The Battle Of Hotel Credit Cards - The Informative Guide - Running with Miles
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The Battle Of Hotel Credit Cards – The Informative Guide

Hotel Credit Cards
Written by Charlie

Advertiser Disclosure

Airline credit cards are pretty straightforward – they give you miles that (for the most part) equate to 1 or 2 free domestic tickets. Hotel credit cards are not so cut-n-dried and that is due, in large part, to the loyalty programs they are tied to. Each hotel credit card offers various perks and bonuses, in addition to points, within the hotel chain and it can get quite confusing to see which is the best for your purposes!

Of course, the easiest thing to do is to say “get all of them!” But, while getting the bonuses may be helpful, a continued plan for collecting and using hotel points may require that you focus on a particular chain. This guide should help to narrow down the choices for you.

The Battle of Hotel Credit Cards

Hotel Credit Cards

In this guide, we will look at the premium version of every hotel card (there are some cards, like the Club Carlson cards, that offer lower-tiered cards) to see what they offer and how they stack up against each other.

I will highlight different option cards for Hilton since there are several ones available. Each Hilton card is considered the highest card in that particular product so deserves its own breakdown.

Sign-up Bonus

The first thing that many of us look at when we talk credit cards is what is the sign-up bonus for that card? That is the part that draws us to the card so it is natural for us to look at this part first.

Hotel Credit Cards - Sign-Up Bonus
Hotel Name Credit Card Sign-up Bonus Required Spending
Choice Hotels Choice Hotels Visa Signature Up to 32,000 Points First Purchase + 1 Night at a Choice Hotel
Club Carlson Club Carlson Premier Up to 85,000 Points First Purchase + $2,500 in 90 Days
Fairmont Fairmont Visa Signature 2 Free Nights $3,000 in 3 Months
Hilton Hilton Reserve 2 Free Weekend Nights $2,500 in 4 Months
Hilton  Hilton Surpass 60,000 Points $3,000 in 3 Months
Hilton Hilton Visa 60,000 Points $1,000 in 4 Months
Hilton Hilton Amex 40,000 Points $750 in 3 Months
Hyatt Hyatt Visa 2 Free Nights $1,000 in 3 Months
IHG IHG Visa 70,000 Points $1,000 in 3 Months
Marriott Marriott Premier 70,000 Points $2,000 in 3 Months
Ritz-Carlton Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card 2 Free Nights $3,000 in 3 Months
SPG Starwood Preferred Guest Card Up to 25,000 Points First Purchase + $5,000 in 6 Months
Wyndham Wyndham Rewards Signature Up to 45,000 Points First Purchase + $1,000 in 90 Days

Annual Fee

Another thing that many travelers wonder about is the annual fee on the cards. Most of the hotel cards do a great job of offering incentives to keep you as a customer year after year and to help minimize the annual fee. Other sections will cover those incentives but this section looks only at the annual fees and whether they are waived the first year.

Hotel Credit Cards - Annual Fees
Hotel Name Credit Card Annual Fee Waived First Year
Choice Hotels Choice Hotels Visa Signature $0 N/A
Club Carlson Club Carlson Premier $75 NO
Fairmont Fairmont Visa Signature $95 NO
Hilton Hilton Reserve $95 NO
Hilton  Hilton Surpass $75 NO
Hilton Hilton Visa $0 N/A
Hilton Hilton Amex $0 N/A
Hyatt Hyatt Visa $75 YES
IHG IHG Visa $49 YES
Marriott Marriott Premier $85 YES
Ritz-Carlton Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card $395 NO
SPG Starwood Preferred Guest Card $65 YES
Wyndham Wyndham Rewards Signature $69 NO

As you can see, it is not very common for the higher-end hotel cards to waive the annual fee. On the lighter end, you have the fee-free Hilton cards from Citi and Amex and then you have the ultra-high end fee of the Ritz-Carlton card – $395!

Elite Status

Hotel Credit Cards

Elite status can give you extra perks and the credit cards can give you that status

Instead of making you earn hotel status the old-fashioned way (like, actually staying in hotels!), most co-branded hotel credit cards actually give their cardholders elite status – for free! In addition, some cards allow you to reach a higher elite status by spending a certain amount in a year (on the credit card).

In some cases, the cards will not give you an elite status, or a higher elite status, but will allow you to earn night credits towards that higher status level. In the table below, I am giving the maximum amounts so there may be tiered spending for separate night/stay credits but the amount shown is the maximum available.

Hotel Credit Cards - Elite Status
Hotel Name Credit Card Elite Status  Tier Status By Spending Amount To Spend
Choice Hotels Choice Hotels Visa Signature Gold Only No N/A
Club Carlson Club Carlson Premier Gold Middle No N/A
Fairmont Fairmont Visa Signature Premier Middle 2 Night Credits $15,000
Hilton Hilton Reserve Gold Middle Diamond $40,000
Hilton  Hilton Surpass Gold Middle Diamond $40,000
Hilton Hilton Visa Silver Lowest No N/A
Hilton Hilton Amex Silver Lowest No N/A
Hyatt Hyatt Visa Platinum Middle 5 Stay/10 Night Credits $40,000
IHG IHG Visa Platinum Highest* N/A N/A
Marriott Marriott Premier Silver* Lowest Night Credits $3,000 per credit
Ritz-Carlton Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card Gold* Middle Platinum $75,000
SPG Starwood Preferred Guest Card 2 Stay/5 Nights N/A Gold $30,000
Wyndham Wyndham Rewards Signature No N/A No N/A

There are a few points that I want to mention. First is the * at the IHG card. Platinum is currently the highest status that can be earned by staying but that will change in July. IHG is introducing a new status that will require spending at IHG properties ($7,500 per year) or actual stays. So, for now, IHG Platinum (which the card gives you) is the highest.

Another point I want to bring out is the way Marriott handles it. Most cards give the elite status as an outright status level and not any nights or stay credits. That means that you are not automatically at 25 nights in a year because you have status by way of a card. Except that is not the case with the Marriott card. It gives you 15 credits per year for being a cardholder. Silver status only requires 10 so you will automatically be at Silver and be 15 nights closer to the 50 nights required for Gold. The $3,000 per night credit is not capped so you could spend as much on your card as you want to get higher.

Yet another point to mention is the status offered by the Ritz-Carlton card. It is only for the first year. If you want to keep the status, you will need to spend $10,000 each year to maintain Gold.

Finally, the SPG also gives nights and stay credit instead of status. The difference is that what you get with the card does not give you status. It does get you closer, especially since you get those credits with both the personal and business cards.

Anniversary Bonus

Hotel Credit Cards

Many hotel credit cards give you a bonus each year on the card anniversary

One of the strengths of hotel cards is the anniversary bonus – what do they do to keep you as a cardmember?

Hotel Credit Cards - Anniversary Bonus
Hotel Name Credit Card Anniversary Bonus Spending Required
Choice Hotels Choice Hotels Visa Signature No N/A
Club Carlson Club Carlson Premier 40,000 Points No
Free Night (USA) $10,000
Fairmont Fairmont Visa Signature 1 Free Night $12,000
Hilton Hilton Reserve 1 Free Weekend Night $10,000
Hilton  Hilton Surpass No N/A
Hilton Hilton Visa No N/A
Hilton Hilton Amex No N/A
Hyatt Hyatt Visa 1 Free Night Cat. 1-4 No
IHG IHG Visa 1 Free Night No
Marriott Marriott Premier 1 Free Night Cat.1-5
Ritz-Carlton Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card No* N/A
SPG Starwood Preferred Guest Card No N/A
Wyndham Wyndham Rewards Signature 15,000 Points No

Everything above is pretty straightforward except for a couple of the cards.

The first one of mention is the double line for the Club Carlson Premier card. That card has come standard with an anniversary bonus of 40,000 points and is just this year offering the new free night bonus (with the required spending) as an offset of sorts to losing the last night free on award stays.

Another thing to mention is the Marriott free night. It is only good for 6 months from issuance but can typically be extended by calling in. Do not count on that, however. With the other nights, they are good for one year from the time they were issued.

Yet another card to mention is the Ritz-Carlton card. To me, it is somewhat ridiculous that they are not giving you a free night for the $395 annual fee, but they do attempt to offset that with other perks. One of them is a 10% annual rebate on points earned by spending on the card. Another is an annual $300 in travel benefits – for things like lounge passes, Global Entry, baggage fees, etc.

Finally, the Wyndham card. This is an increase for the new card offer to 15,000 points. That is actually good enough for a free night at any Wyndham after the new program goes into affect this Monday. So, while it is listed as 15,000 points, it is technically a free night.

Spending And Earning

Another area of interest in these cards is how much you can earn when spending on these cards. Each card issuer wants you to really use their card for all of their purchases so they try to incentivize you to do so with various earning bonuses based on categories.

Some of the cards offer very attractive earning ratios for a variety of purchases. This chart will break down the earning amounts and how much spending is required on daily spending for free nights.

Hotel Credit Cards - Spending and Earning
Hotel Name Credit Card Hotel Spend Bonus Bonus Categories $ Required For Cat. 1 $ Required For Top Category
Choice Hotels Choice Hotels Visa Signature 15 Points 5 Points On Choice Purchases $4,000 $4,000
Club Carlson Club Carlson Premier 10 Points N/A $1,800 $14,000
Fairmont Fairmont Visa Signature 5 Points 2 Points Airline, Car Rental, Transit $25,000 $65,000
Hilton Hilton Reserve 10 Points 5 Points Airline and Car $1,666 $31,666
Hilton  Hilton Surpass 12 Points 6 Points Restaurants,Supermarkets,Gas Stations $1,666 $31,666
Hilton Hilton Visa 6 Points 3 Points Supermarkets, Drugstores, Gas Stations $2,500 $47,500
Hilton Hilton Amex 7 Points 5 Points Restaurants, Supermarkets,Gas Stations $1,666 $31,666
Hyatt Hyatt Visa 3 Points 2 Points Airline, Restaurants, Car Rental $5,000 $30,000
IHG IHG Visa 5 Points 2 Points Gas Stations, Grocery Stores, Restaurants $5,000 $50,000
Marriott Marriott Premier 5 Points 2 Points Airline, Car Rental, Restaurants $7,500 $45,000
Ritz-Carlton Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card 5 Points 2 Points Airline, Car Rental, Restaurants $30,000 $70,000
SPG Starwood Preferred Guest Card 2 Points N/A $3,000 $35,000
Wyndham Wyndham Rewards Signature 5 Points N/A $7,500 $7,500

This table has the general numbers for redemptions. For many of the hotels, there are other elements that can come into play – 5th night free, peak vs non-peak pricing, cash and point mixtures, etc.

Also, the cards that have bonus categories for airlines and car rental purchases do require that you do the purchasing directly with the travel provider (so airline tickets directly from the airline). In addition, the super markets and groceries may only reward the points at US locations. Check each card’s details to see which ones offer that.


If you are interested in any of these cards, head over to my Hotel Credit Card page if you wish to apply for any of these cards.

You may have noticed that I didn’t say which card is best. That is because it is impossible to pick one particular card and announce it as the winner for everyone. The redemption needs for hotels are different for everyone. But, I did write this guide so that you can at least have an idea of what the hotel cards offer.

Editorial Note - Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links that will support this site. Thank you for your support.

About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


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