Comparing Credit Cards for Hotel Points
Updated: August 3, 2018
A great hotel card can help you log free hotel nights, add a touch of luxury to your hotel stays and even take the stress out of travel with convenient perks and upgrades. Many hotel cards combine generous rewards programs with ample perks for loyal guests.
Hotel credit cards, like airline cards, pair a travel brand with a bank, encouraging loyalty. They are a great way to build points on a specific loyalty brand. But, it's important to make sure you are going to spend enough to benefit from the card.
We researched more than 40 co-branded hotel cards and more than 300 general travel rewards cards, using a lot of the criteria outlined in this guide, to get down to our list of the best hotel cards. Strong rewards values, sign-up bonuses, and flexible redemption options were a big factor in our choices. Here, we look at:
Whether you are wondering how hotel cards work or you want to know who should get one, we can help.
What are hotel credit cards and how do they work?
What are hotel credit cards?
In most cases, hotel credit cards are co-branded cards, which means they are issued by a bank, such as Chase or American Express, then a specific hotel brand is associated with the card. 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 general-purpose purchases, such as grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants.
How hotel cards work
Typically, hotel credit cards come with sign-up bonuses, ongoing rewards and special benefits, depending on the category of membership that you qualify for. Then, the rewards programs usually offer a different redemption amount depending on the category of hotel property you choose. For example, a Category 1 Marriott property requires 7,500 points for a one-night stay, while a Category 7 property runs 35,000 points.
There are 2 types of hotel credit cards, co-branded cards and general-purpose cards. Each has its advantage.
- Co-branded cards. Most hotel cards, called co-branded products, are aligned with specific hotel companies, such as IHG. These cards reward you for loyalty to specific brands, giving bonus points for spending at properties and sign-up bonuses in the hundreds of dollars. In many cases, the brand will have partnerships with airlines or other companies that you can benefit from.
- General-purpose cards. Some travel cards reward you for a variety of spending that you can use on a number of airline and hotel brands. In some cases, your points are boosted for using a travel portal operated by the card issuer, such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. For example, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you get an increase of 25% and with the Reserve, you get an increase of 50% on your points when you book through the portal, which makes it worth a look.
What are 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 10 best hotel credit cards of 2018. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card tops our list because of its generous 10x points when you book and pay at hotels.com/venture. For a co-branded hotel credit card, the Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express is our top choice.
|Credit Card||Best For:||CreditCards.com Rating||Annual Fee||Hotel Rewards Rate|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Winner in rewards value||4.3 / 5||$0 first year, then $95||10 miles per dollar spent at hotels.com/venture|
|Citi ThankYou® Premier Card||Runner-up in rewards value||4.4 / 5||$95, waived first year||2x Starpoints at participating SPG and Marriott hotels|
|Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express||Best in hotel rewards value||4.3 / 5||$95||12x points at Hilton properties|
|Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card||Runner-up in hotel rewards value||3.9 / 5||$95||6 points per dollar at Marriott and SPG hotels|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Best in rewards flexibility||4.0 / 5||$0 first year, then $95||2x points on travel, including hotels|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||Runner-up in rewards flexibility||3.6 / 5||$0||10 miles per dollar spent at hotels.com/venture|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card||Winner in travel features||3.7 / 5||$0||3x points on travel, including hotels|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||Runner-up in travel features||3.4 / 5||$0||1.5 points per dollar on all purchases|
|IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card||Winner in hotel options & features||3.8 / 5||$89||10 points per $1 spent when you stay at an IHG hotel|
|Hilton Honors Card from American Express||Runner-up in hotel options & features||3.1 / 5||$0||7x points at Hilton properties|
Research methodology: how we chose the best cards
Hotel credit cards analyzed: 42
Criteria used: Rewards rates, rewards categories, sign-up 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
Details on our top picks for the best hotel cards
Best in rewards value
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Earn 50,000 miles after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months, equal to $500 in travel, and enjoy the flexibility of staying at any hotel at any time.
Bottom line – The Capital One Venture Rewards now has a bonanza offer on hotels with 10X miles toward bookings made with hotels.com/Venture. That and the 2X miles on all eligible purchases make this card a superior general-purpose hotel card.
|Annual percentage rate||2.3|
Runner-up in rewards value
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card
Earn 60,000 points after a $4,000 spend within the first 3 months; 3X points for travel and gas; and 2X points for restaurants and entertainment. One thing to note: Those 60,000 points become $750 when booked through the ThankYou Travel Center.
Bottom line – While the Citi ThankYou Premier is second to the Venture Rewards in annual rewards value due to the latter's hotel.com/venture feature, the Citi card's value is still strong with its generous tiered points system.
|Annual percentage rate||1.7|
Best in hotel rewards value
Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card
You might think earning 100,000 points after a $2,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership will be as good as it gets, but there's so much more. Earn 12X points at participating hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio; 6X points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets; and 3X points on everything else.
Bottom line – The Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card is just full of surprises, including a weekend night reward after spending $15,000 in a calendar year, and upgrade to Diamond status after a $40,000 spend in a calendar year. And unique to this card – your non-hotel spending is mightily rewarded.
|Annual percentage rate||0.3|
Runner-up in hotel rewards value
Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card
The 75,000 points earned after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months is lower than the Ascend with a higher required spend, but there are rewards galore to make up for it. There's the free night every year after your account anniversary; 6X points at participating Marriott and SPG hotels; and 2X points on all other purchases.
Bottom line – While the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus has a lower annual reward value ($500) than the Ascend ($699), it still offers excellent rewards for the Marriott enthusiast.
|Annual percentage rate||0.9|
Best in rewards flexibility
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Earn 50,000 points after a $4,000 spend within the first 3 months, and 2X points on worldwide travel and restaurants. But it's the flexibility in rewards that makes it stand out from its competition.
Bottom line – The Chase Sapphire Preferred is at the top in flexibility, with a 25% bonus on bookings through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, and 1:1 redemption on many travel partners.
|Annual percentage rate||0.9|
Runner-up in rewards flexibility
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
While you can earn 20,000 miles after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months, and earn 1.25X miles on all eligible purchases, it's the hotel rewards that are the most impressive. When you book and pay through hotels.com/Venture, you can earn 10X points on bookings at thousands of hotels.
Bottom line – The Capital One VentureOne Rewards comes in close behind the Sapphire Preferred in rewards flexibility, with travel without blackout dates and stays at any hotel at any time. With the outrageous 10X points offer on hotels, this card is a keeper.
|Annual percentage rate||3.7|
Best in travel features
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
Earn 30,000 points after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months, as well as 3X points for travel, dining and transportation. New on the market, this card has quickly grabbed the attention of points chasers.
Bottom line – The Wells Fargo Propel American Express offers exceptional rewards for hotels, flights, homestays and car rentals – making it a favorite for travel features.
|Annual percentage rate||2.9|
Runner-up in travel features
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
This card offers 25,000 points after a $1,000 spend within the first 90 days and 1.5X points on all eligible purchases. You can also earn a 10% points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America checking or savings account.
Bottom line – The Bank of America Travel Rewards' no annual fee, straightforward redemption and easy earnings make it a smart addition to your wallet.
|Annual percentage rate||3.0|
Best in hotel options & features
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
Earn 100,000 points after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months; 10X points at IHG hotels; and 2X points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants. Also get a free night every anniversary.
Bottom line – The IHG Rewards Club Premier offers bountiful points and is a standout in hotel options and features, with more than 5,200 properties, room upgrades, vast types of travel insurance and the famous free night after a stay of 4 or more nights.
|Annual percentage rate||2.5|
Runner-up in hotel options & features
Hilton Honors American Express Card
Earn 50,000 points after a low $1,000 spend within the first 3 months; 7X points at the Hilton brand; 5X points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; and 3X points on all other purchases. While its points are not as rich as the Ascend, there is no annual fee.
Bottom line – With the 5th night free for every consecutive stay, a 15% bonus on Honors points, and express and late check-out, the Hilton Honors American Express offers hotel options and features second only to the IHG Rewards Club Premier card.
|Annual percentage rate||0.3|
Pros and cons of hotel credit cards
Hotel credit cards are great for loyalty, whether with a specific brand or its partners. Depending on your category of membership, hotel cards and loyalty programs often offer benefits such as early check-in, late check-out, breakfast and more. There are a number of advantages to these cards, including generous sign-up bonuses, but there can be some downsides as well.
Pros and cons of hotel cards...
|Build credit||Can impact credit if pay late|
|Great for loyalty||May be limited in how use points|
|Generous sign-up rewards||Points may not be as rewarding as other card types|
|Nice benefits||May require high annual spend|
|Benefit from other brands||Will likely pay an annual fee|
| ||Point valuations vary|
When hotel cards are a good choice:
Here, we take a deeper dive into the advantages of hotel credit cards:
- Getting rewarding benefits. David Bakke of Money Crashers points out that the big advantage of hotel credit cards is the rewards program. You can earn everything from points good for purchases and statement credits to free nights and room upgrades.
- Finding a strong sign-up bonus. Many of the available hotel cards offer sign-up bonuses in which you spend a certain minimum within a specific amount of time, usually 3 months or 90 days, and in return, you earn thousands of points, which can be worth hundreds of dollars.
- Enjoying credits for other brands. As Bakke points out, some hotel cards allow you to convert points into credits for flights as well.
- Great for loyalty. If you have a favorite hotel brand, it's worth your while to look at hotel cards, because with them, you can earn excellent bonus points toward the brand, as well as the benefits we mentioned.
When hotel cards may not work for you:
There are a number of reasons, however, why a hotel card may not be the best choice:
- Paying an annual fee. Most hotel cards have an annual fee, which you need to be aware of, because if you don't pay full attention to your spending and earning, you can actually end up spending more than you save.
- Finding that the card is of limited use. Bakke points out that some cards' rewards are only good at the brand's hotels, limiting how you use the card's points. A hotel card may not be the best choice if you aren't supremely loyal to a single brand, in this case.
- Varying points valuations. It may not be readily apparent how much your card's points are worth. The Points Guy looks at points valuations for the different brands that will help inform your decision.
- Carrying a balance. If you carry a balance, you defeat the purpose of a rewards card. Plan to not pay in full each month? Don't get a hotel card. Also, it can impact your credit score if you carry too high of a balance.
Who should get a hotel credit card?
An incredible 40% of cardholders have always used the same card or haven't changed cards in at least 10 years, our March 2018 survey shows. That's a lot of points, miles and cash we are leaving on the table, including those from hotel cards.
When consumers did switch, it looks like it was for the right reason, with people on the hunt for rewards at the top of the list.
Reasons cardholders switched cards...
- Points, miles or cash
- Low interest rate
- Easy to get
- Card brand
Source: CreditCards.com survey
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. Also, they are worth your while if you like to play the points game.
Wondering if a hotel credit card is right for you? If you are one of these 4 types of people, they might be a good choice.
- If you travel often for business. With the right hotel card, you can maximize your savings by pulling the card out whenever you travel on business.
- If you have a favorite hotel brand. 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.
- If you enjoy playing the points game. Hotel cards are great for people who like to take full advantage of rewards programs.
- If you'll enjoy the finer benefits. With the right hotel card, you can get, for example:
- Early check-in
- Late check-out
- Complimentary breakfast
- Free bottles of water
How to compare two hotel credit cards
Hotel cards come in a choice of flavors, with widely varying benefits, different point valuations and differing expiration rules. Curious how to make it work for you? Here, we look at the different factors to consider, then we compare hotel cards as an example. Here are top factors to consider when choosing a hotel credit card.
- Which is easier to earn points with? Daniel Wesley, of Credit Loan, points this out – study your spending habits to decide which card you are more likely to use.
- Which has fewer restrictions? Wesley notes that you need to be mindful of restrictions on usage as well as points redemption.
- What are the expiration rules? Hotel rewards programs vary in their expiration rules, starting with 12 months and going even to 4 years. Make sure they are requirements that suit your lifestyle.
- What about benefits? Hotel cards often offer features that are not apparent at first glance. For example, you might be able to get free breakfast for two or free late check-out.
- Do the annual fees outweigh the potential perks? If so, don't get the card.
- How useful are the rewards, really? Look at whether you are really going to have an opportunity to redeem the points, says Wesley. Be sure to compare the sign-up bonus, as well as the ongoing rewards.
- Am I familiar and comfortable enough with one hotel chain over the other? Look at which brand you are most loyal to, says Wesley.
- What are the points actually worth? Yes, 100,000 points seems like a lot, but you need to look at the cards' points valuation to compare apples with apples. The Points Guy's monthly points valuation assessment can help.
How to maximize rewards on your hotel credit card
Choosing a hotel card is a deeply personal experience, because where you travel and which brands you favor informs your decision about which card to get. But no matter which card you use, there are a few basic ground rules for how to maximize your rewards, such as:
- Look at your travel habits. Do you have a favorite brand? How often do you use it? If you love the Hilton Portfolio, then go with that. If you are open to options, look at which brand is prevalent in the areas where you tend to travel.
- What are the benefits? When choosing a hotel card, look at the different membership tiers, what they offer and ascertain which one you can realistically meet based on your travel habits. This will help you decide whether you prefer the complimentary lounge access of SPG or the 48-hour room guarantee of Hilton Honors.
- Take a look at the annual fee. Many hotel cards have an annual fee. You'll want to make sure that you will surpass that fee each year with your rewards. Keep in mind that some cards waive the charge the first year.
- Make sure you comply with the sign-up rules. Hotel cards typically offer a one-time sign-up bonus in exchange for a required spend. Don't let that deadline pass you by.
- Put big purchases on it. Planning to get some work done on your car? Pull out that plastic and enjoy such rewards as 3X Hilton Honors points with the Hilton Honors Ascend from American Express. Keep in mind that you may get a better deal with a different card in your wallet that has a flat rate, such as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.
- Pay monthly bills with the card. Look at which card is best for such recurring purchases as cellphone charges and utilities.
Do hotel points expire?
Typically, points for hotel-brand loyalty programs can expire if you don't keep the account active, but there are a number of ways to make sure that doesn't happen.
For example, you can use a co-branded credit card that earns hotel points, you can transfer points from the American Express' Membership Rewards program for Best Western, Choice, or Hilton, or do the same from Marriott, Ritz-Carlton or Priority Club.
By keeping your accounts active, the points won't just go away. Here are top brands and their expiration policies:
Hotel loyalty programs' points expiration policies...
|Hotel brand||Points expiration policy|
|Wyndham Rewards||18 months with no activity, and 4 years overall|
|Hilton Honors||12 months|
|Marriott Rewards/Ritz-Carlton||24 months|
Source: CreditCards.com research
Can hotel credit card points be used for flying?
By transferring your hotel card points to an airline partner, you can fly with those points. But do your homework, because the transfer may not be the best you can get. That said, there are advantages to marrying airlines with hotel cards, such as bonuses for points transferred and points earned for airline tickets purchased. Ideally, check the hotel brand's partnerships if that's a deal-breaker for you.
Popular hotel loyalty programs
With many hotel loyalty programs out there, it can be hard to decide which is the best. Well, The Points Guy does the heavy lifting for you by establishing criteria on which to assess programs, and ranking them. Here, we reveal popular hotel loyalty programs and what they can offer members:
Favorite hotel loyalty programs...
|Hotel loyalty program||Number of properties||Strongest criteria||Valuation||Select features|
|Wyndham Rewards||8,000||Ease and value of redemption||1.2 cents/per point||10 pts/dollar; free internet; rental upgrade; late check-out; early check-in|
|Hilton Honors||More than 5,000||Strong co-branded cards||0.6 cents/per point||48-hour room guarantee; 5th night free; free internet; late check-out|
|Marriott Rewards||5,300||Geographic spread||0.9 cents/per point||48-hour room guarantee; late check-out; free internet; breakfast for two|
Source: TPG's top hotel loyalty programs, TPG valuations, CreditCards.com research
Detailed card reviews
For more information and to see more cards, see our hotel credit card reviews.
Related Travel and Rewards Card Categories:
Laura is an editor and writer at CreditCards.com. She has written extensively on all things credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. Laura's work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times and Associated Press. You can reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.
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