The best hotel credit cards of 2020

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There are two big expenses when you travel: airfare and hotels. Fortunately, both are laughably easy to get for next to nothing. A glamorous hotel stay is often the more costly item. Many of the best credit cards for travel and best rewards credit cards come with welcome bonuses and ongoing benefits that can unlock free nights in five-star resorts (or regular old hotels, if that’s your choice). In addition, certain cards have added limited-time credits and bonus categories due to the coronavirus pandemic. 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.

Summary

Compare top hotel credit cards

Card nameBest forBest perkAnnual fee
The World Of Hyatt Credit CardBest for a balance of value and comfortCategory 1-4 free night award every card anniversary.$95
Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit CardBest no annual fee for MarriottAutomatic Silver Marriott elite status and 15 elite night credits each year.$0
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® CardBest for Marriott hotel staysUp to $300 annual statement credit for eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, including room rates. Terms Apply.$450 (see rates and fees)
Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® CardBest Marriott business cardAnniversary award certificate (valid at hotels costing up to 35,000 points) each year you keep and renew the card.$125 (see rates and fees)
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American ExpressBest for top-tier hotel elite statusUp to $250 Hilton resort credit each card-member year and up to $250 airline fee credit with your selected airline each calendar year. Terms Apply.$450 (see rates and fees)
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® CardBest for families10 Priority Pass airport lounge visits each year and automatic Hilton Gold status. Terms apply.$95 (see rates and fees)
IHG® Rewards Club Traveler Credit CardBest no annual fee for IHGFourth award night discount on points bookings.$0
The Platinum Card® from American ExpressBest for prepaid hotels5x points on prepaid hotels booked on Amextravel.com. Terms apply.$550 (see rates and fees)
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardBest for flexibilityTransfer points to three different hotel chains.$95

The World Of Hyatt Credit Card

The World Of Hyatt Credit Card APPLY NOW

The World Of Hyatt Credit Card

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Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card

Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card APPLY NOW

Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card

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Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card Learn More

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

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Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card

Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card APPLY NOW

Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card

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Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card APPLY NOW

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

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Deep dive on the best hotel credit cards

The World of Hyatt Credit Card: Best for a balance of value and comfort

Current bonus

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 and 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.

Based on our estimation of Hyatt points value, This bonus is worth $850 in Hyatt hotel stays. But they can be worth much more, depending on how and where you use them (read our post about the best use of Hyatt points).

Insider Tip

Hyatt has an ongoing Brand Explorer promotion where you can earn free nights valid at Category 1-4 hotels for every five different Hyatt brands you stay at. The best part of this deal is that award stays count. These awards pair perfectly with the free nights you can earn with the World of Hyatt card because they are all valid at Category 1-4 hotels

Hyatt has been adding new brands and is now up to 17, which means you can earn up to three free nights. This promotion doesn’t reset every year. Paid stays made after Mar. 1, 2017 and award stays made after Jan. 1, 2018 count.

Benefits and perks

With this card, you’ll earn 9x Hyatt points total at Hyatt – 4x points at Hyatt hotels and 5 base points per dollar earned as a World of Hyatt member. You’ll also earn 2x Hyatt points at restaurants, airline tickets purchased directly from the airlines, local transit and commuting and on fitness club and gym memberships and 1x Hyatt point on everything else.

Every year you keep the card you’ll get a free night at a Category 1-4 hotel. You’ll get an additional free night at a Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel after spending $15,000 in an anniversary year.

This card comes with Discoverist Hyatt status, which gives you 10% bonus base points per stay, upgrades to a preferred room based on availability at check-in, late checkout when available and more. Plus, you’ll be able to climb the elite status ladder quickly because you’ll receive five qualifying-night credits every year and two qualifying-night credits after every $5,000 you spend on the card.

This card has no foreign transaction fees.

Hyatt hotels include:

Why it’s worth it

Hyatt is an MMS staff favorite. They have great hotels with a balance of value and comfort and the Hyatt award chart is extremely generous.

A unique perk of using Hyatt points is that you don’t have to worry about blackout dates. If Hyatt is selling a standard 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 at that time. 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. 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.

Total value

Hyatt points are the most valuable hotel points you can earn and are typically worth ~1.7 cents each, which makes this card’s bonus worth $850 in Hyatt stays. I’ve used a handful of Category 1-4 Hyatt award night certificates and it’s not hard to book a $150+ night stay. So once you subtract the annual fee you’re getting over $900 in value the first year.

But if you’re making the best use of your Hyatt points, it is easy to blow that number out of the water. You can reserve astronomically expensive hotels with Hyatt points, 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.

You can use points to stay at ultra-luxury resorts, like the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort. (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen.)

Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card: Best no annual fee for Marriott

Current bonus

The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Bold comes with a welcome bonus of 30,000 Marriott points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Insider tips

Marriott has an ongoing promotion know as PointSavers, which allows you to book a select number of hotels at discounted award rates. The PointSavers list usually isn’t very extensive (17 hotels at the time of writing). But you can find some deals if you’re lucky: On the Marriott award chart, a Category 1 PointSaver hotel costs only 4,000 points a night during off-peak dates. This deal could be even better if you’re able to combine it with Marriott’s “Stay 5, pay for 4” perk.

Benefits and perks

When spending with this card, you’ll earn 3x Marriott points at participating Marriott hotels, 2x points on travel and one point per dollar on all other purchases. The Bonvoy Bold card comes with 15 elite night credits each calendar year, which qualifies you for Silver Marriott Bonvoy elite status.

Annual fee

This card has no annual fee.

Why it’s worth it

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, as it’s an easy way to keep your Marriott points from expiring and the 15 elite night credits get you most of the way to Gold status, which requires 25 nights.

Total value

We value Marriott points at 0.8 cents per point, this card’s bonus is worth $240.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Best for flexibility

Current bonus

With theChase Sapphire Preferred, you can earn 80,000 Chase points after spending $4,000 in the first three months from opening the account. That’s 20,000 more points than the standard bonus — a fantastic deal!

Insider Tips

You can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points in a handful of ways that allow you to book any hotel or accommodation. First, you can use Chase points to get cash back at a rate of one cent per point, making the bonus worth $800 in cash. Or you can book accommodations through the Chase travel portal and when you pay with your Chase points they are worth 1.25 cents in travel each with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Benefits and perks

The Chase Sapphire Preferred benefits and perks include primary car rental insurance when you pay for the rental with your card, trip delay coverage and baggage delay coverage. It’s also a good card for earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points. With it you’ll earn:

  • 2x Chase points per dollar on travel and dining
  • 1x point per dollar for everything else
  • 5x points on Lyft rides through March 2022

With this card, you have the option of transferring the Chase points you earn to three different hotel partners: IHG, Marriott and Hyatt.

Why it’s worth it

With the Sapphire Preferred you aren’t tied down to earningtravel rewards with a single hotel chain. Instead, you have the option of transferring points to three hotel chains (Hyatt is by far the best option) or booking just about any hotel through the Chase travel site. The Chase travel portal is powered by Expedia, so anything you can book through Expedia you can book through Chase.

You can even use this bonus for stays with Airbnb or vacation home rentals if you redeem your points for cash back.

Total value

This bonus is worth $1,000 in hotels booked through the Chase travel portal. After paying the $95 annual you’ll be getting a first-year value of $905.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex: Best for Marriott hotel stays

Current bonus

With the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, you can earn up to 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 bonus points after your first anniversary of Card Membership. Enjoy complimentary Platinum Elite status with your Card for the 2021 status year. Offer Expires 1/13/2021

Insider Tip

One of the most valuable benefits a credit card can have is a statement credit, but often these credits only apply to very specific purchases or are otherwise difficult to use. That’s not the case with the Bonvoy Brilliant’s up to $300 in credits at participating Marriott hotels. This credit even applies to room rates and can apply to meals from the hotel restaurant that are charged to your room. And those with a Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card can now use their up to $300 annual Marriott statement credit towards any purchases at U.S. restaurants (takeout and delivery included), thanks to changes Amex made to certain cards due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Benefits and perks

When you spend with this card, you’ll earn 6 Marriott points per dollar at participating Marriott hotels, 3 Marriott points per dollar at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2 Marriott points per dollar on everything else.

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. In addition to the annual Marriott statement credit of up to $300, you’ll also get an annual free night (at participating Marriott hotels worth up to 50,000 points) after you renew your card.

You’ll also get complimentary Gold elite status and up to $100 in property credits when you book direct using a special rate for a two-night minimum stay at Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis hotels. Check out this guide for an in-depth look at the rest of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex benefits.

Annual fee

The card comes with a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Why it’s worth it

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 points for award stays at these Marriott hotel brands:

Total value

The bonus alone is worth $600 (at .8 cents per point). Including the up to $300 in annual Marriott credits and the free night certificate (worth $250 conservatively), that’s still $700 in value once you subtract the $450 annual fee.

Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: Best Marriott business card

Current bonus

With the Marriott Bonvoy Business card earn 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Earn up to $150 in statement credits within your first 6 months of Card Membership for all eligible purchases on your Card on U.S. Advertising in select Media. Plus receive complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status for one year (February 1, 2021-January 31, 2022). Offer ends 1/13/21.

Annual Perks

One nice side benefit of American Express business cards is that they don’t appear on your personal credit report. That means that this card won’t add to your Chase 5/24 count.

Benefits and perks

The Marriott Bonvoy business card benefits, include the ability to earn 6x Marriott points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 4x points at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping. All other purchases earn 2x points.

Every year you keep the card you’ll also get an annual reward night valid at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels costing up to 35,000 points per night. You’ll also get automatic Marriott Bonvoy Silver status and 15 elite night credits every year. One cool perk of this card is that the 15 elite night credit you earn will stack with 15 elite night credit you can earn from one of the personal Marriott Bonvoy credit cards.

Annual fee

This card has a $125 annual fee. (see rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it

This could potentially be a great card to hold long term, if you want to jump start your way to Marriott Bonvoy elite status. If you can get a hold of both a personal Marriott card and this card, you’ll start off each year with 30 elite night credits. That’s good enough for Gold status and you’re only 20 nights away from Platinum elite status.

The biggest issue with this strategy is that it might take a while to get this card and a Marriott personal card. That’s because of the convoluted Marriott card restrictions, check out this guide for more details on how to qualify for Marriott cards.

Total value

We value Marriott points at .8 cents each, making this bonus worth $600. That get’s you a first-year value of $475.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Best for top-tier hotel elite status

Current bonus

With the Hilton Aspire, you’ll earn 150,000 Hilton points after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months of card membership. That’s a lot of Hilton points. Based on our estimation of Hilton points value, you should have no trouble receiving $750 from this bonus. And if you know how to use Hilton Honors points, you can potentially receive double and triple that dollar amount, no problem.

Insider Tip

This card comes with Diamond status (the highest tier) for as long as you hold it. In addition to the free breakfast, upgrades (when available) and bonus points this status gets you, when you have any level of Hilton elite status Hilton award bookings get the 5th night free. The 5th night free applies to every 5th night on reservations of up to 20 consecutive nights and you can use it an unlimited number of times. In addition to the elite status requirement, you’ll also need to be booking a standard room entirely with points (not cash and points or using any free night certificates).

The 5th night free perk is one of the best ways to use Hilton points.

Benefits and perks

This card comes with one free weekend night each year, which you can use at almost any Hilton location except for these properties. 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 earns the most Hilton points on eligible purchases at Hilton hotels of any card (14x points), plus 7x Hilton points at U.S. restaurants, on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, and car rentals booked directly with select car rental companies. For all other eligible purchases made with the Hilton Aspire you earn 3x Hilton points. Terms apply.

The card comes with up to $250 in airline incidental credits and up to $250 in statement credits at participating Hilton resorts every year. Plus, the up to $250 annual Hilton resort credit can now be redeemed for purchases at U.S. restaurants (takeout and delivery included) from June to August 2020. If you max out those benefits alone, you’ll get a value $50 greater than the annual fee. The Hilton resort credit is valid for almost any purchase made at the 240+ participating locations, except for advance purchase or non-refundable rates.

You’ll get a $250 credit to use at Hilton resorts, like the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Island of Hawaii. (Photo by dirkr/Shutterstock)

I probably wouldn’t take full advantage of the airline incidental fee credit, which reimburses for things like checked baggage and seat upgrades. But the other benefits of the card make it worth the fee, especially if you don’t have a credit card with airport lounge access. You’ll get unlimited free Priority Pass lounge visits for yourself and up to two guests (enrollment required) as long as you hold the card, and no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).

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 or by calling (855) 292-5757 to verify that you’re eligible for the credit. If you book over the phone you’ll need to use the code “ZZAAP1.”

Annual fee

The card has an annual fee of $450 (see rates and fees).

Why it’s worth it

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.

The Hilton Honors program can be lucrative because it’s so easy to earn Hilton points and the perks you get with Diamond status, like free breakfast, can save you money. 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.

Total value

Hilton points are worth at least .5 cents for most award night redemptions, so the Aspire card’s bonus is worth $750 in hotel stays. The card’s airline and Hilton resort credits are worth up to $500, but not everyone will be able to easily use the full credit, so I’ll be conservative and value them at $300. The value of the annual free weekend night will vary depending on what hotel you use it at, but it wouldn’t be hard to save $300 on a one night stay at a decent hotel.

Add that up and subtract the annual fee and you’re sitting on $900 in value the first year. That doesn’t even include any value you will get from having Diamond status. On a recent two-night stay my co-worker got $70+ in free breakfast for two people thanks to the Diamond status he has because of this card. So it’s very realistic to get $1,000+ in value the first year and $100s in value above and beyond the annual fee year after year. I have this card and in my opinion, it’s one of the best travel rewards credit cards.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Best for families

Current bonus

If you’re a Hilton fan, you need to take the Hilton Surpass card seriously. You can earn 130,000 Hilton points after you spend $2,000 in purchases with your new card within the first three months of opening your account.

Insider tips

There are lots of cards that come with unlimited airport lounge access, along with big annual fees. But if you travel only five to six times a year you won’t necessarily need unlimited lounge access. This is where the Surpass comes in. With the card you can enroll in Priority Pass and receive 10 lounge visits each membership year. You can bring guests along, but each person counts as one visit, so that’s five lounge visits for you and a guest each year. You get that with an annual fee that is less than $100.

Benefits and perks

With this card you’ll earn 12x Hilton points of eligible purchases at participating Hilton hotels or resorts; 6x Hilton points on eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants and U.S. gas stations; and 3x points for all other eligible purchases. 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. 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. At the very least, breakfasts for kids are usually discounted, so you could use the freebies for the adults in your party and pay only for the additional children’s meals.

Because the card has no foreign transaction fees (see rates and 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 free 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.

Annual fee

The card has a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Why it’s worth it

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.

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:

Total value

The intro bonus is worth $625 in Hilton stays (at .5 cents per point), so you can’t go wrong applying for this card. If you can spend $15,000 on the card each year, the Free Weekend Night Reward you’ll earn is easily worth double or triple what the annual fee will cost you. Even if you won’t spend that much on the card, the free breakfast you’ll get with Gold status and the 10 Priority Pass lounge visits are worth more than what you’ll pay to keep it.

IHG® Rewards Club Traveler Credit Card: Best no annual fee for IHG

Current bonus

With the IHG Traveler card, you’ll earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in the first three months from account opening.

Benefits and perks

With this card you’ll earn 5x points at IHG hotels, 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants and one point per dollar everywhere else. If you plan on using your card overseas that’s no problem, because this card has no foreign transaction fees.

You can earn Gold IHG status if you spend $10,000 or more on the card in a calendar year, although Gold status isn’t very valuable so it’s not worth spending the extra just for that. The best perk to having this card is the fourth reward night benefit. The way it works is, on any points booking of four or more nights you’ll get a one night discount.

This card also comes with a 20% discount on IHG points purchases, but this doesn’t stack with IHG purchase points promotions. So it’s not a useful perk since these promos offer much bigger discounts than 20%.

Annual fee

This card has no annual fee.

Why it’s worth it

Having a card with no annual fee is a good idea because it can help to improve your credit by increasing the age of your accounts. As far as no-annual-fee cards go, this one has a solid bonus and it’s fourth reward night perk makes it worth holding onto.

Total value

We value IHG points at .5 cents each, so this welcome offer is worth $500.

The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for prepaid hotels

Current bonus

With Amex Platinum card, you can earn 60,000 Amex Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account.

Insider Tip

If you value having elite status this is the card for you because you won’t just get status with a single loyalty program. As long as you have this card you’ll get Gold Hilton status and Gold Marriott Bonvoy status. In addition, you’l also get status with these rental car programs: Hertz, National and Avis.

Benefits and perks

If you’re okay booking prepaid hotels (through Amextravel.com) you won’t do better than this card’s 5x Amex points on those purchases. It also earns 5x points on flights booked directly with the airlines or Amex Travel (starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year) and one point per dollar on all other purchases.

This card comes with a bunch of opportunities to earn statement credits. Each year you can earn up to $200 in airline incidental fee credits, up to $200 in Uber credits and up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits each calendar year. Plus, you can also earn an application fee credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck (up to $100).

The best Amex Platinum benefits are its many credits, but that’s not all you’ll get. It also has the best airport lounge access you can get with a card, you’ll have access to Delta Sky Club, Escape, Airspace, Centurion, Plaza Premium and Priority Pass lounges. And it has a variety of coverages, like trip delay, trip cancellation/interruption, extended warranty and purchase protection.

Annual fee

This card has a $550 annual fee. (See rates and fees)

Why it’s worth it

What makes the Amex Platinum worth it, in spite of the high annual fee is the perks. If you take full advantage of the card’s credits each year, your out of pocket cost drops to a reasonable $50. I think there are very few instances where the card’s other benefits wouldn’t be worth more than that. However, if you aren’t going to use up all of the card’s credits, then you’ll want to crunch the numbers a bit more to see if it’s worth it for you.

Total value

We value Amex points at, on average, two cents per point. So including the card’s credits and intro bonus, this offer is worth over $1,000 the first year.

How we select the best hotel credit cards

Earning rate

The quickest and easiest way to rack up the hotel points you need to book free nights is by earning a card’s intro bonus, so that weighs heavily in our selection. As we regularly update our list of the best hotel credits cards we’ll add cards with limited-time increased offers. We factored in how easy these card bonuses and ongoing earnings are to achieve. All of these cards, except for one, have a minimum spending requirement of $5,000 or less, which you’ll have three months to meet. And the card with a $6,000 spending requirement (the World of Hyatt card) gives you a full six months to meet that amount.

Annual fee

No, we didn’t just find the cards with the smallest annual fee. “Small annual fee” rarely means “best deal.” We weigh the annual fee against the potential value you can receive from card benefits and bonus, and we add only those with a big opportunity to get outsized value from the fee.

Flexibility

Some hotel points are more flexible than others. They’re valuable for more than just hotel stays. To be clear, THIS IS RARE. But Marriott points are the exception, and it greatly influences how their cards are ranked. Read our post on the best ways to use Marriott points.

Accessibility

Hotel points are only valuable if you can actually use them. If you’ve got a hoard of hotel points that you can only redeem at hotels in northern Greenland, it doesn’t much matter how much you can save on hotels with those points. They won’t help you cross off most of your bucket list items.

Similarly, if a hotel has a very small footprint (few locations around the world), they may not be worth as much to you as a program that offers a hotel on seemingly every street corner — even if the return you’ll get per point isn’t the most impressive.

Additional benefits

The ongoing benefits provided by card are most important. Many of these cards come with annual free nights, these awards by themselves can justify paying the annual fee. I hold several hotel cards that come with annual free night certificates and consider the annual fee a prepayment of an extremely discounted night.

It’s worth stating that certain benefits which require extremely high spending are given less weight or not considered at all. For example, the Hilton Surpass card earns a free weekend night after you spend $15,000 in a calendar year, which isn’t an impossible requirement if this is the only card you use, but it’s not a gimme. The Surpass also earn Diamond status if you spend $40,000 in a calendar year. Diamond status is great, but it’s not worth spending that much on the card when you can get it automatically with the Hilton Aspire.

How to choose the best hotel credit card for you

There is no single hotel card that is perfect for everyone. So the best thing to do is to figure out what you want and work backwards from there. Here are the most important factors to consider.

Earning rate

The quickest and easiest way to rack up the hotel points you need to book free nights is by earning a card’s intro bonus, so that weighs heavily in our selection. As we regularly update our list of the best hotel credits cards we’ll add cards with limited-time increased offers. We factored in how easy these card bonuses and ongoing earnings are to achieve. All of these cards, except for one, have a minimum spending requirement of $5,000 or less, which you’ll have three months to meet. And the card with a $6,000 spending requirement (the World of Hyatt card) gives you a full six months to meet that amount.

Annual fee

No, we didn’t just find the cards with the smallest annual fee. “Small annual fee” rarely means “best deal.” We weigh the annual fee against the potential value you can receive from card benefits and bonus, and we add only those with a big opportunity to get outsized value from the fee.

Flexibility

Some hotel points are more flexible than others. They’re valuable for more than just hotel stays. To be clear, THIS IS RARE. But Marriott points are the exception, and it greatly influences how their cards are ranked. Read our post on the best ways to use Marriott points.

Accessibility

Hotel points are only valuable if you can actually use them. If you’ve got a hoard of hotel points that you can only redeem at hotels in northern Greenland, it doesn’t much matter how much you can save on hotels with those points. They won’t help you cross off most of your bucket list items.

Similarly, if a hotel has a very small footprint (few locations around the world), they may not be worth as much to you as a program that offers a hotel on seemingly every street corner — even if the return you’ll get per point isn’t the most impressive.

Additional benefits

The ongoing benefits provided by card are most important. Many of these cards come with annual free nights, these awards by themselves can justify paying the annual fee. I hold several hotel cards that come with annual free night certificates and consider the annual fee a prepayment of an extremely discounted night.

It’s worth stating that certain benefits which require extremely high spending are given less weight or not considered at all. For example, the Hilton Surpass card earns a free weekend night after you spend $15,000 in a calendar year, which isn’t an impossible requirement if this is the only card you use, but it’s not a gimme. The Surpass also earn Diamond status if you spend $40,000 in a calendar year. Diamond status is great, but it’s not worth spending that much on the card when you can get it automatically with the Hilton Aspire.

Who should get a hotel credit card?

If you’re a frequent traveler who’s loyal to a particular hotel chain, it’s a good idea to hold a hotel credit card.

If, for example, you prefer Hilton hotels over other chains and want elite status, consider one of the top Hilton cards, like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Hotel card members will benefit from the chain’s perks including free hotel stays, free Wi-Fi and promotions from the hotel and resort perks. 

But if you visit multiple hotel chains and resorts you may benefit more from a standard credit card or travel card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to make the most perks from other businesses without staying loyal to one hotel chain. Some travel cards have transferable points that can be used on flights, hotels and experiences that give you more flexibility without being loyal to one hotel chain.

Value vs. usefulness

When it comes to earning credit card rewards there is a balance between how valuable and how useful your points are. For example, Hyatt points are easily the most value hotel points you can earn. Top-tier Hyatt hotels only cost 30,000 points per night (40,000 points for some Small Luxury Hotels), which is one third what other chain’s best hotels cost. But the catch is that Hyatt has a much much smaller footprint than Marriott, Hilton and others (1,100+ locations vs. 5,000+). So you have fewer options for using Hyatt points and you’ll find that many destinations don’t have a single Hyatt hotel.

The best way to handle this issue is to decide where you want to visit and to know what type of travel you prefer before you apply for a card. If you know where you want to vacation next it will be easy to research your options for booking accommodations with points. Your preferred travel style will also help narrow your choices. If you’re looking to treat yourself to a luxury hotel stay, then you’re better off applying for the Hilton Aspire or World of Hyatt cards.

Hotel loyalist vs. free agent

If you place a high value on hotel elite status, then you’ll want to get a cobranded card for that hotel chain. Having elite status can multiply the value of your hotel points. I used to have Hyatt Globalist status, which has the most generous free breakfast benefit of any top-tier hotel elite status and you can even share your perks with friends and family through Hyatt’s guest of honor benefit. But now that I’ve dropped down to Hyatt Explorist (no free breakfast) I’m more likely to stay with Hilton, as even Hilton’s mid-tier Gold status entitles you to free breakfast.

If you don’t travel enough to earn hotel elite status or you just don’t care about it, then there are other opportunities you can take advantage of.

Popular hotel programs

Marriott

Marriott is the world’s largest hotel chain in terms of rooms. There are 32 Marriott hotel brands in over 7,000 locations, meaning there’s probably a hotel nearby, no matter where your wanderlust takes you. It is one of the most accessible hotel chains in existence, meaning Marriott points are a good option for any kind of traveler.

Hilton

Hilton is another ubiquitous hotel chain, with more than, 5,600 hotels spread across 100+ countries. While Hilton certainly has its share of five-star properties, you can find Hilton in more remote locations than even Marriott. It’s a great option for road warriors. There are currently 15 Hilton hotel brands.

Hyatt

Hyatt has by far the smallest footprint among major hotel chains. While you can redeem your points at 1,000+ hotels worldwide at 15 different brands, Hyatt is more focused on major cities and tourist destinations. If you’re planning to visit your grandmother in rural Kansas for Thanksgiving, don’t expect to redeem your Hyatt points for a free night.

However, Hyatt does have the most consistency among hotel brands. If you reserved a room at Hyatt, even if it’s the cheapest option, you can pretty well guarantee it’s going to be clean and comfortable. Horror stories don’t happen at Hyatt.

IHG

IHG caters almost exclusively to the functional traveler. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but it’s severely lacking in luxury accommodation options (though it did recently absorb Six Senses Hotels & Resorts!). If you’re looking for a place to rest your head and little else, IHG points will be very valuable to you. It’s got 5,500+ hotels, after all. IHG also has 17 hotel brands.

Frequently asked questions about hotel credit cards

What cards can get you free hotel stays?

If a hotel credit card earns points, you’ve got the potential to earn free nights. Once you’ve accrued a certain amount of points (dependent on the quality of the hotel), you’ll be able to stay there for free. Plus, certain hotel credit cards also come with one free night annually, meaning each time you renew your card, you’ll get a certificate for a free night — often worth between 35,000 and 120,000 points. That’s a big deal!

Do hotel points expire?

Hotel points do expire, but the validity depends on the program. Whenever you earn or redeem points, your expiration clock resets. Below is the window of time you have to earn or redeem before your points expire:

Can hotel points be used for flying?

Yes! Most hotel points transfer to airlines, so you can technically earn free flights by collecting hotel points. HOWEVER, only one hotel points currency is worth transferring — the rest have abysmal transfer ratios that are give you a bad value for you points.

Only consider transferring your hotel points to airlines if you collect Marriott points. You’ll receive a transfer ratio of 3:1 (3 Marriott points = 1 airline mile). And when you transfer in increments of 60,000, Marriott will deposit a bonus 5,000 miles into your airline account. In other words, 60,000 Marriott points equal 25,000 airline miles.

Let us know if you have any questions in the comments section below!

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.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card, please click here.

Featured image by Joseph Hostetler/Million Mile Secrets.

Meghan Hunter is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

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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