The Best Hotel Credit Cards
When most people think of travel rewards credit cards, they picture airline cards that offer frequent flyer miles. Airline cards were some of the first to offer travel rewards and they remain very popular today. In recent years, credit cards that offer flexible travel rewards have grown in popularity, eating into the market for airline cards. Take a look in the wallets of frequent travelers and award travel enthusiasts and you’ll be sure to find at least one hotel rewards credit cards.
What do these travel experts know that most others miss? A hotel rewards card offers several advantages over other travel rewards cards. First, a hotel rewards card can offer outstanding benefits. While the top airline cards may offer you a little credit towards the elite status needed for seat upgrades, many hotel cards offer this status instantly to all cardholders. This means that you can receive bonus points, room upgrades, late checkouts and even free breakfasts, without ever having previously stayed at the hotel.
Furthermore, the hotel loyalty programs can be much more friendly and flexible than the airline frequent flyer programs. For example, you could spend hours searching in vain for a frequent flyer award from the airlines and then pay hundreds of dollars in surcharges when you do. But with many frequent guest programs, you can redeem your points for any unsold standard room, with no blackout dates or capacity controls. And in most cases, hotel taxes are based on the rate paid, so award stays are usually free. The exception being “resort fees” being imposed by some properties. Because these hotel loyalty programs can be so valuable, it can make the rewards offered by the credit cards more valuable than airline miles.
Table of Contents
- What Hotel Rewards Credit Cards Offer
- How Hotel Rewards Work
- The Best Hotel Reward Credit Cards
- Bottom Line
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Hotel Rewards Credit Cards Offer
Depending on how you classify them, there are four major worldwide hotel chains that offer co-branded credit cards. There are also a number of smaller hotel chain cards that can be very valuable as well. The four major chains are:
Other large hotel programs include Wyndham, Choice, and Club Carlson.
Each of these chains offers at least one travel rewards credit card co-branded with a banking partner. But, where the airlines might offer three or four different cards at various price points, these hotel programs generally offer just one or two, sometimes very similar cards. For example, there is just one Hyatt card, from Chase, which is for consumers, and the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express comes in a consumer and a small business version.
Unlike some airline reward cards, nearly all of the hotel reward credit cards have an annual fee. The vast majority have an annual fee of about $95, with just a few coming between $50 and $75 and even fewer that are above $100. Below $95, you can expect a basic credit card that might offer you a low-tier elite status and modest rewards. At $95, you should expect mid-tier status and an accelerated path to top-tier status. You’ll also receive more generous bonuses for hotel stays and other travel expenditures. You should also expect several travel insurance and purchase protection benefits. And with a hotel rewards card that has an annual fee of several hundred dollars, card membership offers many of the same premium benefits found in other competing cards at that price level, such as airline fee credits and airport lounge access.
Expect a generous sign-up or welcome bonus from cards in this extremely competitive market segment. The value of each hotel’s points can vary widely, but new applicants should expect to receive enough points for at least two free nights in a mid-range property. Some hotel reward cards can even offer sign-up bonuses that can be worth two nights in a high-end resort, or several nights in a less expensive mid-range property in a smaller market.
As with other reward credit cards, you shouldn’t expect your hotel rewards card to offer a very competitive interest rate. Reward credit cards invariably have a higher standard interest rate than similar cards that don’t offer rewards. If you tend to carry a balance on your cards, then you should be using a non-rewards card with the lowest possible interest rate for most of your spending. However, you can still do this while holding a hotel rewards card, just keep it for the cardholder benefits and hotel charges that you can avoid interest on by paying in full. Also, some hotel reward cards can offer 0% APR promotional financing on new purchases, balance transfers or both.
How Hotel Rewards Work
All of the major hotel chains offer loyalty programs that allow you to earn points based on how much you spend with the hotel. In addition, you can earn more points when you hold elite status in the hotel’s frequent guest program. Optionally, guests can choose to pay for their stays with a credit card that’s co-branded with the hotel chain. These cards will offer their highest rewards for charges at one of their properties, sometimes as much as 14 points per dollar. Therefore, travelers have the opportunity to earn points from the card issuer as well as directly from the hotel itself. When guests with top-tier elite status use a premium hotel rewards card to pay for their stays, then it’s possible to earn a large number of points very quickly.
When it comes time to redeem points from a hotel rewards program, it’s usually much simpler than a frequent flyer award. Programs like Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood and Wyndham offer free night awards in any unsold standard room. Unfortunately, some properties try to circumvent these policies by designating most of their rooms as “upgraded” in some trivial way, such as having a “garden view.” But most of the time, you shouldn’t have any problem redeeming your points for a free night stay, unless the hotel is truly sold out.
Most hotel programs have an award chart that lists several tiers of properties, with the most expensive tiered hotels charging more points per night than the more affordable properties. Occasionally, some hotel loyalty programs will offer discounted awards at select properties. And some, like Starwood, Marriott and Hilton will offer a fifth night free when you redeem your points for four consecutive award nights.
Finally, most hotel programs offer other reward options besides free nights. For example, you can often redeem your points for room upgrades, gift cards, merchandise, or other travel reservations. However, these other award options rarely offer as much value per point redeemed as free night stays.
The Best Hotel Reward Credit Cards
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Editorial Note: The information related to Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express from American Express has been collected by Credit Cards House and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, a Credit Card Explained advertiser, has always been highly prized among frequent travelers and award travel enthusiasts. With this card, you can earn as much as five points per dollar spent at Starwood hotels (depending on your elite status level), two points per dollar spent at Marriott Rewards properties, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. New applicants can also earn 25,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in new purchases within three months of account opening.
Points for free hotel stays at Starwood hotels, which include Westin, Sheraton, and other brands, start at 2,000 points per night, but you can expect most mid-range properties in the United States to charge 7,000 to 10,000 per night. Still, this means that the welcome bonus alone can be worth several award nights. And, since Marriott acquired the Starwood brands in 2016, you can also transfer one Starwood point to three Marriott points to redeem them for award stays at their vast network of 17 different brands including Renaissance, Ritz-Carlton and Gaylord hotels. With the Starwood program, you can redeem your points for any unsold standard room, and you receive your fifth night free when you redeem four consecutive award nights.
In addition to award nights, Starwood points can also be transferred to miles among over 30 different frequent-flier programs, and you receive a 5,000-point bonus when you transfer 20,000 points at once. This gives you the amazing flexibility to transfer your points strategically to the airline that will offer you the award seats you need at the lowest mileage levels.
Benefits include free premium internet service at Starwood hotels and the ability to earn Gold elite status after using your card to spend $30,000 in a calendar year. Other cardholder benefits include extended warranty coverage and a damage and theft protection policy. This card has an annual fee of $95 that is waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase
The Hyatt Credit Card offers you valuable points in the World of Hyatt program, formerly called Gold Passport. New applicants can earn 40,000 bonus points after spending just $2,000 on their card within three months of account opening. You can also receive an additional 5,000 bonus points after adding an authorized user who makes a purchase within the same three-month period.
This card offers you three points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels, and two points per dollar spent on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline and at car rental agencies. You earn one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Free night stays start at just 5,000 points, but you can expect most mid-range properties in the United States to charge 8,000 to 15,000 points per night. Nevertheless, this sign-up bonus is easily worth three or four mid-range award nights, or even two nights in a luxury property.
Benefits include Discoverist status in the World of Hyatt program, which offers 10% bonus points, complimentary in-room premium Internet and a 2 p.m. late check-out upon request at participating locations. You also get a free night certificate each year, which is good for any Category 1-4 property. Other cardholder benefits include baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, and trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance. When shopping, your purchases will be covered by purchase protection and price protection policies. There’s a $75 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Wyndham Rewards Visa Card from Barclaycard
A few years ago, the Wyndham rewards program was similar to other hotel rewards programs, but less competitive. But in 2015, the company did an about face and revitalized its rewards program, turning it overnight into one of the best in the hotel industry. The key feature of their new program is that all awards are just 15,000 points per night and that any unsold standard room is available as an award.
The Wyndham Rewards Visa Card from Barclaycard also offers exceptional value. It features five points per dollar spent at Wyndham properties, including Wyndham Vacation Rental North America properties, and on-property spend and maintenance fees at Wyndham timeshare properties. You also earn double points on eligible gas, utility and grocery store purchases (excluding Target® and Walmart®), and one point per dollar spent elsewhere.
New cardholders can earn 30,000 bonus points after their first purchase, which is enough for two free nights at any property, including a vast number of Wyndham timeshares and vacation rentals. New cardholders also receive 0% APR financing on balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee. You also get Platinum status in the Wyndham Rewards program, which offers you free Wi-Fi, room upgrades, and late checkouts. You also receive 6,000 bonus points each year on your account anniversary. There’s a $75 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Hilton Honors Aspire from American Express
Editorial Note: The information related to Hilton Honors Aspire from American Express has been collected by Credit Cards House and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
The new premium Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, a Credit Cards House advertiser, is the top-of-the-line card available from Hilton and it competes with other non-hotel premium reward cards. You earn 14x points for charges at all Hilton Portfolio properties, and 7x points for flights booked at Amextravel.com, car rentals, and restaurant charges. You also earn 3x points on all other purchases.
New customers can also 100,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on new purchases within three months of card membership. However, Hilton requires about 30,000 - 50,000 points per night for most of its mid-range properties in the United States, so the welcome bonus is only worth two or three free nights at one of these properties.
Benefits include complimentary Diamond status and a free weekend night reward each year. And when you use your card to spend $6,000 in purchases during a calendar year, you’ll earn another weekend night reward. Other benefits include up to $250 in annual resort statement credits and up to $250 in annual airline fee credits. You also receive a Priority Pass Select membership that allows unlimited free visits for yourself and up to two guests at over 1,000 airport lounges around the world. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
The IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card from Chase
IHG stands for the Intercontinental Hotels Group, which includes many brands such as Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, and the Holiday Inn hotels. The IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card offers you five points per dollar spent at IHG properties, and double points on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants. You earn one point per dollar spent elsewhere. New accounts can earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. You can also receive an additional 5,000 bonus points after adding an authorized user who makes a purchase within the same three-month period.
Benefits include Platinum Elite status, which offers you priority check-in, a welcome amenity, room upgrades and 50% bonus earnings on base points. You also get a 10% rebate on IHG Rewards Club point redemptions, up to 100,000 points per year, and a free night stay certificate each account anniversary year. Other cardholder benefits include baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, and trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance. You’ll also be covered by purchase protection and price protection policies. There’s a $49 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card from Chase
Ritz-Carlton is a Marriott brand, and this is a great card for those who stay at Ritz-Carlton, Marriott and Starwood properties. In fact, this card competes with premium rewards cards that aren’t co-branded with hotel chains. It offers new applicants two free nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel, after spending $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. You also earn 10,000 bonus points after you add your first authorized user who makes a purchase within three months of account opening. It offers 5x points at Ritz-Carlton, Marriott and Starwood hotels, as well as 2x points for airline, rental car and restaurant purchases, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere.
Other benefits include a $300 annual travel credit, three club level upgrades each year, and a $100 hotel credit during paid stays of two nights or longer. It also offers access to airport lounges with the Priority Pass Select program. Furthermore, you can receive a $100 discount on every round-trip, domestic airline reservation you make for 2-5 passengers and a $100 credit towards an application for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck as well as your renewal every five years. You also get Gold Elite status your first year and each subsequent year that you spend $10,000 on your card.
Other travel benefits include baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay reimbursement and trip cancellation/trip interruption coverage. When shopping, you are covered by price protection and purchase protection policies. Finally, you can earn Platinum Elite status when you use your card for $75,000 in purchases in an account year. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Among the best travel rewards credit cards offered, several happen to be co-branded with hotel programs. Choosing one of these hotel cards allows you to earn rewards that you can use towards a free night stay while offering you valuable perks and benefits any time you visit one of their properties. These cards range in annual fee from $75 for the Wyndham Rewards card from Barclaycard all the way up to $450 for the Hilton Honors Aspire from American Express and Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Card from Chase. With that range, there should be a hotel card available that will meet your budget while allowing you to reach your award travel goals.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you choose a hotel card?
Since all hotel credit cards offer you the most rewards for purchases at their properties, you’ll want to find a card from a hotel chain that you can use during your travels. For example, the Hilton and the combined Marriott and Starwood chains both offer a vast number of properties among their many brands. And while Hyatt might have fewer properties, it’s still strong in many markets.
Next, you’ll want to look for a card that will reward you the most for the kind of spending you do. For example, the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card offers double points on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants, while the Wyndham Rewards Visa Card from Barclaycard lets you earn double points on eligible gas, utility and grocery store purchases, (excluding Target® and Walmart®).
You’ll also want to look for other features and benefits that are important to you. This could be travel insurance or shopping protection or enjoying the benefits of elite status when staying at the hotel. Finally, you need to look at the annual fee to make sure that you’ll be getting enough value from the card to justify its cost. And if the card has a generous sign-up or welcome bonus, you should also take that into consideration.
What are the advantages of co-branded cards?
A co-branded card represents a partnership between the card issuer and another brand, in this case, a chain of hotels. These partnerships allow the card issuer to offer exclusive benefits at their partner’s properties. The most common benefit is elite status, which often comes with perks such as priority service, room upgrades, bonus points and even free breakfast. Other hotel perks offered by co-branded cards can include lounge access, free Wi-Fi, and late checkouts.
Is a hotel credit card the right choice?
Hotel credit cards can be a great option for those who are looking for a rewards card that offers its best benefits when you arrive at your destination. For example, there are some travelers who drive to their destination or have their airfare paid by their employer or client. These travelers may have more need for a great hotel rewards card than they would an airline card. There are also many airline reward credit card users who have become disillusioned with the sometimes-empty promises of free flights made by the airline’s frequent flyer programs.
Hotel reward cards can offer a refreshing alternative, as most programs have simple rules that let you redeem your points for a free night in any unsold, standard room. It’s also a lot easier to choose from among the different brands, most of which will have properties in all of the major markets. It’s a lot harder to change loyalty programs to an airline that doesn’t offer sufficient service to your home airport.
What if I don't want a card co-branded with a hotel?
There are several ways to receive hotel rewards and benefits with a travel rewards credit card that isn’t co-branded with a hotel. For example, the Platinum Card® from American Express, a Credit Cards House advertiser, offers you elite status with Starwood, Marriott and Hilton hotels and it has the Fine Hotels and Resorts program that features discounts and perks at luxury hotels. Products that are part of the Visa Signature and World Elite Mastercard programs also include perks and benefits when booking luxury hotels.
When it comes to earning hotel rewards, cards that aren’t co-branded can still feature great rewards. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers you 3x points per dollar spent on all travel and dining, and points can be transferred to four different hotel programs including World of Hyatt. Finally, there are cards like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® that offer you double miles on all purchases, and your miles can be redeemed for one cent each as statement credits towards any travel reservations you make, including hotels.
Hotel reward cards can be very valuable, but there are also some loopholes that you have to be aware of. First, you’ll only earn the bonus points from these credit cards when you pay for your stay directly with the hotel. This means that you won’t receive bonus points when you prepay for your stay through an online travel agency. Also, most hotels won’t even extend elite benefits to guests who book their stays through third-parties. So be sure to book direct to get the best value from your hotel rewards card.
Next, consider having a hotel rewards card as a compliment to an airline card or another travel rewards card. The hotel rewards points you earn can offer strong value when staying at the hotels within the brand, or when making purchases that qualify for a bonus. But when you use hotel points for purchases that don’t earn a bonus, you may be earning less valuable, and less flexible rewards.
For example, many hotel rewards cards only offer a single point per dollar spent on most purchases, but most hotel points are worth less than a penny each. In contrast, you could be earning double miles on all purchases from the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®, where your miles are always worth one cent each as statement credits towards travel reservations.
Finally, it’s nice to keep an eye out for situations where you could earn extreme value. For example, the Wyndham Rewards program offers all of their award nights for 15,000 points each, and there are many Wyndham Vacation condos that can sell for over $600 per night during the peak season. Likewise, you could redeem 25,000 Hyatt points for a luxury hotel in Europe that sells for nearly $1,000 per night. And the annual free night certificate from the IHG Rewards Club Select card can be used at any property, including their most expensive ones. Another trick is to utilize the policy of offering rewards nights in any unsold room to stay in properties that are charging the highest prices due to peak demand, such as during a major holiday or a special event.
Editorial Note: The information related to the Hyatt Credit Card, IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card, Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® has been collected by Credit Cards House and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
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Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.