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.

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
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 night award 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

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
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: First year free, then $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 calendar year for Platinum elite status

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ Annual 85K 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.

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
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 a calendar 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

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

FM Mini Review: Decent ultra-premium option for Marriott fans, especially those aiming for lifetime status tiers


Annual Fee: $650

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: Annual Choice Award with $60K calendar year spend

Noteworthy perks: ⚬ 85K Free Night Award each year upon renewal ⚬ $300 dining credit per membership year ($25/mo) ⚬ Platinum Elite status ⚬ 25 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?

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card

Annual Fee: First year free, then $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 at restaurants worldwide, 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: 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: Complimentary Marriott Gold elite status ⚬ 7% discount off the standard rate for a standard room at participating hotels when you book direct (Terms and Conditions apply) ⚬ 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month for a one-night 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
Dine
Gas
Grocery
Brand

Earning rate: ⚬ 6X Marriott Bonvoy ⚬ 3X gas stations, grocery stores, and dining on up to $6K in combined purchases each year ⚬ 2X everywhere else

Big spend bonus: Earn Gold status when you spend $35K each year ⚬ 1 Elite Night Credit towards elite status for every $5K spent

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 ⚬ 1 Elite Night Credit for every $5K spent

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.

Noteworthy perks: 35K free night award each year upon renewal ⚬ Gold status ⚬ 15 elite night credits each calendar year ⚬ Free in-room premium internet ⚬ 7% discount off the standard rate for a standard room at participating hotels when you book direct (Terms and Conditions apply)

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.

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
Chase IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card

Annual Fee: $99

Card Type: Mastercard World Elite

Base
Travel
Dine
Gas
Brand
10X
(6%)

Earning rate: 10X IHG ⚬ 5X travel, dining, and gas stations ⚬ 3X on all other purchases

Big spend bonus: 10K bonus points + $100 statement credit after you spend $20K in a calendar year + make one additional purchase ⚬ Diamond status after $40K in purchases + one additional purchase in a calendar year

Noteworthy perks: Annual free night e-certificate good at IHG properties up to 40K points per night ⚬ Ability to add an unlimited number of points to a free night certificate to book a higher-level hotel ⚬ Fourth night free on award stays ⚬ 20% discount on points purchases ⚬ Platinum elite status ⚬ Up to $50 in United TravelBank cash per year (must register your card with your United account)

#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.

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
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.

Card Name w Details & Review (no offer)
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Ryan

How are Radisson and Wyndham points a better perk than a free night? It seems like neither would be useful if you don’t intend to stay there. Can they be used for something else?

Stvr

Again I challenge you to find a $200 opportunity with a 35K certificate at any of Marriott’s 529 properties in California. For next Tuesday, let’s say. Last time you were able to rustle up Ritz Half Moon Bay in a minute!

Captain Greg

On Facebook you say there was a clear #1 and then it was difficult to rank the rest. To me there’s a clear top two (aspire and ritz), and it kind of surprises me that you don’t consider the ritz in that top echelon. The free AU’s with priority pass with restaurants is a monumental benefit, imo, plus the superior travel protections. Further down, it’s strange to me that you don’t consider the standard Marriott cards the same as the standard Hilton cards. You pay ~$100 and get a free night with some minor auxiliary benefits (10 priority pass visits, lower level status, big spend bonus, etc). Even though we all love hyatt, it’s essentially the same situation with that card. To me, the IHG card is better than any of these standard ~$100 cards due to its 4th night free benefit. In that sense, the no fee IHG card is a no brainer like the no fee United card. Both have benefits for just putting them in the sock drawer. Likewise, the Radisson and Wyndham cards have clear benefits for just putting them in the sock drawer. I’ll probably get a bunch of pushback for this, but I would rank:
1/2 (in some order): Aspire and Ritz
3: Radisson
4: Wyndham business
5: IHG no fee
Then it’s just all the 1 night free ~$100 cards, including the bonvoy brilliant, in some order. I guess I’d put the WOH card at the top of that group though.

Interesting read. Thanks for writing. Looking forward to hearing Nick’s roast.

Nick Reyes

First, I don’t even a little bit understand why Radisson is #3. And I’m a Radisson card holder – but what?!?

As to the Ritz, I would say that free AUs with Priority Pass with restaurant access is only “monumental” if you or someone you would add as an AU regularly travel through airports with Priority Pass restaurants. I’ve gone out of my way to try to use that benefit and I’ve used it a handful of times, but it isn’t a thing at the vast majority of airports I would ordinarily transit. That’s not to say that I don’t think it’s a valuable benefit. Indeed it is. And I’d consider it monumental for me if my home airport had a restaurant….but it doesn’t.

I suspect the same is true for Greg. It’s awesome when it works out and is defintiely worth something, but only huge for some people.

Captain Greg

Fair enough. My current local airport has 3 lounges and 2 restaurants, so we utilize them very regularly.

The simple reason for Radisson at #3 is that the card pays you more in points than the annual fee. I know there aren’t lots of good Radissons around in the U.S., but if you get the card and stick it in a drawer, you’ll have a bunch of points on the cheap the next time you need them. I’d prefer that over an annual cert you have to use within a year, and especially right now during Covid times. After the Aspire and Ritz, the way I see it is that you can either get outsized value on a card that gives a cert or outsized value on a card that gives you points. Despite the fact that the cards offering points (Radisson and Wyndham business) don’t have an incredible footprint, imo the flexibility of getting points overcomes the limitations of a specific brand’s cert for the general population.

That said, each person will obviously be different and will have their own preferred hotel chains. For someone who loves Marriott, for example, they’d probably find more value from one or two Marriott cards. But in terms of which cards have awards that could benefit anyone at some point, to me, everyone could benefit from getting the Radisson and Wyndham cards and sticking them in a drawer until you need the points.

Al C

Another problem with Wyndham – don’t points expire at 48 months even with activity?

Captain Greg

Yes. That is an issue

Al C

Interesting, although is that a temporary COVID concession? Probably not something we can count on.

Last edited 2 years ago by Al C
BlackHill

How do you compare between Wyndham rewards and Best Western? New Wyndham rewards business card is definitely better than the other Wyndham rewards card, but how does it fare with the New Best Western card?
New Best western card comes with 80,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months and 40,000 points when you spend $5,000 every 12 billing cycles, the card also offers platinum status.

kingrat

Good wrap up and review. could be good to add the little things like MS on amex may limit your ability with their. Ards, etc.

Mariusz

Where Sonesta stands in your ranking?

Nick Reyes

Nothing like waking up to the smell of hot sizzling post roast material.

Aloha808

It is interesting to not see any of the other Hilton credit cards, in light of their popularity.

YoniPDX

The only real value other Hilton cards hold is for the SUB for stacking with Aspire.

Aloha808

That’s a great question. This really deserves an article but……For the Hilton CCs, an easy comparison would be against Marriott’s lineup due to it being Hilton’s biggest competitor and also because they have a somewhat similar lineup of cards. That being said, I’d rank both the Surpass and the Hilton biz higher than the Marriott CCs (not including the RC), #4 and #5.

Why? Well starting with #5 since they have similar AFs, the uncapped weekend night Hilton certs from Surpass and HH Biz are significantly more valuable than the 35k Marriott certificates. Yes they require $15k spend, but most of the readers here should be able to manage that, especially since the Surpass has a nice category bonus.

Now on to #4. I agree the Brilliant is a nice card, but once again I feel that the majority of the readers here should be able to get more value out of an uncapped weekend night cert with Hilton as opposed to a 50k cert with Marriott. And if we compare AFs… the Hilton cards still win here due to the Brilliant basically having a $150 AF if we give the Marriott $300 property credit face value.

As far as status, you can achieve top tier HH Diamond with $40k spend on the Hilton CCs, but it takes $75k spend on only the Brilliant to receive Bonvoy Platinum. Once again, Hilton wins here. Even without spend, the Hilton CCs give you a better status than what you get with the Brilliant (HH Gold vs Marriott Gold).

So since we’ve already gotten #4 and #5 out of the way, what about #3? Well I think that depends on the person and how much they will use the cards and stay at each chain. I like the Hilton weekend night cert better than the Hyatt cat 1-4 cert, but the ability to spend to Globalist with the Hyatt card is also very nice. In other words, this one will vary a lot from person to person, making this comparison kind of a tossup… like a swing state.

Thanks for giving me a chance to respond….I’ve left out a few things here due to this only being a comment, sorry.

YoniPDX

@Greg

I am aware of the Amex 4 CC limit – but are we allowed to hold more than one Aspire pp? Since they deliver over the top ROI.

I used a 5/24 slot last November on the FYF Aspire (would have picked it up for DW too but she added two CC in the previous 90 days).

She dropped an Amex CC last month to free a slot, DW has the Aspire now, so our FNC arrive the same week every year now. which makes them more valuable – esp if we can stack with resort credits on a stay.

Aloha808

Yes, through an upgrade strategy.

Lily

Nick (and Greg): when you guys roast each other’s posts, I’d love to see follow-up posts from the roaster’s point of view (such as “Nick’s best hotel credit cards”). I think that having multiple viewpoints on the same subject is great.

AA Flyer

Good analysis. I prefer the Hilton Surpass due to lower fee and run over $40K on it (unbonused categories so the 1.8%, 3x my value of .006/point) compares to my Amex or CSR earning. I use this for gas outside of Hilton’s and unbonused spend.

Also have Marriott Chase card and IHG Premier. IHG Premier has cell phone insurance so I charge that but really don’t use (even at their properties) since my CSR gives better value. However free night is worth the annual fee

Ken

Which one of the eight are sponsors or affiliates of the blog that you get paid for?

Steve

This has always gone a long ways in helping your readers trust you and your team. Thank you!

Mary Jane

Greg, that is the main reason your blog is the only one I recommend to my friends.

Ber

Which cards offer travel insurance on airline tickets?