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INSIDER SECRET: It may sound counterintuitive, but a co-branded hotel credit card may not be your best bet when it comes to getting free stays.
Best Hotel Credit Cards 2019
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Best for easy-to-redeem rewards
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Best for Marriott hotel stays
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express: Best for top-tier hotel elite status
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Best for families
- The World of Hyatt Credit Card: Best for a balance of value and comfort
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card: Best for no annual fee
There are two big expenses when you travel: airfare and hotels. Fortunately, both are laughably easy to get for free.
The glamorous hotel stay is often the more costly item. Many of the best credit cards for travel come with welcome bonuses and ongoing benefits that can unlock free nights in five-star resorts (or regular ol’ hotels, if that’s your choice). But which card is right for you?
It depends mostly on your travel goals. I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the best hotel credit card offers, so you can open the one that will fulfill your travel dreams.
How to Choose the Best Hotel Credit Card
You should absolutely use one of the best hotel credit cards to earn the most points for your booking. And here’s a pro tip: start by navigating through an online shopping portal.
Check a shopping portal like CashBackMonitor or Evreward to see which portals are offering the most cash back, bank points, or airline miles for a particular hotel chain or brand. Once you click through the shopping portal, you’ll be redirected to the hotel website to complete your reservation. You’ll still be booking directly with the hotel to earn points and stay credits, and your elite status perks will be honored.
Capital One Venture Card
Apply Here: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Read our review of the Capital One Venture
Card Bonus: The Capital One Venture card comes with 50,000 Venture miles (worth $500 in travel) after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months. What does that mean for you?
Capital One Venture miles are worth 1 cent each. You can use Capital One miles for nearly any travel purchase, including hotels, without having to worry about searching for available award nights. It might be the simplest card for getting free travel or free hotel nights.
Card Benefits: When you spend with this card, you’ll earn 2 Venture miles per dollar spent on all purchases. That’s effectively 2% back. You’ll also earn 10 Venture miles for every dollar you spend on hotel stays booked and paid for through the Hotels.com link (through January 31, 2020).
To redeem your miles for travel, just buy travel like you normally would with your card. Then, you have 90 days to sign in to your online account, find the travel purchase and “erase” it with your miles.
The card also comes with Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, trusted-traveler programs designed to help folks spend less time (and experience fewer headaches) at security checkpoints. For example, with TSA PreCheck, you can pass through security without taking off your shoes, belt or light jacket. You also won’t need to remove your laptop and liquids from your bag.
Some cards charge fees for swiping outside of the US. This card has no foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: The card’s $95 annual fee is waived the first year. With the great welcome bonus, it’s a definite no-brainer for the first year.
This card is particularly good if you want to stay at a hotel that doesn’t have a loyalty program, like boutique hotels or a hotel off the beaten path.
During a trip to Mexico, my wife and I stayed at an amazing hotel called Beloved Playa Mujeres. The hotel doesn’t have a loyalty program or a co-branded credit card. But if you have the Capital One Venture, you can book into any hotel. Just buy your nights and erase the purchase with your Venture miles later.
Note that the card’s return is effectively 2% back, which you can earn with some no-annual-fee cards. You can transfer your points to various airline partners for a better return, but otherwise you’ll have to decide if the card’s other benefits are worth the yearly fee.
- Capital One Rewards Review
- Best Way to Use Capital One Miles
- Capital One Transfer Partners
- How to Use Capital One Miles
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex
Card Bonus: With the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, you can earn 75,000 Marriott points after meeting minimum spending requirements. That’s enough for multiple nights at family-friendly hotels like Springhill Suites, or for a splurge night at luxury brands like Ritz-Carlton.
Card Benefits: When you spend with this card, you’ll receive:
- 6 Marriott points per dollar at Marriott hotels
- 3 Marriott points per dollar at US restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines
- 2 Marriott points per dollar on everything else
- Terms Apply
The welcome offer isn’t the only reason to get the card. Cardholders also have access to a host of other perks that can save you money and make your travel easier. For instance, there is an annual statement credit of up to $300 to use each card membership year at participating Marriott hotels (including room charges), an annual free night (at participating Marriott hotels worth up to 50,000 points) after you renew your card, and more.
Check out this guide for an in-depth look at the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex benefits.
Annual Fee: The card comes with a $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees), but the card’s money-saving benefits can more than offset the annual fee. Meghan, a team member at Million Mile Secrets, has this card and already used her Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex annual statement credit for a meal at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Santa Barbara.
If you stay at a Marriott hotel at least once a year, this card is worth it for the annual free night and annual statement credit of up to $300. If you use the free night at an otherwise expensive hotel and add in the value you’ll get from the annual statement credit, the annual fee is well worth it.
You can redeem Marriott points for award stays at these hotel brands:
- AC Hotels by Marriott
- Autograph Collection Hotels
- Courtyard by Marriott
- Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott
- Gaylord Hotels
- JW Marriott
- Le Meridien
- Marriott Executive Apartments
- Marriott Hotels
- Marriott Vacation Club
- Moxy Hotels
- Protea Hotels
- Renaissance Hotels
- Residence Inn by Marriott
- Ritz-Carlton Reserve
- Springhill Suites by Marriott
- St. Regis
- The Luxury Collection
- TownePlace Suites by Marriott
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Apply Here: Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
Read our review of the Hilton Aspire
With the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, you’ll earn 150,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of card membership. That’s a lot of points.
Card Benefits: This card comes with one weekend night each year, which you can use at most Hilton hotels. And you’ll get an additional weekend night if you spend $60,000 on your card in a calendar year. So you could end up with a whole weekend at a five-star hotel in a prime destination, like the London Hilton on Park Lane, which costs $450+ per night.
The card also comes with:
- 14 Hilton points per dollar spent at a Hilton hotel or resort (highest earning rate of any Hilton card)
- 7 Hilton points per dollar of eligible purchases at US restaurants, flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, and car rentals booked directly with select car rental companies
- 3 Hilton points per dollar for all other eligible purchases on your card
- Terms Apply
You’ll also receive automatic Hilton Diamond status, which is insanely amazing because it takes 30 stays or 60 nights to achieve. With Diamond status, you’ll rack up Hilton points way faster and you’ll get upgrades and free breakfast.
The card comes with $250 in airline incidental credits and $250 in statement credits at participating Hilton resorts every year. If you max out those benefits alone, you’ll get a value $50 greater than the annual fee ($250 airline credit + $250 Hilton resort credit = $500 in credits minus the $450 annual fee).
I probably wouldn’t take full advantage of the incidental fee credit, which reimburses for things like checked baggage, seat upgrades, etc. But the other benefits of the card make it worth the fee, especially if you don’t have a card that grants you airport lounge access.
You can also get $100 in credits on qualifying charges (room rates and fees do not qualify) for every stay of two or more nights at Waldorf Astoria or Conrad hotels. But you must book through the Amex Hilton Aspire card website to verify that you’re eligible for the credit.
You’ll get unlimited free Priority Pass lounge visits as long as you hold the card and no foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees).
As you can see, Hilton is showering Amex Hilton Aspire card members with credits, bonuses and benefits. If you frequently stay at Hilton hotels, this is an excellent card for you.
Annual Fee: The card has an annual fee of $450 (See Rates & Fees).
I know big annual fees can be scary, but what’s even scarier is losing money because you neglected to crunch a few numbers. The Amex Hilton Aspire comes with a mountain of benefits that make it worth the extra cost. The weekend nights alone can easily make it worth paying the annual fee.
If you like staying with Hilton, this card is truly a no-brainer. The statement credits and top-tier elite status can transform your Hilton stays.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
Apply Here: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
Read our review of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card
Card Bonus: If you’re a Hilton fan, you need to take the Amex Hilton Surpass card seriously. You can earn 125,000 Hilton points after you spend $2,000 in purchases with your new card within the first three months of opening your account.
These points aren’t as valuable as other hotel points because high-end Hilton hotels can cost 95,000 points per night.
That’s still a ton of points, though. I use them exclusively for very low-category hotels because that’s where I find the best value.
For example, the gorgeous Conrad Tokyo costs upward of $350 per night but you’ll have to pay 95,000 Hilton points for the same room. That means you’ll get a value of just ~0.37 cents per point ($350 per night/95,000 points)
But if you use your points on a lower-cost hotel, you’ll often get a better value. You can book six nights at the Hampton Inn Dayton/Dayton Mall, and hang out with me for a week. The hotel can sell for $200 per night, depending on the season. And it costs 20,000 points per night, giving you a value of 1 cent per point ($200 per night/20,000 points).
Card Benefits: The card also comes with:
- 12 Hilton points per dollar spent at a Hilton hotel or resort
- 6 Hilton points per dollar on eligible purchases at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations
- 3 Hilton points for all other eligible purchases on your card
- Terms Apply
You’ll receive complimentary Hilton Gold status, which comes with bonus points for hotel stays, room upgrades when available, free breakfast and lots more. Because the card has no foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees), it’s good to use for hotels abroad.
If you’re a big spender, who likes staying with Hilton, this card is up your alley. You’ll earn one weekend night after spending $15,000 on purchases each calendar year. And if you spend $40,000 in a calendar year, you’ll earn Hilton Diamond status. That will help you rack up Hilton points way faster (100% bonus on base points), and the upgrades and free breakfasts will revolutionize your hotel experience.
Another unique feature of the card is that you get 10 free airport lounge visits each year once enrolled in complimentary Priority Pass Select membership.
Annual Fee: The card has a $95 annual fee (See Rates & Fees). Earning the weekend night each year easily justifies paying for the annual fee. You could use it at a super-fancy hotel that normally costs hundreds per night.
Traveling with a large family is an entirely different proposition compared to a solo trip. There’s often a lot of juggling and logistics to manage, so making sure your hotel stay is as comfortable as possible is key to making your vacation a success. The Amex Hilton Surpass stands above the rest for families, because it comes with family-friendly perks without an astronomically high annual fee.
Thousands of hotels to choose from: Hilton is an ideal chain for families to focus on, because they’re one of the largest in the world — you can find a Hilton brand hotel just about anywhere you go, including:
- Embassy Suites
- Hampton Inn
- Hilton Garden Inn
- Hilton Grand Vacations
- Home2 Suites
- Homewood Suites
- Waldorf Astoria
Our MMS editor, Jasmin, frequently travels with three kids and says Hilton has always been outstanding in making sure the kids feel especially welcome. From providing upgrades to a larger room to offering treats at check-in, the kids always have something to rave about.
Automatic Hilton Gold Status: The card comes with hands-down the best mid-tier status in the industry. No other mid-level hotel elite status offers free breakfast at all hotels, even at the fanciest resorts. Staying at a Hilton brand that includes complimentary breakfast can translate into a huge cost savings and convenience when you’ve got kids in tow. Jasmin says:
“I know the last thing I want to do on vacation is wrangle the kids out of bed early and get them cleaned up and dressed to go get breakfast outside the hotel. It takes a lot of time and is akin to herding cats, especially if the kids are sluggish and grumpy from a long travel day beforehand. Getting a free breakfast right in the hotel is a lifesaver.”
No other mid-tier credit card offers elite status that guarantees free breakfast. Hilton’s terms say the free breakfast applies to yourself and one additional guest, but many report getting a free meal for their kids, too (that’s Jasmin’s experience, too). At the very least, breakfasts for kids are usually discounted, so could use the freebies for the adults in your party and pay only for the additional children’s meals.
Free weekend night each year you meet a spending requirement: When you spend $15,000 on purchases in a calendar year with your Amex Hilton Surpass card, you’ll earn a weekend night valid at almost any Hilton hotel, including luxury Conrad resorts like the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. If you’re careful to use your weekend night at an incredibly expensive hotel, you could get $1,000+ in value.
This would be an amazing way to treat your family to a surprise stay at a fancy hotel. Or maybe leave the kids at home and enjoy a romantic splurge with your significant other.
Improve your airport experience, too: There are lots of credit cards that offer airport lounge access, but most of them come with annual fees of $450 or more. That can be expensive for many families, especially if you don’t travel often enough to make the most of the perk.
The Amex Hilton Surpass comes with 10 free visits to Priority Pass Select airport lounges (each guest you bring counts as a visit, too). Having a quiet place to relax and enjoy food and drinks with your family before a flight — away from the noisy terminal — can start your vacation right.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card
Apply Here: The World of Hyatt Credit Card
Read our review of the Hyatt Credit Card
With The World of Hyatt Credit Card, you can earn up to 50,000 Hyatt points after meeting tiered spending requirements. You’ll earn:
- 25,000 bonus Hyatt points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account
- Another 25,000 bonus Hyatt points after you spend an additional $3,000 (for $6,000 total) on purchases within the first six months of opening your account
That’s a great bonus, considering you can reserve astronomically expensive hotels, like the five-star Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, for 30,000 Hyatt points per night. Rooms at that hotel can go for $900+ per night.
Card Benefits: With this card, you’ll earn:
- 9 Hyatt points per dollar spent at Hyatt – 4 bonus points per dollar when you use your card at Hyatt hotels and 5 base points per dollar earned as a World of Hyatt member
- 2 Hyatt points per dollar on restaurants, airline tickets purchased directly from the airlines, local transit and commuting, and on fitness club and gym memberships
- 1 Hyatt point per dollar on everything else
You’ll also get an additional free night at a Category 1 to 4 Hyatt hotel or resort after spending $15,000 in an anniversary year.
This card comes with automatic Hyatt Discoverist status, which gives you more bonus points per stay, upgrades to a preferred room based on availability at check-in, late checkout upon request and more. Plus, you’ll be able to climb the elite status ladder quickly because you’ll receive 5 qualifying-night credits every year and 2 qualifying-night credits after every $5,000 you spend on the card.
This card has no foreign transaction fees.
Hyatt hotels include:
- Grand Hyatt
- Hyatt Centric
- Hyatt House
- Hyatt Place
- Hyatt Regency
- Hyatt Residence Club
- Hyatt Zilara and Hyatt Ziva
- Park Hyatt
- … and more
Annual Fee: This card has a $95 annual fee, which is not waived the first year. But the free night each anniversary year at a Category 1 to 4 Hyatt hotel or resort can easily offset that price. Million Mile Secrets team member Scott has held onto his Hyatt card for years because of this annual free night.
Hyatt is a Million Mile Secrets favorite. They have great hotels with a balance of value and comfort.
A unique perk of using Hyatt points is that you don’t have to worry about blackout dates. If Hyatt is selling a standard-level room, you can reserve it with points. There are some quirks and exceptions at certain hotels where you’ll inexplicably have difficulty finding available rooms (Andaz Maui). But I’ve found this benefit to be extremely valuable.
I spent a night at the Hyatt House Charleston Historic District during the Great American Eclipse. The hotel was packed, and rooms were selling for $500+ per night. I was able to reserve a room for just 12,000 Hyatt points. That’s a value of ~4.1 cents per point ($500 per night/12,000 Hyatt points).
Because this is a Category 3 hotel, you can use the annual free night that comes with The World of Hyatt Credit Card. That offsets the annual fee many times over.
Note: If you see a base hotel room available on the Hyatt website, but it’s not showing any available reward nights, you can call Hyatt and they’ll book the room for you.
Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card
Apply Here: Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card
Read our review of the Chase Marriott Bonvoy Bold
Card Bonus: This brand new card comes with a welcome bonus of 30,000 Marriott points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
That’s enough for six or more nights at a Category 1 hotel like TownePlace Suites Chicago Elgin/West Dundee, or a splurge on a night at a Category 6 resort like the Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka’anapali. And you can keep the card forever (and potentially boost your credit score) because it has no annual fee.
Card Benefits: When spending with this card, you’ll earn:
- 3 Marriott points per dollar spent at participating Marriott hotels
- 2 Marriott points per dollar spent on travel
- 1 Marriott points per dollar spent on all other purchases
- 15 elite night credits each calendar year (which qualifies you for Silver Marriott Bonvoy elite status)
Annual Fee: If you like collecting Marriott Bonvoy points but prefer a card with no annual fee, the Marriott Bonvoy Bold card is the card for you. It’s got no annual fee, so there’s no risk whatsoever.
It’s good that Marriott is giving us more credit card options. More options means more ways to earn points.
This is certainly a bare-bones card, though. In exchange for no annual fee, you won’t get any fancy perks that you’ll find on other Marriott cards, like annual free nights, statement credits and the like. Do the math to see if it’s actually worth paying an annual fee. If not, the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card is no slouch.
Best Hotel Credit Cards for Budget Chains
It’s easy to find budget hotel brands like Best Western, Choice and Wyndham in even the most off-the-beaten-path locations (places you won’t find Marriott or Hyatt). They’re often family-friendly with perks like free breakfast, indoor pool and on-site laundry. Plus, they’re usually less expensive.
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.
Each of these chains has its own credit card, but they’re rarely good 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:
Collecting these 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).
You can redeem Chase points through its travel portal for free stays at nearly any hotel, including budget brands and boutique hotels. No need to collect specific hotel points. And you can use Capital One miles to erase just about any travel purchase when you pay with your card.
There are plenty of options when it comes to hotel cards.
If you don’t like the hassle of juggling different hotel points or searching for available reward nights, you might prefer the Capital One Venture, which you can use to get free nights because you can use them for any hotel stay. You don’t have to stick with the chain hotels that have loyalty programs.
If you’re looking for a high-end experience, consider the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex or Amex Hilton Aspire Card. Both come with premium perks like complimentary elite status and hundreds of dollars in statement credits at participating hotels. The $300 in Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex credits that team member Meghan gets with her Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex makes it one of her favorite hotel credit card perks because it’s so easy to use.
For those who prefer a card with no annual fee, the Marriott Bonvoy Bold card is a solid choice.
Let us know your favorite hotel card in the comments. And tell me if your preferred card isn’t on the list, so we can squabble about who’s right.
For more information regarding hotel loyalty programs and how to save on hotel stays, check out these guides:
- Marriott Bonvoy Review
- Hilton Honors Review
- Why Flexible Rewards Are Great for Family Hotel Stays
- 11 Insider Tips: Here’s How to Save Money on Hotels
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass Card, click here.
For the rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, please click here.
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