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The Best Hotel Credit Cards for Budget Chains Are NOT What You Think

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The Best Hotel Credit Cards for Budget Chains Are NOT What You Think

Jasmin BaronThe Best Hotel Credit Cards for Budget Chains Are NOT What You ThinkMillion Mile Secrets Team

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If you read travel blogs with any frequency you’ve seen the glorious hotel pictures and trip reports.  Those iconic Park Hyatts, decadent Conrad resorts, and fancy Ritz-Carlton locations are on many of our bucket lists!  And it’s for good reason – it’s easy to get massive value from your points when you redeem them for luxury stays like this, from cards like:

But some of us aren’t so interested in top-tier hotels and instead prefer more modest accommodations.  Maybe you like to go on road trips to locations where you can’t find more upscale chains like Hyatt or Marriott/Starwood, or frequently travel for work to smaller cities and towns where there aren’t big name-brand hotels.  But you can find inexpensive chains like Best Western, Choice Hotels, and Wyndham just about anywhere.

If you’re a fan of these chains, you might have considered applying for one of their credit cards.  But the best hotel credit cards for budget chains might not be so obvious!

Look Beyond Hotel-Branded Cards to Find Out the Best Hotel Credit Card for Stays at Budget Chains Like Choice Hotels

I’ll show you why hotel cards for Best Western, Choice Hotels, and Wyndham aren’t always your best bet if you like staying at these brands.

What’s the Best Hotel Credit Card for Budget Hotel Chains?

If you like Choice Hotels, Best Western, or Wyndham, you’re not alone.  It’s easy to find them in even the most off-the-beaten-path locations, and they’re often family-friendly with perks like free breakfast, indoor pools, and on-site laundry.  Plus, they’re usually less expensive than major chains like Hyatt and Hilton.

I’ve personally had decent experiences with these brands, though mostly not for vacation or fun.  They’re a good, cheap pick in a pinch if you’re on the road and need a quick spot to stay, have to work in a remote location, or need to travel for a family emergency or last-minute trip.

Choice Hotels include brands like Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, and Rodeway Inn.  Best Western subdivides their hotels into brands like Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier.  And you’ve no doubt seen many Wyndham hotels along the interstate, like Days Inn, Super 8, Microtel, and Travelodge.

Road Warriors and Family Travelers Can Get Comfortable Stays at Brands Like Sleep Inn – You’re in Even More Luck If You Can Find a Newly-Built or Renovated Location

You might think you don’t have a lot of options to earn credit cards rewards for free stays at these brands.  And, to be honest, sometimes these hotels are so inexpensive you’re better off paying cash than wasting points.

Each of these chains does have their own credit card, but I’ll show you why these aren’t the best pick for most folks in a second.

  • Best Western:   The Best Western Rewards MasterCard, issued by First Bank, earns up to 70,000 Best Western points after meeting tiered minimum spending requirements:  Earn 50,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 billing cycles, and 20,000 points when you spend at least $5,000 on purchases during each 12 billing cycle period.  Best Western says their hotels cost on average 16,000 points per night.
  • Choice Hotels:   The Choice Privileges® Visa Signature® Card, issued by Barclays, earns 32,000 Choice points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of opening your account.  Choice Hotels award nights start at 6,000 points, but usually cost more – up to 30,000+ points in some locations.
  • Wyndham:   Barclays offers 2 versions of the Wyndham Rewards® Visa® Card.  The no-annual-fee card comes with 15,000 Wyndham points after your first purchase.  And the annual-fee ($75) version offers 15,000 Wyndham points after your first purchase, and an additional 15,000 Wyndham points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.  Award nights at any Wyndham hotel cost 15,000 points per night.
Some Best Western Hotels Are Cute and Charming, Like the Best Western Austrian Chalet in Campbell River, British Columbia, Where I Stayed With Family

None of these welcome bonuses are particularly exciting unless you really like these chains and have already gotten more valuable cards from Chase, AMEX, Citi, and the like.  And for regular spending, their earnings are the pits.  I’d honestly only recommend these cards if you have frequent paid stays at these hotel chains, because you’ll earn bonus points as follows:

  • Best Western Rewards MasterCard – Earn an extra 10 Best Western points per $1 (20 total including what you’ll get for being a member) on Best Western Stays.  All other purchases earn 2 Best Western points per $1.
  • Choice Privileges Visa Signature Card – Earn an extra 5 Choice points per $1 (15 total including what you’ll get for being a member) on Choice Hotels stays.  And 2 Choice points per $1 on all other purchases.
  • Wyndham Rewards Visa – Earn an extra 3 Wyndham points per $1 (no annual fee) or 5 Wyndham points per $1 (annual fee) on Wyndham stays.  And earn 2 points per $1 on eligible gas, utility, and grocery store purchases, and 1 point per $1 everywhere else (for both cards).

If you don’t have paid stays at these brands, it makes little sense to have their cards for everyday spending.  That’s because you can get much more value from your dollar with flexible points programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Capital One Venture miles, and still redeem those points for stays at these hotels.

Don’t Lock Yourself Into Any of These Hotel Programs

I’m going to use Choice Hotels as an example because they’re an AMEX Membership Rewards transfer partner (the other 2 chains aren’t partners with any major flexible points program).  And (shameless admission) because I actually have the Choice Privileges Visa Signature Card and have kept it for years because it has no annual fee.  It helps increase the average age of my accounts and I throw a random small charge on it here and there to keep it active.  But would I apply for it again now?  Nope!

I applied for the Choice card back when I was new to miles and points (well before the Chase 5/24 rule came into effect, and I didn’t know any better).  In my previous career, I spent 4 to 6 nights per month at a Comfort Inn on a corporate rate I had to pay out of pocket, so I figured earning an additional 5 Choice points per $1 spent with the card on my stays was worth it.

But Choice points are far, far less valuable than flexible points like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points.  And now, if I stay at Choice (or Best Western, or Wyndham), I’ll pay with cards like my:

  • Ink Business Preferred:  I use this when traveling for work – it earns 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 on travel (including hotels)
  • Citi Premier Card:  This personal card earns 3X Citi ThankYou points per $1 on travel (including hotels)

Collecting Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points makes more sense, because they’re flexible and don’t lock you into a single hotel or airline program.  And you can redeem them for stays at just about any hotel chain (and non-chain hotels, too – here’s Keith’s post about using Chase Ultimate Rewards points for stays at boutique hotels).

Or for even more simplicity, consider a card like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.  You can redeem Venture miles at a rate of 1 cent each for paid travel, including hotels.  Just purchase your stay with the card, and you’ll have 90 days to “erase” the charge with your miles.

Here’s an example:  The Comfort Suites Orlando airport costs 25,000 Choice points per night.  That’s a lot for a Choice hotel.

This Isn’t a Pricey Hotel by Any Means, but Choice Wants 25,000 Points per Night to Stay Here

If you paid cash, you’d be out of pocket ~$99 including taxes.  So in this case, you’d be getting a dismal ~0.4 cents per point (~$99 rate / 25,000 points).

The Cash Rate for This Hotel Is Just ~$99 Including Taxes – Using 25,000 Choice Points Makes Little Sense Here

However, you can find the exact same hotel at a similar rate through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.  And redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points (or cash, or a combination of points and cash) for the stay.  In this case, because I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Business Preferred, my Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.25 cents each.

You’d Pay 7,937 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for the Same Night If You Have the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Preferred

You’d pay even fewer points if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, because with that card your Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.5 cents each.  So in this case, you’d only have to spend 6,615 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (~$99 rate / 1.5 cents per point).

Similarly, if you have the Citi Premier, your Citi ThankYou points are worth 1.25 cents each when you book through the Citi ThankYou travel portal.  In this example the rate is a couple of dollars higher so you’ll pay slightly more points.

You’ll Pay a Similar Number of Points Through the Citi ThankYou Travel Portal for the Same Stay

Now, I’m not suggesting that Choice points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points have equal values – far from it.  Chase Ultimate Rewards points are much more valuable than Choice points.   And most folks are able to squeeze more than 1.25 to 1.5 cents per Chase Ultimate Rewards point by transferring them to airline and hotel partners instead of booking through the portal.

Let’s have a look at what you’d have to spend in non-bonus categories to earn enough points for the stay above with the Choice Hotels card versus the Chase Sapphire Preferred / Citi Premier, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Capital One Venture.  I’ll round up to a $100 room rate for simplicity.

  • The Choice Privileges® Visa Signature® Card – $12,500 to earn 25,000 Choice points (25,000 points / 2 Choice points per $1 for unbonused spending)
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred / Citi Premier – $8,000 to earn 8,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points (8,000 points / 1 point per $1 for unbonused spending)
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – ~$6,667 to earn 6,667 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (6,667 points / 1 point per $1 for unbonused spending)
  • Capital One Venture – $5,000 to earn 10,000 Venture miles (10,000 miles / 2 miles per $1 for all spending)

And you’d have to spend even less on the Chase or Citi cards if your purchases are in bonus categories like travel and dining.

Now, if the Choice points rate were lower, the numbers would skew more in favor of the Choice Privileges Visa.  And personally, I’d never redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou points for a stay like this, because I prefer transferring them to airline and hotel partners – I’d just pay cash instead.

But if getting free stays at Choice Hotels or other budget chains is your travel goal, this strategy can make a lot more sense than collecting Choice points from their credit card.

Note:   I mentioned Choice is an AMEX Membership Rewards transfer partner.  It rarely makes sense to transfer AMEX points to Choice because you can get much more value redeeming them in other ways.  Here’s more about when it makes sense to transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points to hotel partners.

You can apply similar math to booking Best Western or Wyndham hotels.  Although Wyndham is a little different, because any of their hotels cost 15,000 Wyndham points per night – from the most downscale Travelodge to high-end Wyndham Grand Resorts.  It can make more sense to collect Wyndham points if you’ll redeem them for otherwise expensive stays.

Bottom Line

If you prefer budget hotels like Best Western, Choice Hotels, or Wyndham, you may have considered applying for one of their credit cards.  This really only makes sense if you’re a huge fan or have a lot of paid stays at these brands.

While you’ll earn bonus points for paid stays at these chains, these cards are rarely a good idea for day-to-day spending.  The best hotel credit cards for budget chains don’t have the hotel name attached to them!

You can get far bigger bang for your buck if you collect flexible points and miles like from cards like:

You can redeem Chase or Citi points through their travel portals for free stays at nearly any hotel, including budget brands and boutique hotels.  No need to collect specific hotel points, and you’re not locked into a single hotel or airline program because these points are flexible.  And you can use Venture miles to erase just about any travel purchase when you pay with your card.

As always, consider your travel goals before pulling the trigger on any credit card.  And remember, if you’re new to miles and points, we always recommend applying for Chase cards first because of their 5/24 rule.

Do you redeem points to stay at chains like Best Western, Choice Hotels, or Wyndham?  What’s your strategy?

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  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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I have the former version of the Wyndham card, which earns 2x points on all purchases plus 15k anniversary points. With all redemptions being 15k points, I’ve gotten much better value using this card and those points for stays at higher-end hotels, including all-inclusive resorts. Do they compare with SPG category 7 stays? No, but that’s not the (more populous) demographic that stays with Wyndham, Choice or Best Western, and they’re more realistic redemptions. Wyndham also offers an option to redeem 3k points plus cash for stays, which can make for good or bad value, depending on the hotel. As with any other redemption, you have to do the math. For higher-end hotels, these cards can offer better value than Citi or Chase.

And for cheaper hotels, the best route is through hotels.com, earning 10x with Capital One Venture.

“I prefer using the Chase travel portal for cheaper hotels” EXCEPT for Wyndham with an exceptional rewards program I’ve already posted about.

@GC – that’s a great card! Sometimes I wish I had kept it, but I also really like the auto Plat status with the newer card the other didn’t have – upgrades are suite! I should have tried to keep both, I think now, but Barclays isn’t much fun to deal with. All the questions & follow-ups . . . & they allowed me to upgrade the old card without any hassles.

I prefer using the Chase travel portal for cheaper hotels. Often discounts are offered uniquely on the portal in addition to the 33% discount for having the Chase Sapphire Reserve. But you definitely have a good strategy going with hotels.com. And not only for cheap hotels, boutiques can be practical to book on there as well.

Author

Hi G C – All excellent points. Agreed that running the numbers is important if you’re concerned about squeezing the most value from your points.

Agreed that high-end Wyndhams can be a very good deal because all of their hotels cost 15,000 points per night – or 3K points plus cash as you mentioned.

Great article that has value for me. I like the upper end properties like Marriott and Hilton. But when it comes to actually staying with one of their hotels I always pick mid range. I feel more comfortable. Courtyards, Travelodge, Residence Inn, Hilton Garden Inns all make me happy, and they usually have free parking and no resort fee’s. I am not that brand loyal when it comes to mid tier properties, so CSR points work great. When I use my Hilton points I always aim for mid tier properties. I stayed at a Ritz Carlton a few times….while magnificent….they just are not for me.

Author

Hi Ron – Thanks – I think Chase Ultimate Rewards points give you the most flexibility, too. We all have different travel goals and styles, and Chase Ultimate Rewards keep a lot of options open regardless of how you like to travel.

For budget hotels I almost always get the best rate through Orbitz. There are almost always 10-15% off codes (which you typically can’t use in CC portals), you get another 5% back in Orbucks if booked through the app, and then whatever bonus your credit card provides. If you’re not especially loyal to one chain it is certainly worth considering

Author

Hi BW – Agreed! That’s a good strategy if you’re not brand loyal and aren’t concerned with earning points or stay credits. Paying cash for inexpensive stays like this usually makes more sense instead of burning points.

In reading again over the posting, I want to address a couple of other (imo) oversights, because I think there can be real, overlooked value to not charging on the Wyndham cards:

1. Spending on either Wyndham card on utilities is not the “pits.” 2 x .012 = 2.4 cents value/point which is higher than the Chase Freedom Unlimited at 2.25% (1.5 x 2) (or similar card used for 2% cash back/MRs/TYPs). It is a niche category available all year (and not just as a potential rotating category on other cards).

Even on gas and groceries it’s not a bad spend proposition at 2x, depending on what other cards you hold with higher bonus category opportunities (AMEX Blue/Hilton Ascend, etc). And for those who still have the older version of the card from 3 years ago, the card still offers 2x on ALL spend so there is always flexibility there for topping off your WR account without the opportunity cost of not using it elsewhere.

Also of note are the fantastic bonus spend challenges Barclays sends throughout the year. These are an opportunity to accumulate 2,500 – 5,000 extra WRs, depending on the offer, by just transferring some spend to their card. The more activity on their cards, the more challenges they offer.

2. I realize your point may be with “modest” lodging, so I also want to point out that even at non-premium Wyndham brands, there is usually a better room they will assign me because of Platinum status (again thru the card). Even if it’s a Travelodge/Microtel room with a jacuzzi tub/little larger/non-smoking, I still didn’t have to pay the extra $25+.

Wyndham is the largest hotel chain in the world by number of hotels. Investing in their card has been full of nice surprises & choices over the years.

Author

Hi Pam – It’s great that you’re getting such good mileage out of your Wyndham card. If it fits with your travel plans (and you stay at Wyndham a lot) the card can definitely make sense especially with the status perks.

My premise in this post is that if you’re not loyal to any of these brands and typically choose their more budget chains when you stay, other cards likely make more sense.

As with anything in our hobby, the best pick for a travel credit card depends on the kind of travel that’s important to YOU – so if any of the budget chain cards get you the travel you want, go for it!

If someone “typically choose(s)” a budget chain, they ARE being loyal to that brand and should seriously consider holding one of their cards for better rooms at a better price or better yet, $0.

Status can be an important variable at hotels because of free upgrades to more expensive rooms.

With Dolce, Wyndham Grands, & other high-end Wyndham properties, for example, upgrades to suites/premium rooms are possible with Platinum status offered automatically thru using the Wyndham’s fee card (issued thru Barclay’s) for Wyndham stays.

The $75 AF is also more than offset by the 9k points given annually just for holding the card (6k every anniv yr + 3k for being Plat thru the card). At .012/point value, that is a $33 win just for having the card if you value WRs!

As for spend, I enjoy my Chase Sapphire Reserve at .045/point (3x hotels x .015), but ALL Wyndham spend goes on my Wyndham fee card for 5 extra points/$ (+ 10 base points earned thru Wyndham). 5 x .012 = .06 which is 33% more value than using my CSR. As much as I love URs, I cannot recoup that in the Chase program

Author

Hi Pam – That strategy definitely makes sense if you’re a fan of Wyndham hotels and have lots of paid stays there.

I’m a little confused with your valuation of Wyndham points because they don’t have a fixed value – where do you get 1.2 cents per point? Is that an average value from your redemptions?

Also, agreed that Wyndham status combined with stays at high-end Wyndham properties can be a big win.

TPG posts monthly point valuations, and Wyndham has been at .012 for quite some time now: https://thepointsguy.com/guide/monthly-valuations/

Regardless of their estimate, for higher end redemptions 15,000 points for a free night is usually pretty close to the asking $180/night cash price.

I prefer booking higher-end rooms, however, with an even better ROR. Check out the Silverado Resort in Napa, for example (Dolce) – a $300/night 700 sq ft cottage suite can be booked using the standard 15,000 go-free WR award, now increasing my value per point to .02 (300/15,000). Coupled with an upgrade to a cottage with a better view, etc. & that value can dramatically increase.

And that is why, Jasmin, I rarely have “paid stays” unless I am meeting a points challenge thru cheap paid nights!

Author

Hi Pam – Then you’ve got it down to a science! Nicely done – enjoy the free travel!

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