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Author: Barry Bridges
Your guide to choosing the best hotel credit card
Hotel credit cards can help you make the most of your travel experience, especially if you tend to stay at the same brand of hotels wherever you travel. Additionally, there are some general travel cards that are also excellent for frequent travelers due to their partnerships with certain brands. Which is best for you? Read through our guide to help you decide.
In this article:
Recap: The best hotel credit cards for 2019
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
||Flexible hotel bookings
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
||Flexible hotel bookings with no annual fee
|Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card
||Rewards for Hilton loyalists
|Hilton Honors American Express Card
||Hilton card with no annual fee
|The Platinum Card® from American Express
||Premium cardholder benefits
|The Business Platinum® Card from American Express
||Flexible business travelers
|Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card
How we score the best hotel cards of 2019
Our team includes avid travelers and so, as users as well as commentators, we take reviewing the best hotel rewards card very seriously. We want to help you find the card that will help fund your next girls trip, guys trip, family vacation, celebration, and everything in between!
Ultimately, the best hotel rewards card is one that accommodates your personal travel needs. There’s not much reason to accrue Hilton Honors points if you frequently find yourself in Starwood-Marriott locations. With loyalty in mind, we laid out the facts and used our proprietary Bankrate score to cut through the noise and calculate the true value behind each hotel rewards program along with additive value each card brings to the table. Our 5-star scoring system takes a host of elements into account, but for hotel credit cards, we’ve emphasized weighting on:
- Rewards value and redemption flexibility: Some cards offer the capability to transfer hotel points to different chains while other cards have their rewards tied to specific loyalty programs, To help you earn the most rewards possible, at the highest redemption value, we comb through the numbers to rank each card on the value that each swipe brings.
- Annual fee: A lot of high-end hotel rewards cards charge fees, but offset this cost with luxury benefits like free room upgrades and trip insurance. We examine how each of these add-ons as we determine whether the annual fee is worth the cost.
- Welcome bonus: Welcome bonuses are some of the strongest options for acquiring hotel points. Within three months, you can hit the spending requirement, and quickly amass enough points to redeem for a free night. We compare each of these welcome bonuses as we determine which cards deliver the strongest offerings on the market.
How to choose the best hotel credit card
There are essentially two types of hotel credit cards: co-branded hotel cards that partner an issuer with a popular hotel brand, and general travel cards that offer hotel-related perks. Choosing the right card for you comes down to how much flexibility you need from your rewards.
For example, the Capital One Venture earns 2x miles on every purchase, plus 10x miles on prepaid bookings made through Capital One’s partnership with hotels.com. Those miles can be used as a statement credit for just about any travel expense. The card also comes with nice perks like a statement credit (up to $100) for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. While the card definitely offers more value for those who tend to stay in hotels when they travel, you don’t have to be loyal to a specific brand to reap benefits.
While you’ll have a lot of flexibility with your redemption options, you won’t rack up as many points or have access to brand-specific perks.
A card like the Hilton Honors Amex, on the other hand, offers 7x points on eligible purchases directly from Hilton, plus bonus points in other categories. Cardholders receive automatic Silver status, plus an upgrade to Gold status through the next calendar year after you spend $20,000 on eligible purchases with your card in a calendar year. Elite status offers bonus points on every stay, late check-out, 5th reward night free (when booking a rewards stay for five consecutive nights or more using points), elite tier rollover nights and more.
Opposite of the Venture, your best value will be redeeming for Hilton award night stays, but you’ll also get some nice Hilton-specific perks.
If you are a beginner traveler or someone who doesn’t always stay in the same hotel brand when you travel, you’ll probably find more value in a general travel card that offers a lot of redemption flexibility. However, those who frequently stay with the same brand might get more out of a co-branded card that offers elite status and additional hotel stay perks.
Questions to ask yourself before applying for a hotel card:
- How often do you stay at hotels?
- Which hotel chain(s) do you prefer?
- Which hotel chain has the most locations in the destinations that you most often travel to?
- What are your travel goals?
- What other rewards credit cards do you already have?
The answer to these questions will help you find the right hotel credit card for you. The perfect hotel card will give you benefits you actually use, upgrade your travel experience during every trip and complement the benefits that you get from other credit cards.
Is a co-branded hotel card worth it?
There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to co-branded hotel credit cards. Whether or not one is the right choice for you really depends on your hotel booking habits.
- Welcome bonuses. Hotel cards regularly offer high welcome bonuses for those who hit qualifying spends. These bonus points are often worth multiple free nights at a hotel, depending on where you’re staying.
- High rewards rates. A co-branded card will most likely offer a higher-than-average rewards rate compared to a general credit card. Most of the time, they’ll offer anywhere from 5x points to 15x points on brand-specific purchases.
- Perks you won’t find anywhere else. Late check-in, complimentary breakfast, and room upgrades are pretty standard across co-branded hotel credit cards. Hotel cards also offer expedited pathways to elite status, which can come with even more specialty perks.
- Rewards increase with spending. Hotels with loyalty program tiers reward customers with greater benefits for greater spending.
- Convenience. A hotel credit card offers a convenient way to book your hotel stays and earn hotel-specific rewards all at the same time.
- Complicated rewards structures. To get the most from your card, you will have to be a member of hotel loyalty programs. Plus, the award price for free nights varies greatly depending on a variety of factors, including time of year and award availability.
- Devalued points. It’s easier to rack up a lot of points with co-branded hotel cards, but those points are not worth as much as general travel card points/miles.
- Limited redemption options. You’re only getting real value from your hotel points when you redeem them for award night stays. Although you can usually transfer hotel rewards points to partnering airlines for discounts on flights, points lose their value dramatically when used that way.
- Annual fees & high APR. Whether you opt for a co-branded hotel card or a general travel rewards card, you’ll most likely have to pay an annual fee of $95 or more. Make sure you don’t carry a balance either, as APRs are typically on the higher side.
Co-branded hotel cards vs general travel cards
General travel cards generally come with a less lucrative rewards structure, but often come with more broad perks and better redemption values. For example, while you’ll only earn 2x miles for most purchases with the Capital One Venture, those miles are worth 1.4 cents a piece verses the .6 cents a Hilton Honors point is worth (according to expert valuations). Plus, you can use those miles on flights, hotels and more without worrying about varying redemption values.
If you travel frequently and prefer a certain hotel, opt for their co-branded card. If you’d rather keep a flexible rewards program rolling, go for the general travel card. Pairing a general card and a co-branded card is also an option for those who want the best of both worlds. The Hilton Honors Amex card doesn’t come with an annual fee, which makes it a great card to pair with the Capital One Venture or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Do hotel points expire?
Hotel rewards points don’t usually expire if your account is open, active and in good standing. However, exact terms and conditions can vary from loyalty program to program. Here’s a chart of the most popular hotel loyalty programs and their expiration policies:
|Hotel Rewards Program
||Rewards Expiration Policy
||Rewards expire after 12 months of no qualifying activity.
|IHG Rewards Club
||Rewards expire after 12 months of no qualifying activity
|World of Hyatt
||Rewards expire after 24 months of no qualifying activity
||Rewards expire after 24 months of no qualifying activity
||Rewards expire after 18 months of no qualifying activity, and after 48 months regardless of activity
Keep in mind that “qualifying activity” is pretty broad. While the exact terms vary from program to program, usually any sort of account activity will keep your account active — including earning points, redeeming points and transferring points.
How to maximize hotel rewards points
Hotel credit cards are only worth it when you take full advantage of the hotel rewards programs and associated perks that come with earning hotel rewards. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your card and the points you’ll earn:
- Make sure you’re a member of the associated hotel rewards program. They’re free to sign up for and will provide you with extra resources on how to get the most out of your booking. As a loyalty member and co-branded cardholder, you’ll earn points in two ways for every stay.
- Pair multiple credit cards. Your new hotel credit card will give you big point totals for hotel purchases, but not necessarily on everything else. Hotel cards are excellent complementary cards—use them in addition to cash back cards and other travel cards with higher rewards rates on spending in other categories.
- Book directly through the hotel or issuer’s shopping portal. You usually glean extra value by booking your room through the hotel’s website or an issuer’s shopping portal, like Chase Ultimate Rewards. Booking through third-party sites may not qualify for the expected rewards rate.
- Use your rewards. While it can be tempting to hoard points for a huge payout, it’s actually much smarter to redeem more frequently. Award night pricing changes often, especially for hotels that have dynamic pricing. When a deal comes your way, take advantage of it!
Barry Bridges is a senior editor for Bankrate. Before he started writing about personal finance, he was an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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