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A guide to hotel credit cards
Co-branded hotel credit cards let you earn points, perks, elite status and, ultimately, free stays at a particular hotel chain. They can be a good fit for frequent guests, but it’s important to make sure you are going to spend and travel enough to benefit from the card. Here, we explore how hotel credit cards work, how to compare hotel credit cards and top hotel loyalty programs. But first, we’ll take a deeper dive into our favorite hotel credit cards.
Comparing the best hotel credit cards
After analyzing over 40 different hotel rewards credit card offers (and even more general travel cards), here is our list of the 11 best hotel credit cards for 2021. For a co-branded hotel credit card, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card is our top choice.
|Credit card||Best for||Hotel rewards rate||Intro bonus||Annual fee||CreditCards.com rating|
|Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card||Hilton bonus points||12X points at Hilton properties||130,000 points after spending $2,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months plus earn an additional 50,000 points after spending a total of $10,000 in the first 6 months||$95||4.0 / 5|
|Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card||Free night awards||Up to 17X points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels||3 Free Nights (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening||$95
||4.4 / 5|
|Hilton Honors American Express Card||Hilton Honors Silver status||7X points at Hilton properties||80,000 points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months plus earn an additional 50,000 points after you spend a total of $5,000 in the the first 6 months||$0||4.1 / 5|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Luxury travel perks||5X points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel||100,000 points after spending $6,000 on purchases within the first 6 months||$695||4.4 / 5|
|Discover it® Miles||Travel miles||1.5X miles for every dollar spent||Discover Match: Discover will automatically match all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year||$0||3.7 / 5|
|IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card||IHG hotel stays||Up to 25X on IHG hotel stays||150,000 points if you spend at least $3,000 in your first 3 months||$89, waived the first year||4.3 / 5|
|World of Hyatt Credit Card||Hyatt enthusiasts||Up to 9X points on Hyatt hotel stays||30,000 points if you spend $3,000 within your first 3 months plus, up to 30,000 more points by earning 2 points total per $1 spent in the first 6 months on purchases that normally earn 1 point, on up to $15,000 spent||$95||4.0 / 5|
|Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card||Luxury Marriott travelers||6X points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program||75,000 points after spending at least $3,000 within the first 3 months plus earn up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within the first 6 months||$450||4.5 / 5|
|Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card||No annual fee card for Marriott loyalists||Up to 14X points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels||30,000 points after spending at least $1,000 within your first 3 months||$0|| 3.3 / 5|
|Citi Premier® Card||Everyday + travel bonus categories||3X points on air travel, hotels, restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets||80,000 points after spending at least $4,000 within the first 3 months||$95||4.3 / 5|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Sign-up bonus||5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 2X points on other travel (including hotels)||100,000 points after spending at least $4,000 within the first 3 months||$95||4.4 / 5|
Editor’s picks: Hotel credit card details
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Best for Hilton bonus points
Why we picked it: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card is our top pick for Hilton bonus points. You’ll be awarded a weekend night reward after spending $15,000 in a calendar year. You can also earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after making $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of membership, plus an additional 50,000 bonus points after spending a total of $10,000 in purchases in the first six months.
Pros: You’ll receive 12X points on direct Hilton purchases, 6X points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, and 3X points on general purchases.
Cons: Hilton Honors points valuation is only 0.6 cent†.
Elite status: You’ll receive automatic Gold elite status within Hilton Honors. Plus, you can receive an upgrade to Diamond elite status through the end of the next year after a $40,000 spend in a calendar year.
Who should apply? Unique to this card – your non-hotel spending is mightily rewarded, meaning that more than travel categories can help you earn points, but you should still only apply if you’re a frequent guest at Hilton hotels, given you get the most value when you redeem points for stays and the ancillary perks are Hilton-centric.
Who should skip? Someone who doesn’t stay at Hilton properties very often won’t find much value in this card. Either look at another hotel brand or a more general travel card.
Read our Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card review.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card: Best for free night awards
Why we picked it: With 15 Elite Night credits per calendar year, a Free Night Award every year after your account anniversary and a generous rewards structure, this card is fantastic for earning free nights – especially if your account anniversary benefits roll over in time for a summer retreat.
Pros: This card currently allows you to earn 3 free nights (each night valued at 50,000 points) after qualifying purchases, plus 10X total points on eligible purchases in select categories. You earn 6X points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2X points on general purchases.
Cons: The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless doesn’t waive the $95
annual fee the first year, although the point valuation is a little better at 0.8 cent† than the Hilton Honors Surpass.
Elite status: You’ll receive automatic Silver elite status, plus 15 Elite Night Credits each year. You’ll also get a chance to earn Gold elite status by spending $35,000 on the card in a year.
Who should apply? While the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless has a lower intro bonus than the Surpass, it still offers excellent rewards for the Marriott enthusiast.
Who should skip? Someone who doesn’t routinely stay at Marriott properties won’t be able to make full use of what this card has to offer.
Read our Marriott Bonvoy Boundless review.
Hilton Honors American Express Card: Best for Hilton Honors Silver Status
Why we picked it: The Hilton Honors American Express Card offers complimentary Silver elite status, meaning you can automatically receive a 20% bonus on all the Hilton Honors Base Points you earn from Hilton hotel stays. Plus, you get express check-in and late check-out, which is a great perk for any traveler.
Pros: The welcome offer of this card is bodacious, as are the ongoing rewards, and there’s no annual fee. You’ll earn 80,000 points if you spend $1,000 in eligible purchases within your first three months of card membership, plus an additional 50,000 bonus points after you spend a total of $5,000 in purchases in the first six months. For base rewards, you earn 7X points on direct Hilton hotel purchases, 5X points on U.S. restaurant, U.S. supermarket and U.S. gas station purchases and 3X points on general purchases.
Cons: You’ll do better with the Surpass if you are willing to put down $95 for the annual fee.
Elite status: You’ll receive automatic Silver status in the loyalty program, which is a rare perk for a card with no annual fee.
Who should apply? Hilton enthusiasts who don’t travel enough to justify an annual fee can consider this card a good alternative. You should also apply if you’re interested in automatic Silver status.
Who should skip? Frequent Hilton-visitors may find the Surpass offers a better value. Likewise, someone who doesn’t stay at Hilton properties very much would do better with another branded card or a more general travel card.
Read our Hilton Honors American Express Card review.
The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for luxury travel perks
Why we picked it: This card is packed with travel features that make it worth your while if you feel the need to travel in style, like airport lounge access and complimentary benefits with Fine Hotels & Resorts. There’s also up to a $200 airline fee statement credit per calendar year (in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline) and up to a $100 statement credit on annual purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue (enrollment required for both benefits).
Pros: Cardholders earn 5X points on flights booked directly with an airline or through American Express Travel (capped at $500,000 in these purchases per calendar year), 5X points on eligible prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, and 1X points on general purchases. As a welcome offer, you can earn 100,000 points if you spend $6,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership. You’ll also receive 10X points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. (on up to $25,000 in combined purchases) in your first six months of card membership.
Cons: The annual fee on The Platinum Card from American Express is a whopping $695, which is higher than some other luxury travel cards.
Elite status: You’ll automatically receive Gold status with Hilton Honors. You’ll also receive Marriott Bonvoy Gold elite status, which can net you room upgrades upon check-in, where available (enrollment required for both benefits).
Who should apply? This card is tailored to frequent flyers who want to travel in style and can afford the high annual fee.
Who should skip? If you don’t travel enough to justify paying the annual fee, which is one of the highest around, this is probably not the card for you.
Read The Platinum Card from American Express review.
Discover it® Miles: Best for travel miles
Why we picked it: Not only will Discover match all of the miles you earn in the first year of account opening automatically, but you can also earn unlimited 1.5X miles for every dollar spent on all purchases, making this card our top pick for best travel miles.
Pros: With this general purpose travel credit card, there are a plethora of ways to redeem the miles that you earn, including airline travel, hotels, car rentals and public transportation.
Cons: This card’s value is truly found in its generous first-year bonus, but after the first 12 months, the benefits decrease greatly. Also, you can’t transfer miles you’ve earned to airline frequent-flier programs.
Elite status: N/A
Who should apply? With no annual fee, a flat rate for earning miles, and the exclusive Discover Match, the Discover it Miles has a lot to offer to the avid traveler looking for a simple, straightforward travel rewards credit card.
Who should skip? Big-spenders after status and high-end perks will probably be better matched with a less general travel card.
Read our Discover it Miles review.
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: Best for IHG hotel stays
Why we picked it: This card touts a large sign-up bonus, generous rewards rate and a free night each year at a participating IHG hotel on your membership anniversary, offering a lot of value to the chain’s loyal guests.
Pros: You’ll earn up to 25X points on IHG hotel stays (10 points as a cardholder in addition to 15X points as an IHG Rewards Club member with platinum elite status). You also earn 2X points on gas station, grocery store and restaurant purchases, and 1X points on other purchases. As part of a big sign-up bonus, you can earn 150,000 points if you spend $3,000 in your first three months. There’s also an annual bonus of 10,000 points available each anniversary year you spend $20,000 and make one additional purchase.
Cons: There’s an $89 annual fee, though it’s waived the first year. As with most co-branded hotel credit cards, you won’t really reap the rewards if you don’t frequent IHG hotels.
Elite status: You’ll automatically receive platinum elite status with IHG. That comes with late checkout, guaranteed room availability, a 50%-point bonus on hotel stays, room upgrades when available and more.
Who should apply? IHG enthusiasts will find all the hallmark perks of a solid hotel credit card in the co-branded option.
Who should skip? If the destinations you frequent don’t have IHG properties, you won’t get much out of this card.
Read our IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card review.
World of Hyatt Credit Card: Best for Hyatt enthusiasts
Why we picked it: This is one of the most lucrative hotel credit cards on the market, given the value of World of Hyatt points, the generous welcome offer and the bevy of perks you’ll enjoy as a cardholder.
Pros: You’ll earn 4X points on Hyatt hotel purchases, on top of 5X base points earned by regular World of Hyatt members. You’ll also earn 2X points on restaurants, directly purchased airfare, local transit, commuting and gym and fitness club memberships, and 1X points on other purchases. As a sign-up bonus, you can earn 30,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 in your first three months. You’re also eligible for up to 30,000 more bonus points, by earning 2X points on purchases that normally earn 1X point, for up to $15,000 in your first six months. You’ll get a free night at a Category 1 to 4 hotel each year. You can earn an additional free night at a Category 1 to 4 hotel each year you spend $15,000.
Cons: There’s a $95 annual fee, not waived the first year, though you can recoup this in perks if you frequent Hyatt hotels. The Hyatt hotel network isn’t as large as the networks in the Hilton Honors or Marriott Bonvoy loyalty programs.
Elite status: You’ll get automatic Discoverist elite status, which entitles you to late checkout, premium Wi-Fi, a free bottle of water every day, room upgrades when available and more.
Who should apply? This is a great credit card for Hyatt enthusiasts, given World of Hyatt points are among the most valuable rewards program currencies. (They’re worth around 1.7 cents each†.)
Who should skip? Someone who doesn’t stay at Hyatt properties often won’t find much value in this card. Another hotel branded card or a more general travel card would be a better fit.
Read our World of Hyatt Credit Card review.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Best for luxury Marriott travelers
Why we picked it: This top-tier Marriott Bonvoy credit card touts luxury benefits, including automatic Gold elite status, an up to $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA Precheck, and complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you access to more than 1,200 airport lounges, restaurants and Minute Suites worldwide.
Pros: You can rack up Marriott Bonvoy points quickly as the card earns 6X points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program, 3X points at U.S. restaurants and on direct airline booked flights and 2X points on other purchases. As part of a welcome offer, you can earn 75,000 bonus points after a $3,000 spend in the first three months. You can also earn up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants in your first six months. Plus, you’ll get a free award night with a redemption level up to 50,000 points at a participating hotel each year on your account anniversary.
Cons: You’ll have to use your free anniversary night certificate quickly as it expires after 12 months. There’s a $450 annual fee for this premier Marriott Bonvoy credit card, which is hard to recoup if you’re not a Marriott diehard. Plus, Marriott points are inflated; they’re only worth around 0.8 cents each†.
Elite status: You’ll automatically receive Gold elite status, which scores you late checkout, complimentary Wi-Fi, mobile check-in and complimentary room upgrades when available.
Who should apply? Marriott loyalists looking for luxury perks might want to spring for this premium hotel credit card.
Who should skip? This card won’t make much sense for infrequent travelers or those who are loyal to another hotel brand.
Read our Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card review.
Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card: Best no annual fee card for Marriott loyalists
Why we picked it: Marriott loyalists can rack up Bonvoy points via a generous welcome offer and decent base rewards rate without having to pay the pricey annual fees associated with the hotel chain’s other co-branded credit cards.
Pros: You earn 30,000 points after spending $1,000 in your first three months, which we estimate to be worth around $240 in Marriott stays. As base rewards, you earn 3X points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 2X points on travel and 1X points on other purchases.
Cons: Marriott points are a bit inflated at 0.8 cents each† and redemption options outside of room awards generally have poor value. Depending on how often you travel, you might be better served by one of the premier Marriott Bonvoy credit cards. (Learn how to determine what Marriott card is right for you.)
Elite status: This card comes with 15 elite qualifying night credits each year of membership, which puts you on the fast-track to Silver elite status.
Who should apply? Marriott enthusiasts looking to earn some perks with the brand while skipping an annual fee should consider this card their top co-branded option.
Who should skip? This card won’t make much sense for infrequent travelers or those who are loyal to another hotel brand.
Read our Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card review.
Citi Premier® Card: Best for everyday + travel bonus categories
Why we picked it: The Citi Premier Card lets cardholders earn extra rewards on a combination of travel and everyday spending. You’ll receive 3X points on air travel, hotels, restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets, as well as 1X points on all other purchases.
Pros: There’s also currently a lucrative sign-up bonus attached to the Citi Premier: Cardholders receive 80,000 bonus points if they spend $4,000 in their first three months, which is worth $800 in gift cards at thankyou.com. Cardholders also get access to VIP entertainment and concert ticket pre-sales along with concierge services to help book hotel and restaurant reservations.
Cons: This isn’t a co-branded hotel credit card, so if you’re looking for elite status and the perks it entitles you to, you’ll need to look elsewhere. There’s a $95 annual fee, not waived the first year.
Elite status: N/A
Who should apply? If you’re torn between a card that offers rewards on travel expenses and a card that offers rewards on everyday spending, this card is a good compromise.
Who should skip? Status chasers will likely be disappointed by this general travel card.
Read our Citi Premier Card review.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Best for sign-up bonus
Why we picked it: With this card, you’ll have the opportunity to earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of opening your account – that’s a whopping $1,250 if you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. If you’re planning to get out of the house this fall or travel more frequently this holiday season, this card is a good way to rack up points through its generous sign-up bonus.
Pros: Its generous 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3X points on dining and 2X points on other travel, coupled with Ultimate Rewards’ 25% booking boost, make Chase’s 1:1 point transfer to hotel partners a choice value for travelers loyal to IHG, Hyatt or Marriott. You’ll also receive 1X points on general purchases.
Cons: Less frequent travelers might not want to pay this card’s $95 annual fee, not waived the first year. Very frequent travelers, conversely, might want to consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which comes with beefed up benefits, including a $300 annual credit for eligible travel purchases, in exchange for a pricey $550 annual fee. (Learn how to decide between the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Sapphire Reserve.)
Elite status: N/A
Who should apply? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is at the top in flexibility, with a 25% bonus on travel bookings through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, and 1:1 redemption on many travel partners. Ultimately, Sapphire Preferred is a great long-term rewards card, should you be saving rewards for a future getaway.
Who should skip? Those who travel infrequently or don’t stay at IHG, Hyatt or Marriott properties will find more value in another hotel card or general travel card.
Read our Chase Sapphire Preferred review.
What are hotel credit cards?
Hotel credit cards are often co-branded cards (but not always). That means they are issued by a bank, such as Chase or American Express, and partner with a specific hotel brand. As you can imagine, the hotel card will reward you for loyalty to that brand, as well as reward you for loyalty to airline and car rental partners. In some cases, you are rewarded for using the card on everyday purchases, such as grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants.
How do hotel credit cards work?
With a hotel credit card, you can get rewarded with points for your purchases and eventually turn those points into discounts, exclusive experiences and a free night here and there. On top of the purchase rewards, loyal travelers can take advantage of numerous hotel benefits with the right card.
Typically, hotel credit cards come with sign-up bonuses, ongoing rewards and special perks, depending on the category of membership that you qualify for. Some cards even give annual bonuses to reward their long-standing guests. When it comes time to exchange your points, rewards programs usually offer a different redemption amount depending on the category of hotel property you choose.
Credit cards that redeem for hotel stays include co-branded cards and general-purpose cards. While co-branded cards reward loyalty, general-purpose travel cards reward you for a variety of spending on a number of airline and hotel brands.
Pros and cons of hotel credit cards
Hotel credit cards can bring a ton of value to the right traveler, but there are reasons some guests should hesitate before checking in with a new card. See below for the advantages and disadvantages of hotel cards:
Pros of hotel cards
- Free night rewards: An undoubtedly valuable feature for frequent travelers, many hotel credit cards will give out free nights stays as a sign-up or anniversary bonus, or you can accumulate points to then turn into a hotel stay.
- Loyalty status: Hotel cards offer ways for guests to climb certain chain’s loyalty programs faster, giving an expedited route to elite status and the exclusive benefits that come with it. Sometimes there are stipulations, but select cards may boost your status just for signing up.
- Substantial sign-up bonuses: With many hotel credit cards, you can get a massive amount of points soon after opening your account and spending the required amount in a certain timeframe. This creates a great opportunity to immediately feel the impact of your new card; you can book a vacation, contribute towards the spend requirement and capitalize on the sign-up bonus, leaving you set up to save on your next trip.
- Sweeten your stays: Some hotel cards come with perks that’ll improve both your hotel stays and vacations, such as free wi-fi, concierge service, complimentary items, VIP entertainment, pre-sale access to exclusive events and more.
Cons of hotel cards
- Annual fees: Hotel cards offer plenty of high-end benefits, so it’s no surprise that they typically come with a cost. You can find affordable options, but some hotel cards have yearly fees as high as $500 to $700.
- Travel restrictions: There are plenty of exceptions that give you some leash on who you book with and when you want to travel, but some hotel cards can be restraining when it comes to blackout dates, using your rewards, busy seasons and size of rooms available.
- Lack of flexibility: When it comes to general travel cards, there’s a lot more options when it comes to redeeming your rewards. Hotel credit cards are often co-branded with hotels that limit your rewards to that particular chain, which keep you stuck to a certain travel network.
Who should get a hotel credit card?
If you make the choice to transition to a rewards card, keep in mind that with the right hotel card, you can maximize points through business and personal travel alike. Wondering if a hotel credit card is right for you? If you are one of these three types of people, they might be a good choice.
- The business traveler. If you often travel to a specific area, you may have the opportunity to frequent the same hotels. You can maximize your savings by pulling your hotel card out whenever you travel on business.
- The loyal traveler. If you are loyal, to say, Hilton, then look at the Hilton cards that are available to see which one suits your travel habits best, such as the Hilton Honors suite through American Express.
- The luxury traveler. With the right card, you can enjoy the finer benefits, such as complimentary breakfast and refreshments, room upgrades, elite status benefits and free night rewards.
You don’t have to be a frequent jetsetter to reap the rewards that these cards can offer; even just spending the night a few times a year at the same chain may be enough to earn luxurious perks with the right card. However, in order to maximize your benefits, it’s important to determine the rewards structure that will best fit your travel and hotel aspirations.
How to choose a hotel credit card
If you’ve come to the decision that a hotel card is right for you, here’s some simple questions to ask yourself to ease the process and help narrow down your options.
- Am I loyal to any hotel chains? If you’re a frequent guest of Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt or any other co-branded chain, you can substantially cut down your options right off the bat. Getting a card that fits your typical travel will make the most sense as a cardholder.
- Where do I spend the most? Some of the cards here are designed to generously reward your hotel purchases, so if you’re often on the go, it’d be smart to check in with a high hotel rewards rate. Others give ways to earn on more common purchases, so family shoppers and restaurant goers can also turn their everyday spending into hotel rewards.
- Do I want to avoid an annual fee? There are cards here that have high annual fees, reasonable annual fees and ones that avoid them altogether. As a general rule, the higher the annual fee, the more value available, so assess how often you travel and what level of fee would bring you the most benefit.
- How often do I travel? If you’re constantly on the go, a high-rate rewards card with benefits applicable to your lifestyle would serve you right. Less frequent travelers might be better off with a hotel card with rewards in everyday expenses, such as gas, groceries or dining purchases.
- Is there a big trip in my future? Scheduling a card around a major trip can make a sign-up bonus easy to hit and immediately rewarding. Pay attention to the value of different card’s bonuses if you find yourself in this situation.
- What do I want out of my hotel stays? Depending on the type of traveler you are, there might be a huge difference in how much you value various perks. Consider how much weight you put into things like occasional room upgrades, free wi-fi, complimentary breakfast, exclusive experiences and more.
How to compare hotel credit cards
Hotel cards come in a choice of flavors, with widely varying benefits, different point valuations and differing expiration rules. When comparing cards, there are some major factors to look at to try and determine a winner.
You can always start with annual fees. If a card has a cost that’s too high for your liking, it’s easy to choose a similar, cheaper option.
Another key factor to consider is the value of the card’s points. With such a variety of hotel cards, there’s also a variety of point valuations, and you’ll want to make sure your spending is worthwhile when deciding between two options. For example, per thepointsguy.com the World of Hyatt card’s points are roughly valued at $0.017, while the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass’ points come out to a less-impactful $0.006.
To further whittle down on your choices, take a look at what the card gives you in terms of hotel benefits. Some guests prioritize the luxury hotel experience, some want to fast-track loyalty status and some want premium room upgrades; finding perks that are important to you may be the deciding factor in your new travel companion.
The flexibility of the cards you’re considering could be another determining factor when finding the right card. If the rewards options are limited to a single hotel chain, make sure it’s somewhere you’ll check in often. For more general travelers, maybe the route with more widespread redemption choices is a better trip to take.
How to get free hotel stays
Join hotel loyalty programs
Hotel loyalty programs work similarly to hotel credit cards: Enroll and you can earn points or credits on your stays that you can use to book future stays. Many programs also offer elite status to members after they spend a certain amount at their hotels. An added bonus for signing up? Elite status generally entitles you to free perks and extra benefits, including room upgrades, early check-in, late checkout, free Wi-Fi and complimentary water or snacks.
Rack up credit card rewards
As we mentioned earlier, hotel credit cards let you earn points that you can redeem for free stays. Some of the best hotel credit cards offer a free stay on your account anniversary and many of them come with welcome offers that let you earn the equivalent of one free night or more if you spend a certain amount of money on your card within your first few months. The current welcome offer attached to the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, for instance, lets new cardholders earn 3 Free Nights (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after they spend $3,000 in the first three months. We estimate that bonus is worth around $1,200 in hotel stays at standard Marriott rooms, given those points equal 0.8 cents each. (See the best credit card welcome offers.)
You can also often redeem the rewards you earn with a general purpose travel credit card, cash back credit card or general rewards credit card for free hotel stays or statement credits that cover the amount of a free hotel stay.
Pool your points
If you want to earn free hotel stays faster, look into whether you can pool points earned across credit cards. For instance, Chase will let you combine the points you earn across cards in its network through its Ultimate Rewards program. So, if you have points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, for instance, you can combine them with any points earned with the Chase Freedom Unlimited before you redeem.
You can also, more often than not, combine points earned with a travel credit card with points earned through a hotel’s loyalty program to hit redemption thresholds and book awards nights more quickly.
Stay at least four nights
Many hotel loyalty programs or hotel credit cards also offer a free night to members who book a certain number of consecutive nights with their points. The Citi Prestige® Card, for instance, lets cardholders get their fourth night free on any hotel stay (offer capped at two uses per year). Meanwhile, both Marriott Bonvoy and elite Hilton Honors members are eligible for a fifth night free (terms apply).
Sometimes, you don’t need to have a hotel credit card or even belong to a hotel loyalty program to get a fifth or fourth night free. Hotels frequently offer discounts on longer stays. You can look for these deals on their websites or call the hotel directly to inquire about current fourth- or fifth-day-free promotions.
Learn more strategies for scoring free hotel stays.
How we picked the best hotel credit cards
With so many branded options, selecting which hotel card best accommodates your spending habits can be difficult. That’s why we analyzed over 340 travel credit cards to identify the top hotel credit card offers currently on the market. The main factors we considered include:
- Base rewards rate and points value: Co-branded hotel credit cards can offer anywhere between 3X and 10X points on brand purchases. General purpose travel cards offer between 1.25X and 2X rewards on general purchases. We looked at where a card’s return rate fell in those applicable categories. We also considered how much points were worth within a hotel’s loyalty program or the issuer’s rewards program.
- Welcome bonus and/or anniversary bonus: The best hotel credit cards often offer extra points worth a free night’s stay or simply a free night’s stay in exchange for spending a certain amount of money on the card within a set timeframe, usually your first three months. Some also offer a free night or big bonus points on your account anniversary. We more heavily weighted cards that touted these benefits.
- Ancillary perks and amenities: Common “extras” associated with top hotel credit cards include elite status within the brand’s loyalty program, which entitles you to room upgrades, free Wi-Fi, late checkout, early check-in, complimentary bottles of water and more.
- Rates and fees: Hotel credit cards are rewards credit cards, which tend to carry higher APRs than low interest credit cards. They also sometimes charge an annual fee for membership. We still considered whether the APR was reasonable for this card category and if an annual fee was justified or easily recouped via the card benefits.
Full criteria used: Rewards rates, rewards categories, welcome bonuses, size of hotel network, transfer partners, point values, other travel benefits, annual fee, other rates and fees, redemption options and flexibility, customer service, credit needed, elite status, ability to upgrade and downgrade.
† All information regarding credit card point valuations is provided by The Points Guy