The 8 Best Hotel Credit Cards

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In the US, most hotel credit cards are worth their annual fee whereas most airline credit cards are not.  That statement is a gross oversimplification, but I believe that it trends true.  With both airline cards and hotel cards, the annual fees are worth paying only if you make good use of their included perks.  With hotel cards, the most valuable perk is often a free hotel night.  With airline cards, the most valuable perk is often free checked bags.    I believe that most of us are more likely to get good value from the former rather than the latter.

Conrad Bora Bora

In this post I’ve sought to identify the hotel cards that offer the best value over and above the annual fee.  In this post, you won’t find a comparison of the hotel cards’ welcome bonuses.  If you’re primarily interested in earning a huge bonus after signing up for new hotel cards, see: Top 10+ Hotel Credit Card Offers (this is continuously updated as offers change).

 

Best Hotel Credit Card Contenders

The contenders for this challenge include:

The above cards were chosen for this comparison because each includes a free night or bonus points that alone may make the card worth its annual fee.  Marriott offers four different $100-ish cards that offer a 35K free night each year.  The perks are essentially the same, so these are treated as one below.

Best Hotel Cards, Ranked

#1) Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Conrad Bora Bora sunset villas. Both the Hilton Aspire card’s annual free night and $300 resort credits can be used at top-end Hilton properties like this one.  Additionally, you’ll be treated like royalty thanks to the card offering top tier Diamond status.

What I like: Combination of perks far exceeds this card’s annual fee.  Sure, $450 is a lot to spend on a credit card, but the perks that come with this card are worth it, and then some.  Each year, you get a free weekend night which can be used at almost any Hilton property worldwide.  If you use it each year at a very expensive property, this perk alone can justify the annual fee.  But wait, there’s more… a lot more.  You also get free top tier Diamond Elite status which means free breakfast, free hotel lounge access, and free room upgrades.  You also get up to $500 in statement credits each year: $250 for any spend at Hilton resorts + $250 in airline incidental fee credits (see: Amex Airline Fee Reimbursements. What still works?).

What I don’t like: Free night certificates are usually limited to weekend use only (but the certs are temporarily usable any day of the week due to COVID-19).  Also, this card is not very rewarding for spend outside of its bonus categories.  Additionally, the included Priority Pass membership doesn’t offer free meals at Priority Pass participating restaurants.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

FM Mini Review: This card is loaded with valuable perks that are more than worth the card's annual fee if you stay in Hilton resorts at least once per year, and other Hilton properties a few times a year..


Annual Fee: $450

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Travel
Dine
Brand

Earning rate: ⚬ 14X Hilton spend ⚬ 7X US restaurants, flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, select car rental companies ⚬ 3X on all other eligible purchases ⚬ Terms & Limitations Apply.

Big spend bonus: Second free weekend night after $60K spend in calendar year

Noteworthy perks: ⚬Annual Weekend Night Reward upon approval and every year upon renewal ⚬ Free Diamond Status ⚬ Priority Pass w/ 2 free guests ⚬ $250 Hilton Resort Credit per membership year ⚬ $250 Airline Incidental Fee Credit per calendar year ⚬ $100 on-property credit w/ Aspire Card package ⚬ Terms Apply. See Rates & Fees

See also: Amex Hilton Aspire In-Depth Review

#2) Chase Ritz-Carlton Credit Card

The Air France Lounge at Washington Dulles Airport, shown above, is available to Priority Pass members during specified hours each day.

What I like:  Free authorized users each can get their own free Priority Pass membership.  And this is the best version of Priority Pass that is available from any credit card: each Priority Pass member can bring along unlimited guests and restaurants are included. Additionally, the combination of the annual 50K free night certificate and $300 annual airline incidental fee credits can more than justify the $450 annual fee.  And, for those who don’t have the Sapphire Reserve card, it’s great that the Ritz card offers equally excellent travel protections (see: Ultra-Premium Credit Card Travel Insurance).

What I don’t like: Ever since Marriott introduced Peak and Off-Peak award pricing, it has become harder to use these certificates at category 6 properties which cost 50K Standard or 60K Peak.  I’d also prefer a general $300 travel credit instead of one that is supposed to only work with airline incidental fees (see: Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa airline fee credits: What works?). Additionally, this card is not rewarding for spend other than with Marriott properties

Chase Ritz Carlton Rewards Visa Infinite

FM Mini Review: While the card is pricey, the annual free night, plus $300 in ariline fee credits, plus other perks make this card a keeper.


Annual Fee: $450

Card Type: Visa Infinite

Base
Travel
Dine
Brand

Earning rate: ⚬ 6X Ritz & Marriott.⚬ 3X airline tickets purchased directly with the airline, at car rental agencies and at restaurants ⚬ 2X everywhere else

Big spend bonus: $75K spend per account year for Platinum elite status

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ Annual 50K hotel certificate upon renewal ⚬ 3 club level upgrades. $100 hotel credit for each 2 night or longer stay ⚬ Priority Pass Select with unlimited guests ⚬ $300 annual credit for airline incidentals ⚬ Automatic Gold Status

See also: Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide

#3) World of Hyatt Credit Card

Hyatt Resort: Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Sunset
The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Florida is, in my opinion, a great option for using the Hyatt card’s annual category 1-4 free night.  At the time of this writing, the hotel is only category 3.

What I like: I’m a huge fan of Hyatt’s top tier status and so I love that this card can be used to get to status through spend (earn 2 elite nights for each $5K spend).  Also, Hyatt has some very nice hotels and resorts that can be used with the annual category 1-4 free night certificate.  Plus, unlike Marriott certificates, these are tied to the hotel’s category rather than it’s point price.  This means that once Hyatt implements peak award pricing, we’ll still be able to use these certificates at category 4 hotels even when they are peak priced.

What I don’t like: After spending $15K per year to earn a second free night certificate, this card is not very rewarding for spend outside of its bonus categories.  If Hyatt were to offer 1.5 points per dollar for base spend, I’d be much more excited about spending my way to elite status with this card.

Chase World of Hyatt Credit Card

FM Mini Review: Great card for signup bonus and annual free night. Might be worth using regularly for additional free night and as a path to status.


Annual Fee: $95

Card Type: Visa Signature

Base
Travel
Dine
Brand

Earning rate: ⚬ 2X restaurants / cafes / coffee shops, airlines, local transit, fitness clubs and gym memberships ⚬ 4X Hyatt

Big spend bonus: One free Cat 1-4 night certificate after $15K spend in your cardmember year. ⚬ Get 2 elite qualifying night credits every time you spend $5K in purchases

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ Free category 1-4 night every year upon renewal ⚬ Additional free category 1-4 night after $15K spend in cardmember year ⚬ Discoverist elite status ⚬ 5 elite qualifying nights

#4) Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card

St. Pancras Renaissance London. Except when peak-priced, the Bonvoy Brilliant card’s annual free night certificate can be used at category 6 properties like this one.

What I like:  Combination of 50K free night certificates and $300 Marriott hotel credits can more than justify the $450 annual fee.

What I don’t like: Ever since Marriott introduced Peak and Off-Peak award pricing, it has become harder to use these certificates at category 6 properties which cost 50K Standard or 60K Peak.  Also, this card is not rewarding for spend other than with Marriott properties.  Additionally, Priority Pass membership doesn’t include free meals at Priority Pass participating restaurants.

50K Free Night Award each year upon renewal ⚬ $300 Marriott Rewards statement credit per membership year ⚬ Gold Elite status ⚬ 15 elite nights credit ⚬ Priority Pass Select with 2 free guests ⚬ Global Entry fee credit ⚬ Free premium internet at Marriott properties

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

FM Mini Review: Decent ultra-premium option for Marriott fans, but Hilton fans may prefer the ultra-premium Hilton Aspire card.


Annual Fee: $450

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Travel
Dine
Brand

Earning rate: 3X airfare charged by airline; 3X US restaurants, 6X Marriott; 2X on all other eligible purchases

Big spend bonus: Platinum Elite status with $75K calendar year spend

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ 50K Free Night Award each year upon renewal ⚬ $300 Marriott Rewards statement credit per membership year ⚬ Gold Elite status ⚬ 15 elite nights credit ⚬ Priority Pass Select with 2 free guests ⚬ Global Entry fee credit ⚬ Free premium internet at Marriott properties

See also: Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide

#5) Marriott Cards Offering Annual 35K Free Night

Inn at Bay Harbor sunset view from bedroom balcony
View from my room at the Inn at Bay Harbor in Michigan – bookable with 35,000 point certificates at off-peak and standard rates

What I like:  In past research, I’ve found that the 35K free night certificates are easily worth $200 or more (see: What are Marriott 35K certificates worth?). This certificate, then, can easily justify any of these Marriott cards that cost around $100.  Additionally, for those seeking Marriott elite status, holding any one of these consumer cards offers 15 elite nights towards status each year. Plus, holding a business card offers another 15 elite nights towards status each year.

What I don’t like: Marriott’s Peak pricing often makes the free night certificates unusable at category 5 hotels which are priced 35K Standard or 40K Peak.  I also hate how complicated it is to get more than one Marriott card!  See: Are you eligible for a new Marriott card?

Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card

Annual Fee: $95

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Brand

Earning rate: 6X Marriott ⚬ 2X on all other eligible purchases

Big spend bonus: Marriott Gold Elite with $30K annual spend (note this threshold will increase to $35K on January 1, 2019)

Noteworthy perks: 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary up to 35K points (subject to resort fees) ⚬ Receive free premium internet at Marriott properties.

See also: Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide

Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card

Annual Fee: $125

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Dine
Gas
Phone
Biz
Brand

Earning rate: 6x at Marriott Bonvoy properties ⚬ 4x U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased from U.S. suppliers and on U.S. purchases for shipping ⚬ 2x on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply. (Rates & Fees)

Big spend bonus: Marriott Gold elite status with $35K annual spend ⚬ Earn an additional free night (good for one night at a redemption level at or under 35K points, subject to resort fees) after you spend $60K on purchases in a calendar year

Noteworthy perks: 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary for a one-niight redemption level at or under 35K points (subject to resort fees) ⚬ Complimentary premium Internet access at Marriott properties ⚬ Terms Apply (Rates & Fees)

See also: Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card

Annual Fee: $95

Card Type: Visa Signature

Base
Brand

Earning rate: ⚬ 6X Marriott Bonvoy ⚬ 2X everywhere else

Big spend bonus: Earn Gold status when you spend $35K each year

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ Annual free night certificate for 1 night at a hotel redemption level up to 35K ⚬ Automatic Silver status ⚬ 15 nights of elite credit each year

See also: Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide

Marriott Bonvoy Premier Plus Business

Annual Fee: $99

Card Type: Visa Signature Business

Base
Gas
Phone
Biz
Brand

Earning rate: 6X Marriott ⚬ 4X dining, internet, cable and phone service ⚬ 4X gas stations and shipping ⚬ 2X everywhere else.

Big spend bonus: Gold status with $35K account year spend

Noteworthy perks: As of 8/26/18: 35K free night award each year upon renewal ⚬ Silver status ⚬ 15 elite night credits each calendar year ⚬ Free in-room premium internet

See also: Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide

#6) IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

Kimpton Muse Hotel, NYC. My wife and I were upgraded to a suite thanks to having IHG Platinum status (which is a standard benefit of the IHG Premier card).

What I like:  The card’s annual 40K certificate is more usable than in the past thanks to IHG moving to dynamic award pricing.  Almost all properties are now at least sometimes available for 40K points or less (see this post for details).  Platinum status, 10X earnings at IHG, and 4th Night Free award stays are also good perks of this card.

What I don’t like: The fee-free IHG Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card offers the same 4th Night Free benefit, so this perk shouldn’t be considered a reason to keep the IHG Premier card.  Also, outside of 10X earnings at IHG properties, this card offers poor value for spend.

Chase IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

FM Mini Review: Good signup bonus. Keep only if you value the 40K annual free night and/or 4th night free awards.


Annual Fee: $89

Card Type: Mastercard World Elite

Base
Dine
Gas
Grocery
Brand

Earning rate: 10X IHG ⚬ 2X gas, grocery, and restaurants.

Big spend bonus: 10K bonus points after you spend $20K in a cardmember year + make one additional purchase

Noteworthy perks: Annual free night e-certificate good at IHG properties up to 40K points per night ⚬ Fourth night free on award stays ⚬ 20% discount on points purchases ⚬ Platinum elite status.

#7) Wyndham Rewards Earner Business Card

Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris (Las Vegas). Nick used his Caesar’s Diamond status (which you can get free from this Wyndham card) to get a $100 free dinner.  See: Caesars Diamond Celebration dinner: easy to use and worth the match.

What I like: Instead of a free night, you get 15K points per year. This is great because it doesn’t require finding an excuse to stay at a Wyndham property each year to justify keeping this card.  The pot is sweetened with automatic top-tier Diamond status (which matches to Caesar’s Diamond), and surprisingly strong earnings at Wyndham properties, gas stations, and utilities (telecommunications, cable, satellite, electric, gas, heating oil and water).

What I don’t like: Wyndham is dominated by low end brands.  Aspirational properties can be hard to find.

Wyndham Rewards Earner Business Card

FM Mini Review: Excellent earning rate at gas stations and Wyndham hotels. Diamond status plus 15K annual bonus makes this card a keeper.


Annual Fee: $95

Card Type: Visa Signature

Base
Gas
Phone
Biz
Brand
Other

Earning rate: 8X Wyndham & gas ⚬ 5X marketing, advertising, and utilities (telecommunications, cable, satellite, electric, gas, heating oil and water) ⚬ 1X everywhere else

Noteworthy perks: 15,000 points each anniversary year ⚬ Diamond status ⚬ 10% discount on free night awards ⚬ Cardmember discount on paid stays ⚬ No foreign transaction fees

See also: Wyndham Earner credit cards review: Surprisingly strong

#8) Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card

Radisson Blu Maldives resort. Finally Radisson offers a truly asprirational property.  Too bad there’s nothing like this in the US.  See also: Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card (now with a dash of aspiration)

What I like: Instead of a free night, you get 40K points per year. This is great because it doesn’t require finding an excuse to stay at a Radisson property each year to justify keeping this card.  You also get Radisson Gold status, the ability to earn a free night (usable in the US only) for each $10K spend (up to $30K), and very strong earnings for spend (10X at Radisson properties, and 5X everywhere else).

What I don’t like: In my opinion, Radisson has very few desirable properties in the US.  Additionally, the card’s 3% foreign transaction fee means that it’s a very poor choice for spend outside the US.

Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card

FM Mini Review: This is a good choice for its welcome bonus, 40K per year bonus, Gold status, 5X everywhere rewards, and ability to earn up to 3 free nights per year.


Annual Fee: $75

Card Type: Visa Signature

Base
Brand

Earning rate: ⚬ 10X at CC hotels ⚬ 5X elsewhere.

Big spend bonus: Free night at any US property after each $10K annual spend up to $30K.

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ Automatic Gold status ⚬ 40K bonus per year.

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