When you travel, you want to be able to stay in style and get rewarded for all the expenses you put on your card. It's tempting to get every hotel card that comes out promising x, y, and z, but the truth is, some hotel cards are better than others. If you don't choose carefully, you'll end up with a card that costs you more than rewards you with hotel and travel perks. Instead of getting a room upgrade on your favorite hotel chain, the only thing that will get bumped up is your interest rate.
That's why it's so important to know which travel credit card is worth it before you buy in. We've done all the work to find the best travel credit cards for hotels that maximize the value of what you spend and don't come with huge costs or fees. Sure, you want a travel rewards card that can be redeemed for a night stay (or more) and other hotel perks, but you'll also want to choose a card with a loyalty program that's strong and foreign transaction fees are weak.
Become one with a hotel credit card's point system to earn the most free nights. It's easy to get drawn in by a hotel credit card's huge signup bonuses and fast earn rates, but you also need to consider how many points you'll actually need to redeem valuable rewards like a free night at a hotel. Use the hotel credit card that's going to make the most sense for your lifestyle, not the one with the flashiest bonus offer.
Do your research by figuring out a card's "earn" and "burn" rates. Math may be the last thing you want to do when planning a getaway, but it's important to figure it out if you want to pack away some better money habits of your own. Let's say Hotel Card "A" earns 10 points per dollar spent at their hotels but requires 30,000 points for a free night's stay. Hotel Card "B" only offers two points per dollar spent at their hotels, but free nights start at 5,000 points. While the earn rate for Card A is much faster, you would need to burn—er, spend—$3,000 in order to earn a free night. With Card B, however, while you'll earn points more slowly, you only need to spend $2,500 to earn a free night.
Don't choose a hotel credit card until you consider your own travel habits. Even the most rewarding hotel credit card isn't going to benefit you if it doesn't reflect the way you typically travel.
Be loyal and true—or not. Let's consider the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, for example, it rocks if you're a Marriott lover. However, if you rarely stay at a Marriott, you will likely feel underwhelmed by its benefits. There are options, though. That's what we intend to show with the three cards chosen below:
The best hotel credit cards offer more than just free nights. Do a little digging to see what's just beneath the shiny veneer of your hotel credit card offer.
If you've been searching for the best hotel credit card, you know the vast array of options can make the decision a bit overwhelming. So we narrowed down our top choices based on a few key parameters:
Is it easy to earn enough points? The best hotel credit cards not only earn points fast but make it easy to turn those points into free nights. For example, the Hilton Honors Card from American Express didn't make the cut because free nights at certain properties require 200,000 points or more, making it hard to cash in.
Is it traveler-friendly? This may seem obvious, but credit card issuers for some travel rewards cards charge a foreign transaction fee when used abroad. So, if you travel out of the country often, those fees can end up canceling out the rewards you earn.
The cards on this list do not charge foreign transaction fees.
Is the annual fee worth it for the average cardholder? Make sure the rewards you earn will offset the annual fee—and then some. For example, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card edged out the Ritz Carlton Rewards Credit Card on our list because the Ritz's enormous annual fee may be hard to recoup unless you're a frequent luxury traveler.
How useful are the rewards? The cards on this list can either be redeemed at worldwide locations, or with a flexible variety of airlines or hotel brands.
Are there additional perks? This can be a tiebreaker between similar cards. For example, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card is a solid choice for earning star points quickly, but cards with sweeter perks ultimately won out.
Now, let's cut the small talk and get to what you came for! The top five cards CardGuru recommends for hotel stays are as follows:
Best Overall Travel Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred
The best choice for earning free nights isn't actually a hotel credit card at all—it's a flexible travel rewards card that makes it easy to earn points and cash them in for travel. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card offers a 1:1 point transfer to other loyalty programs, so you're not bound to a particular brand. Earn a free night stay along with other hotel rewards with the company's Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
It's ideal if you like variety. Do you enjoy searching around for the best bargains at your destination? Is the perfect location more important to you than brand loyalty? If so, you'll appreciate the flexibility of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
The annual fee is reasonable—and worth it. Chase offers a introductory fee structure, and a $95 annual fee after the first year. Considering that your signup bonus of 60000 points is about enough to cover the annual fee in the first seven years of card ownership, that's not a bad deal.
Points are worth more when redeemed for travel. Get a 25% redemption bonus when spending points on travel.
The earning structure is simple. Earn 2X points per $1 on dining at restaurants and travel, then 1X point spent on all other purchases.
1-to-1 point transfers offer maximum flexibility. Chase Sapphire Preferred allows you to transfer your points to other airline and hotel loyalty programs.
So if you're a member of a free loyalty program or frequent flier program and you just need a few hundred extra points to earn a free flight or a free night, you can transfer points from your Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
People love the top notch customer service If you hate wading through automated phone menus before you can speak to an actual human, you're not alone. Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders appreciate that representatives answer calls promptly.
But watch out: The high APR can chip away at your rewards The Chase Sapphire Preferred's APR varies from 18.24-25.24% based on your credit history when you apply. If you typically carry a balance, you'll likely save more with a lower APR card than you'll earn with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
Time it with your next travel booking when you apply To earn max points per dollar—and meet the required minimum spend to waulify for the signup bonus—apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred right before booking a vacation. It's a quick online process.
Most Flexible Rewards: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite
Much like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard is a smart choice for travelers who aren't loyal to any particular hotel brand or airline. Miles (they're not really miles, but we'll talk about that in more detail below) can be used to book vacation rentals, timeshares, and even campgrounds—basically, any business that lists travel as its category code.
The Arrival Plus card lets you redeem miles for unique travel experiences. While most travel rewards cards are linked to a hotel or airline loyalty program, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus stands out because cardholders can redeem their miles on any travel expenses, anywhere, anytime. Cash in on that charming B&B or rented beachfront bungalow you've had your eye on. After booking, redeem your miles for a statement credit.
The earning structure couldn't be simpler. Earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase, no category confusion or questions asked!
Earn a 5% bonus when you redeem for travel. The 70000 mile signup bonus is comparable in value to the Chase card mentioned above, but if you spend that money on travel, you'll get an extra boon of points back. You do have to spend $5000 to access the bonus though.
Get social and earn miles. If you love swapping stories with other travelers, the Barclaycard offers a unique—and completely free—way to earn miles by sharing travel tales at BarclaycardTravel.com.
Save on balance transfers. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus offers a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers made within 45 days of opening your account, which can help you lower your credit card debt.
Redeem what you want. The ability to spend your miles anywhere—not just with a short list of partner hotels or airlines—is the most popular feature among Barclaycard customers. If you see a great deal on a hotel or super low airfare, you can snag it without worrying about whether your miles will cover it.
However, the "miles" thing can be confusing. While the earning structure is easy, the "miles" concept can be trickier. Barclaycard miles aren't really miles in the truest sense of the word because they don't transfer directly to any airline. To redeem your Barclaycard miles for airfare, you need to book your plane ticket using your Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, then apply your miles as a statement credit for the purchase. Effectively it's the same, but some users may prefer the thrill of getting something for free rather than waiting for a credit.
"Is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus hard to qualify for?" Yes, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard requires a "Good" to "Excellent" credit score. You should have at least a 3 to apply, but it's recommend that you keep your score around the mid-700s at least, if you want to get approved.
Don't expect to "stack" your benefits with multiple Barclaycards You can apply online at the Barclaycard website, but if you already have another Barclaycard, be aware that the company is reportedly cracking down on "churning"—applying for multiple cards to collect signup bonuses.
Easiest Signup Bonus to Access: Hilton Honors American Express
The Hilton Honors American Express card doesn't have the most lucrative signup bonus, despite the fact that it may feel lucrative when you rack up tens of thousands of Hilton Honors points. The thing is Hilton Honors points are in a league of their own, with a value that is wildly different than most travel miles and points that travel rewards cards offer. For this reason, they convert to about half the value of your average reward point. The seemingly large boon of points isn't worth quite as much, but on the bright side it's pretty easy to access!
Don't spend thousands to get paid! Unlike the other two cards mentioned above which require a minimum spend of $4000 and $5000, respectively, you only have to spend $1000 to unlock the signup bonus of 100000 Hilton Honors points.
Amex signup bonuses are always getting better. It's not uncommon for credit card issuers, and particularly American Express, to inflate the welcome bonus for targeted offers. You could see this card offering a higher bonus from the issuer at any given time, making it even more enticing when you go to signup.
Redemption isn't as easy or flexible. Unlike the above Barclaycard that allows you to use your "miles" to redeem against travel related purchases, Hilton points are a little bit of a tougher sell. For one, they generally don't convert as high as most travel rewards, which we mentioned above. It's difficult to say much beyond that because how they convert depends on what you want to use them for. If you stay at one of a few Hilton resorts that are worth 5,000 points a night, this compelling signup bonus goes a long way. That said, you could use all of your points booking a single two night stay at select properties. To get the most value out of Hiltons Honors points you may have to play a little Tetris with HOW you use them. Still, getting this boon of points for the lowest minimum spend on this list is an amazing perk.
Low fee card. In addition to having no foreign transaction fee, per the criteria mentioned at the top of this article, the Hilton Honors American Express card has no annual fee either, making it an excellent choice for those who don't want to pay for the privilege of owning a card.
Rack up points with each swipe! It's easy to rack up points fast with this card. In addition to getting your whopping 100000 point signup bonus, you get everyday rewards points for shopping wherever you shop the most. With categories that get above minimum everyday points, you could be swiping your way to a Bora Bora resort in no time. Receive 7 Points for every dollar of select purchases made with hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio. Receive 5 Points for every dollar of select purchases at U.S grocery stores. The same rate applies to gas stations and dining out also. That's in addition to a small amount of points on any other purchase.
If you're reading this you probably are no stranger to luxury hotels. If you are, clearly, you'd like to change that. When choosing the best hotel credit card, decide which perks are most valuable to you. Are you loyal to one particular brand, or would you rather have the flexibility to book anywhere? Is elite status important to you? Do you spend a lot of money on travel each year, or do you spend the bulk of your budget elsewhere? Once you know what you're looking for, you'll be able to find a credit card issuer that offers a hotel card with the perfect balance of flexibility, fast rewards, and enticing extras.