The Best Hotel Credit Cards of 2014

Part 4 of 4 from the best rewards credit cards series

In Part 4 of this series, I’m writing about the best hotel credit cards. If you missed the other parts, I already covered the best all-around rewards credit cards, airline credit cards, and the top cash back credit cards.

Before I get into which hotel cards are the best, I want to make a few things clear. Hotel credit cards are a lot like the airline credit cards I wrote about in Part 2 of this series. 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 Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is a good option for your main card.

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 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

For this type of credit card, it really depends on the person. If you’re a budget traveler, you’re better off with The Choice Privileges® Visa® Card. If you stay at Wyndham resorts, you’ll want The Wyndham Rewards® Visa Signature® Card. It’s difficult to say one card is the best because it depends on where the prospective cardholder wants to stay.

If based solely on the rewards rate, the best hotel credit card is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.

However, I don’t feel confident saying this is the card everyone should get. Not everyone wants to stay at Starwood hotels 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:

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
The Wyndham Rewards® Visa Signature® Card
The Choice Privileges® Visa® Card

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 due to 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

Starwood-Guest-AMEX-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 in your area or around the world, check out this full list of Starwood hotels.

Card Highlights:

Who’s it good for?

  • People who stay at Starwood hotels, like Sheraton, W, Westin, Four Points, and Le Meridien.
  • It’s good for 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.

The Choice Privileges® Visa® Card: The Budget Hotel Card

The The Choice Privileges® Visa® Card is a great hotel card to own if you’re a budget-conscious traveler. Choice Hotels include brands like Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, and Econo Lodge. You can check out the full list of Choice Hotels to see if these are places you’d regularly stay at. The Choice Hotel brand has the second widest reach of hotels behind Wyndham.

Estimated Rewards Rate

I estimate the rewards rate for this card to be between 0.6 cents and 1.0 cent, depending on where you redeem. One point is worth about 0.8 cents, but you can get the value of up to 1.0 cent if you choose the right property. You’re not likely to spend a ton of money at a Choice Hotel but, if you do, you get 15 points per $1 spent. That makes every purchase count at 12.0 cents per $1.

Card Highlights:

Who’s it good for?

  • It’s good for people who don’t want to pay a lot for hotel stays.
  • The card is also good for road warriors who stay in hotels for just one night.

The Wyndham Rewards® Visa Signature® Card: The Mid-Range Hotel Card

The Wyndham Rewards® Visa Signature® Card is a great choice if you travel everywhere but aren’t overly selective about the hotel you stay at. Wyndham has over 7,000 hotels worldwide and is the largest hotel group in the world. Check out their full list of hotels to see if you might be interested.

Estimated Rewards Rate

I estimate the rewards rate to be at 0.6 cents for each point. So you’re getting nearly 1.8 cents per $1 spent on hotel stays and 1.2 cents on everything else.

Card Highlights:

Who’s it good for?

  • It’s a good card for people who travel to many locations given the reach of Wyndham hotels.

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 located around the world.

There are two Club Carlson Cards to choose from. One is the Club Carlson℠

Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card, which offers a great bonus night feature and the ability to earn 85,000 points after signing up. 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 $25 higher annual fee than the standard card, but you have the ability to earn rewards at a higher rate.

Estimated Rewards Rate

Club Carlson points are estimated to be 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 the free bonus night after redeeming for two nights.

Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card

ClubCarlsonVisa

Card Highlights:

  • 50,000 bonus points after 1st purchase and another 35,000 points after spending $2,500 within 3 months on the US Bank Club Carlson Premier (Personal) & US Bank Club Carlson Business Rewards
  • 1 free award night when you redeem points for 2 or more consecutive award nights at the same hotel
  • Free Club Carlson Gold elite status for as long as you have the card or 15 night credit towards toward Concierge status if you are already a gold elite member
  • $75 ($60 for business) annual fee not waived for 1st year; 3% foreign transaction fee
  • 40,000 points for renewing your card each year
  • 10 Club Carlson points per $1 spent at Club Carlson hotels & 5 points for everything else

Club Carlson℠ Rewards Visa Signature® Card

ClubCarlsonVisa

Card Highlights:

  • 50,000 bonus points after 1st purchase and another 10,000 points after spending $1,500 within 3 months on the US Bank Club Carlson Rewards
  • 1 free award night when you redeem points for 2 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 1st 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

If you’re a loyal Hilton customer, I’ll give you the details 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

Citi Hilton

Card Highlights:

  • 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

Hilton Reserve

Card Highlights:

American Express Hilton HHonors: The Versatile Rewards Hilton Card

hilton-hhonors-credit-card_bgCard

Card Highlights:

  • 50,000 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, gas stations & 3 points per $1 for everything else

American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass: The High Roller Hilton Card

American-Express-Hilton-Surpass-Credit-Card

Card Highlights:

  • 75,000 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 (free internet & breakfast!)
  • $75 annual fee NOT waived for 1st 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, gas stations, & 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 this series of posts on rewards credit cards. If you have any opinions or feedback on any of these hotel credit cards, I’d be interested to hear about your experiences using them and if you have your own strategies to maximize rewards.

Read Part 1 -> The Best Rewards Credit Cards
Read Part 2 -> The Best Airline Credit Cards
Read Part 3 -> The Best Cash Back Credit Cards

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