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Million Mile Secrets reader S commented:
If you could choose 1 hotel card for someone new to miles and points, which would it be? For travel mostly in the US? Thanks.
If you’re traveling domestically, you’ve got plenty of options for booking free or cheap stays at hotels. There are hotel programs that are good for pricier stays in bigger cities or resorts. Others are a better choice if you spend time in small towns or in rural areas.
Let’s look at which cards S should consider for travel within the US.
How to Decide on the Best Hotel Card for US Travel
There is no ONE best hotel card for US travel. Before you decide which hotel program to collect points in, consider:
- Do you travel to big cities, resort areas, or locations further off the beaten path?
- Can you stay in clean, comfortable hotels with fewer amenities? Or would you prefer to treat yourself to fancier stays and elite perks like free breakfast and room upgrades?
- Would you rather stretch your points for the most stays? Or are you happy with fewer nights in upscale hotels?
Some chains are focused on luxury brands or boutique hotels which cost lots of points per night. And there are credit cards that can get you free nights quickly at top-tier hotels which can otherwise cost hundreds of dollars!
1. Narrow Down Your Options
Start by looking where you want to go. If your travel plans include trips to big cities like New York or Chicago, you’ll find lots of hotel choices with pretty much any major chain.
But what if you’re saving up for a family reunion in Boise? Planning to visit your college student in Ithaca? Or hoping to spend spring break in Pensacola? Smaller cities often have fewer chain hotels.
2. Fewer Luxury Nights or More Budget Stays?
Some hotel cards, like the Fairmont Visa Signature Card, Chase Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card offer 2 nights at almost any of their hotels (Ritz-Carlton and Hilton have exceptions) as a sign-up bonus after meeting minimum spending requirements.
It makes sense to use these for more expensive hotels and resorts, because you’ll get the most value. But use your nights for the hotel stays that are important to you!
Other cards, like the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card or Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card, offer a set number of points as a sign-up bonus. So it’s up to you whether you use them for 1 or 2 fancy stays or spread them out for more nights in less upscale hotels.
3. Consider Flexible Points
If you want to keep your options open, cards that earn transferable points are your best bet.
For example, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio from cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Plus, and Chase Ink Bold (no longer offered) to Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton.
Remember, you can also redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points (as long as you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Ink Plus® Business Credit Card, or Chase Ink Bold) at a rate of 1.25 cents per point for paid hotel stays, including non-chain hotels.
Note: The Best Western partnership is ending on January 1, 2016.
Here are cards that earn American Express Membership Rewards points:
Cards that earn Citi ThankYou points like the Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Premier aren’t as good a choice for hotel transfer partners. That’s because you can only transfer points to Hilton at a 2:3 ratio.
However, folks with the Citi ThankYou Premier can use their Citi ThankYou points to book paid hotel stays at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. Again, this could be a good option for folks who prefer non-chain hotels.
Don’t forget the AMEX Starwood cards (Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express) Starwood has hotels (both high-end and budget) in many cities.
Starwood points are flexible because you can use them for Starwood hotel stays, or transfer them to 30+ airlines. And when you transfer 20,000 Starwood points to most airlines, you’ll earn a 5,000 airline mile bonus!
Keep in mind, Marriott will be buying Starwood hotels. So the AMEX Starwood cards might go away soon.
If you’re traveling in the US and want to use points for free or cheap hotel stays, you have lots of options!
There’s no 1 best hotel card. The best cards for you depend on where you’re travelling (big cities or small towns), how you like to travel (luxury, budget, or somewhere in between!), and whether or not you have firm travel plans.
My favorite cards earn transferable points, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Even if I don’t know where my next trip will take me, I know that I’ll have a choice of hotel chains to transfer my points to!
What’s your favorite hotel program for stays in the US?