Hotels are a large travel expense that can be “paid for” with points and miles for many people. This is especially true for business travelers and those who take road trips. But not to worry! There are a plethora of cards out there that are fantastic for this common travel expense.

Cards are divided into two sections: co-branded cards and transferrable points cards. Both types are great options for earning points that can be redeemed for hotel purchases.

 

Co-Branded Cards

Most major hotel chains offer at least one co-branded credit card. Hotel cards come with incentives and perks to return to the card’s corresponding hotel chain.

Remember that not all points and miles are created or valued equally. Some are more difficult to earn than others. And some are more valuable than others. Hotel credit cards are nice because they can be used to earn a hotel’s points currency without worrying about transfer partners. This is especially true for points that are hard to earn.

Chase World of Hyatt Card

Sign-Up Bonus: 25,000 points after $3,000 spend in 3 months and 25,000 more points (for a total of 50,000 points) after $6,000 total spend within the first 6 months

Earning: 4x points on Hyatt Purchases; 2x points on Dining, Airline Tickets (purchased directly from the airline), Local Transit and Commuting, and Gym Memberships

Perks: Hyatt Discoverist Status, Free Night, Complimentary Room Upgrades (to best regular room available)

Annual Fee: $95 (NOT waived the first year)

The Chase World of Hyatt Card is one of my favorite hotel cards because it offers so much value for an affordable annual fee. It could be considered a “long-term keeper card” for many travelers because of the free night and Hyatt Discoverist Status.

The free night is nice because most Hyatt hotel rooms cost more than $95 per night. That means you can receive significant value if you use the night wisely. Furthermore, Discoverist Status offers a 10% bonus on Hyatt purchases, late checkout, and premium Wi-Fi. And that’s not to mention the room upgrades that really give Discoverist Status its value.

 

American Express Hilton Aspire Card

Sign-Up Bonus: 150,000 Hilton Honors (HH) points for $4,000 spend in 3 months

Earning: 14x points on Hilton Purchases; 7x points on Dining, Car Rentals (booked directly with the rental agency), and Airfare (booked directly with the airline); 3x points on Everything Else

Perks: Hilton Diamond Status, Complimentary Weekend Free Night, Free Night (after spending $60,000 on the card), $250 Annual Hilton Resort Credit, Secondary Car Rental Insurance, Global Entry / Pre-TSA Credit

Annual Fee: $450 (NOT waived the first year)

Despite its high annual fee, the Hilton Aspire card gives you the best that Hilton has to offer. It’s the only way to obtain Hilton Diamond Status without spending tens of thousands of dollars or staying months in hotels.

The value of Diamond Status lies in complimentary room upgrades (up to a suite), Executive Lounge access, and a 100% points bonus for Hilton purchases. A complimentary free night only adds to the card’s value, especially if it is spent in a suite. Other perks include a $250 annual resort credit, secondary car rental insurance, and the chance for a second free night.

 

American Express Hilton Surpass Card

Sign-Up Bonus: 125,000 Hilton Honors (HH) points for $2,000 spend in 3 months

Earning: 12x points on Hilton Purchases; 6x points on Dining, Gas, and Groceries; 3x points on Everything Else

Perks: Hilton Gold Status, Free Night (after spending $15,000 on the card), Secondary Car Rental Insurance, the chance to earn Hilton Diamond Status (after spending $40,000 on the card)

Annual Fee: $95 (NOT waived the first year)

The Hilton Surpass card offers some excellent perks for a modest annual fee, most notably Hilton Gold Status. The value of Hilton Gold lies in an 80% points bonus for Hilton purchases, complimentary breakfast, and complimentary room upgrades (up to an Executive level room). The additional value of a room upgrade for even one night is oftentimes more than $95. This makes the Hilton’s mid-tier option a potential “long-term keeper” card for some people.

The Surpass card itself also comes with the opportunity to earn Diamond Status. But I would not spend $40,000 on this card to get the higher status. I would upgrade the Ascend card to the Aspire while earning an upgrade bonus.

 

Chase IHG Premier Card

Sign-Up Bonus: 80,000 IHG points for $2,000 spend in 3 months

Earning: 10x points on IHG Purchases; 2x points on Gas, Groceries, and Dining

Perks: IHG Platinum Status, Free Night, Global Entry / Pre-TSA Credit, Fourth Night Free (if you use points to pay for the first three nights)

Annual Fee: $89 (NOT waived the first year)

Business travelers and budget travelers might find the IHG Premier card a wise investment. It will help travelers get Platinum Status, which offers a 50% points bonus on IHG purchases and complimentary room upgrades. Both of those perks will help travelers relax easier while saving money.

 

American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card

Sign-Up Bonus: 75,000 Marriott points for $3,000 spend in 3 months.

Earning: 6x points on Marriott purchases; 3x points on Dining and Airfare (booked directly with the airline); 2x points on Everything Else

Perks: Marriott Gold Status, $300 Annual Statement Credit, Free Night (Categories 1-6), Global Entry / Pre-TSA Credit, the chance to earn Marriott Platinum Status (after spending $75,000 on the card)

Annual Fee: $450 (NOT waived the first year)

Aside from the Marriott Bonvoy business card, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card is the best hotel card from Marriott. You will receive complimentary Gold Status, which offers late checkout, a 25% points bonus on Marriott purchases, and complimentary room upgrades. The latter perk is based on availability.

Despite the relative weakness of Gold Status, the Brilliant Card offers a $300 annual statement credit and a free night. These two perks should soundly justify the card’s $450 annual fee.

 

Transferrable Points Cards

Some people don’t want (or can’t get) a hotel card for various reasons, namely annual fees and being over 5/24. For those people, here are two alternatives to get you traveling:

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Sign-Up Bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards (UR) points for $4,000 spend in 3 months.

Earning: 3x UR points on Travel and Dining; one point on all other purchases

Perks: $300 Annual General Travel credit, Priority Pass Airport Lounges, Pre-TSA / Global Entry Fee Waiver, Primary Car Rental Insurance, Trip Cancellation / Interruption Insurance

Annual Fee: $450 (NOT waived the first year)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve earns valuable UR points, which can be transferred to hotels. Cardholders can transfer to either Hyatt, IHG, Marriott / Ritz-Carlton, or a plethora of airline partners.

Also, the Reserve offers a $300 general travel credit that can be used for hotel purchases. Chase partnered with SBE to offer additional benefits to Reserve cardholders. Those who love SBE hotels will be able to justify the Reserve’s annual fee by staying just one or two nights.

Citi Prestige

Sign-Up Bonus: 50,000 Thank You (TY) points for $4,000 spend in 3 months.

Earning: 5x points on Dining and Airfare; 3x points on Cruises and Hotels; one point on all other purchases

Perks: Fourth Night Free, $250 Annual General Travel credit, Priority Pass Airport Lounges, Pre-TSA / Global Entry Fee Waiver

Annual Fee: $495 (NOT waived the first year)

The Citi Prestige earns three points per dollar on hotel purchases. But it is best known for its Fourth Night Free benefit. Even though Citi has dropped several benefits, the Fourth Night Free perk can give you thousands in value when used at the right hotels. The limitation of this benefit is that it can only be used twice per calendar year.

Furthermore, Citi also gives you a $250 general travel credit each year. This credit can be redeemed for hotel purchases, helping to justify the Prestige’s high annual fee.

 

Final Draw

There are many ways that travelers can get free hotel stays with the right card or combination thereof. You must think about whether you’re loyal to a certain hotel chain. And if you are, consider whether getting that chain’s card is worth the annual fee. It is in most cases, but your mileage may vary. One person’s “best hotel card” might not the best for another person.

 

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