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What’s better than spreading out in a hotel bed while on vacation? How about getting a $1,000 hotel room for free, being upgraded to a suite, or enjoying a complimentary breakfast the next morning.
Many hotel chains have co-branded credit card deals, and as a cardholder, you could be eligible for all the above perks.
We focused on six objectives that a hotel credit card could help you achieve and looked for the best card from our partners within each category. Whether you’re looking for a free night for a special occasion, or want a card that can make your annual vacation more fun, we highlight different options to help you reach that goal.
If you want to make your own pick, use our calculator to see how many points dozens of hotel credit cards can earn you each year, based on your spending habits. We’re also happy to answer your questions in the comments below.
The IHG Rewards Club Credit Card has one of the best deals of all, with a free night at any IHG hotel each year, starting from the first anniversary of opening your account.
The InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) portfolio includes a variety of brands, such as InterContinental, Kimpton and Holiday Inn. In all, there are over 5,000 IHG properties in the world, and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a place to use your free anniversary night. The card has a $49 annual fee (waived the first year) and no foreign-transaction fee.
Pros: The annual fee is waived for the first year, but you also won’t get a free-night voucher until the beginning of your second year. When you do get it, the anniversary night doesn’t have restrictions (unlike vouchers that come with some other cards). That’s great news as some properties can retail for over $500 a night.
Cons: You might be able to get a free anniversary night at more luxurious hotels with the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, Hyatt Credit Card, or the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Card. But that’s more of an opportunity cost than a real con of this card.
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points are often regarded as some of the most valuable hotel loyalty points when it comes to hotel redemptions. The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express doesn’t have a foreign-transaction fee, but there is a $95 annual fee (waived the first year).
Pros: The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is many credit card enthusiasts’ favorite hotel card because the SPG program offers you a lot of flexibility. In addition to redeeming points at hotels, you can transfer them to partnered frequent flyer programs with a one-to-one ratio. If you transfer 20,000 points, you’ll get a bonus 5,000 miles.
Free hotel nights are also affordable, with many Westin and Sheraton hotels available for 16,000 points per night or less. You can also transfer SPG points to Marriott’s program, which is often a great deal because every SPG point you transfer gets you 3 Marriott points. That means many Marriott hotels can be booked for less than 15,000 SPG points per night.
Cons: Make sure your annual spend earns enough points to more than offset the card’s annual fee. Putting $500 a month or more on the card should get you over $100 in annual value. There are also no special spending category bonuses to boost your earning, and there’s no anniversary free night benefit.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve are great choices for earning hotel points as well. While not quite as valuable as Starwood points for free hotel nights, the points you earn can be transferred into Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott points anytime.
Even better, you earn a bonus on all of your travel and dining spend with both cards. The Sapphire Reserve earns 3x points on all travel and dining spending, while the Sapphire Preferred earns 2x points.
With its recent acquisition of Starwood, Marriott has become one of the world’s largest hotel chains. The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card has an $85 annual fee and no foreign transaction fee.
Pros: A 80,000 points is a great sign-up bonus, and you can get an additional 7,500 if you add an authorized user to your account.
You can use your points with Marriott or Ritz-Carlton, or transfer them to Starwood (80,000 Marriott points equals 26,667 SPG points). Between the three hotel chains, you have a ton of options to choose from — or you could transfer them to one of SPG airline partners and book a free flight.
Cons: You have to spend $3,000 within three months to get the bonus. Make sure you won’t have to break your budget and revolve a balance just to get the bonus. If that’s the case, you might be wasting money in the name of rewards, which is never a good idea.
Info. related to the Marriott Premier Credit Card has been collected independently by MileCards.com. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.
Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card — This card has a foreign transaction fee so you may not want to use it to make non-U.S. Dollar purchases. However, the 85,000 Bonus Gold Points (worth up to nine free nights) you can earn from the sign-up bonus may be especially worthwhile for those heading to Europe, where Club Carlson has a large footprint.
The company’s brands include Park Plaza, Quorvus, and the Radisson hotels. The card has a $75 annual fee, but you also get 40,000 points when you renew your card and an additional free night certificate if you make $10,000 worth of purchases during the year.
The Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express offers the least expensive way to get automatic Gold status with Hilton. The card has a $75 annual fee.
Pros: Gold status includes bonus points on paid stays, late check-out, free breakfast at select properties, a free fifth night when you book a five-or-more standard room reward stay, and space-available upgrades to preferred rooms (including ones with executive lounge access). It’s arguably one of the better mid-tier statuses with any hotel loyalty program, and it’s easy to achieve because all you need to do is be a cardholder.
Cons: The foreign-transaction fee means this may not be a great card to use overseas. If you’re headed abroad, you might want to compare this card to the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve. It doesn’t have a foreign-transaction fee, and you can get an annual free weekend night voucher if you spend at least $10,000 each anniversary card year. However, the Reserve card’s earning rate is a little lower, and the annual fee is $95.
If you want to earn points fast with a no annual fee card, the Hilton Honors Card from American Express is a good bet, with 3x points on everyday purchases, no limit.
Pros: The card comes with Silver status, which offers a few perks like complimentary bottles of water and Wi-Fi at select hotel brands, bonus Hilton Honors points that you earn during hotel stays and late check-out.
The earning power is the real key here – with at least 3x points on all purchases, and 5x at U.S. supermarkets, restaurants, and gas stations. The most valuable benefit may be that because you get Honors Silver status with the card you’ll be eligible for a free fifth night when you book a rewards stay of five nights or more.
Cons: Like the Surpass card, the Hilton Honors Card from American Express has a foreign transaction fee and you may not want to use it while traveling outside the U.S. The sign-up bonus also might not be enough for a free night at one of the Hilton portfolio’s high-end properties, which could require up to 95,000 points.
Before choosing a co-branded hotel card, it’s helpful to start with a goal in mind. What type of trip, or trips, do you want to take using your rewards?
Don’t stay often? Those who rarely stay at hotels but want to earn points throughout the year might want to lean towards a card that doesn’t have an annual fee. Or one that waives the annual fee the first year. Then you can cancel or downgrade the card before having to pay it.
Want a fancy hotel? Perhaps you have an aspirational goal or special trip in mind, such as a honeymoon or upcoming sabbatical. When that’s the case, you might want to focus on one-off rewards that let you stay in $500 plus rooms for free. Hyatt points are good for luxury nights, and the IHG Rewards Visa’s free anniversary night is also great for that, since you can use it at any IHG hotel, no matter how expensive. The Ritz Carlton Rewards card also offers free nights at luxe Ritz hotels as part of its sign on bonus.
Want lots of locations? If you’re looking for a way to save on an annual summer vacation, you could be better off with a card that lets you quickly earn rewards and redeem them at a variety of locations.
The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card or Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express fit that description. Or, consider a card that lets you transfer points into several hotel programs like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve. They let you convert points into Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG anytime.
You also might want to consider which hotel chain makes the most sense for you. Hotel chains often have multiple brands and levels of hotels ranging from low-end (and inexpensive) options to luxury or boutique locations. The number and location of properties, as well as types of properties, should all influence your decision.
Here’s a brief overview of several hotel programs that have a co-branded credit card.
In April 2016, Marriott International announced that Marriott would be acquiring Starwood. Although the merger isn’t complete, you can already link your Marriott and SPG accounts and transfer points from one hotel’s rewards program to another (three Marriott points equals one SPG point). If you have elite status in one program, the other program will match it.
Strengths. Many people consider the Starwood Preferred Guest program one of the most lucrative and estimate each point is worth about 2.5 cents. You can transfer the points to partner airline programs and hotel redemption options range from 2,000 points (on weekends, 3,000 on weekdays) to 35,000 points per night.
The post-merger company will have even more options with over 6,000 properties in more than 120 countries and territories, making it one of the largest international hotel chains. Ritz-Carlton, which was already part of Marriott, will still be part of the larger company.
The current Marriott Rewards redemption options depend on which hotels your booking and a single night can range from 6,000 to 45,000 points at Marriott properties and up to 70,000 points at Ritz-Carlton properties. Marriott points are worth about .85 cents each.
Weaknesses. Marriott and SPG may not be the most budget-friendly rewards program, particularly because there are a limited number of low-end hotel choices. The high-end properties also require a lot of points. While that isn’t uncommon, compared to other programs SPG and Marriott credit cards cards’ low non-hotel earnings rate makes it more difficult to earn high-end stays with everyday purchases.
IHG has over 5,000 hotels in more than 100 countries. The company’s 12 brands include options for those looking for basic lodging, such as Holiday Inn Express, as well as the more luxurious Kimpton and InterContinental properties. IHG Rewards Club points are worth about .60 cents each.
Strengths. The IHG Rewards Club program lets you book a free night for 10,000 to 60,000 points. If you have the co-branded credit card, you’ll get automatic Platinum status, which means you’ll receive 10 percent of your points back when you redeem your rewards for a free night.
Weaknesses. IHG properties may be most prevalent in major cities, so if you’re looking to stay in smaller towns this may not be the best option. Also, your points can expire if you don’t have any account activity (earnings or redemptions) in the previous 12 months.
There are over 4,900 Hilton portfolio properties in over 100 countries. The 14 brands are divided into five categories, such as full service, luxury, all-suites, and vacation ownership (timeshare).
The Hilton Honors rewards program recently underwent a major change, and you can now choose to pay with points, or points and cash, for any stay. Using just points, a standard room can cost 5,000 to 95,000 points. A Hilton Honors point is worth about 0.5 cents.
Strengths. You’ll have flexibility in how you earn points, and flexibility with redemptions now that you can always use points and cash. The program’s mid-tier status is also one of the best around considering how easy it is to achieve via the Honors Surpass credit card.
Weaknesses. The new program ties the points needed for a free night to the current rate. While you might be able to get a great redemption during the low season, when a conference is in town or tourists start to flock in it could be difficult to find a great rewards rate. Hilton Honors points also expire if you don’t have any account activity (earnings or redemptions) in the previous 12 months.
From “essential” to luxury, Hyatt has 13 brands of hotels and over 600 properties in more than 50 countries. Standard rooms at Hyatt properties require 5,000 to 30,000 points (or up to 39,000 points for Regency or Grand Club stays). World of Hyatt points are worth about 1.6 cents each and you can sometimes get a great value by redeeming points for high-tier properties.
Strengths. Hyatt properties are sometimes people’s favorite. They often compete with other high-end options, but require relatively few points (although it’s still a lot for the top-tier hotels).
Weaknesses. There’s only one credit card associated with the World of Hyatt and it has an annual fee. Hyatt is also a smaller chain than some of the others listed here and there may not be a property available in your desired destination. Even when there is a hotel there, sometimes you won’t be able to find award night availability.
The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group has over 1,000 hotels around the world and seven different brands, including Radisson, Radisson Blue, Radisson Red, Park Plaza, and Quorvus Collection. You can earn and redeem points in the company’s rewards program, Club Carlson. There are seven levels of hotels, and you’ll need 9,000 to 70,000 points for a standard room redemption. Club Carlson points are worth about 0.40 cents each.
Strengths.You may enjoy the program most if you frequently travel to major cities in the U.S., Europe or parts of Asia, as that’s where the brand’s presence is most prominent. However there are three consumer Club Carlson Visas, which offer varying sign-up bonuses, come with elite status, and allow you to earn a free night if you spend $10,000 each year.
Weaknesses. Carlson doesn’t have many hotels in popular resort destinations or many luxury options. The elite status program also isn’t as rewarding as others. For example, with the top status you receive complimentary continental breakfast, but only for the person with status. Other programs that offer free breakfast generally give it to you plus a guest.
You may be familiar with some of Wyndham’s 15 brands, such as Super 8, Days Inn, or Travelodge, even if you didn’t realize they were all connected. Barclaycard has a Wyndham Rewards Visa which gives two-to-three points per dollar spent, and doesn’t have an annual fee. With the Wyndham Rewards program, you can redeem 15,000 points for a free night at any of the locations. Wyndham Rewards points are worth about one cent each.
Strengths. There are about 7,800 Wyndham Hotel Group hotels around the world, making it a particularly large program with plenty of options to choose from while traveling. You can even redeem rewards for all-inclusive properties in popular vacation destinations.
Weaknesses. There aren’t many luxury locations to choose for and there are blackout dates. Some properties also require you book multiple nights when redeeming rewards.
When choosing the credit cards on our list, we tried to determine which card will be best for an average traveler. In other words, those who don’t have a strong preference for a particular hotel chain and aren’t an especially high spender.
The categories gave us a particular goal to focus on, but in each case a card’s annual fee, sign-up bonus, earnings rates, annual bonus, and cardholder perks influenced which card won. When several cards came close to winning, we try to highlight an alternative.
We also chose the cards based on the particular benefit or goal for each category with more frugal people in mind. For example, with the best anniversary night bonus category, the IHG card’s $49 annual fee and lack of restrictions on the reward make it stand out.
Keep our methodology in mind as you consider the cards on our list. To help you out, we mention other good picks in the “Cons” section when they’re available and highlight a few of the main differences between that card and our best pick. Not to sound like a broken record, but in the end, the best card for you is the one that’s going to benefit you the most. Focus on your travel goals and let your new credit card help you accomplish them.
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