The Best Credit Cards for Booking Hotels
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While many people have a tendency to lump cobranded airline and hotel cards into a single category, in reality there are a lot of differences between them. Airline cards often offer a weaker value proposition. Many of their perks may not be good enough to justify the annual fee long-term, and they don’t offer outsized earnings even when you’re purchasing airfare.
For example, your average traveler would be better off using The Platinum Card® from American Express to book a flight and earning 5x Membership Rewards points (worth 10 cents per dollar spent based on TPG’s valuations) when booking directly with airlines or through American Express travel instead of using the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard and earning 2x AAdvantage miles, worth a measly 2.8% return.
That poor rate of return generally is not the case with cobranded hotel credit cards, most of which offer an anniversary free night certificate that more than justifies the annual fee you pay. These cards also tend to offer great bonus multipliers on hotel stays, making it tough to decide which card to pay with.
Today we’ll take a look at how each hotel chain stacks up, and whether you’d be better off using a general travel card or a card specific to that hotel for an upcoming stay.
Transferable Points Cards
Let’s start by taking a look at the best options for earning transferable points on hotel stays. While these cards usually won’t earn as many points as a hotel credit card, the points they earn are significantly more flexible and valuable. (Note that while it is possible to earn 5x points on the Amex Platinum, I’m leaving it off this list due to the fact that the 5x is only awarded for prepaid stays booked through Amex Travel, and this often means you won’t earn hotel points or receive elite benefits.)
|Credit Card||Annual Fee||Welcome Bonus||Earning Rate at Hotels|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||$450||Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months||3x Ultimate Rewards points, worth 6% based on TPG’s valuations|
|Citi Prestige Card||$495||Earn 50,000 ThankYou points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months||3x ThankYou Points, worth 5.1% based on TPG’s valuations|
|Citi Premier Card||$95||Earn 60,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months||3x ThankYou Points, worth 5.1% based on TPG’s valuations|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||$95||Earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months||2x Ultimate Rewards points, worth 4% based on TPG’s valuations|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||$95 (waived first year)||Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months||10x miles when booked and paid via Hotels.com/Venture, worth 14% back based on TPG’s valuations|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||$550 (see rates and fees)||Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months. Terms Apply.||5x points on prepaid hotels when booked on amextravel.com, worth 10% back based on TPG’s valuations|
By using an all-around excellent travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Premier, it’s easy to net a 5% or higher return on your hotel purchases. Those numbers are based on TPG’s monthly valuations, but if you routinely redeem your transferable points for international first and business class tickets, you might need to adjust these numbers higher.
I included Capital One on this list because of the outsized return you can get when you book at Hotels.com/Venture, and pay with your Venture Rewards card, but recognize that this comes with a tradeoff. You generally won’t earn hotel points or elite credits for Hotels.com bookings. This shouldn’t matter if you’re a “free agent” traveler or looking to stay at a non-chain hotel, but if you’re pursuing hotel elite status, this can be a deal breaker despite the higher return.
After its acquisition of SPG, Marriott continues to offer three different cobranded Bonvoy credit cards issued through Chase and Amex:
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card
Whether you opt for the premium Bonvoy Brilliant card to take advantage of its up to 50,000-point anniversary free night certificate, or decide to stick with the entry level Bonvoy Business or Bonvoy Boundless, you’ll earn the exact same amount on Marriott stays. Each of these cards earns 6x points per dollar at participating Marriott hotels, worth 4.8% based on TPG’s valuations.
This is lower than nearly every transferable points card, but not by a whole lot. Even though the math says I should use my Sapphire Reserve when I stay at Marriott, I opt to use my Bonvoy Brilliant nearly every time. I tend to get ~1-1.5 cents from my Marriott redemptions, and that’s before you factor in the suite upgrades and free breakfast that add a ton of value to my stays. If I didn’t have elite status it would be a different story, but the difference in return between a Bonvoy card and a Sapphire Reserve is so minimal that this choice will be highly circumstantial.
Hilton offers a number of credit cards issued by American Express, though I’m going to focus on the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express and the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (formerly known as the Ascend), as they’re the best for award travelers. If you’re not familiar with these cards, you can check out this comparison guide, but here’s a high-level overview:
The Aspire is Hilton’s premium card. It comes with a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees), but it makes up for it and then some with the multiple annual statement credits it offers. These include an up to $250 annual airline fee credit, an up to $250 annual Hilton resort statement credit at participating hotels and an up to $100 property credit on eligible stays of two or more nights at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels. The Aspire also comes with automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond status, and a weekend free night certificate when you open the account and then every year on your account anniversary.
The Hilton Surpass has a much more modest fee of $95 a year (see rates and fees), but only comes with Hilton Gold status. You can upgrade to Diamond by spending $40,000 a year on the card, and you’ll also receive a free weekend night certificate after spending $15,000 a year.
Most importantly, the Aspire earns 14x points at participating Hilton hotels while the Surpass earns 12x points. TPG values Hilton points at .6 cents each, giving these cards returns of 8.4% and 7.2% respectively. These beat out all the transferable points cards we looked at, meaning these are going to be the best way to pay for your Hilton stays. This is especially true for Aspire cardholders, as those 14x points will get you more value thanks to your complimentary Diamond status.
Since Hyatt rebranded its loyalty program as World of Hyatt, it now only offers one credit card, The World of Hyatt Credit Card. This card comes with a modest $95 annual fee which you can easily recoup when you redeem the anniversary free night, valid at category 1-4 hotels. Even most of Hyatt’s Category 1 properties sell for about $95 a night, so this card is break-even at the very least.
When it comes to bonus categories, you’ll earn 4x points per dollar on purchases at Hyatt. TPG values Hyatt points quite highly at 1.7 cents each, making this return worth a solid 6.8%. That’s a great return, though I personally would still opt to use a Chase Sapphire Reserve instead. Earning 3x points per dollar that could be transferred to Hyatt (or to United, or British Airways or Singapore…. get the idea?) is a better return to me than simply earning 4x Hyatt points.
IHG technically offers two cobranded credit cards, though I’m going to focus on the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card which is the only one that really makes sense for award travelers. The card comes with an $89 annual fee, and you’ll get an anniversary free night certificate each year worth up to 40,000 points.
The IHG Premier Card earns 10x points at IHG properties, but don’t be fooled by that high multiplier. IHG uses a massively inflated award chart, meaning its points are worth a lot less than, say, one Hyatt or one Marriott point. Based on TPG’s valuations, that 10x multiplier is only worth 5%.
IHG is also not the most generous at releasing award space, especially at its top-tier properties. It doesn’t even bother with a no-blackout-dates policy, instead allowing individual properties to restrict the number of rooms they make available for awards. As such, unless you’re a frequent guest of IHG hotels, this is not a program I’d advise racking up points in. You can do much better with a transferable points card instead.
While the best card to use varies heavily by which hotel chain you’re staying with, there’s another important theme here. Much of the value is in the eye of the
beholder redeemer, so it’s up to you to look at your past redemption history and figure out which points will get you the most value. Remember that even if the hotel points appear to be the most valuable on paper, you’re sacrificing a lot of future flexibility by locking yourself into a single program.
WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- No delivery fees for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with a DashPass subscription from DoorDash -over a $100 value. Activate with your Chase Sapphire card by December 31, 2021.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.