Battle of the mid-tier hotel cards: Which card outshines the others?

Oct 15, 2020

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new card details and information. 

There is an abundance of valuable hotel credit cards on the market right now. Unfortunately, some of the top hotel credit cards come with expensive annual fees that cost cardholders upwards of $550 per year. While frequent travelers who fully utilize the earning rates and benefits that come with those cards, it’s just not always feasible for casual travelers — or even frequent travelers who just have multiple cards with annual fees — to have an ultra-premium hotel card.

The good news is that there are also a number of great mid-level hotel cards (some co-branded and some earning transferable points) out there for you to choose from. Of course, if you’re already loyal to a specific hotel brand, it may not make sense to add a cobranded card to your wallet. But if you’re just getting started in the hotel rewards game with little to no brand loyalty yet, you might be wondering which brand’s cards can give you the most value.

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(Photo by Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images)

So today, I’m comparing the top mid-level hotel cards out there to see which one offers the best value to cardholders.

In This Post

Annual fee:

Card:  Annual fee: 
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless $95
Hilton Honors Surpass $95 (see rates and fees)
The World of Hyatt Card $95
IHG Premier $89 (waived the first year)
Chase Sapphire Preferred $95
Citi Premier® $95

Which card comes out on top?

The card with the lowest annual fee is the IHG Rewards Club Premier, coming in at $89. But that’s only a $6 difference between the rest of the pack. Realistically, an annual fee isn’t really in comparing these cards since they all hover in the same price range.

Related: The best hotel credit cards of 2020

Use IHG points to relax at the Kimpton Seafire (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz / The Points Guy)
The IHG Premier charges the lowest annual fee and offers redemption options such as the Kimpton Seafire pictured above. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz / The Points Guy)

Sign-up bonus/welcome offer:

Card:  Sign-up bonus/welcome offer: 
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Hilton Honors Surpass 130,000 bonus points after you use your card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.  Plus, earn a one-time $100 statement credit after using your new Card to purchase an ExpertFlyer Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year.Terms apply.
The World of Hyatt Card Up to 50,000 points — 25,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months, plus an additional 25,000 points after you spend $6,000 total on purchases within the first six months of account opening.
IHG Premier 140,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months after opening your new card.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.
Citi Premier® 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Which card comes out on top?

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

At face value, the Hilton Honors Surpass comes out on top with the highest number of bonus points at the lowest spending threshold. However, keep in mind that not all hotel points are created equal. TPG values Hilton Honors points at 0.6 cents each, which means that 125k bonus is actually only worth $750.

The most valuable bonus on this list according to our valuations is actually the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s 80k points. Chase points are worth 2 cents each, meaning we value those points at $1,600.

Related: 9 cards currently offering sign-up bonuses of 100,000 points or more

Earning rates:

Card:  Earning rates: 
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless 6x on eligible Marriott purchases
2x on all other purchases
Hilton Honors Surpass 12x at Hilton hotels
6x at U.S. restaurants and U.S. gas stations
3x on all other purchases. Terms apply.
The World of Hyatt Card 4x at Hyatt hotels
2x on local transit and commuting, restaurants, airline tickets purchased directly, fitness clubs and gym memberships
1x on all other purchases
IHG Premier 10x at IHG hotels
2x at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants
1x on all other purchases
Chase Sapphire Preferred 2x points on travel and dining
5x on Lyft through March 2022
1x on all other purchases
Citi Premier® 3x points on airfare, hotels, gas stations, restaurants (including takeout) and supermarkets 

1x on all other purchases

Which card comes out on top? 

As a general rule of thumb, cobranded hotel credit cards are typically best suited for hotel spending only — even when they have additional bonus categories. This is because cards with transferable points have more redemption flexibility and typically earn more valuable points. Therefore, I’m going to focus this analysis on which cards earn the most on hotel spending specifically. 

The Hilton Honors Surpass outranks the competition here with an impressive 7.2% return on hotel spending. 

The World of Hyatt is another top contender, earning a 6.8% on hotel stays while still offering a solid bonus on an array of other categories. Hyatt points are actually the most valuable hotel currency according to TPG valuations and is one of the only cobranded cards I’d recommend using on non-hotel bonus purchases as well.

Related: A guide to navigating COVID card bonuses and benefits

Perks:

Card:  Perks: 
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Anniversary free-night award (worth up to 35,000 points)
Automatic silver elite status
15 elite-night credits annually
Travel protections
Hilton Honors Surpass Automatic gold status
Priority Pass Select lounge access
Weekend night reward after spending $15,000
Shopping protections
The World of Hyatt Card Annual free night certificate
Automatic Discoverist elite status
Travel protections
IHG Premier Anniversary reward night
Automatic platinum elite status
Fourth-night reward
10k bonus points after spending $20,000
20% discount when buying IHG points
Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit
Travel protections
Chase Sapphire Preferred 25% bonus when booking through Chase portal
Travel protections
Citi Premier® 25% bonus when booking through Citi portal (through April 10, 2021)
$100 hotel credit on eligible $500 purchase, excluding taxes and fees, through thankyou.com, once per calendar year

Which card comes out on top? 

The perks category is a bit harder to quantify in terms of which card is actually the best. People potentially value certain benefits differently. 

Enjoy access to the Turkish Airlines lounge at Miami International Airport. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

The Hilton Honors Surpass is certainly a strong contender, with 10 Priority Pass lounge access passes each year and automatic gold status (which can turn into Diamond status if you spend $40,000 on the card each year). Plus, the annual weekend night award you receive after spending $15,000 can currently be used on any night, as part of recent perks added by Amex to help cardholders during the pandemic. All bonus points earned through the end of December 2020 will also be considered base points that count toward elite tier qualification and Lifetime Diamond Status

Even still, the IHG Premier comes out on top in this round. You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck in terms of perks (especially since the IHG Premier is also the card with the lowest annual fee). The anniversary reward night is worth up to 40,000 points alone, and Platinum elite status comes with a 50% bonus on paid stays, room upgrades (excluding suites) a welcome amenity and more. Add in the 4th award night perk and the Global Entry/TSA Precheck application fee benefit, and you’ve got an all-star lineup of perks for a mid-tier hotel credit card. 

Related: The 5 ways I use my hotel card benefits to travel in luxury

Which mid-tier hotel card is best for you? 

Each of the cards on this list has its advantages and disadvantages. On paper, the IHG Premier offers the best benefits and earning rate comparative to its annual fee, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for everyone. 

Hilton and Marriott are both larger hotel brands with more luxury property options around the world, so travelers just getting started with hotel points may want to start banking points in one of those programs. On the other hand, Hyatt points are worth the most based on TPG valuations. Even still, Citi and Chase are also strong options for casual travelers and beginners because what they may lack in hotel perks, they make up for in redemption flexibility. 

Atocha Hotel Madrid
Consider which brand you stay at most frequently when looking at which loyalty program to jump into first so you know you’ll get the most use out of your new card.  (Photo courtesy of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton)

Before choosing a hotel credit card, consider your travel habits and which perks you’ll personally find the most useful. The price difference between these cards is mostly non-existent save for the IHG Premier (which is only $6 cheaper per year than the others), so which card is best for you will really depend on which hotel brand you’ll want to stay at more frequently and which benefits you’ll find the most useful. 

For example, if you rarely stay with IHG, won’t buy points and already have Global Entry/TSA Precheck, the IHG Premier won’t be as valuable to you. In that same vein, if you know you won’t spend at least $15,000 on your card each year, that weekend night award at Hilton won’t be earned (which makes that card less valuable from a benefits standpoint). 

Bottom line 

I know that “there is no right or wrong choice” is kind of a non-answer if you’re asking which mid-tier hotel credit card is the best. But that’s the thing about credit card rewards as a whole — what is valuable to one person may not be to the person next to them. 

Related: Why there’s no such thing as the ‘best’ credit card

As with any credit card decision, think about your spending habits and goals for the card. If you’re not loyal to any hotel brands and plan on staying a free agent, a card that earns transferable points like the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the better option of these choices (especially since you can transfer points to three hotel brands — IHG, Marriott and Hyatt). If you are more loyal to one of the brands on this list, you should start looking at that specific brand card. 

Additional reporting by Benji Stawski.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Surpass, click here

Featured image courtesy of The Glenmark Hotel

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.

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