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
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.
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 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|
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 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|
|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!
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 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|
|Hyatt||Hyatt Visa||Platinum||Middle||5 Stay/10 Night Credits||$40,000|
|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.
One of the strengths of hotel cards is the anniversary bonus – what do they do to keep you as a cardmember?
|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|
|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 $300 in travel benefits – for things like lounge passes, Global Entry, baggage fees, etc.
Finally, the Wyndham card. This is an increase for the new card offer to 15,000 points. That is actually good enough for a free night at any Wyndham after the new program goes into affect this Monday. So, while it is listed as 15,000 points, it is technically a free night.
Spending And Earning
Another area of interest in these cards is how much you can earn when spending on these cards. Each card issuer wants you to really use their card for all of their purchases so they try to incentivize you to do so with various earning bonuses based on categories.
Some of the cards offer very attractive earning ratios for a variety of purchases. This chart will break down the earning amounts and how much spending is required on daily spending for free nights.
|Hotel Name||Credit Card||Hotel Spend Bonus||Bonus Categories||$ 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.
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