How hotel credit cards work | October 2018 |
Best hotel credit cards

How hotel credit cards work

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Thinking about applying for a hotel credit card?

If you’re an avid traveler you should consider applying for a hotel credit card. Read our guide for everything you need to know — including a list of credit cards with the best introductory point bonuses, hotel perks, and spending rewards.

Through everyday and travel spending, you can earn rewards such as free hotel nights and upgraded hotel accommodations. To help you make the best choice, we’ve assembled a list of the best hotel credit cards on the market.

While reading through this guide, consider what kind of traveler you are (whether or not you are a frequent traveler, for instance) and what your spending habits look like. When you assess your needs and compare what each card has to offer, you’re sure to find a card that you love.

What are hotel credit cards?

Hotel credit cards allow you to book free nights in hotels around the world, and they often reward you with exclusive cardholder perks (loyalty program status upgrades, free in-room internet, late checkout, etc.) to enhance your travels. When looking for a hotel credit card, keep these criteria in mind to get the biggest bang for your buck:

  • Introductory point bonuses and your ability to meet the initial spending requirements.
  • Point rewards for different spending categories — and how they fit with your day-to-day spending.
  • Hotel add-ons that will make your hotel stays more enjoyable.
  • Annual and foreign transaction fees, and whether your card will produce enough value for you to justify paying those fees.

To find the right hotel credit card, consider what type of traveler you are

Different people have varying opinions about what the “best” hotel credit card is. There is no universally superior credit card you must apply for; rather, you should pick the card that best suits your travel style. For example:

  • Are you a frequent traveler who prefers to stay in one chain throughout all of your travels? Look for a card offered by that chain — since you’ll spend with it often, you’ll quickly accumulate reward points.
  • Do you want your card to offer extras beyond free hotel nights? Look for cards that offer extended perks like upgraded loyalty status, free in-room internet, late check-out, etc.
  • Do you have a consistent volume of day-to-day spending and want flexible points you can redeem for a variety of hotels? Look for a general travel card that offers generous points for everyday spending.
  • Will you be using your card overseas often? Consider a card that offers no foreign transaction fees.

After weighing the pros and cons of each card as well as your spending habits, you’ll be much better prepared to decide on a winner.

How much are points and miles worth?

A good rule of thumb is that a point or mile is worth approximately a cent; that means 10,000 points can generally be redeemed for about $100 of value. Points, however, can be worth more or less depending on what you can redeem them for. As you’ll see, points on some cards can be much more valuable than points on other cards.

If we look at the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, for example, 25,000 points carry a value of $200. Meanwhile, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card, 50,000 points can be redeemed for $625 worth of eligible travel purchases. That’s because the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card increases the value of your points by 25% when you redeem them through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Beyond looking at how far your points go, also consider how quickly you can accumulate points. Some cards give you multiples of points on certain categories of spending; others give you the same points on every purchase. Of course, choosing the right card will depend on your spending habits and travel preferences.

Finding the right card for you

To help you make the best decision, we’ve assembled a list of the most valuable hotel credit cards. Here are a few factors to consider before deciding on a card:

If you enjoy staying at the same hotel chain throughout your travels

If you find yourself staying at the same hotel chain often, you’ll want to strongly consider getting a card that offers perks for the chain. Hotel-specific cards offer very generous point accumulation for spending at the respective chains. You’ll rack up a large number of points as you stay with a specific hotel, resulting in a virtuous cycle that will consistently reward you with free nights. Here are a few hotel-specific cards you’ll want to consider:

  • Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (hotels including Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis, etc.)
  • Marriott Rewards® Premier credit card
  • The Hyatt Credit Card
  • Best Western Rewards® MasterCard®
  • Wyndham Rewards® Visa® Card
  • Choice Privileges® Visa Signature® Card (hotels including Comfort Suites, Quality Inn, EconoLodge, etc.)
  • Citi Hilton HHonorsTM Visa Signature Card
  • IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card (hotels including Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, etc.)

If you want exclusive perks along with your hotel rewards

All hotel credit cards will allow you to redeem points for free nights, but some cards are better than others for hotel perks. If hotel extras are important to you, consider these cards:

  • Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express:
    Offers free in-room internet when you stay at participating Starwood Preferred Guest hotels.
  • Best Western Rewards® MasterCard®:
    You’ll receive automatic Gold Elite Status (bonus points per stay, access to an exclusive reservations line). You’ll also receive a 10% discount when booking rooms.
  • Citi Hilton HHonorsTM Visa Signature Card:
    With the Hilton HHonors card, you’ll receive automatic Silver Status. This status tier gives you perks like 15% bonus reward points, free in-room internet access at select Hilton properties, and late check-out.
  • IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card:
    You’ll receive automatic Platinum Elite status as an IHG Rewards Club cardholder. This status tier offers you perks like free in-room internet, 50% bonus points, complimentary room upgrades, and priority check-in.

If you want point flexibility

You might not be sure if you want to stay at the same hotel chain all the time. If that’s the case, look for the cards that let you redeem points for a variety of travel needs. These cards include:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card:
    The Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card is one of the best hotel cards you’ll find anywhere. Not only do you have an opportunity to earn 50,000 introductory bonus points, but you also earn double points on dining and travel. That means you can use your card on vacation and rack up points as you spend. The card gets even better: Your points carry a 25% higher value when you redeem them for eligible travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, which means the points from the signup bonus can be worth $625. And if you’re part of a frequent travel program through select airlines and hotels, you can transfer your points at a 1-to-1 ratio. Overall, the Chase Sapphire is a flexible card that can cover all of your travel needs.
  • Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®:
    This is another great flexible-points option. The introductory points bonus is generous (an opportunity to earn 60,000 bonus miles worth $400). Furthermore, you get 2x miles on every purchase you make with the card and 5% miles back every time you redeem your points. This is one of the best cards you can have if you don’t travel much but have a high volume of everyday spending.
  • Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card:
    Rounding out our list of flexible-points cards is the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card. It offers an opportunity to earn 25,000 bonus points (worth $200), and it gives 1.5 points for every dollar you spend anywhere. Pound for pound it doesn’t offer as much as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card or Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard®, but it does come with no annual fee and a 0% intro APR for 12 statement closing dates.
  • Hotel credit card fees.
    Other key factors to consider while looking for a hotel credit card are annual fees and foreign transaction fees.

Annual fees

While assessing the potential value of your hotel credit card, consider the card’s annual fee. Some cards, like the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, come with no annual fees. Others come with introductory annual fees of $0 p.a. for the first year and annual fees thereafter. Some cards have annual fees you’ll need to start paying immediately. To see if an annual fee makes sense for you, weigh each card’s perks and consider the spending requirements for each card. Consider these examples of cards with annual fees:

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card offers an introductory promotion of 50,000 bonus points that are worth $625 toward travel. Monetarily speaking, for many cardholders that more than makes up for the $95 p.a. annual fee you’ll pay starting the second year. However, you’ll need to spend $4,000 in the first three months of opening your card to acquire those bonus points. Consider whether this amount falls within your normal spending habits, so you’re not spending far more than usual just to earn points.
  • The Marriott Rewards® Premier credit card card comes with an $85 annual fee. However, you’ll receive one free night every year at a Category 1-5 Marriott hotel. For many cardholders, that’s enough to make the annual fee worth paying.

Foreign transaction fees

When comparing hotel credit cards, you’ll also want to consider foreign transaction fees. If you plan on using your card abroad, foreign transaction fees can add extra expenses that take away from the overall value of your card. Many hotel credit cards come with no foreign transaction fees; however, others require fees for international transactions. Typically, foreign transaction fees will be around 3% of the transaction amount in U.S. dollars.

Pros and cons

It’s a good idea to weigh the positives and negatives of hotel credit cards before applying for one. Here is a list of pros and cons of hotel credit cards:


  • High point accumulation for chain-specific hotels – If you find yourself staying at the same hotel chain often, consider getting a card for it — you’ll gain a tremendous amount of points whenever you stay at the chain.
  • Great if you want your hotel rooms paid for when you travel – There’s an attractive hotel credit card for every avid traveler. Whether you want general-use points you can spend for various hotels or chain-specific points that accumulate quickly, there will be a card that accommodates your travel style.
  • Exclusive hotel perks – Some cards give you attractive perks like automatic status upgrades for loyalty programs, free in-room internet, and late check-out.


  • May not be worth it if you don’t travel often – Hotel credit cards are optimal for those who travel often, especially because many of them offer bonus points for spending on travel-related expenses. If you don’t travel much, you may want to pass on a hotel credit card; there are better credit cards out there that will complement your lifestyle.
  • Choosing a chain-specific card may leave you feeling restricted – A chain-specific card offers generous points when you spend with the specified hotel. However, you may feel you’re leaving many points on the table if you stay with other hotels.
  • Some cards come with foreign transaction fees – If you travel abroad often, be wary of some cards with foreign transaction fees.
  • Some cards come with annual fees – An annual fee can slightly decrease the overall value of your card, so be sure to consider its impact.

Information you need to apply for a hotel credit card

To apply for a hotel credit card, you’ll need to provide different information depending on which provider you’re applying with. Generally, however, you should have the following information ready:

  • Driver’s license and Social Security number.
  • Personal details. Have personal details ready (your residential address, phone number, email address, etc.) for your application.
  • Financial details. You will also need to provide details like employment information and total annual income.

Since hotel credit cards come with expansive rewards, it is recommended that you apply with good or excellent credit.

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