What’s the Best Hotel Card for US Travel?

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Million Mile Secrets reader S commented:

If you could choose 1 hotel card for someone new to miles and points, which would it be?  For travel mostly in the US?  Thanks.

There are lots of terrific hotel cards available, so it can be hard to choose.  The best ones for you depend on your travel goals, S!

If you’re traveling domestically, you’ve got plenty of options for booking free or cheap stays at hotels.  There are hotel programs that are good for pricier stays in bigger cities or resorts.  Others are a better choice if you spend time in small towns or in rural areas.

What's The Best Hotel Card For US Travel

Family Travel? Luxury Resorts? Or Budget Accommodations? The Best Hotel Card Depends on Your Goals!

Let’s look at which cards S should consider for travel within the US.

How to Decide on the Best Hotel Card for US Travel

Link:   How to Find Out Which Hotel Card Is Best for Me

Link:   Hot Deals – Hotel Credit Cards

There is no ONE best hotel card for US travel.  Before you decide which hotel program to collect points in, consider:

  • Do you travel to big cities, resort areas, or locations further off the beaten path?
  • Can you stay in clean, comfortable hotels with fewer amenities?  Or would you prefer to treat yourself to fancier stays and elite perks like free breakfast and room upgrades?
  • Would you rather stretch your points for the most stays?  Or are you happy with fewer nights in upscale hotels?
What's The Best Hotel Card For US Travel

Many Hotel Brands (Both Luxury and Budget Chains) Offer Free Breakfast – but Not All Are This Fancy

Some chains are focused on luxury brands or boutique hotels which cost lots of points per night.  And there are credit cards that can get you free nights quickly at top-tier hotels which can otherwise cost hundreds of dollars!

1.   Narrow Down Your Options

Start by looking where you want to go.  If your travel plans include trips to big cities like New York or Chicago, you’ll find lots of hotel choices with pretty much any major chain.

But what if you’re saving up for a family reunion in Boise?  Planning to visit your college student in Ithaca?  Or hoping to spend spring break in Pensacola?  Smaller cities often have fewer chain hotels.

What's The Best Hotel Card For US Travel

Traveling to Ithaca? You Can Only Book Award Nights at Choice, Club Carlson, Marriott, and Wyndham Hotels

I always check Hotel Hustle (which will even tell you if award nights are available) or Award Mapper to see which hotels can be booked with points in a certain city or town.

2.   Fewer Luxury Nights or More Budget Stays?

Some hotel cards, like the Fairmont Visa Signature Card, Chase Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card offer 2 nights at almost any of their hotels (Ritz-Carlton and Hilton have exceptions) as a sign-up bonus after meeting minimum spending requirements.

What's The Best Hotel Card For US Travel

Use Your Free Hyatt Nights at the Grand Hyatt New York, Which Often Costs ~$400+ per Night!

It makes sense to use these for more expensive hotels and resorts, because you’ll get the most value.  But use your nights for the hotel stays that are important to you!

Other cards, like the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card or Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card, offer a set number of points as a sign-up bonus.  So it’s up to you whether you use them for 1 or 2 fancy stays or spread them out for more nights in less upscale hotels.

And if you frequently travel to smaller towns, your only choices might be hotel chains like Best Western, Choice, or Wyndham.

What's The Best Hotel Card For US Travel

Budget Hotel Chains Like Choice Can Still Be Comfortable! And You’ll Often Get Perks Like Free Breakfast, Even Without Elite Status

They’ve got their own credit cards too, like the Best Western Rewards, Barclaycard Choice Privileges, or Barclaycard Wyndham Rewards (which just increased its sign-up bonus!)

Emily and I don’t earn a commission for any of these 3 links.  But we always tell you about the best offers!

3.   Consider Flexible Points

If you want to keep your options open, cards that earn transferable points are your best bet.

For example, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio from cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Plus, and Chase Ink Bold (no longer offered) to Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton.

Or, if you have 1 of the cards mentioned above, you can combine points you earn from the Chase Freedom or Chase Ink Cash then transfer them to hotel partners.

Remember, you can also redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points (as long as you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Ink Plus® Business Credit Card, or Chase Ink Bold) at a rate of 1.25 cents per point for paid hotel stays, including non-chain hotels.

American Express Membership Rewards points are useful, too, because you can transfer them to Best Western, Choice, Hilton, and Starwood Preferred Guest (but not always at a 1:1 ratio).

Note:  The Best Western partnership is ending on January 1, 2016.

Here are cards that earn American Express Membership Rewards points:

Personal CardsBusiness Cards
Premier Rewards Gold Card From American ExpressThe Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
The Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-BenzThe Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressThe Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN
AMEX EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express
Business Green Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
AMEX EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
American Express® Gold Card
American Express® Green Card
Blue from American Express® Note: These are the ONLY AMEX cards that earn Membership Rewards points that can NOT be transferred to airline & hotel programs. But you can use these points on the Membership Rewards website for other redemptions. Includes personal AND small business versions of the card.

Cards that earn Citi ThankYou points like the Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Premier aren’t as good a choice for hotel transfer partners.  That’s because you can only transfer points to Hilton at a 2:3 ratio.

However, folks with the Citi ThankYou Premier can use their Citi ThankYou points to book paid hotel stays at a rate of 1.25 cents per point.  Again, this could be a good option for folks who prefer non-chain hotels.

Don’t forget the AMEX Starwood cards (Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express) Starwood has hotels (both high-end and budget) in many cities.

What's The Best Hotel Card For US Travel

Starwood Hotels Like the Westin Atlanta Airport Are a Terrific Deal at 3,000 to 4,000 Starwood Points per Night!

Starwood points are flexible because you can use them for Starwood hotel stays, or transfer them to 30+ airlines.  And when you transfer 20,000 Starwood points to most airlines, you’ll earn a 5,000 airline mile bonus!

Keep in mind, Marriott will be buying Starwood hotels.  So the AMEX Starwood cards might go away soon.

Bottom Line

If you’re traveling in the US and want to use points for free or cheap hotel stays, you have lots of options!

There’s no 1 best hotel card.  The best cards for you depend on where you’re travelling (big cities or small towns), how you like to travel (luxury, budget, or somewhere in between!), and whether or not you have firm travel plans.

My favorite cards earn transferable points, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  Even if I don’t know where my next trip will take me, I know that I’ll have a choice of hotel chains to transfer my points to!

What’s your favorite hotel program for stays in the US?

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2 responses to “What’s the Best Hotel Card for US Travel?

  1. Very happy with Marriott rewards — easy to book, huge options (all price-point range). Love that we can randomly splurge for ritz Carlton…been doing Marriott rewards for at least a decade. Highly recommend it.

  2. I was tentative in Marriott Rewards (but signed up anyways because of the Ritz-Carlton 2 night promotion). I have been very happily surprised. Interestingly, as Darius points out, they are taking over Starwood SPG, so that would be the only other one that I would most likely be interested in. They are flexible with “retention” to keep a Platinum member, which I got 3 years ago and have been happily staying at Renaissance, Marriott and the occasional Ritz-Carlton splurge (4 nights=5 nights, one free) so my last redemption was 5 nights in the Ritz-Carlton Istanbul, where the GM was most accessible (Unusual for a hotel of that stature.)

    I highly recommend the Ritz-Carlton Card as you can maintain the 50 night a year Gold status with 10K spending, and 75 night a year with $75K spend/year, as well as with the $300 ANY airline credit (you don’t have to choose one like Amex Platinum), it’s after that a $95 annual card fee.