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The Best Hotel Credit Cards For Earning Elite Status

by on April 22, 2014 · 24 comments

in American Express, Chase, Citi, Club Carlson, Credit Cards, Fairmont, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG Rewards, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Starwood

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Update: The offers mentioned below for the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Cards from American Express has expired. View the current offers here – personal, business.

Yesterday I posted about the best credit cards that help you earn miles toward airline elite status, and I thought it would be helpful write up a companion piece exploring hotel credit cards that either earn you automatic elite status or allow you to spend your way to elite status.

While some hotel co-branded credit cards simply offer redeemable points and perks that have no bearing on elite status, or free hotel nights every year, there are actually several out there that offer outright elite status, elite-status points as part of their sign-up bonus, as a spending threshold bonus – or even all three.

Taking a look at the hotel credit card landcsape, I included the following criteria:

  • Status Earning Potential (annually)
  • Spend Requirements
  • Current Sign-Up Bonus
  • Annual Fee

Here are my picks for 2014′s best credit cards for awarding or earning hotel elite status/points in alphabetical order of the programs they work with:

CARLSON

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Club Carlson Visa
Annual Status Earning Potential: Automatic Silver status
Spend Requirements: None for elite status
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Up to 60,000 Gold Points - 50,000 Gold Points after your first purchase, plus 10,000 points once you spend $1,500 within the first 90 days
Annual Fee: $50

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Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature
Annual Status Earning Potential: Automatic Gold status; however, if you’ve already reached Silver, Gold or Concierge status, you’ll receive 10 qualifying nights toward getting/maintaining Gold or Concierge  status
Spend Requirements: None for elite status
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Up to 85,000 Gold Points - 50,000 Gold Points after your first purchase, plus 35,000 points once you spend $2,500 within the first 90 days
Annual Fee: $75

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Club Carlson Rewards Business Visa
Annual Status Earning Potential: Automatic Gold status; however, if you’ve already reached Silver, Gold or Concierge status, you’ll receive 10 qualifying nights toward getting/maintaining Gold or Concierge  status
Spend Requirements: None for elite status
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Up to 85,000 Gold Points - 50,000 Gold Points after your first purchase, plus 35,000 points once you spend $2,500 within the first 90 days
Annual Fee: $60

FAIRMONT

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Fairmont Visa Signature
Annual Status Earning Potential: Automatic Fairmont Premier elite status
Spend Requirements: For each $7,500 in a calendar year, 1 stay credit towards Platinum status (limit 2 stay credits per calendar year)
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Two-night stay with breakfast for two when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $95

HILTON

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Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Signature
Annual Status Earning Potential: Automatic Gold status and potential for Diamond with spending
Spend Requirements: Upgrade to Diamond with a $40,000 calendar-year spend. You also get a free weekend night when you hit $10,000 per year in spend
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Two weekend night certificates after a $2,500 in eligible purchases in the first four months
Annual Fee: $95

Hilton Visa
Annual Status Earning Potential: Automatic Silver status, but fast track to Gold status if you complete 4 stays within 90 days of account opening
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 40,000 points after making $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 4 months of opening your account.
Annual Fee: $0

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Hilton Amex
Annual Status Earning Potential: Automatic Silver status and potential for Gold with spending
Spend Requirements: Upgrade to Gold status with a calendar-year spend of $20,000
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 40,000 HHonors Points after a spend of $750 in the first three months
Annual Fee: $0

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Hilton HHonors Surpass Amex
Annual Status Earning Potential: Automatic Gold status, and potential for Diamond with spending
Spend Requirements: Upgrade to Diamond status with a calendar-year spend of $40,000
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 75,000 HHonors Points after a spend of $3,000 in the first three months
Annual Fee: $75

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HYATT

The Hyatt Card Visa Signature
Annual Status Earning Potential: Automatic Hyatt Gold Platinum Passport and the potential for earning Diamond status
Spend Requirements: For a calendar-year spend of $20,000, receive 2 stay credits and 5 night credits toward Diamond status ; for a calendar-year spend of $40,000, receive an additional 3 stay credits and 5 night credits toward Diamond, for a maximum of 5 stay credits and 10 night credits each calendar year
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Two free nights at Hyatts worldwide when you spend $1,000 in the first three months
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $75

IHG Rewards

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IHG Rewards Club Select Card
Annual Status Earning Potential: Automatic Platinum status
Spend Requirements: None; account must simply remain in good standing
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 60,000 points after a spend of $1,000 in the first three months, plus one free night each year. (See this thread for information on how to get an 80,000 point offer for this card.)
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $49

MARRIOTT

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Marriott Rewards Visa Signature 
Annual Status Earning Potential: Automatic Silver status
Spend Requirements: $3,000 to receive 1 credit toward additional elite status, with no limit to the number of credits you can earn
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 30,000 points after a spend of $1,000 in the first three months, plus two free nights at Category 1-4 properties
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $45

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Marriott Rewards Premier Visa Signature
Annual Status Earning Potential: 15 credits towards elite status, with 15 credits annually thereafter – that’s automatic Silver status if you don’t have any status already
Spend Requirements: 1 elite credit for every $3,000 you spend
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 50,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months, plus one free night at Category 1-4 properties, then 1 free night at Category 1-5 properties after your first account anniversary
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $85

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Marriott Rewards Business Visa Signature
Annual Status Earning Potential: 10 credits towards elite status, with 10 credits annually thereafter – that’s enough for Silver status
Spend Requirements: 1 elite credit for every $3,000 you spend
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 30,000 points after a spend of $1,000 in the first three months, plus two free nights at Category 1-4 properties
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $45

RITZ-CARLTON

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The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card
Annual Status Earning Potential: Automatic Gold status for the first year, and maintain it thereafter with an annual spend of $10,000
Spend Requirements: After the first cardmember year, anannual spend of $10,000 to maintain Gold status
Current Sign-Up Bonus: 70,000 Ritz-Carlton Reward points after a spend of $2,000 in the first three months; upgrade to Ritz-Carlton Club Level three times a year on stays of up to seven nights, subject to availability
Annual Fee: $395

STARWOOD

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Starwood Preferred Guest Amex
Annual Status Earning Potential: 2 stays/5 nights credit per calendar year, potential to earn Gold status
Spend Requirements: $30,000 calendar year spend earns Gold status
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Up to 25,000 Starpoints - 10,000 Starpoints after the first purchase, 15,000 Starpoints when you spend $5,000 within the first six months
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $65

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Starwood Preferred Guest Business Amex
Annual Status Earning Potential: 2 stays/5 nights credit per calendar year, potential to earn Gold status
Spend Requirements: A $30,000 calendar-year spend earns Gold status
Current Sign-Up Bonus: Up to 25,000 Starpoints – 10,000 Starpoints after the first purchase, 15,000 once you hit the six-month spend
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $65

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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  • Ben Price

    Surpass is the best card for Hilton status. $75 for Gold. Wrong?

  • K2

    Agreed. I think the annual fee is $95–but still. The bonus point spending categories are unreal.

  • thepointsguy

    The annual fee on the Hilton Amex Surpass is $75 per Americanexpress.com

  • Steve

    Ritz Carlton card is a great deal if your travel is high end. First, $200 airline credit (seat assignments, luggage, food on board) effectively cuts the fee to $195. Second, club level upgrade is worth at least $50-$75/night. Third, great concierge service, same as Amex platinum. Finally, car rental insurance uses their insurance as primary, not your own insurance policy for auto damage. I dumped Amex platinum in favor of this card.

  • Mike

    I would think this comparison would include the annual bonus, e.g., 1 Cat 1-4 night from Hyatt, 40k points from Carlson, etc.

  • Ben Price

    Yeah, mine shows $75. For a second thought there was a T&C change.

    Anyway, can’t beat $75 for one of the best elite levels out there (upgrades, lounge access, Internet, and breakfast, to name a few)!

  • Ed

    What is the best credit card that gives you at least one-free night at a top hotel in Manhattan?

  • http://www.LiveSmartNotHard.com/ Steve Bierfeldt

    Really timely. Just did an AOR yesterday. Approved for the Hilton Reserve and Hilton Amex. Got the “wait and see and we’ll let you know” on the Club Carlson. Most of what I’m hearing is that their “reconsideration line” doesn’t do much good. Anyone have experience with the Club Carlson cards?

  • Will

    I got instantly approved for a Club Carlson card once, then a week later I got a rejection letter in the mail. I called them to see what was up, and the representative told me directly that he had decided to personally reject me due to number of credit inquiries in the past 12 months. Nice guys at US Bank. *cough*

  • Ben Price

    SPG Amex…25k + spend to get there = 30,000. Night at the St. Regis, which has gotta be one of the best hotels in NYC.

  • http://www.LiveSmartNotHard.com/ Steve Bierfeldt

    Yea I’ve heard some of the same. That it’s probably not the easiest when you have a lot of inquiries. I went for it though, mostly because it was US Bank and I don’t have any with them.

  • Ed

    I mean a free night every year as a perk. Not as a spend bonus.

  • Mike

    Do you earn 5x points on regular Marriott paid stays or just RC? And if so, what brands? I couldn’t find that readily available.

  • Ben Price

    Hyatt. Two free nights anywhere. Andaz.

  • Ed

    Only as signup bonus. Annually, you get only 1 free night at a 1-4* property.

  • Robert

    Last year my wife was automatically approved for Carlson Premier card while my application had to go through reconsideration line which finally turned out to be a success until I received a card. It was the regular Carlson Visa card instead, with smaller annual fee no to mention the bonus! Last month I called them to talk about any type of retention bonus in order no to close the account and was finally offered 2,500 points. I accepted it with an intent to cancel the card anyway as such a tiny bonus was not really worth paying $50 for the next year. A few days later I called them again to close the account but found out that 2,500 point were customer satisfaction bonus and I was about to get ‘twenty five thousand’ points thereafter. I repeated myself for a couple of time just to make sure we’re on the same page. Last week I called again to complain that the higher bonus was not applied yet. Initially, a representative told me I was wrong but then re-confirmed I was to receive 25,000 when I requested the account to be closed :) At this moment, I believe we may still try to apply for a business version.
    For those, who do not want to pay an annual fee, there is Carlson visa card that pays 1 point per dollar spent (I do not recall what the amount in case of expenses while in the hotel).

  • hillrider

    To my dismay I discovered that some of these charge 2.7-3% for use in the ~95% of the world that is outside of the USA; pretty lousy for travel cards.

    @Gary: is there a list for cards a WITHOUT any foreign (non-US) fees?

  • JRodg

    RE: Marriott Rewards Premier Visa Signature – Current Marriott Silver (or greater) Elites have a better offer via the Marriott website, 70,000 rewards for $2K spend in the first 3 months (rather than 50,000 for $1K).

  • JRodg

    The Marriott Rewards Premier Visa card (Chase) has no foreign tx fees. Also the United MileagePlus Visa card (also Chase) has no foreign tx fees.

  • Ed

    Any Marriott credit cards than convey instant annual gold status?

  • Brian C. Lee

    Perhaps from your perspective they’re lousy, but if the banks thought they were losing money by charging foreign transaction fees, they’d disappear in a heartbeat.

  • hillrider

    Yes, they’re lousy for me, the traveler who reads the fine print.

    I agree I’m in the minority, as the majority of people don’t read the fine print (witness mortgage crisis).

  • JRodg

    Ritz Carlton Rewards Credit Card – instant gold status for the first year, and every subsequent year so long as your annual spend is $10K. Annual fee is $395. RC and Marriott statuses are recognized equally at all properties.

  • Steve E

    There may be cards that don’t charge the foreign fees, but be certain you know all the details. Banks may different exchange rates. In some instances, it may be less expensive to pay the fee to get a better exchange rate.

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