Best hotel cards: Fall 2016

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Best hotel card: Fall 2016

 

Best hotel card: Fall 2016

 

Hotel credit cards, a favorite of travel experts, offer some of the most generous rewards available – and our three best hotel credit cards are the most rewarding of the class.

For example, many of the best hotel credit cards combine ample rewards points with coveted perks, such as flexible checkout, free internet and additional free night stays. Many cards also offer 1:1 point transfers with a range of airline loyalty programs, making the rewards points even more valuable. 

Just be sure to shop around and consider your travel habits before you pick your next hotel credit card. Some hotel cards give away free night stays only at pricey hotels that charge for parking, breakfast, internet and other amenities, cutting into your overall savings. Other hotel credit cards offer a bevy of rewards points, but the points are worth only a fraction of the average card rewards point.

To help you select the best hotel card for you, CreditCards.com evaluated some of the top-rated credit cards in the hotel card category and asked a panel of judges to rate CreditCards.com staff’s top three picks. Judges for the Best Hotel Cards of Fall 2016 were personal finance journalist Lisa Gerstner, travel expert Johnny Jet, personal finance expert Holly Johnson, CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief Daniel P. Ray and CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz. 

FIRST PLACE: The Starwood Preferred Guest credit card’s unparalleled rewards value and flexible transfer policies for frequent fliers helped it secure first place in our hotel card contest. 

 

No. 1: STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST CREDIT CARD FROM AMERICAN EXPRESS
Best card
  • 2 points per dollar at participating SPG hotels
  • 1 point per dollar on general purchases
  • 25,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 in first 3 months
  • $95 annual fee, waived first year
  • APR: 15.49-19.49% (variable)

Other features: No foreign transaction fee, free night's stay when you redeem your points for 3-5 consecutive nights

Editor's rating:
star-rating4.2/5
Read our review

 

No. 1: STARWOOD PREFERRED GUEST CREDIT CARD FROM AMERICAN EXPRESS

Best card

  • 2 points per dollar at participating SPG hotels
  • 1 point per dollar on general purchases
  • 25,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 in first 3 months
  • $95 annual fee, waived first year
  • APR: 15.49-19.49% (variable)

Other features: No foreign transaction fee, free night's stay when you redeem your points for 3-5 consecutive nights

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.2/5
Read our review

A perennial favorite of travel credit card experts, the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card has earned rave reviews and legendary status in travel circles. 

The Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express is pretty much every frequent traveler’s favorite card and definitely one of mine.

— Johnny Jett
Founder, JohnnyJet.com 

“The Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express is pretty much every frequent traveler’s favorite card and definitely one of mine,” says travel expert Johnny Jett of JohnnyJet.com. “This card is the reason my wife and I have been spending the last three New Year’s in Hawaii.”  

Cardholders earn two rewards points for every dollar spent on Starwood hotel stays and one rewards point on general purchases, but because Starwood points are generally worth at least twice the value of the average card rewards point, cardholders can buy a lot more travel with fewer points than they would with other cards. 

“The star feature of the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card is the stellar value of the points that you earn with it,” says personal finance journalist Lisa Gerstner.

How it works: Cardholders use fewer points to redeem free hotel stays and other travel purchases, and points can be transferred to more than 30 airline loyalty programs – or even Amtrak – on a largely one-to-one basis.  

“You can also cash in Starpoints for discounts on Avis car rentals,” Gerstner adds. “That provides some nice flexibility for those who depend on planes, trains and automobiles to get to their overnight destinations.”

In addition, cardholders who want to use their points to fly instead of stay in a hotel will get a 5,000-point bonus each time they transfer at least 20,000 points to a frequent flier program, says Gerstner.

Another plus cited by our judges: The Starwood card doesn’t impose travel blackout dates.

Personal finance writer Holly Johnson of ClubThrifty.com notes that “Due to Starwood’s ongoing merger with Marriott, there are more ways to use your Starpoints than ever before.”

Cardholders can now sync their loyalty memberships for both hotel lines and use their Starwood points at Marriott hotels – a great perk for cardholders who don’t always want to stay at a Starwood property.

Before the merger, cardholders’ options were typically limited to upscale hotel properties that charge substantial fees for select amenities and don’t offer free breakfast. For example, many Westin and Sheraton hotels charge hefty parking fees.

Cardholders won’t earn as many rewards, though, if they use their card to book a room at a Marriott hotel, Gerstner says. “Keep in mind that booking stays at Marriott hotels yields only two points per dollar,” she says. Booking a room at a Starwood hotel, by contrast, nets five points per dollar spent.

The Starwood card also won praise from our judges for its premium travel and lifestyle perks, including unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi access, no foreign transaction fees and extra incentives for taking longer vacations – such as a fifth night free when you book four consecutive nights.

“SPG’s Nights and Flights promotion is also valuable for those who have a large stash of points, Johnson says. “With this promotion, you can redeem 60,000 or 70,000 points to get five nights free in a category 3 or 4 property and 50,000 airline miles.”

Downsides? The Starwood card doesn’t offer a large sign-up bonus – 25,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months – and it charges a $95 annual fee after the card’s first year. However, our judges say the card’s other perks make up for its modest opening offer. 

“To me, a good rewards card is all about flexibility,” says CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz. “While the Starwood card doesn’t have the flashiest sign-up bonus in the bunch, it does give cardholders plenty of options beyond just free hotel nights.”

SECOND PLACE: The Hilton HHonors Reserve credit card from Citi landed in second place in our best hotel card contest, due to its juicy bonuses and travel perks.

 

No. 2: CITI HILTON HHONORS RESERVE CARD
Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card
  • 10 points per dollar on Hilton portfolio hotel stays
  • 5 points per dollar on airline and car rental purchases
  • 3 points per dollar on general purchases
  • 2 free weekend nights if you spend $2,500 in first 4 months
  • 1 free night each year you spend at least $10,000
  • $95 annual fee
  • APR: 15.49% (variable)

Other features: No foreign transaction fee, automatic gold status, 25% bonus on Hilton HHonors base points, fifth night free for every hotel stay, airport lounge access

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.0/5
Read our review

 

No. 2: CITI HILTON HHONORS RESERVE CARD

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card

  • 10 points per dollar on Hilton portfolio hotel stays
  • 5 points per dollar on airline and car rental purchases
  • 3 points per dollar on general purchases
  • 2 free weekend nights if you spend $2,500 in first 4 months
  • 1 free night each year you spend at least $10,000
  • $95 annual fee
  • APR: 15.49% (variable)

Other features: No foreign transaction fee, automatic gold status, 25% bonus on Hilton HHonors base points, fifth night free for every hotel stay, airport lounge access

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.0/5
Read our review

The Hilton HHonors Reserve card’s bounty of rewards starts with a certificate for two free weekend nights at a Hilton-brand hotel when you spend $2,500 in the card’s first four months. Cardholders get an additional weekend night certificate every year with spending of at least $10,000.

The premium Hilton card (annual fee is $95) also offers 10 points for every dollar spent on a Hilton hotel room -- a coveted perk for frequent guests -- five points per dollar on airfare and car rentals, and a solid three points for every dollar spent on general purchases.

The only downside is Hilton points tend to be worth significantly less than the average card rewards point.

Our judges particularly liked the premium Hilton card’s travel perks, which are designed to make traveling less of a hassle. For example, the Hilton HHonors Reserve card offers trip cancellation and interruption protection, lost baggage insurance and other premium insurance benefits.

“Road warriors will do well with the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card,” says CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief Daniel Ray. “Some hotel cards’ features extend no farther than the hotel’s walls. But the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card’s perks come in handy throughout the trip.”

In addition to the array of travel insurance coverage, the Reserve card includes early and late checkout, free Wi-Fi and complimentary concierge service.

“The perks that the Reserve card offers are like having a red carpet rolled out for you all along your travel route,” Ray says.  

THIRD PLACE: The Club Carlson Rewards Visa Signature card – with its exceptionally generous bonuses – rounds out our judge’s top three best hotel credit cards.  

 

No. 3: CLUB CARLSON REWARDS VISA SIGNATURE CARD
Club Carlson Rewards Visa Signature card
  • 10 points per dollar at Carlson Rezidor hotels
  • 5 points per dollar on general purchases
  • 50,000 bonus points with first purchase
  • 35,000 bonus points if you spend $2,500 in first 90 days
  • 40,000 annual bonus points
  • Free night certificate each year you spend $10,000
  • $75 annual fee
  • APR: 14.24-23.24% (variable)

Other features: Automatic upgrade to silver elite status, 10 qualifying nights toward next elite level, complimentary room upgrades, 15% bonus points on hotel stays, food and beverage discounts, early check-in/late checkout

Editor's rating:
star-rating
4.3/5
Read our review

 

No. 3: CLUB CARLSON REWARDS VISA SIGNATURE CARD

Club Carlson Rewards Visa Signature card

  • 10 points per dollar at Carlson Rezidor hotels
  • 5 points per dollar on general purchases
  • 50,000 bonus points with first purchase
  • 35,000 bonus points if you spend $2,500 in first 90 days
  • 40,000 annual bonus points
  • Free night certificate each year you spend $10,000
  • $75 annual fee
  • APR: 14.24-23.24% (variable)

Other features: Automatic upgrade to silver elite status, 10 qualifying nights toward next elite level, complimentary room upgrades, 15% bonus points on hotel stays, food and beverage discounts, early check-in/late checkout

Editor's rating:
 alt=
4.3/5
Read our review

The card’s shower of awards starts with the sign-up bonus. Club Carlson Premier Rewards cardholders get 50,000 bonus points with the first purchase and 35,000 after spending $2,500 in the first 90 days. Cardholders also earn an additional 40,000 bonus points each year and a free night stay each year they spend at least $10,000.

Cardholders also earn a large 10-point bonus for every dollar spent on Carlson Rezidor hotel stays and a five-point bonus for general purchases.

The only downside is Club Carlson points aren’t worth as much as the average card rewards point, so the rewards value is somewhat inflated.

Beyond the points, the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa also offers an exceptionally large hotel network, which includes budget hotels such as Country Inn and Suites and upscale digs such as Radisson Blu.

Bottom line: “All of that said, choosing the hotel card that suits you best relies heavily on determining which hotels you visit most,” Gerstner says. “The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card or the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature card could be a great choice if you frequently stay at Hilton or Carlson properties, given the generous perks that each card offers.”

This is the first year that CreditCards.com has held a contest for best cards in their class. To help choose the best cards for each category, the CreditCards.com staff consulted credit card and personal finance experts and nominated the top three cards as finalists. CreditCards.com staff also rated cards through its credit card reviews program.

A panel of five judges – including personal finance experts and two members of the CreditCards.com staff – were asked to independently judge the three finalists and rank them in order of preference. The card with the best average rank was chosen as the winner. 

See related: How to get free stays and perks faster with hotel rewards, Getting the most value for your hotel rewards points, Awards charts are key when considering hotel cards



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About this Award

CreditCards.com’s Best Credit Cards awards program brings together prominent industry experts and journalists to choose the best credit card within a monthly category. Our editorial staff nominates cards based on a set of objective criteria. CreditCards.com is not compensated for any of the nominations or awards.



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