Hotel Credit Cards: The Good, Bad & Ugly

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Photo: gps1941 via Flickr

As if all those TV commercials for the Marriott credit card didn’t clue you in, the marketing of credit cards with hotel rewards has really ramped up as of lately. In the past, this category of cards was typically something you would only find in the wallet or purse of a diehard road warrior, namely business travellers.These days, we are seeing them garner much wider appeal. rumour has it that the industry is aiming for them to eventually achieve the same mainstream success as airline cards. But before you bite the bait and get your own, here’s a look at the good, bad, and ugly behind some of the most popular hotel credit cards.

Chase Marriott Rewards Credit Cards – There are two different versions and as mentioned above, you’ve probably seen plenty of commercials for these over the past few months.


  • The $30 standard version gives 3x at Marriott and 1x elsewhere… not bad, but not overwhelmingly impressive either. However the $65 “Premier” is something to write home about: 5x at Marriott, 2x on dining, 2x on airlines, 2x on car rentals, and 1x elsewhere.
  • With the Marriott Rewards Premier, you are given a free night every year on your account anniversary (can be used at a category 1-5 hotel).
  • The signup promotions featured so far this year have been very generous. The standard card currently offers 22,500 points, while the Premier is 30,000 points. Both also toss in a free night stay upon approval at a category 1-4 hotel.


  • To get the most value per point, you will probably have to redeem for the Marriott travel packages (which by some calculations, give a value of up to 1-1.2 cents per point). While that is quite good, the realised value for regular Marriott hotel stays is often lower than that, unfortunately. There is also the option to convert points to miles on partner airlines, but doing so will give you the least value (which means this credit card is not the best idea for airline miles).

American Express Starwood Card – The Starwood family includes Sheraton, Westin, Le Méridien, W Hotels, Luxury Collection, St. Regis, Four Points, Aloft, and Element Hotels.

  • Ironically, this card is most famous not for its hotel rewards, but rather the Starwood Alliance airline partners. Why? Because with the Starwood American Express, you can convert your points to miles on over 30 partner airlines and it’s often a 1:1 conversion. That means it arguably has one of the best, if not the best, credit card programs for air travel.
  • You get 1 Starpoint per dollar on regular spending. At SPG properties, you get 2 Starpoints per dollar from the credit card (this is in addition to the 2-3 Starpoints you earn as an SPG member).


  • Previously the annual fee was $45, but it was recently hiked to $65. Regardless, most still seem to agree an extraordinary value.

Chase Hyatt Visa Signature Card – This is the new kid on the block. Despite being one of the largest hotel chains in the world, up until last year there was no such thing as a Hyatt credit card.


  • By far the most impressive aspect is the signup offer, which is 2 free nights at any Hyatt hotel or resort worldwide, for use on any standard available room. You can comb over the fine print for this and you won’t see any sneaky exclusions. That means depending on the location it is used, the actual value of this incentive could easily approach the neighbourhood of several hundred dollars.
  • For rewards, it gives 3x points at Hyatt and 1x everywhere else. But how much are those points worth? Well, there are 6 classes of hotels in the Hyatt Gold Passport program (each requiring a different amount of points) so the answer isn’t exactly cut and dry, but based on my own experiences and other opinions reflected online, the value of each point probably averages around 1.5 cents.
  • There is no foreign transaction fee.


  • The annual fee is $75, which is on the steeper side for a hotel-branded card.

Hilton HHonors Credit Cards – Strangely enough, their cards are offered in 3 different versions by 2 different issuers (1 by Citi and 2 by American Express).


  • Depending on the card, you can get 2-3x points on regular spending, 3-6x points on grocery/gas/drugstore, and 6 to 9x points at Hilton properties. Both of the AmEx cards also give additional points for the following categories: wireless and home phone, internet, cable, and satellite TV service providers. To cut through the clutter, the most generous rewards program amongst all 3 cards is the Hilton HHonors Surpass from American Express.
  • There is no annual fee for 2 of the cards: Citi Visa Signature and the standard AmEx version.
  • Depending on the card, you will get complimentary Silver or Gold HHonors status.


  • Each HHonor point typically equates to a value of around a half-penny. Obviously the rewards are still quite generous, but it something you need to be aware of when estimating your rewards potential. In other words, don’t think of 2x points as a 2% rebate.
  • The most generous Hilton credit card, the Surpass from AmEx, carries a $75 annual fee.

Disclosure: My company’s website, CreditCardForum, has affiliate advertising relationships with most major credit card issuers, including Chase, American Express, and Citi which were featured in this article. However as of the time of writing, please note that CreditCardForum does not receive any compensation for the Chase Hyatt or American Express Hilton cards.

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