Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
INSIDER SECRET: While it may sound counterintuitive, a co-branded hotel credit card may not be your best bet when it comes to getting free stays.
There are two principal 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 5-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 be sure you open the one that will best fulfill your travel dreams.
Looking for the Best Hotel Credit Card? We’ve Got Answers
To have a cheap (or free) hotel stay, be willing to look past “hotel” credit cards. Some of the best options are flexible rewards cards for general travel, which you can redeem for other things like airlines and car rentals, too. Essentially, just because your favorite hotel chain is Hyatt doesn’t mean the Hyatt card is your best bet.
Here are the best credit cards you can get for free hotel stays right now.
Best Hotel Credit Cards
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card (our #1 card for easiest to redeem rewards)
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (good for stays at hotels without a loyalty program)
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (top premium card for Marriott stays)
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express (best premium card for hotel elite status)
- Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card (good for big spenders)
- The World Of Hyatt Credit Card (great for value and comfort)
Here’s a quick breakdown of each card’s bonus offer, best perk, and annual fee.
|Intro Bonus Offer||Best Perk||Annual Fee|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening||Unlimited 2X miles on all purchases||$95, waived the first year|
|Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®||70,000 miles (worth $700) after spending $5,000 within the first 90 days of opening your account||Unlimited 2X miles on all eligible purchases||$89, waived the first year|
|Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card||Earn 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. Terms Apply.||Up to $300 annual statement credit for eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, including room rates! Terms Apply.||$450 (see rates and fees)|
|Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express||150,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Terms Apply.||Up 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 Ascend Card||125,000 Hilton points after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Terms Apply.||Complimentary Hilton Gold status and one weekend night after spending $15,000 on purchases each calendar year. Terms Apply.||$95 (see rates and fees)|
|The World of Hyatt Credit Card||Up to 50,000 Hyatt points after meeting tiered minimum spending requirements. ||One free night each anniversary year at a category 1 to 4 Hyatt hotel or resort.||$95|
1. Capital One Venture Card
Apply Here: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Read our review of the Capital One Venture
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 one 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 just be the simplest card for getting any free travel, let alone hotel nights.
When you spend with this card, you’ll earn 2 Venture miles per $1 you spend on all purchases. That’s effectively 2% back. You’ll also earn 10 Venture miles per $1 you spend on hotel stays booked and paid for through this 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.
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 visit to South Africa, I stayed at an amazing hotel called The Residence Johannesburg. 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 night and erase the purchase with your Venture miles later!
With the Capital One Venture, there are also plenty of perks.
Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are 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. This helps a PreCheck security line to progress much faster.
Some cards charge fees for swiping outside of the US. This card has NO foreign transaction fees.
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.
2. Barclaycard Arrival Plus
Read our review of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus
With the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, you’ll earn a welcome bonus of 70,000 Arrival miles (worth $700 in travel statement credits) after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of opening your account.
Meeting the spending requirement of $5,000 will earn you an additional 10,000 Arrival miles (2 Arrival miles per $1). So you’d earn a grand total of 80,000 Arrival miles. That’s worth $800 in travel!
You’ll earn 2X Arrival miles per $1 on ALL purchases and can redeem Arrival miles for eligible travel purchases of $100+ made in the past 120 days. When you redeem for travel, that’s like getting 2% back.
There’s no keeping track of bonus categories or caps, which is great for anyone looking for simplicity.
Using your miles is just as easy as earning them. You can redeem Arrival miles for eligible travel purchases of $100 or more made with your Barclaycard Arrival Plus card in the past 120 days.
Every time you redeem miles for travel, you’ll get a 5% rebate. This effectively increases that 2% return to a 2.1% return on all your purchases when you redeem for travel. And it makes is a wonderful option for anyone looking to book stays at hotels that aren’t a part of any loyalty program.
I have this card and over the last year have used my Arrival miles for boutique hotels and Airbnb stays. It’s saved me and my family hundreds of dollars!
3. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex
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.
You’ll also get:
- 6 Marriott points per $1 at Marriott hotels
- 3 Marriott points per $1 at US restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines
- 2 Marriott points per $1 on everything else
The welcome offer isn’t the only reason to get the card. Cardholders also have access to a whole host of other perks that can save you money and make your travel easier, like up to $300 annual statement credit to use each cardmembership 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.
The card comes with a $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees), but the card’s money-saving benefits that can more than offset the annual fee. Meghan 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 up to $300 in annual statement credit. 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
4. Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Apply Here: Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
Read our review of the Hilton Aspire
I know annual fees can be scary, but what’s even scarier is losing money because you neglected to crunch a few numbers.
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.
This card also 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 the London Hilton on Park Lane, which costs $450+ per night!
The weekend nights alone can easily make it worth paying the annual fee.
The card also comes with:
- 14 Hilton points per $1 spent at a Hilton hotel or resort (highest earning rate of any Hilton card!)
- 7 Hilton points per $1 of eligible purchases at US restaurants, flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, and car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies
- 3 Hilton points for all other eligible purchases on your card
If you like staying with Hilton, this card is truly a no-brainer. You’ll get automatic Hilton Diamond status, which is insane because usually 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 also 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 – $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 DO 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 & fees do NOT qualify) for every stay of two or more nights at a Waldorf Astoria or Conrad hotel. But you’ll need to book through the AMEX Hilton Aspire card website to verify you’re eligible for the credit.
You’ll even get unlimited free Priority Pass lounge visits as long as you hold the card. And it charges NO foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees).
As you can see, Hilton is showering AMEX Hilton Aspire cardmembers with credits, bonuses, and benefits. If you frequently stay at Hilton hotels, this is an excellent card for you!
5. Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card
Apply Here: Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card
Read our review of the Hilton Ascend
If you’re a Hilton fan, you need to take the AMEX Hilton Ascend 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.
That’s a lot of points, although they aren’t as valuable as many other hotel points because top-end Hilton hotels can cost 95,000 points per night.
You can definitely find ways to get a lot of free travel with Hilton 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 upwards 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).
The card also comes with:
- 12 Hilton points per $1 spent at a Hilton hotel or resort
- 6 Hilton points per $1 of eligible purchases at US restaurants, US supermarkets, and US gas stations
- 3 Hilton points for all other eligible purchases on your card
You’ll receive complimentary Hilton Gold status, which comes with bonus points for hotel stays, room upgrades when available, free breakfast and lots more. And 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. That alone can easily make it worth paying the annual fee. You could use it at a super-fancy hotel, like the London Hilton on Park Lane, which costs $450 per night!
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 breakfast you’ll receive can revolutionize your hotel experience.
Another unique feature of the card is that you’ll get 10 free airport lounge visits each year once enrolled in complimentary Priority Pass Select membership.
But just remember, if Hilton doesn’t make a frequent appearance within your travel goals, this is NOT a good card for you. Hilton hotels include:
- Embassy Suites
- Hampton Inn
- Hilton Garden Inn
- Hilton Grand Vacations
- Home2 Suites
- Homewood Suites
- Waldorf Astoria
Don’t forget to check out our full Hilton Honors review.
6. The World of Hyatt Credit Card
Apply Here: The World of Hyatt Credit Card
Read our review of the Hyatt Credit Card
Hyatt is a Million Mile Secrets favorite. They have great hotels with a balance of value and comfort.
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 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 5-star Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, for 30,000 Hyatt points per night. Rooms at that hotel can go for $900+ per night.
You’ll also earn:
- 9 Hyatt points per $1 spent at Hyatt – four bonus points per $1 when you use your card at Hyatt hotels and five base points per $1 you can earn as a World of Hyatt member
- 2 Hyatt points per $1 on restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airlines, on local transit and commuting and on fitness club and gym memberships
- 1 Hyatt point per $1 on everything else
This card has a $95 annual fee, which is not waived the first year. But you’ll receive one free night each anniversary year at a category 1 to 4 Hyatt hotel or resort that can easily offset the annual fee! Million Mile Secrets team member Scott has held onto his Hyatt card for years because of this annual free night.
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.
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.
That said, there are some quirks and exceptions at certain hotels where you’ll inexplicably have difficulty finding available rooms (sod off, 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” solar eclipse. The hotel was packed, and rooms were selling for $500+ per night. But 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).
Or, because this is a Category 3 hotel, he could have used the annual free night that comes with The World of Hyatt Credit Card. That would have offset the annual fee many times over!
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 check-out upon request 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 also has no foreign transaction fees.
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.
Hyatt hotels include:
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 or Barclaycard Arrival Plus card. With either of those cards, it’s easy 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 in statement credits at participating hotels. The $300 in Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant AMEX credits Meghan gets with her Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant AMEX is one of her favorite hotel credit card perks because it’s so easy to use!
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 Ascend Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, click here.
For the rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, please click here.
For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.