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.
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:
- Hilton: Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
- Hyatt: Chase World of Hyatt Credit Card
- IHG: Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
- Marriott Cards
- Ultra Premium Cards (50K free night each year)
- Premium Cards (35K free night each year)
- Radisson: Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card
- Wyndham: Wyndham Rewards Earner Business Card
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
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.
#2) Chase Ritz-Carlton Credit Card
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
#3) World of Hyatt Credit Card
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.
#4) Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card
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
#5) Marriott Cards Offering Annual 35K Free Night
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?
#6) IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit 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.
#7) Wyndham Rewards Earner Business Card
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.
#8) Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature Card
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.