Best hotel credit cards: Summer 2017
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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 2017 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: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
The Starwood Preferred Guest credit card’s unparalleled rewards value and flexible transfer policies for frequent flyers helped it secure first place in our hotel card contest.
“Not only do you earn a bunch of points when you use the card at a Starwood hotel, but those points go a long way, and are much more valuable than other hotel points,” says Money Magazine staff writer Taylor Tepper.
Starwood members, for example, earn up to five Starpoints for every dollar spent at a Starwood property (up to three base points as a member of the Starwood loyalty program and two additional points as a card member) and two Starpoints for every dollar spent at a Marriott. Other purchases earn one Starpoint per dollar.
CreditCards.com estimates that Starpoints are worth at least two or more cents each, depending on how they are redeemed. The average credit card rewards point, by contrast, is valued at just one cent each.
What this means: You receive 25,000 Starpoints when you spend $3,000 in the first three months, but because Starpoints carry more value, that sign-up bonus is comparable to 50,000 points with most other cards, says personal finance expert Holly Johnson.
It’s also easy to redeem those points at a plush hotel or resort, she says, adding that you often can save by staying more nights.
“It's important to remember that stays at Category 1 Starwood properties start at just 2,000 points per night,” says Johnson. “You also get your fifth night free when you book four consecutive nights at a Category 3-7 property.”
The Starwood card also has earned strong reviews from travel card experts for letting cardholders transfer points on a one-to-one basis to a wide variety of airline partners. And if you’d rather stay at a Marriott hotel, you can convert your Starpoints to Marriott rewards points.
“Flexibility is so important in a rewards card, and that’s what helps the Starwood card stand out from the other hotel cards,” says CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz. “The large number of partnerships with airlines and the strong transfer makes this card more than just a hotel card.”
“Think of it as the Swiss Army knife of hotel cards,” says CreditCards.com Editor-in-Chief Daniel P. Ray. “You can get a lot out of any of our top hotel cards,” he says, but “what tipped the balance for me in picking the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express can be summed up in one word: versatility.”
Unlike many travel cards, the Starwood card also doesn’t restrict when you can book a rewards-funded hotel stay.
“SPG has the most generous program out there, as they don’t have any blackout dates and you can transfer to multiple hotel and airline partners,” says travel expert Johnny Jet.
Second Place: Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card from American Express
The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature card earned second place in the best hotel card contest after impressing judges with its ample point bonus for loyal hotel guests.
The Club Carlson Premier card sets itself apart from competitors by offering significantly more rewards points than average. For example, cardholders earn 10 gold points per dollar at Carlson Rezidor hotels and five gold points per dollar on general purchases.
Club Carlson points aren’t worth nearly as much as the average card rewards point, though, so you need more points to purchase a free night’s hotel stay. But the card’s generous rewards rate helps make up for the lower value rewards.
As one of the world’s biggest hotel chains, the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group operates more than 1,440 hotels around the world and in a variety of price ranges, so you should have little trouble finding an in-network hotel. As a result, the Club Carlson Premier card is a good choice for those who typically stay in mid-tier hotels but would like to use rewards points for higher-priced stays.
The Club Carlson Premier card also earns high marks for its generous sign-up offer and loyalty rewards. For example, you get up to 85,000 bonus gold points if you spend $2,500 in the card’s first 90 days, 40,000 bonus points each year your card is renewed and an extra free night’s stay when you spend at least $10,000 a year.
Ray says, “The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature card will reward you handsomely for loyalty, making it a fine choice for the road warriors whose routes include Carlson properties.”
Third Place: Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard
The Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard, which finished third in our best hotel card contest, was judged a great choice for budget travelers.
While the Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard isn’t as flashy as some of its higher-priced competitors, the card offers a plethora of points for stays at Best Western hotels.
For example, you earn 10 points per dollar at Best Westerns and another 10 points per dollar if you’re a member of Best Western’s loyalty program. The card also offers two points per dollar on general purchases.
You also get a 50,000-points sign-up bonus if you spend $1,000 in the first three months and 20,000 bonus points each year you spend at least $5,000. That’s significantly more valuable than most hotel card’s opening offers.
“The generous bonus and options-filled redemption plan make the Best Western Rewards Premium Mastercard an excellent choice for those who use that chain’s 4,100 properties,” Ray says.
Another plus: It doesn’t take a huge number of points to earn a free night’s hotel stay, so if you travel often and use your card for all your hotel purchases, you should have no trouble earning a free trip quickly with this valuable hotel card.
This is the second 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 credit card and 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.
All best credit card stories are prepared by CreditCards.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the story is accurate as of the date of the story. Check the credit card terms and conditions link on the issuing bank’s website for the most current information.