- Opening a hotel credit card and earning its sign-up bonus is a great way to work toward free hotel stays.
- Beyond earning you hotel points, hotel credit cards offer perks like complimentary elite status, annual reward nights, and bonus points on hotel stays.
- Top hotel co-branded picks include the Hilton Honours Aspire Card from American Express and the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
- If you’re not loyal to a specific hotel chain, consider a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, or the Platinum Card® from American Express.
“What is the best hotel credit card?” is probably the question I get asked the most. Everyone wants to earn rewards for a dream vacation, and with so many options out there, it’s hard to choose or qualify the “best” card.
When considering a hotel credit card, it’s important to factor in your travel goals: Are you looking to stay at a five-star resort in the Maldives? Or do you want to be able to book a cheap staycation once or twice a year without paying an exorbitant annual fee?
It’s also important to consider the card’s welcome bonus, recurring benefits, ease of earning free nights via credit card spending, category bonuses, and elite status perks (if any). With that in mind, here are my picks for the best hotel credit cards.
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards.
When you’re working to earn credit card rewards, it’s important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically,
treat your credit card like a debit card
Here are the best hotel co-branded credit cards in 2019:
- Best for Hilton elite status: Hilton Honours Aspire Card from American Express
- Best for IHG stays: IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
- Best for Hilton stays with a non-premium annual fee: Hilton Honours American Express Surpass® Card
- Best for Hyatt stays: The World of Hyatt Credit Card
- Best for premium Marriott benefits: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
- Best for Wyndham stays: Wyndham Rewards Visa
- Best for Radisson stays: Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature card
- Best for those who aren’t loyal to one hotel brand:Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, the Platinum Card from American Express
Hilton Honours Aspire Card
Welcome bonus: 150,000 points after you spend $US4,000 in the first three months
Annual bonus: Weekend night reward after renewal, plus an additional night after $US60,000 spent in a calendar year.
Category bonuses: 14x points at Hilton hotels, 7x points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies, and at US restaurants (3x points on everything else)
Complimentary elite status: Hilton Honours Diamond
Annual fee: $US450
The Hilton Honours Aspire Card is hands-down the best hotel credit card out there. For starters, with the 150,000-point welcome bonus, you can book upwards of 30 free nights, depending on the hotel category. But high-end redemptions aren’t too far off, either. For example, with these points you can cover two free nights at the Hilton Waikoloa Village or the LondonHouse Chicago.
The card comes with top-tier Hilton Diamond status, which gets you free breakfast, lounge access, and a 100% bonus on points earned via paid stays.
The Hilton Honours Aspire Card also offers a free weekend night reward when you renew your card, plus an extra free night when you spend $US60,000 in a calendar year. Travellers will appreciate up to $US250 in annual Hilton resort statement credits, up to $US250 in annual airline incidental credits, and Priority Pass Select membership. You’ll also earn up to $US100 in on-property credits when you book a 2-night minimum Hilton stay at qualifying properties on HiltonHonors.com/aspirecard. The Hilton Honours Aspire Card really goes above and beyond in providing exceptional value and a VIP travel experience at every turn.
IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
Welcome bonus: 125,000 points after you spend $US3,000 in the first three months
Annual bonus: Free anniversary night at IHG hotels worldwide. Plus, earn 10,000 bonus points after you spend $US20,000 on purchases and make one additional purchase each account anniversary year
Category bonuses: 25x points at IHG and 4x points on all other purchases for the first 12 months; then 10x points at IHG, 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants; and 1x points on all other purchases
Complimentary elite status: Platinum elite status
Annual fee: $US89
The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is one of the best hotel cards in terms of value. In exchange for an $US89 annual fee, cardholders get access to impressive perks like complimentary Platinum elite status, a fourth night free on award bookings, and a $US100 Global Entry or $US85 TSA PreCheck fee credit every four years. Additionally, cardholders earn a free night every year, which can be used at any IHG hotel worldwide that costs up to 40,000 points per night.
IHG free nights range from 10,000 – 70,000 points per night. With 125,000 points from the IHG Rewards Club Premier Card, you could cover upwards of 12 free nights. Additionally, IHG offers rates as low as 5,000 points per night through the PointBreaks promotion.
Hilton Honours American Express Surpass Card
Welcome bonus: 130,000 Hilton Honours bonus points and a free weekend night reward after you spend $US4,000 in purchases in the first four months. Offer ends August 28, 2019.
Annual bonus: Weekend night reward after you spend $US15,000 in a calendar year
Category bonuses: 12x points at Hilton hotels, 6x points at restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations in the US, 3x points on all other purchases
Complimentary elite status: Hilton Gold status (upgrade to Hilton Diamond after spending $US40,000 in a calendar year)
Annual fee: $US95
With free nights at Hilton ranging from 5,000 – 95,000 points, the current welcome bonus on the Hilton Honours Surpass Card will cover two to 26 free nights. Add in the free weekend night and you’re looking at upwards of 27 free nights. Of course, not everyone is looking to redeem their points at a low-category hotel. Even if you opt for a top-tier redemption, you’ve got at least two free nights covered with this welcome bonus (assuming one is a weekend night).
The reason why the Hilton Honours Surpass Card earns a high spot on this list of top hotel cards is because of how easy it is to earn a free night via credit card spending. While some cards require upwards of $US40,000 for a free night at a top-tier hotel, it takes just $US31,667 on the Hilton Honours Surpass card. Add in the generous category bonuses on everyday spending, and earning free nights becomes even easier.
The Hilton Honours Surpass Card doesn’t slack off when it comes to travel perks, either. Cardholders receive instant Gold elite status, with the ability to upgrade to Diamond after spending $US40,000 in a calendar year. Hilton Gold status perks are equivalent to what most other reward programs offer top-tier elites: Free breakfast, room upgrades based on availability, bonus points, and the possibility of club lounge access (assuming you’ve been upgraded to a Club room). This is a solid card for those who want elite status perks and the ability to rack up free nights quickly.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card
Welcome bonus: 25,000 points after you spend $US3,000 on purchases within the first three months, plus an additional 25,000 points after you spend $US6,000 total on purchases within the first six months
Annual bonus: Free night at a Category 1 – 4 hotel for renewing your card, plus another Category 1 – 4 night if you send $US15,000 during a card membership year
Category bonuses: 4x at Hyatt hotels and Exhale locations; 2x points on local transit commuting, restaurants, gym memberships and airline tickets purchased directly from the airline
Complimentary elite status: Hyatt Discoverist. Plus earn 5 qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every year and 2 additional qualifying night credits every time you spend $US5,000 on your card.
Annual fee: $US95
Hyatt requires 5,000 – 40,000 points for a free night, depending on the category. That makes the sign-up bonus from the World of Hyatt Credit Card redeemable for 1 – 10 free nights.
Hyatt has one of the best hotel rewards programs left, and it’s expanding rapidly. The World of Hyatt Credit Card is a great addition to your wallet if you’re looking for a solid sign-up bonus and recurring benefits. The current bonus is good for a free night at a top-tier hotel like the Muse Saint-Tropez or up to 10 nights at lower-category hotels. In addition, the card offers useful category bonuses and free nights issued annually based on card renewal.
The World of Hyatt Card comes with free Discoverist status, which offers benefits like premium internet and 10% bonus points on paid stays. Cardholders aiming for higher status will appreciate the 5 qualifying night credits issued every year and the ability to earn two additional credits per $US5,000 spent on the card.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card
Welcome bonus: 75,000 bonus points after you spend $US3,000 in the first three months
Annual bonus: Free night (for hotels at or under 50,000 points per night) every year after your card account anniversary
Category bonuses: 6x points at Marriott hotels, 3x points at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines (2x points on everything else)
Complimentary elite status: Marriott Gold status (earn Platinum after spending $US75,000 in a calendar year)
Annual fee: $US450
At 7,500 – 85,000 points per night, you can book up to 10 free nights at a Marriott hotel with this welcome offer. When Marriott implements new peak/off-peak pricing in September 2019, this range will widen ever further. Off-peak are set to start at 5,000 points per night while a top-tier Category 8 property could go as high as 100,000 points.
While the Bonvoy Brilliant‘s annual fee is $US450, cardholders receive a lot of bang for their buck. The card includes a $US100 Global Entry or $US85 TSA PreCheck credit, a $US300 annual Marriott Bonvoy statement credit, Priority Pass Select membership, and a $US100 credit when you book an eligible two-night minimum stay at a Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis hotel.
Cardholders will receive Gold Marriott status out of the gate, plus 15 nights toward the next status tier. Overall, this is a solid card for travellers who stay with Marriott frequently and want a leg-up in the elite status race. Even those who only stay with Marriott a few times a year will find value in all the added perks.
Click here to learn more about the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card from our partner The Points Guy.
Wyndham Rewards Visa Card
Welcome bonus: 15,000 bonus points after your first purchase or first balance transfer
Annual bonus: N/A
Category bonuses: 3x points at Wyndham hotels; 2x points on gas, utility, and grocery purchases.
Complimentary elite status: Gold
Annual fee: $US0
Wyndham Rewards is a great program for families who need a little more space on their vacations. Most Wyndham properties are essentially condos, offering multiple bedroom, full kitchen, and washer/dryer. These amenities are incredibly useful for families trying to save points while still travelling comfortable.
A free night at any Wyndham hotel is either 7,000 or 15,000 points per night. The card pays out 2 bonus points per $US1 spent on common spending categories like gas, groceries and utilities.
Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card
Welcome bonus: 50,000 points after your first purchase, plus 35,000 points once you spend $US2,500 on your card within the first 90 days
Annual bonus: 40,000 renewal points each year when you renew your card. Earn one free night for each $US10,000 in spend (up to $US30,000).
Category bonuses: 10x points at Radisson hotels
Complimentary elite status: Gold
Annual fee: $US75
Radisson Rewards is probably the most underrated hotel rewards program out there. I would rank this card higher on the list, except that there are *only* 1,175 Radisson hotels around the world. That means there are fewer places to redeem free nights, even if earning them is so easy with the Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card.
It takes just $US1,800 – $US14,000 worth of non-bonus category spending on this card to earn a free night. To give you an idea the calibre of hotel Radisson has abroad, there’s the Mayfair London which can go for upwards of $US600 per night or 70,000 points. The Radisson Blu Cannes and Radisson Blu Nice both have rates of over $US400 per night in the summer but can be booked with 70,000 points.
Non-hotel brand cards to maximise rewards on hotel stays
If you’re loyal to a specific hotel brand, having a co-branded card makes a lot of sense, as it can get you complimentary elite status, bonus points, and other perks when you stay with that chain.
But if you care less about brand loyalty and more about earning as many points as possible, a general travel rewards credit card like one of these could make more sense:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- The Platinum Card from American Express
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve earn bonus points on travel and dining (2x on the Preferred, 3x on the Reserve), and you can transfer your Chase points to Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott, among other partners. The Sapphire Preferred has a $US95 annual fee, and the Reserve has a $US450 annual fee (but comes with a $US300 annual travel credit that applies to everything from Uber rides to hotel stays).
If you frequently book hotel stays through Hotels.com, the Capital One Venture card is a particularly good options. It earns 10x miles at Hotels.com when you book at hotels.com/venture, and that’s in addition to the one free night for every 10 paid nights that you can earn through the Hotels.com Rewards program. The card has a $US95 annual fee that’s waived the first year.
There’s also the Platinum Card from American Express, which offers complimentary Gold status with both Hilton and Marriott. Plus, if you have the Amex Platinum you can earn 5 points per dollar on Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts stays. These are stays at luxury properties, and your reservation includes benefits like complimentary upgrades, free breakfast, and property credits. The Amex Platinum has a $US550 annual fee, but it easily can be worth it thanks to benefits like this.
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