Hotel credit cards would seem to be easy, at least for frequent business travelers—just pick the chains you normally stay at most frequently and get the hotel credit card so you earn additional points and perhaps attain elite status faster.
But what if you stay at chain hotels more occasionally and aren’t particularly loyal to any chain? Or if you mostly prefer higher end hotels, such as the Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Aman Resorts, etc. which you can’t earn on points, and have very few stays at chain hotels that offer loyalty programs? That’s my situation and that of many TravelSort Hotels clients, so this post is written from that vantage point. I’ve divided the rankings into 3 categories:
- Best Hotel Credit Card Signup Bonuses: which cards give you the most when you signup, and for what amount of spend
- Best Hotel Credit Cards for Perks: which cards have perks that can make it worth it to keep them, even when the next year’s annual fee comes due
- Best Credit Cards for Spend: which cards would you actually want to put significant spend on to earn hotel nights
The hotel credit cards I have are the Hyatt Visa, SPG AMEX, and the Marriott Rewards Premier, because they give me access to Park Hyatt hotels, St. Regis and Luxury Collection properties, and Ritz-Carlton hotels and resorts, respectively. But I’ve also included other hotel cards that others may be interested in. So here we go.
Disclosure: Most of the hotel credit card links in this post don't pay me a referral but they are the best public offers I'm aware of. The Hyatt Card, Ink Plus, Ink Bold and Sapphire Preferred links do pay me a referral, and I appreciate the support if you apply via my links.
Best Hotel Credit Card Signup Bonuses
1. Hyatt Visa – 2 Free Nights at Any Hyatt, Including Park Hyatts
Annual Fee: $75, not waived first year
Minimum spend: $1000 within the first 3 months
Apply: Hyatt Visa
To my mind, there’s no question that if you enjoy high end hotel stays, the Hyatt Visa offers the best signup bonus by far. Sure, you can get 2 free nights with the Fairmont Visa, but very few Fairmont properties are truly 5-star, and those have quite limited availability for your free award nights. The Citi Hilton 2 free nights are weekend only, so you’re not able to line 4 nights up in a row (if you and your travel partner both apply for the cards) and most Conrads aren’t as high end as Park Hyatts. While the $75 annual fee isn’t waived (though some have been able to see an offer waiving the fee when making a Hyatt booking online) the $75 is a small price to pay if you book a couple nights at properties where the entry level room goes for $800-$1000. That’s $1600-$2000 of nominal value, which is pretty hard to beat. See Best Park Hyatt to Stay 2 Free Nights with the Hyatt Visa and also Hyatt Visa: New Bonuses and Elite Status Benefits
2. Fairmont Visa – 2 Free Nights including Breakfast at Any Fairmont
Annual Fee: $95, not waived first year
Minimum spend: $1000 within the first 3 months
Apply: Fairmont Visa (best offer, not my referral link)
I have not applied for this card, since I don’t view most Fairmont hotels as truly aspirational, but if you do plan a stay at a more expensive Fairmont property the card can be worth it. Objectively it’s a good offer, but honestly I just can’t get excited about most Fairmont properties, after stays at the Four Seasons Hong Kong, Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay, Amankila, and other top 5-star hotels. It's like flying first class on American after having flown first class on Cathay Pacific–sure, it's a lot better than coach, but kind of a let down. See our Fairmont Visa Signature Card Review
3. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve – 2 Free Weekend Nights at any Hilton, Including Conrads
Annual Fee: $95, not waived first year
Minimum spend: $2500 within the first 4 months
Apply: Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve (referral from Mommy Points, I'm not a Citi affiliate)
As I mentioned in Hilton HHonors: Use Citi and AMEX Cards to Maximize Points, the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card signup bonus of 2 free weekend nights at any Hilton is a good deal if you’re indeed able to use them on weekend (Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights) and if you can maximize their value by staying at a high end property. I haven’t applied for this card since the only Hilton I actually want to stay at is the Conrad Koh Samui, and we won’t get there within the next year—the certificates expire within 1 year of issuance. So again—objectively a pretty good offer if you can deal with the weekend night restriction, but in my view, almost no truly 5-star properties to get excited about.
4. Marriott Rewards Premier – 50,000 Points, Enough for 1 Night at Most Ritz-Carltons
Annual Fee: Waived first year, thereafter $85
$75 Statement Credit
Minimum spend: $0; you receive the 50,000 points after first use
Points Needed for Free Night at Top Hotel: 40,000 points for Marriott Category 8; 30,000-70,000 points for Ritz-Carlton
Apply: Marriott Rewards Premier (best offer, not my referral link)
My Marriott Rewards Premier referral link requires $1000 minimum spend and doesn’t provide the $75 statement credit, although I was matched to this offer. 50,000 Marriott points is more than enough for even the highest category Marriotts, since Category 8 Marriott hotels require 40,000 points for a free night (35,000 points with a PointSavers Reward), and is enough for Tier 1-3 Ritz-Carlton properties, or Tier 4 as a PointSavers Reward. If I hadn’t stayed at the Radisson Royal in Moscow, I’d probably have stayed again at the Ritz-Carlton Moscow, where standard rooms regularly go for $700-800 per night. It doesn’t hurt that unlike most of the other hotel credit cards, you earn the points after first purchase and even make money on the card with the $75 statement credit.
5. Priority Club Visa – 80,000 Points
Annual Fee: Waived first year, then $49
Minimum spend: None; 80,000 points after first use
Points Needed for Free Night at Top Hotel: 50,000 points for top InterContinental properties
Apply: Priority Club Visa (Best offer, not my referral link)
Although the Priority Club Visa has a public offer for 60,000 points, there’s an 80,000 version that leads directly to the application page that folks on FlyerTalk have had success applying for. That’s just a little less than the Club Carlson offer, the annual fee is waived the first year, and the points are after first use, so purely on signup bonus/minimum spend criteria, it ranks above the Club Carlson offer. But see our ranking below of how it fares in terms of credit card perks.
6. Club Carlson Premier Rewards or Business Rewards – 85,000 Points
Annual Fee: $75 for Club Carlson Premier Rewards, $60 for Business Rewards, not waived first year
Minimum spend: $2500 within the first 3 months: 50,000 points after first purchase, and 35,000 more points after $2500 spend within the first 3 months
Points Needed for Free Night at Top Hotel: 50,000 points for top Radisson properties
Apply: Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa, Club Carlson Business Rewards
Seems as though lots of folks are getting excited about the new Club Carlson offers (85,000 points for the Club Carlson Premier Rewards card or the Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa, and 60,000 points for the Club Carlson Rewards Visa). I just had a stay at the award-winning and indisputably iconic Radisson Royal Moscow, and while I’m glad I stayed and experienced it, particularly the incredible diorama in the lobby, it just can’t compare to true 5-star properties such as the Lotte Moscow or Ritz-Carlton Moscow. It’s probably a worthwhile card to get if your goal is simply to have enough hotel points to stay in mid-tier and low-tier properties for free, and Radisson does have good international coverage. The other benefit of holding the card is the ability, on two or more night reservations, to book one award night and get the last one (second one, on a two night reservation) free. So that does help the value proposition, even if the properties aren’t aspirational.
7. SPG AMEX – 25,000 Points
Annual Fee: Waived first year, then $65
Minimum spend: $5000 within first 6 months
Points Needed for Free Night at Top Hotel: 35,000 points for a Category 7 Starwood property
Apply: Starwood Preferred Guest AMEX
The AMEX SPG Card appears a loser when it comes to its paltry signup bonus, although keep in mind that SPG points are worth more than any other hotel points. Also, if you're able to wait to apply, AMEX usually offers a 30,000 bonus for both the SPG AMEX personal and business cards once a year. If you stick with Category 5 hotels, you could even get 2 free nights out of the 25,000 points bonus (example: the W Boston) but if you’re eyeing a St. Regis, you’ll only get 1 free night out of it—though Cash & Points may be a better deal anyway. See Is it Worth it To Buy SPG Points?
Best Hotel Credit Card Perks
1. SPG AMEX: 25% Bonus on 20,000 Point Transfers, 2 Stay Credits Towards Elite Status
The real value of the SPG AMEX is that its points can be transferred to a number of airline partners at 1:1, and that you get a 25% transfer bonus when transferring in increments of 20,000 points. See Starwood Preferred Guest Airline Transfer Partners: Turn SPG Points into Miles. Note that you don’t want to transfer to United MileagePlus, since that’s a poor 2 SPG points to 1 United mile ratio; earn United miles instead with the Ink Bold, Ink Plus or Sapphire Preferred. The other key benefit of the SPG AMEX is that you receive 2 stay credits towards elite status, and you can receive these credits for both the personal SPG AMEX and the Business SPG AMEX, for a total of 4 stay credits.
2. All Club Carlson Cards: Bonus Award Night; Last Night of 2+ Award Nights is Free
The real perk here is being able to redeem points for two or more award nights and get the last one (second night, if a two night stay) free. While there are hardly any Radissons I’d be excited to stay at, it’s still great value, especially if you won’t be at the hotel much anyway.
3. Priority Club Visa: Free Priority Club Platinum Elite Status, 1 Free Anniversary Night in any Priority Club Hotel, including InterContinental
Priority Club Platinum Elite status doesn’t actually guarantee you much, since many properties offer complimentary Internet to all guests, and upgrades are at the discretion of the property. That said, some members report frequently getting upgraded one room category in the U.S. and Asia, and sometimes even free breakfast or at least a drink. The key benefit is really the free anniversary night, which so far is still good for any Priority Club hotel, including InterContinental hotels. And while you really can’t compare InterContinental with Park Hyatt or Ritz-Carlton, it’s still more value than you’ll usually get with the Category 1-4 limitation on the Hyatt and Marriott free anniversary nights.
4. Hyatt Visa: Free Hyatt Platinum Status, 1 Free Anniversary Night in a Category 1-4 Hyatt
Hyatt Platinum gets you free Internet, preferred rooms within the same room category (e.g. on higher floors, better views), and a 2pm late check-out upon request. I personally don’t value the free anniversary night that highly, given it’s limited to a Category 1-4 Hyatt property, but for folks who use it, it tends to more than offset the annual fee if used for a category 3-4 hotel.
5. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve: Free Hilton Gold Status
Others may rate the Hilton Gold Status more highly than I do as a perk, but since I don’t generally want to stay at a Hilton property, I personally don’t value Hilton Gold Status that much. It does offer upgrades based on availability and, depending on the property, complimentary breakfast (continental at Conrad properties; no breakfast provided at Waldorf-Astoria hotels).
6. Marriott Rewards Premier Visa: 1 Free Anniversary Night in a Category 1-4 Marriott
Since the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa only comes with 1 free anniversary night in a Category 1-4 Marriott and not with any elite status, it goes to near the bottom of the perks ranking. This isn’t surprising, since Marriott Gold is worth more than most other hotels’ mid-tier elite status levels. The Category 1-4 restriction really limits the value you can get out of the free anniversary night, though if you do have a use for it every year, it can easily compensate for the annual fee.
7. Fairmont Visa: Free Fairmont Premier Status
In addition to the usual mid-tier elite status perks such as free Internet (which actually is free to all Fairmont loyalty members anyway), Fairmont Premier members get 1 complimentary room upgrade certificate, 1 complimentary suite upgrade certificate, and a complimentary third night on a 3 day paid stay. Unlike SPG, however, they don’t get guaranteed late check-out.
Best Hotel Credit Cards for Spending
Yes, I know these aren’t actually hotel credit cards, but they easily trump all the hotel credit cards in terms of how fast you can earn free nights at Park Hyatts, which are some of the best hotels available on points. Even though you can no longer buy AMEX Bluebird refills at office supply stores, you can get Amazon cards and load them to your Amazon account. Buying $4400 worth of Amazon or other gift cards at an office supply store with your Ink Bold or Ink Plus yields 22,000 Ultimate Rewards points = 1 free night at any Park Hyatt in the world. Show me another card that can get an $800-1000 hotel night for $4400 in spend!
And if you make the $5000 minimum spend in a 5X category, you'll earn a total of 75,000 points (50,000 points for the signup bonus, plus 25,000 points from $5000 at 5X), more than enough for 3 nights at any Park Hyatt in the world.
Apply for the Ink Bold – 50,000 pts signup bonus + $5000 spend at 5X = 75,000 points = 3 nights at any Park Hyatt
Apply for the Ink Plus – 50,000 pts signup bonus + $5000 spend at 5X = 75,000 points = 3 nights at any Park Hyatt
2. Club Carlson Cards
As I highlighted earlier, all of the Club Carlson cards enable you to redeem for a 2+ night award stay and get the last night free; so on a 2 night stay at a top tier Radisson, you’d pay 50,000 points for the 1st night award and get the second free. Since most regular spend earns you 5 points per dollar, $10,000 spend would get you 2 free nights, one as an award stay and the second free as a cardmember, so effectively $5000 spend per night. I still doubt I’ll get this card, however, since I’m not that keen on most Radissons and would prefer to use my spend towards first and business class flight awards.
Again, not a hotel card, but using the 2.14 X bonus for travel and dining spend means you’d spend $10,280 to earn 22,000 Ultimate Rewards points = 1 free night at any Park Hyatt.
4. Hyatt Visa
The Hyatt Visa now gets 2 Gold Passport points per $1 of dining, airline, and car rental spend, and retains the 3 points per $1 for Hyatt spend. I’m ignoring the amount earned from hotel spend, so effectively 2X and would require $11,000 spend to earn 1 free night at a Park Hyatt.
Do you have a favorite hotel card for signup bonuses, perks or spend that I haven’t mentioned?
Check out and apply for the Best Travel Credit Cards.
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