In Part 4 of this series, I write about the best hotel credit cards. If you missed the other parts, I already covered the best all-around rewards credit cards, best airline credit cards, and the best cash back credit cards.
In 2015, the best hotel credit cards still offer impressive perks and rewards for frequent travelers. Our list of top cards remains largely unchanged, but we have tweaked one of our picks: The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card has made the list as a smart pick for travelers who value a wide variety of hotel choices. Marriott’s card offers a wider range of hotel types, comparable perks, and no foreign transaction fees abroad.
Our advice on getting hotel credit cards remains the same in 2015. Hotel credit cards are a lot like the airline credit cards I wrote about in Part 2 of this series. For most people who don’t travel ALL the time, your best strategy for travel credit cards is a general travel card plus cash back. My go-to pairing is:
The same rules for getting an airline credit card apply for a hotel card, except my rules for getting a hotel reward card are more strict.
4 Rules for Getting a Hotel Credit Card
Rule #1: Don’t get a hotel credit card as your first card
Just like the airline cards, hotel cards won’t earn you many rewards on your common purchases. It’s best to get an all-around rewards card as your primary card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Credit Card is a good option for your main card because you can transfer points to Marriott, IHG and Hyatt.
Rule #2: Don’t get a hotel credit card as your second card if you fly on one airline often
The earning potential for the best airline credit cards is higher in most cases, and the point conversions are much easier to understand.
Rule #3: Don’t get a hotel credit card as your second card if you spend a lot on gas and groceries
Your best bet is a cash-back card, like the Chase Freedom® Credit Card, Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express® (6% on groceries and 3% on gas) or the Discover it®, which offers 5% cash back on rotating categories each quarter.
Rule #4: Get a hotel credit card if you consistently stay at the same line of hotels wherever you travel
Hotel credit cards are directly connected with the rewards program of the hotel. You earn more by staying at these hotels, and your points have value when redeemed for hotel rooms. While some cards offer rewards on purchases away from the hotel, none are significant enough to warrant using the card for all your purchases.
A Look at the Best
The best hotel credit card really depends on the person. If you’re a budget traveler who wants the option to stay at nicer properties occasionally, you’re better off with IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card. If you occasionally stay at properties of all levels, the The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card may be a stronger choice. It’s difficult to say one card is the best because it depends on where you want to stay.
If you’re looking for the best rewards rate, the best hotel credit card is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. However, we take several other factors into consideration.
I don’t feel confident saying this is the card everyone should get. Not everyone wants to stay at Starwood hotels, which encompass mostly higher-end chains, nor can they afford to stay at Starwood hotels. In addition to this card, I have a solid list of quality hotel credit cards that are worth your consideration.
Here are my top hotel credit cards:
These three cards cover the spectrum of budget hotels, mid-range hotels, and higher-end hotels. In addition, there are other cards that have lower rewards rates but are still worth consideration because of their benefits and other features.
The other top hotel credit cards are:
- The Club Carlson credit cards
- The Hilton credit cards
Club Carlson offers two different credit cards, and Hilton has four credit cards. I’ll get into the details of all these cards later.
While choosing the best hotel credit cards, I considered these important factors:
- Rewards rate for making purchases through the hotel
- The number of points it costs to redeem through the hotel
- Variety of hotel options (also known as category levels)
- Ability to redeem rewards outside of the hotel
- Opportunity to earn points on purchases outside of the hotel
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: The High Rewards Rate Hotel Card
Estimated Rewards Rate
At about 2.3 cents per point (when redeemed at Starwood hotels), the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has the highest estimated rewards rate of any hotel credit card. In fact, it has the highest rewards of any rewards credit card I studied (if you use the points at Starwood hotels). If you’re interested in what hotels qualify, check out this full list of Starwood hotels.
Additionally, you can use this card in conjunction with our top pick for best airlines card, the Gold Delta Skymiles® Credit Card from American Express to double dip on points. Starwood and Delta collaborate with their Crossover Rewards Program. This allows you to earn both Starpoints and Delta Skymiles when you fly Delta or stay at a Starwood property.
Who’s it good for?
- People who stay at Starwood hotels, such as Sheraton, W, Westin, Four Points, and Le Meridien
- People who want to redeem points for airline miles: 20,000 Starpoints is equivalent to 25,000 airline miles for most airlines in the U.S. (points are worth less for United Airlines). Here’s a list of airline partners redeemable for Starwood points.
Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card: A Versatile Pick at Home and Abroad
The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers solid rewards and benefits for travelers who frequent Marriott properties, especially those who travel abroad. Your points can help you pay for stays at nearly 4,300 hotels in the U.S. and around the world. These include budget properties such as Fairfield Inn & Suites and Courtyard by Marriott, mid-tier properties such as Marriott and Renaissance hotels, and high-end Marriott resorts and Ritz-Carlton hotels.
Estimated Rewards Rate
The rewards rate works out to be roughly 0.8 cents for each point. That means you get about 4.0 cents per $1 spent on hotel stays; 1.6 cents on plane tickets, car rentals, and restaurants; and face value for everything else.
Who’s it good for?
- Travelers who want to be able to stay at all types of hotels, whether that’s a budget property or a high-end resort
- Foreign travelers who want smart-chip technology and no foreign transaction fees
IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card: The Flexible Hotel Card
The IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card is a great hotel card to own if you’re a budget-conscious traveler that occasionally enjoys staying at higher end properties. IHG, also known as InterContinental Hotels Group, includes a wide range of hotel brands including Holiday Inns, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, InterContinental, and Crowne Plaza properties. You can search through the various IHG properties and destinations here.
Estimated Rewards Rate
I estimate the rewards rate for this card to be between 0.6 cents and 1.5 cent, depending on where you redeem. One point is worth about 0.8 cents, but you can get the value of up to 1.5 cent if you choose the right property. If you do pay for stays out of pocket from time to time, you can also expect to earn 5 points/$1 spent at IHG properties when you use your IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card.
Who’s it good for?
- People who want to earn free stays at both low-end and high-end properties
- Road warriors who stay in hotels for just one night
- Families who love the family atmosphere offered at Holiday Inns
Other Hotel Credit Cards To Consider
The cards mentioned above should cover most people’s hotel tastes. Some of the other hotel cards I mention below are very solid cards as well.
The Club Carlson Credit Cards
The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group includes properties such as Radisson, Park Plaza, Country Inn & Suites, and other hotels. The group has over 1,300 hotels around the world.
There are two Club Carlson cards to choose from. One is the Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card, which offers 50,000 Gold Points after your first purchase, plus 35,000 points once you spend $2,500 on your card within the first 90 days. The other card is the Club Carlson℠ Rewards Visa Signature® Card, which offers the same bonus night for redeeming but 60,000 points after signing up. The Premier card has a $25 higher annual fee than the standard card, but you can earn rewards at a higher rate.
Estimated Rewards Rate
Club Carlson points are worth around 0.4 cents per point, which puts the rewards-earning potential at the lower end of the spectrum. However, these cards should be on your radar because they come with some great bonus perks that extend the value beyond rewards. You get bonus points just for renewing each year and a free bonus night after redeeming for two nights.
Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card
- Earn 50,000 Gold Points after your first purchase, plus 35,000 points once you spend $2,500 on your card within the first 90 days – that’s up to 9 Free Award Nights at Category 1 hotels
- 10 points per $1 spent in eligible net purchases at participating Carlson Rezidor hotels worldwide
- 5 points per $1 spent in eligible net purchases everywhere else
- Club Carlson Gold Status is yours after you activate and use your card
- Please see terms and conditions for complete details
- Net purchases are purchases minus credits and returns
Club Carlson℠ Rewards Visa Signature® Card
- 50,000 bonus points after first purchase and another 10,000 points after spending $1,500 within three months
- One free award night when you redeem points for two or more consecutive award nights at the same hotel
- Free Club Carlson Silver elite status for as long as you have the card or 15 night credit towards Gold/Concierge status if you are already an elite member
- $50 annual fee not waived for first year; 3% foreign transaction fee
- 25,000 points for renewing your card each year
- 6 Club Carlson points per $1 spent at Club Carlson hotels; 3 points for everything else
The Hilton Credit Cards
Hilton has 540 hotels and resorts in 78 countries. Hilton also offers four different credit cards to choose from. Here are the four Hilton credit cards:
- Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card
- Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
- American Express Hilton Credit Card
- American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass
The signup bonuses on the American Express Hilton cards have diminished a bit in 2015, but they’re still fairly generous. If you’re a loyal Hilton customer, I’ll give you the details on all of these cards so you can decide which is best for you.
Estimated Rewards Rate
I estimate the Hilton rewards to be worth 0.5 cents each. Depending on the Hilton credit card you choose, you can earn up to 6.0 cents per dollar spent on Hilton purchases. Many of the Hilton cards offer the versatility to earn rewards on purchases away from the hotel as well.
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card: The Basic Hilton Card
- Earn 40,000 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points after spending $1,000 within 4 months of account opening
- Earn 6 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent at a participating hotel within the Hilton HHonors portfolio.
- Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations
- Earn 2 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on all other purchases
- No annual fee
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card: The High Rewards Hilton Card
American Express Hilton HHonors: The Versatile Rewards Hilton Card
- 40,000 points after spending $750 within 3 months on the American Express Hilton HHonors card
- Free Hilton Silver elite status
- No annual fee; 2.7% foreign transaction fee
- Gold elite status after spending $20,000 in a calendar year
- 7 Hilton points per $1 spent at Hilton hotels; 5 points per $1 at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations; and 3 points per $1 for everything else
American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass: The High Roller Hilton Card
- 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within 3 months on the American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass card
- Free Hilton Gold elite status as long as you have the card (perks include free Internet and breakfast)
- $75 annual fee not waived for first year; 2.7% foreign transaction fee
- Diamond elite status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year
- 12 Hilton points per $1 spent at Hilton hotels; 6 points per $1 at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations; and 3 points per $1 for everything else
Hotel Credit Cards: A Difficult Comparison
None of the hotel rewards programs have the same value. Rewards are earned at one rate and redeemed at another. Without any standardization, it’s difficult to tell how much the rewards are actually worth. By digging into the hotel reward programs themselves, I was able to put together some fairly accurate rewards rate estimates for each card.
The value of the rewards for a hotel program doesn’t convert directly to dollar amounts. In the credit card industry, 1% or 1x normally means $0.01 for every dollar spent. That’s not the case here. Since the value of the rewards you earn on the credit card is directly connected to the hotel rewards program, it’s important to be aware of the hotel point reward values.
That concludes our series on rewards credit cards. If you have any opinions or feedback on any of these hotel credit cards, tell us about your experiences using them and whether you have your own strategies to maximize rewards.