Are Co-Branded Credit Cards the Best Option for Hotel Stays?
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TPG reader William sent me a message on Facebook to ask about earning hotel rewards:
“What’s the best card to use for IHG stays: the IHG Rewards card, Sapphire Preferred or Citi Prestige?”
Taking advantage of credit card bonus categories is a great way to rack up points quickly. I often recommend earning transferable points for greater flexibility in your award travel and to insulate yourself from devaluations. However, some hotel and airline credit cards offer bonuses that make them a better option for spending with their respective brands.
William is trying to maximize his IHG stays and wants to know whether the co-branded IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card is the best option. For questions like this, a good place to start is by consulting my most recent monthly valuations, which can help you estimate your return on spending with various cards. The IHG Rewards card earns 5 points per dollar at IHG hotels, and I value those points at 0.7 cents apiece, so in total you’ll get about 3.5 cents back for each dollar spent on those stays.
In contrast, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card earns 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel (including hotels), but those points are much more valuable at 2.1 cents apiece, so your overall return of 4.2 cents per dollar is actually greater even though you’re earning fewer points. Similarly, the Citi Prestige Card earns 3 ThankYou points per dollar for travel, which gives you an even better return of 4.8 cents per dollar based on my valuation of 1.6 cents per point.
The math works out in favor of some co-branded cards. For example, the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card and the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express earn 10 and 12 points per dollar on Hilton stays, respectively. While I list Hilton points at just 0.5 cents apiece, the overall return is better than what you’ll get with Sapphire Preferred or Citi Prestige. As another example, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers a more modest bonus of 2 points per dollar, but because of how highly I value Starpoints, I think it’s still the best option for Starwood stays.
Those numbers provide a general framework for deciding which card to use, but it’s important to think about how those points fit into your award travel plans. If your goal is to accumulate points for future IHG stays, then you’re probably better off with the IHG card. On the other hand, if IHG is your hotel of choice for business travel, but you don’t have plans to stay there otherwise, then Ultimate Rewards or ThankYou Points will be more useful down the line.
One other factor to consider is the length of your average stay. Citi Prestige offers a lucrative 4th night free benefit when you book through the Citi Travel Concierge, which gives that card an even greater advantage on longer stays. The ability to wipe one night from your bill (in addition to earning points for the other nights) makes this card a no-brainer. For more on that benefit and on getting the most from your hotel stays in general, check out these posts:
- Maximizing Citi Prestige Benefits — TPG Reader Success Story
- Guide to Maximizing Rewards from Hotel Stays
- The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards for Each Bonus Category