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Here at TPG we cover any and all travel rewards cards that represent a good value, from those that earn you miles to those that get you transferable points or cash back. If you’re specifically looking for a credit card to earn points toward free hotel nights, though, you’ll want to narrow your search. Below, TPG Points & Miles Editor Sarah Silbert shares details on some of the best options for hotel stays.
There are plenty of great travel rewards cards out there — so many, in fact, that in can be hard to narrow down your choices. One way to start whittling down the best picks for you is to think about your travel goals. If you’re looking to earn free flights or work toward elite status with a frequent flyer program, a co-branded airline card is likely your best option. However, if your main goal is to earn free stays at hotels and enjoy some nice perks along the way, consider the following cards, many of which offer free nights as a sign-up offer or an account anniversary bonus.
Annual fee: $450
Sign-up bonus: Three complimentary nights at a Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton property after you spend $5,000 in the first three months
Earning rates: 5 points per dollar on Ritz-Carlton and partner hotel stays; 2 points per dollar on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, and at car rental agencies and restaurants; and 1 point per dollar everywhere else
The card for this luxury hotel brand recently got a significant update, and luckily the changes make it a more appealing choice than ever. In addition to offering a better sign-up bonus (previously, it was two free nights after spending $4,000 in the first three months) that can get you well over $1,000 in value, the card now includes a Priority Pass Select lounge membership, an unlimited $100 discount on paid domestic flights for 2+ passengers and a Global Entry application fee credit. Other key benefits include an annual $300 travel credit (separate from the Global Entry fee reimbursement), a $100 hotel credit to use toward dining, spa and other services on paid stays of two nights or longer and automatic Gold elite status for your first account year. Chase raised the annual fee from $395 to $450, but considering the new benefits and the three free nights you get as a sign-up bonus, the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card could definitely be worth a place in your wallet.
Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Sign-up bonus: 25,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Earning rates: 2 points per dollar at Starwood properties and 1 point per dollar everywhere else
This card is a great option due to the many valuable redemptions within the Starwood Preferred Guest program, plus an opportunity to transfer points to a variety of fantastic partners. In addition to using the sign-up bonus (worth $625, according to TPG’s valuations) toward free hotel nights, you can also transfer the points to more than 30 airline partners — and you’ll get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. While Starpoints are incredibly valuable, they’re not the easiest loyalty currency to earn, so the Starwood Amex is a solid way to boost your account both through the sign-up offer and through everyday spending. You also get 5 night and 2 stay credits toward SPG elite status, along with complimentary premium in-room internet at participating SPG hotels and complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi access for up to four devices. If you already have this card, consider the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express and you get all the same benefits as with the personal card, plus Sheraton Club access when you book eligible rates.
3. Hyatt Visa
Annual fee: $75 (waived the first year)
Sign-up bonus: Two free nights at Hyatt hotels worldwide after you make $1,000 in the first three months, plus 5,000 bonus points after you add an authorized user and they make a purchase in the first three months
Earning rates: 3 points per dollar at Hyatt properties; 2 points per dollar on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, and at car rental agencies and restaurants; and 1 point per dollar everywhere else
You can get a ton of value out of those two free nights from the sign-up offer — especially since they’re not limited to lower-level hotels. To really maximize the bonus, try to use the free nights at an expensive hotel like the Category 6 Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa or the Category 7 Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme. While it’s not as generous as the sign-up bonus, another great perk is a free night at a Category 1-4 property after each account anniversary year. Plus, you get complimentary Platinum status as long as you’re a cardmember, with the opportunity to earn additional credits toward Diamond status by meeting certain spending thresholds.
Annual fee: $85
Sign-up bonus: 80,000 points after you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first three months, plus another 7,500 points after you add an authorized user and they make a purchase in the first three months
Earning rates: 5 points per dollar at Marriott properties; 2 points per dollar on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, and at car rental agencies and restaurants; and 1 point per dollar everywhere else
Marriott and Ritz-Carlton operate separate rewards programs, but the two brands offer reciprocal benefits to elite status members — so if you’re a Marriott Silver member, you’ll get the same perks whether you stay at a Marriott or a Ritz. You can only join one of the two programs, however, and if Marriott’s portfolio is a better fit for your travel plans — or if you’d simply like to avoid paying the Ritz card’s premium annual fee — the Marriott Rewards Premier Card could be a good option. Its current sign-up bonus is worth $560 based on TPG’s latest valuations (or $612.50 if you earn the bonus for adding an authorized user), and you can use those rewards to redeem four free nights at a Category 4 Marriott property — or even one night at a Tier 5 Ritz-Carlton hotel. You also get a free night at a Category 1-5 property each year after your account anniversary, along with enough elite credits to qualify for Silver status in Marriott’s program.
Annual fee: $75
Sign-up bonus: 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Earning rates: 12 points per dollar at Hilton properties; 6 points per dollar at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations; and 3 points per dollar everywhere else
It’s not the highest sign-up bonus we’ve seen for this card, but 75,000 points can get you pretty far — especially if you use them at low-level Hilton properties that cost as little as 5,000 points per night. 75,000 points are worth $375 according to TPG’s valuations, but if you choose to go the opposite route and redeem them at a higher-end property, you can easily get even more value from the sign-up offer. As a cardmember, you’ll enjoy automatic Gold status, with the opportunity to upgrade to upgrade to Diamond when you spend $40,000 on the card in a calendar year. Another reason to consider this the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card is its earning rates; you’ll get a whopping 12 points per dollar on Hilton purchases, and even non-bonus spending gets you 3 points per dollar. You might also want to consider the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, which lets you earn 10x bonus points on Hilton purchases, but also offers a sign-up bonus of 2 free weekend nights at most Hilton hotels after you spend $2,500 within the first four months, which, if used to its full potential, can get you up to 180,000 points worth of Hilton award stays. You’ll also earn a free weekend night (at select properties) on your account anniversary after you spend $10,000 within the pervious cardmember year.
Annual fee: $49 (waived the first year)
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 points after you $1,000 in the first three months, plus another 5,000 points after you add an authorized user and they make a purchase in the first three months
Earning rates: 5 points per dollar at IHG hotels; 2 points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants; and 1 point per dollar everywhere else
If IHG’s portfolio of properties aligns with your travel plans, this card could be a great pick. In addition to a generous sign-up bonus (worth $455 when you factor in the authorized user bonus), you get a free night after each account anniversary, which can alone outweigh the annual fee. Plus, as a cardholder you also get automatic Platinum elite status, and each time you redeem points you’ll get a 10% rebate.
Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Plus, earn 5,000 bonus points when you add an authorized user and they make a purchase in the first three months.
Earning rates: Earn 2x points on travel and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide
If you don’t want to commit to one hotel chain, a card that earns transferable points could be the best pick for you. It earns Ultimate Rewards points, which you can move over to Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton to redeem toward award stays, so you have plenty of options. You’ll also 2 points per dollar on the card for a wide range of travel purchases and dining purchases, which equals a 4.2% return based on TPG’s valuations. Finally, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card also offers a wide range of travel protection benefits and primary car rental insurance, which can save the day when you’re traveling. Note, however, that the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which launches next week, could be an even better pick for frequent travelers.
Featured image courtesy of the Conrad Maldives.
What’s your favorite hotel credit card?
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards