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I've spent free nights in Hawaii, Colorado, and South Carolina thanks to one of my favorite under-the-radar hotel cards

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Staying in a hotel can be a lot of fun when it’s just one or two people traveling for a few nights at a time. But when you take longer trips or travel with a family, staying in hotels starts to become expensive, and the rooms start to feel small.

By staying in a vacation rental or timeshare, you can enjoy a larger room with amenities like a kitchen and laundry facilities. Vacation rentals also tend to have separate bedrooms, so parents can enjoy a little privacy while the kids sleep in a separate room or on the sofa-bed.

For most people, the privilege of staying at a vacation rental means buying into an expensive timeshare program, plus paying monthly maintenance fees. However, one credit card, the Wyndham Rewards Visa, offers rewards that can be redeemed for free night stays in hundreds of properties that belong to one of the largest vacation rental companies in the world.

How the Wyndham Rewards Visa works

Barclays offers the Wyndham Rewards Visa Card, which earns points in the Wyndham Rewards program. You earn 15,000 bonus points after your first purchase, and another 15,000 points after you spend just $1,000 on new purchases within 90 days of account opening.

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You also earn 5x points on eligible purchases made at participating Wyndham hotels, vacation rentals, and timeshare properties (including maintenance fees and loan payment transactions for Wyndham timeshare properties). You earn 2x points on eligible gas, utility and grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart), and one point per dollar spent elsewhere.

Other benefits include Platinum status with Wyndham and 6,000 bonus points each account anniversary year. There’s a $75 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.

Using Wyndham points for timeshare stays

These Wyndham points can be redeemed for free night stays at thousands of Wyndham hotels, but they also allow you to redeem points for vacation rentals. That’s important, because most Wyndham hotel brands tend to be budget chains such as Days Inn, Super 8, and Microtel.

I’ve redeemed my Wyndham Rewards points for free night stays at a vacation rental property in Kona, Hawaii, for ski-in/ski-out condos at Beaver Creek and Breckenridge Colorado, and on Edisto Island along the coast of South Carolina.

Read more: I get hundreds, or thousands, of dollars in benefits from my travel credit cards every year, and there are 3 kinds of perks more valuable than the rest

Checking into one of these vacation rental properties is a lot like arriving at a hotel. You get keys and are given information about all of the property’s amenities. But then you enter your room to find it more than twice as large as most hotel rooms, and much better equipped.

Our family finds it much more convenient to prepare our own breakfasts, and we make many of our own dinners in the vacation rental’s kitchen. We enjoy saving hundreds of dollars by eating out fewer times, and we also don’t need to pack as much for long vacations since we can do laundry in our room.

How many points do you need?

There are three tiers to the Wyndham Rewards program. Some budget hotels cost 7,500 points per night, while most others cost 15,000. There are also some luxury hotels that now cost 30,000 points per night. Vacation rentals cost either 15,000 or 30,000 points per bedroom, per night, and there are some great properties that are available at the lower level.

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The biggest drawback of the Wyndham Rewards program is availability. Wyndham guarantees that you can redeem your points for any available standard hotel room, but makes no such assurances when it comes to vacation rental properties. Sadly, Wyndham now blacks out many properties during holidays and peak periods, preventing you from redeeming your points for free nights. These dates aren’t published, and some properties even appear to be bookable with points until you try.

You don’t have to succumb to a timeshare pitch in order to stay at a vacation rental property. And with the right credit card, you can even do so for free. Take some time to understand how the Wyndham Rewards program and its credit card work, and you could find yourself enjoying a luxurious vacation rental property far easier than you ever thought possible.

Learn more about how to pick the best travel rewards credit card for you »

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