depending on the brand, hotel status can be not only a baller move, but can save you serious money.

So what are some big players in the industry and who would benefit

Hyatt- Probably the most talked about brand in the travel hacking world- they have GREAT redemption opportunities. The only problem is they have a smaller, but growing, blueprint. Globalist is also a status that most people chase in the travel hacking game. It comes with a lonnnng list of benefits and is worth it if you have a big trip coming up or you can easily generate hotel stays through business travel. 

Marriott- Poor Marriott, they have totally tanked their loyalty by continuing to devalue their points. We have a Marriott card and honestly, I think I’m switching over to Hyatt. I won’t cancel it though because for $95 it gives me a free night certificate that I can consistently get more than $95 for! 

Hilton/Holiday Inn/Etc- All of these cards can get you automatic status or a road to it- which will seriously improve your travel styles. I would look at where you like to stay and what cards are available. 

Bonus- Wyndham now pairs with Vacasa, which is a home rental platform, kinda like AirBnB that you can use your points on. You can earn them through a co-branded card or transfer them from Capital One! 

Airline Co-Branded Cards

This is where things can get fun. First off, do you have an airline you love? Is your favorite airport a hub for an airline like Delta or United? If so, that might make your decision easy. If not, a little research may be your best friend here. 

First off, just like for hotel cards, we want to know “does this card give me status or a road to status?” This is a great reason to hold a co-branded card, since we won’t be putting our regular spend on it. We only want an airline card if we can find the value out of it.  

Just like hotel cards and their free night certificate, airline cards can be exciting with their freebies that make them obviously valuable. Some things to look for could are: 

  • Free Checked Bags
  • Free Upgrades 
  • Use of Lounges 

But the best one is the companion pass. This will allow you to bring a guest only paying taxes and fees for their ticket. Some come with a certain number of companion passes and some, like Southwest, will give you unlimited companion passes for a certain amount of time, once you hit the spending and/or point minimum. This can be an amazing way to maximize an airline card. 

Don’t be afraid of higher annual fees on airline cards. They can come with amazing perks- BUT make sure you’ll get the value out of it and don’t fall for shiny new card syndrome! 


As a reminder- value is something you are getting covered that you would have already spent money on. If it’s cool, but you wouldn’t have spent money on it if you didn’t get it for free with the card- then it’s a perk, not value. Calculate the value of a card before holding one with an annual fee! 

Want to see what we have in our wallets right now?

We put together a full guide of how we set up our wallet and how we earn points and miles right now! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can be a good place to start!

Here's How We Set Up Our Wallet

If you have a favorite hotel or airline that you think is 100% worth it, let us know down in the comments. Or better yet- come talk to us in the Facebook community and let others join in on the fun! 

Meet the Bargers

Bruce and Shelly are a 30-something couple always on the lookout for cheap eats, wildlife sightings and a good brewery. They started traveling together ten years ago and haven't looked back. They travel internationally at least three times a year and have been to 42 states, all while holding those pesky 9-5 jobs. They hope you can take these travel tips and live the life you've only dreamed about!

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