The Best Credit Cards for Luxury Hotel Stays

Feb 13, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.

How do the best hotel credit cards stack up to other popular options when you’re looking to book expensive, luxury hotel stays? This post will attempt to answer that exact question.

For the sake of this analysis, we’ll use three examples of luxury resorts to illuminate the value that you’d get using three popular travel rewards credit cards through four different booking channels:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express (through Fine Hotels & Resorts)
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve (through the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection)
  • Citi Prestige Card

Note that the focus of this analysis will be on hotels that do not participate in one of the large hotel loyalty programs (like Starwood Preferred Guest or World of Hyatt). Generally speaking, when you book through a third-party site like Amex Travel or Hotels.com, you won’t earn points nor will you earn credits toward elite status, though the Citi Prestige is generally an exception. As a result, we’ll zero in on high-end resorts that’ll set you back some serious dough.

Capella Hotel, Marigot Bay. (Photo courtesy St Lucia Hotels And Resorts)
If you’re looking to get a great return at luxury resorts like Capella Hotel, Marigot Bay, there are a few credit cards to consider. Photo courtesy of St Lucia Hotels And Resorts.

In addition, it’s important to note that this breakdown can’t be a simple black-and-white analysis. There are several complicating factors that come into play. For starters, rates aren’t always consistent across booking channels, and a few of the above cards offer added perks that don’t always have a tangible value associated with them. For this reason, we’ll look at three examples to help illustrate the decision-making process for your next luxury hotel stay.

Let’s start with a quick summary of the four cards and five booking channels we’ll use for this analysis before diving into our examples:

The Platinum Card from American Express

The Amex Platinum regularly appears near the top of our list of top travel rewards credit cards thanks to an array of benefits. The card underwent a significant refresh in March 2017, adding Uber credits, new earning rates and (unfortunately) a higher annual fee (See Rates & Fees). While you can book prepaid hotels through Amex Travel and earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, this analysis will focus on booking via the Fine Hotels & Resorts program. While these purchases will only earn you 1 Membership Rewards point per dollar spent, they also include added perks like complimentary breakfast, space-available room upgrades and an on-property amenity (like a spa or dining credit).

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Sapphire Reserve made waves in the travel rewards credit card market with it was first introduced in August 2016 with an incredible sign-up bonus (since reduced to 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening), triple points on both travel and dining purchases and a $300 annual travel credit, to name a few. One of the lesser-known perks on the card is access to the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, allowing you to earn both 3x points and enjoy added perks similar to those offered by the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts program. The properties we’ll consider below participate in this program.

Citi Prestige Card

The final card we’ll consider is the Citi Prestige Card. This option offers 3 ThankYou Rewards points per dollar spent on hotel purchases, but you’ll also enjoy the fourth night free on paid hotel stays of four nights or longer. Though this perk was devalued slightly in 2017 to be based on the average nightly rate rather than the fourth night’s rate and now excludes taxes and fees, it still represents a terrific value proposition for hotel stays of 4+ nights.

The Methodology

Complimentary breakfast is just one perk that can make a stay more rewarding, if you use the right credit card, that is.

Now that we’ve given an overview of the cards and channels we’re using, let’s take a look at the methodology we’ll be using for this analysis. As mentioned above, we’re going to compare the four cards at three sample luxury resorts around the world. For each of these, we’ll come to a “Final Cost” calculated as follows:

Total Cost – Value of Points Earned – Value of Additional Discounts – Value of Additional Perks = FINAL COST

In other words, we’ll take what you’d pay through each of the four booking channels and then remove all of the value you’d get from using that particular credit card and booking channel, as those represent “discounts” or “cash back” on your stay. All of these values will be included in tables for each of the example resorts, allowing you to conduct a side-by-side comparison.

Note that this does require some assumptions when it comes to the value-added perks of booking through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts as well as Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, so here those are:

  • Complimentary breakfast: $15 per person per night (based on double occupancy)
  • Early check-in: $10 per stay
  • Late check-out: $15 per stay ($25 for guaranteed)
  • Welcome drink/snack: $10 per stay
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi: $10 per night
  • Property amenity (spa treatment, dining credit, etc.): face value
  • Space-available room upgrade: $50 per night

You may disagree with these assumptions, so feel free to adjust them accordingly. I’ve given you access to the spreadsheet I created for this analysis at the bottom of the post, and this even includes a worksheet labeled “TEMPLATE” for you to input your own details on your next luxury stay.

Now that those items are out of the way, let’s dive in!

Stay #1: Thursday May 24 – Monday May 28

Hotel: The Peninsula Beverly Hills

Room Type: Villa, 1 king bed

Summary Table:

Amex FHR Chase LHRC Prestige
TOTAL COST $4,325.60 $4,325.60 $4,325.60
Earnings 4,326 12,977 12,977
Value of earnings $82.19 $272.51 $220.61
Additional discounts N/A N/A $930 (via 4th
night free)
Complimentary breakfast $120 $120 N/A
Early check-in $10 $10 N/A
Late check-out N/A $15 N/A
Guaranteed late check-out $25 N/A N/A
Welcome drink/snack N/A $10 N/A
Complimentary Wi-Fi $40 N/A N/A
Property amenity $100 $100 N/A
Upgrade $200 $200 N/A
Total Rewards $577.19 $727.51 $1,150.61
RETURN ON SPENDING 13.34% 16.82% 26.6%
FINAL COST $3,748.41 $3,598.09 $3,174.99

As you can see, all four of these cards offer a terrific return on your spending when you complete this four-night stay at the Peninsula Beverly Hills. Interestingly enough, all four booking channels had the exact same price for the selected room, which isn’t always the case. In this example, the Citi Prestige comes out on top with a return of 26.6% thanks mainly to the 4th Night Free benefit. This by itself knocked almost $1,000 off the actual cost of the room.

Chase and American Express bring up the rear. Even though they provide some valuable additional perks, they just can’t compete with the discounts and earning rates of the other two.

Stay #2: Saturday June 30 – Saturday July 7

Hotel: Grace Bay Club (Turks & Caicos)

Room Type: One-Bedroom Suite

Rewards redemptions)N/AN/A$1,080 (via fourth
night free)

Amex FHR Chase LHRC Prestige
TOTAL COST $9,223.20 $9,223.20 $9,223.20
Earnings 9,223 27,670 27,670
Value of earnings $175.24 $581.06 $470.38
Additional discounts
Complimentary breakfast Included for all guests
Early check-in $10 $10 N/A
Late check-out N/A $15 N/A
Guaranteed late check-out $25 N/A N/A
Welcome drink/snack N/A N/A N/A
Complimentary Wi-Fi $70 N/A N/A
Property amenity $100 $100 N/A
Upgrade $350 $350 N/A
Total Rewards $730.24 $1,056.06 $1,550.38
RETURN ON SPENDING 7.92% 11.45% 16.81%
FINAL COST $8,492.96 $8,167.14 $7,672.82

For this property, we looked at a relaxing seven-night stay over the Fourth of July holiday, and as you can see. The Citi Prestige was tops, since the value of the fourth night free benefit peaks at a four-night stay but is then diluted as your stay gets longer. But what’s really interesting is that the Sapphire Reserve comes in third and the Amex Platinum is a distant fourth. In this particular example, the Platinum Card is really hurt by its dismal earning rate on Fine Hotels & Resorts purchases. In addition, it’s worth noting that all guests receive complimentary breakfast at this particular property, so another area that typically brings value to the Amex Platinum is removed from the analysis.

Stay #3: April 13 – April 15

Hotel: Hotel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel (Paris, France)

Room Type: Grand Premier King

 

Amex FHR Chase LHRC Prestige
TOTAL COST $3,352.09 $3,361.83 $3,352.09
Earnings 3,352 10,085 10,056
Value of earnings $63.69 $211.80 $170.96
Additional discounts
Complimentary breakfast $60 $60 N/A
Early check-in $10 $10 N/A
Late check-out N/A $15 N/A
Guaranteed late check-out $25 N/A N/A
Welcome drink/snack N/A N/A N/A
Complimentary Wi-Fi $20 N/A N/A
Property amenity $100 $100 N/A
Upgrade $100 $100 N/A
Total Rewards $378.69 $496.80 $170.96
RETURN ON SPENDING 11.3% 14.78% 5.1%
FINAL COST $2,973.40 $2,865.03 $3,181.13

The final example looks at a luxury property in Paris for just a two-night stay. What’s interesting about this one is that the prices weren’t exactly the same (likely to do with fluctuating exchange rates, since some quotes the rates in Euros and others in US dollars).

Chase grabs the top spot and Amex comes in second, as the two provide similar perks at the property and are thus differentiated by the earning rate on the purchase. Finally, the Citi Prestige brings up the rear with a relatively paltry 5.1% return. Because this stay is just two nights, you’ll miss out on the terrific 4th Night Free perk.

What does this all mean?

If you’ve reached this point of the article, congratulations! That was a lot of calculations we threw at you, but it’s all meant to frame your decision on which credit cards are best for luxury hotel stays. Here are the major takeaways:

  • If your stay is four or five nights, book with the Citi Prestige. The 4th Night Free benefit makes the Citi Prestige a very lucrative option for stays of four or five nights. However, if you’re staying three nights or less (or six nights or more), I’d encourage you to look at another option, since the return on your spending will drop significantly after that point.
  • If you really value on-property perks, compare the Amex Platinum and Sapphire Reserve. These two premium rewards credit cards offer competing programs for luxury hotels, and while there’s some overlap, there are many properties that partner with only one or the other. When you’re looking for a specific destination, take a look at which resorts participate in each program, and review the different perks they offer.
  • Don’t forget about booking directly. As I mention above, there are many points-earning properties available through these channels, and you’ll likely forgo points and elite status credits by using the above sites. In addition, you may find that booking directly with resorts that don’t have a loyalty program could open up additional perks like “Stay 4 nights, get 1 free.” Always check the individual property’s website for special offers that are only available by booking directly.

If you’d like to undertake a similar analysis or review my number-crunching, feel free to download my Excel spreadsheet. On the TEMPLATE sheet, simply input the number of nights and the price breakdown you find across the various sites, and the spreadsheet will do the rest! You can also adjust the values in the Assumptions sheet if you disagree with how I valued the added perks.

Bottom Line

When you’re looking to book a luxury resort, chances are you’re paying more attention to the amenities it offers to ensure you have a terrific stay. However, selecting the right credit card and booking channel is just as important. Hopefully this has given you a framework to use as you plan your next trip.

For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, please click here.

Featured image courtesy of The Stones Legian Bali.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.