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. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
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.
The Points Guy’s best hotel credit cards of 2018
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
- Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card
- Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
- The Hyatt Credit Card
- IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
Here are more details about each of our top picks.
Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 within three months from account opening.
Earning rates: 10 miles per dollar on Hotels.com bookings, 2 miles per dollar on all other purchases
While the Venture Rewards card offers a decent return of 2% on all spending, it’s become much more exciting for those of you looking to book hotels. Now, it will get you 10x miles on hotel stays booked through Hotels.com, specifically at the Hotels.com/venture URL — equal to a 10% return. But pair that with the one free night that the Hotels.com Rewards program offers you for every 10 nights you book through the site, and you’re looking at a total of 20% back on hotel stays. The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card also offers 10x miles at Hotels.com — and keep in mind with both that this bonus is available through January 2020.
This card won’t be the best choice for everyone booking hotel stays, as making purchases through online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Hotels.com generally disqualifies you from earning night and/or stay credits toward hotel elite status, and you might not enjoy benefits that come with any current status you hold on stays booked through OTAs, either. But if you’re simply looking for the best possible return on hotel bookings, you can’t beat the Venture and VentureOne.
Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Bonus: $100 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months. Plus, an additional $100 statement credit after your first purchase at participating SPG or Marriott Rewards hotels in the first six 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, including Marriott since the two chains merged. In addition to using the sign-up bonus (worth $675, 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.
Annual fee: $85 (waived the first year)
Sign-up bonus: 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 in purchases 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 $675 based on TPG’s latest valuations. 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: $450
Sign-up bonus: Two complimentary nights at a Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton property after you spend $4,000 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 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: $450
Bonus: Earn 100,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Earning rates: 14 points per dollar at Hilton hotels; 7 miles per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rentals and at US restaurants; and 3 points per dollar on everything else
Hilton released three new cards with Amex in early 2018, and the Aspire is now the most rewarding option in the co-brand lineup. It earns you the most Hilton points per dollar on paid stays with the brand (14x points), and also offers some pretty sweet annual travel credits. You get a $250 Hilton resort statement credit each year for eligible on-property purchases, plus an annual credit of up to $250 for incidental airline fees such as baggage charges. Other benefits include complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status, a free weekend night each year upon your account renewal and the ability to earn an additional free weekend night by spending $60,000 on the card in a calendar year.
Annual fee: $75
Sign-up bonus: 40,000 points after you make $2,000 in the first three months. Plus get 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.
While this card no longer offers the lucrative sign-up bonus of two free nights, it still can help you work toward free Hyatt stays, both through the 40,000-point sign-up offer and with everyday spending. Plus, it offers you a free night each year after your cardmember anniversary at a Category 1-4 property. Other perks include complimentary Discoverist status and the ability to upgrade to Explorist after spending $50,000 on the card in a calendar 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
Best Hotel Credit Cards: Full Details
|Card||Bonus for Hotel Purchases||Return on Spending (Based on TPG Valuations)||Limitations|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||10x||10%||Must book through Hotels.com link|
|Hilton Amex Aspire||14x||8.4%||14x only at Hilton properties|
|Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express||2x||5.4%||2x only at Marriott/Ritz and Starwood properties|
|Hyatt Credit Card||3x||5.4%||3x only at Hyatt properties|
|Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card||5x||4.5%||5x only at Marriott/Ritz and Starwood properties|
|Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card||5x||4.5%||5x only at Marriott/Ritz and Starwood properties|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||2x||4.2%||None|
|IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card||5x||3.5%||5x only at IHG properties|
If you’re trying to decide on a hotel chain to commit to and earn elite status with, check out our in-depth analysis of The Best Hotel Loyalty Programs in the World.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to commit to one hotel chain, a card that earns transferable points, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, 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 could be an even better pick for frequent travelers. And if you can stack the 10x miles on Hotels.com bookings with the one free night for every 10 nights through Hotels.com Rewards, the Capital One Venture Card could be a great option as well.
Featured photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy
New! Earn unlimited 10x miles on hotel stays booked at hotels.com/venture. Pair that with the Hotels.com Rewards program and you'll essentially be getting 20% off of hotel bookings! With the 50,000 mile sign-up bonus you'll be getting the equivalent of $500 and you'll have the flexibility to redeem those miles on any purchase for airfare, hotel stays, car rentals and more.
- Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
- Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
- New! Earn 10 miles per dollar on hotels when you pay with your Venture card at hotels.com/venture; learn more at hotels.com/venture
- Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
- Travel when you want with no blackout dates
- Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
- No foreign transaction fees
- $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that