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

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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!

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