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Sunday Reader Email Question: Which Hotel Credit Card is Best?

by on July 31, 2011 · 47 comments

in American Express, Award Charts, Chase, Citi, Credit Cards, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG Rewards, Marriott, Starwood

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TPG reader Evan writes:

“I don’t travel very often for my job but I am very good, thanks to you, at getting a lot of miles via my credit card to use for a nice vacation or two every year (usually one big and one small). I spend about 20-30K a year on my credit card (Delta Platinum) and up to now, I have only been racking up the Delta miles. However, when my wife and I go on vacation, the biggest part of the vacation cost is usually the hotel. I know this is a vague question and you might be asking what hotel chain we prefer but I don’t think we have a specific one we love more than others, we just like nice hotels – haha!) Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, Fairmont, etc.. Is there any that you recommend?”

It’s always difficult to make a blanket hotel chain recommendation, because there are so many factors you need to take into account. For example, I really like Hyatt, but if your main goal is to go on vacation in Spain, I’d never recommend Hyatt because they don’t have a single hotel in that country. However, let’s run through the current major hotel credit cards and do some simple math to see which card might make the most sense for you to get the most bang for your spend:

Starwood American Express: Update: The 30,000-point bonus is no longer available. The bonus is now 25,000 points for the Starwood Amex business and personal cards after $5,000 spend within the first 6 months. Current offer is 30,000 points when you spend $4,500 within 3 months. $65 annual fee, waived for the first year. 2 points per dollar on Starwood spend and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. So let’s assume a 30,000 point bonus plus $30,000 in spend = 60,000 Starwood points. That will get you two nights at a category 7 (like St. Regis, NY), three nights at a category 6, five nights at a category 5, six nights at a category 4.
Other benefits: Gold status after $30,000 in spend (4pm check-out, room upgrades), 2 stays/5 nights towards elite status qualification every year, transfers to many airlines at a 25% bonus per 20,000 points transferred, Cash & Points redemption option, 5th night free on awards (5 consecutive nights at a category 5, which runs 10k points a night) is only 40,000 points.
Downside: This card has foreign transaction fees, so I don’t recommend using it abroad.  Transfers to airline miles can take over a week. High resort fees at some top properties ($60 a night at W Vieques for example).
Overall, there are over 1,000 properties with a nice global footprint and lots of nice properties – like the St. Regis, Westin, W and Luxury Collection brands.

Starwood award chart

Hyatt Visa by Chase: Current offer is two free nights (in a suite for Diamond Members) at any of their hotels after $1,000 spent in the first 3 months- including top Park Hyatts like Paris and Maldives. $75 annual fee. 3 points per dollar on Hyatt spend and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
$30,000 in spend = 30,000 points points, which is enough for a night at a top property plus a category 2, or two nights at a category 4 or up to 6 nights at a category 1. In total you are looking at about 4 nights in top tier hotels, including the sign-on bonus.
Other benefits: Instant Platinum status (room upgrades, free internet, 2pm late check-out), no foreign transaction fees,
Downside: Overall Hyatt has some great properties, but has a relatively limited footprint with just over 300 properties globally.

Hyatt Award Chart

Priority Club Visa by Chase: Current offer is 60,000 points (80,000 targeted to many). $49 annual fee, waived for the first year. 5 points per dollar on Priority Club spend, 2 points per dollar on gas/groceries/dining and 1 point per dollar on everything else. $30,000 in spend = ~40,000 points. Cardholders get a 10% discount on awards, so your total points is more like 110,000 which will get you up to 3 nights at Intercontinental or 4+ nights at a Hotel Indigo/Crowne Plaza.
Other benefits: A free night certificate every year (which more than pays for the $49 annual fee), 10% rebate on all award bookings (you get 4,000 points back for a 40,000 point Intercontinental award), no foreign transaction fees, Gold status (10% bonus on points earned on stays), rotating list of PointBreaks hotels that only charge 5,000 points a night.
Downsides: The majority of Priority Club hotels are mid to low-end. If you like high-end hotels and resorts, you may have a hard time finding properties outside of Intercontinental that meet your needs.

Priority Club Awards

Hilton HHonors Card by Citi
40,000 points after spending $1,000 within 4 months. No annual fee. 2 points earned per dollar spent, so $30,000 in spend = ~70,000 points (3x points for gas, grocery, drugstore)+ 40,000 sign-up = 110,000, which will get you two nights at a top category 6 and one category 4 or 4+ nights at a category 3.
Other benefits: Silver status (15% point bonus on stays, gym access), no annual fee, elite-only access awards
Downside: Foreign transaction fees and I find Hilton awards to be expensive and that their award chart is highly skewed towards expensive categories – there are very few low category hotels I’d stay in, versus Hyatt and Starwood, which have some real gems.

The Hilton HHonors® Surpass Card by American Express
40,000 points after first purchase and 2,500 bonus points for each of your first eight eligible stays when the stay is paid for with your Surpass Card within the first 18 months of Cardmembership. $75 annual fee. Earn 9 points per dollar on Hilton spend,  6 points per dollar on grocery stores, drugstores, gas stations, home and wireless phone, cable and satellite TV, and Internet service providers (less returns). 3 points per dollar on all other spend. $30,000 in spend is ~130,000 points plus the 40,000 point sign-up bonus = 170,000 points which is 3+ nights at top hotel or up to 5 nights at a category 5.
Other benefits: Gold status (room upgrades, free internet, 25% point bonus on Hilton stays) for the first year and each year with $20,000 in spend, Diamond status (upgrades, club access, free internet, room guarantee, amenities) if you spend $40,000 in a calendar year, 500 point bonus when the card is used to make Hilton bookings online, Priority Pass membership (but you still have to pay for lounge visits), PointStretcher reduced awards, elite-only access awards
Downside: Foreign transaction fees and I find Hilton awards to be expensive and that their award chart is highly skewed towards expensive categories – there are very few low category hotels I’d stay in, versus Hyatt and Starwood, which have some real gems.
See also the no-fee Hilton Surpass card

Hilton Awards

 Marriott Rewards Premier by Chase
50,000 bonus points plus a free category 1-4 night. $85 annual fee, waived for the first year. 5 points per dollar on Marriott spend, 2 points for dining, air and rental car and 1 point per dollar on everything else. $30,000 in spend is ~35,000 points plus 50,000 sign-up = 85,000 points, enough for 2+ free nights at top hotels or three nights at a category 5 and one at category 2.
Other benefits: 15 nights credit towards elite status and 1 additional night per $3,000 in spend (Platinum is earned at 75 nights), no foreign transaction fees, a free category 1-5 night each year upon renewal (which more than pays for the $85 annual fee), PointSaver reduced awards
Downside: Top hotels are 40,000 points and non-Marriott/travel spend earns only 1 point per dollar.

Marriott Award Chart

Late addition:
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Update: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card sign-up bonus offer is now 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. 50,000 point sign-up bonus and a 7% annual bonus on points earned (so it’s really a 53,500 bonus). $95 annual fee, waived for the first year. 2 points per dollar on airfare and hotel and 1 point per dollar on everything else. $30,000 in spend = ~35,000 plus 50,000 sign-up plus 7% annual bonus = 90,950 points- more than enough for 4 nights at a top Hyatt or 2+ nights at a top Marriott
Benefits: Instant 1:1 transfers to Hyatt, Marriott and Priotity Club (as well as Continental, British Airways and Amtrak), No foreign transaction fees, flexibility to transfer to airlines or hotels
Downside: No hotel elite status tie-in

So, as you can see, there are a lot of options out there. I personally think the most compelling offers right now are the Starwood and Hyatt cards, though if you can push your spend up to $40,000 in a calendar year, you may want to test out the Surpass card if only for the Hilton Diamond Status. For those who want a no-fee card, the Citi Hilton card offers a lot of benefits and a decent sign-up bonus. I was also surprised to see the Marriott bonus get bumped to 50,000 for the Premier card - that’s normally 22,500 (hat tip to TPG reader Jacob for that tip).

No matter what card you choose, I think it’s important that you realize the value in hotel rewards. So many people focus solely on the airline miles, but any true points aficionado should also have a cohesive hotel point strategy as well!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Heather ✈

    That’s a great review! I have the Citi Visa Hilton Card and also the American Express (not surpass) Hilton Card – which also has no annual fee. My husband just applied for the Starwood card. I also have the AMEX Delta card (to get the 30K points) but will probably cancel that later this year since it will have an annual fee next year. I love points!! Keep up the great work :-)

  • PSL

    Agree with your analysis, except you failed to mention that the Priority Club cash and points option basically allows those who start with a chunk of bonus points can, through booking and cancelling cash and point reward nights, can effectively stay worldwide at any Crowne Plaza or Hotel Indigo for $150, including taxes, and at the fanciest Intercontinentals for $240, including taxes.

  • John Doe

    What type of resort fees per night can one reasonably expect at top resorts for Hyatt?

  • Lark

    Or you could do what I did and get one of each! (and even two of the Marriott and HH AMEX cards, one for my wife too)

    OK, we do not have the Citi HH card, the SPG card (looking at it now!) or the Priority Club card.

    Granted, I did have some difficulty tracking all my spend requirements to make sure I received all my bounuses…

    But, so far:

    2 nights Park Hyatt Melbourne
    2 nights Marriott Edition Waikiki
    5 nights Hilton Hawaii Village
    5 nights Marriott Timber lodge suite at Heavenly

    Plus other assorted free Marriott nights (1-4 and 1-5 with their promotions and with the free annual Cat 1-5 night).

    Not all of these were with our sign up bonuses – we’ve also been accumulating points with our spending.

  • JJD

    Recently I have been obtaining a good amount of Priority Club points due to staying in the same hotel for a monthly business trip. This will be ending in December but I wonder if it makes sense for me to get the Priority Club Visa card and then cancel after a year to avoid paying the annual fee. Does it affect your Priority Club account if you do this?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ric.garrido Ric Garrido

    Hyatt has about 450 properties globally. Still small compared to other chains discussed here, but more than “just over 300 properties”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ric.garrido Ric Garrido

    Hyatt has about 450 properties globally. Still small compared to other chains discussed here, but more than “just over 300 properties”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ric.garrido Ric Garrido

    Hyatt has about 450 properties globally. Still small compared to other chains discussed here, but more than “just over 300 properties”.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Ric! I’ll update the post

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Ric! I’ll update the post

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Ric! I’ll update the post

  • Anonymous

    It wouldn’t affect your account negatively if you end up closing the card. I definitely think you should have the PC card to get the 5 points per dollar bonus. Though the fee is only $49 and you get a free night for paying it, so it may make sense to keep it open and use for all PC spend.

  • Anonymous

    It wouldn’t affect your account negatively if you end up closing the card. I definitely think you should have the PC card to get the 5 points per dollar bonus. Though the fee is only $49 and you get a free night for paying it, so it may make sense to keep it open and use for all PC spend.

  • Anonymous

    It wouldn’t affect your account negatively if you end up closing the card. I definitely think you should have the PC card to get the 5 points per dollar bonus. Though the fee is only $49 and you get a free night for paying it, so it may make sense to keep it open and use for all PC spend.

  • Anonymous

    Also, search your email for an 80,000 point offer from Priority Club- they usually send them out every couple months

  • Anonymous

    Also, search your email for an 80,000 point offer from Priority Club- they usually send them out every couple months

  • Carl

    Starwood’s award chart has great value and they have some fantastic cat 2 and 3 properties, especially in Asia.

  • Marc

    SPG…. 60,000 points actually gets you 7 nights in a Cat 4 hotel (5th night free).

  • It’s EYE-gor

    Heather makes a good point: the no-fee (non-Surpass) Hilton Amex deserves mention here. The current offer — 20K for first purchase, plus 30K for $500 spend in 3 mos — is easy to meet even in the post-Mint era, and the general rewards on category spend (phone, ISP, gas, grocery, drugstore) easily beat the Citi Visa’a weak yield.

  • Heather ✈

    If I’m reading the non-Surpass Hilton AMEX card, the promotion says: Receive 20,000 HHonors Bonus Points with your first purchase. (Receive up to 10,000 additional HHonors Bonus Points on your first four Hilton WorldWide portfolio of hotels stays charged to the Card during your first 18 months of Cardmembership). So it appears you just get 20K points, but I’m still recommending it to my family as the points you accumulate on spending really add up FAST! I try to use the card all the time and if the business doesn’t take amex, I use the Citi Visa Hilton card. :-)

  • Stoughton

    Neither the Paris Vendome nor Paris Madeline have fees. We (wife & I) each got the card and did 4 nights in Paris for ‘free’ ($37.50/night if you count the annual fee). Pretty good return if you compare $150 total to what the rack rate for those same places would be

  • toomanybooks

    You might also keep in mind the Chase Sapphire Preferred which gives 2+ points for travel spend, convertible 1:1 into Marriott and Hyatt as well as some airlines. Flexibility is useful.

    The Amex Open gives 3% cash back at Hyatt and 5% cash back at Marriott, which might serve some readers even better.

  • toomanybooks

    Sorry, that should be Amex OPEN cards give cash back for Hyatt and Marriott. See opensavings.com.

    And the Costco Amex card gives 2% cash back minimum for all travel-related spend.

  • John Doe

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I was really hoping to get this question answered. Cheers!

  • Raskolnikov

    Evan

    Great question! I too spend lots on ameces and airlines

    I need cheep hotels

    All the best!

  • Andy

    +1 on the mentions of the non-Surpass Hilton Amex (no annual fee; 6x HHonors points for each $1 spent on utilities, gas, groceries and drugstores) and the Chase Sapphire Preferred (which transfer into Hyatt and Marriott 1:1 and, importantly, earn 2x UR points per $1 spent on the critical categories of spend: dining and travel, among others). SP has a 50k sign up bonus offer on the table now; the non-Surpass Hilton Amex has a 62.5k+ sign up bonus (50k +2.5k per Hilton family hotel reservation up to 4 in the first 12 or 18 months + 2.5k for getting additional cardholders, I believe). @Heather — you’re referencing a different Hilton Amex offer. Flyertalk forums will show you the way (forums –> Miles & Points –> Miles Buzz –> Credit Card Offer Thread).

  • Dewhit6959

    Please clarify what I seem understand. You book a room under the program and cancel and pay the cash price which hasn’t reset from the original cash and point reservation ?

  • Scott

    Let’s not forget the new Ritz Carlton Credit Card. Automatic Marriott Gold status, plus many other valuable benefits. I have the card and have already used many of the benefits, including free club level upgrades at the Ritz!

  • AmityDelia

    As a “newbie” to this for about 3-4 months, I can honestly say that this question has been burning me as well. With TPG’s help I have accumulated 700k BA miles and 300k AA, so my focus has been now on hotels. I only focus on coach since I want to maximize my number of miles and I have to buy 3 tickets not just one.

    My suggestion would be the hyatt card — do one for you and your spouse; then do the sapphire preferred card x 2 = 100k points. Hyatt has some amazing properties and may not have the scope of SPG but for a family that tries to do 3-4 trips per year it suffices. Maybe one day I will think the list is exhausted but not anytime soon.

    Since you have the sapphire preferred you have the awesome option of either transferring to BA or to hyatt. To me this is where this is better than membership rewards — of course I just did the 50% bonus with BA but it still gives you flexibility.

    Also if you do what TPG posted about the other chase card and the quarterly bonuses you can easily get 30k extra per year for ultimate rewards and another 20-30k of spend and you can easily get 7-10 days of hotels free plus the 4 free ones with the card

    Just my 2 cents from a newcomer

    Hey TPG: it would be awesome if you could do a post on maximizing miles for families that have to fly coach since there is numerous tickets to book and since we have to make the miles last longer– maybe also showing how we can maximize awards if we are not in a hub city

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  • Jessica

    One benefit of the Hilton cards you do not have listed is the reduced points VIP awards available. Since all cardholders have at least silver status, all reward nights are over 4 nights stay in category 4 or higher are reduced with VIP award and AXON awards. AXON awards are for 4 night stays and are only available to HH credit card holders. I typically redeem them for a category 6 hotel which is 125,000 points for 4 nights.

    Also, the Hilton network has over 3,600 hotels which is twice as large as the Hyatt & SPG network combined. Although I’m not a fan of the lower tier hotels for vacation, the locations I travel to for work only have these options. I then take the points I obtain from the credit card and use them to stay in the great resorts.

  • Jessica

    One benefit of the Hilton cards you do not have listed is the reduced points VIP awards available. Since all cardholders have at least silver status, all reward nights are over 4 nights stay in category 4 or higher are reduced with VIP award and AXON awards. AXON awards are for 4 night stays and are only available to HH credit card holders. I typically redeem them for a category 6 hotel which is 125,000 points for 4 nights.

    Also, the Hilton network has over 3,600 hotels which is twice as large as the Hyatt & SPG network combined. Although I’m not a fan of the lower tier hotels for vacation, the locations I travel to for work only have these options. I then take the points I obtain from the credit card and use them to stay in the great resorts.

  • Anonymous

    Hey- I did include “elite-only access awards” on the Citi card (and just added it to the Amex).

  • Anonymous

    Hey- I did include “elite-only access awards” on the Citi card (and just added it to the Amex).

  • ScenicCityTraveler

    Great review. I also have the non-Surpass HHonors card. HHonors does not promote hidden added points you get as a diamond member. 500 points each online booking with AMEX, double dip options for all stays, they usually have another promo for additional points (many complaints here on those). If you are loyal to Hilton Honors, and you use your rewards for high end stays, you can rack up points quickly and gain a value of about 0.8c per point. I am considering after reading this getting the Surpass card to keep my diamond status but try out some Starwood properties using the AMEX you mentioned. I just don’t know if you get the extra incentive points with Starwood you get with HiltonHonors. I am a Marriott Gold member basically bc I carry two premier Marriott cards. Marriott is extremely skimpy on points, upgrades, etc. HH diamond has lost some of its luster, but I am typing this from a HH Embassy Suite free upgrade to a conference suite that racks at 999 per night for my AAA rate of 134.

  • Bebarebone

    Actually it’s easier to choose when you can compare all the options you have on every card and see the difference between them. Because even the conditions could be very different. I normally use this service to understand which card suits me better http://insureye.com/insurance_toolkit/credit_card_comparison.

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  • Heather ✈

    Does anyone know if the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a VISA or Mastercard?

  • Anonymous

    MasterCard but I once heard you may be able to request it to be a visa- not sure though

  • Adam Rubin

    Just wanted to thank you for all the great insight and organized blog. Used your links to apply for Amex PRG, Chase Preferred Sapphire and SPG Business Card. First two pending and third instantly approved. Now for that pesky minimum spend…

  • Cory

    My Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a Visa Signature card. I didn’t request either MC or Visa, it just came as a Visa. Got it about a month ago.

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  • PantherGator

    i got the 60k offer. I really had to look for it online though, they are only publicizing 30k now.

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  • Anonymous

    I will admit that is takes longer to get up to the food chain with Marriott, but for me sleep quality has always been the best there. Recent stays at Hyatt, Westin, and Marriott I can say that Marriott sleeps better. Even though I’m getting attached to Hyatt lack of properties in Europe makes it a hard buy. Also last two years Hilton had a promo where if you spend two nights in Europe, you got to Diamond. That was easy.

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