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Many travelers tend to overlook hotel credit cards in favor of airline cards that promote free flights or premium products like the Platinum Card® from American Express with its many high-end benefits. Hotel credit cards are the unsung heroes of travel rewards, though. Some field tremendous bonus offers with enough points for stays at some of the world’s best hotels and confer perks like annual free reward nights, automatic elite status, and even airport lounge access, which makes them excellent picks for any traveler.
Even if you have cut back on your normal flight activity for the foreseeable future, chances are you can still use hotel points closer to home. So now might be the time to consider some of the best hotel cards around. Here’s what to look for in a hotel credit card and the best to apply for currently.
Benefits to look for in a hotel credit card
Any hotel credit card you apply for should offer at least some of the following benefits.
- A high introductory offer: A new hotel credit card can let you earn hundreds of thousands of points within a brief time frame. But intro bonuses rise and fall all the time, and applying at the wrong moment could cost you. Before making up your mind, do a little homework and look at the typical range of bonuses any card you’re thinking about opening has fielded, and then apply when it’s at the higher end of that spectrum . . . assuming you can meet any spending requirements responsibly, of course.
- Annual free nights: Several top hotel credit cards offer their members a free reward night every year as an anniversary present just for keeping them open (and paying their annual fees). This benefit can vary widely, though. Certain anniversary award nights are restricted to budget and midrange hotels, while some can be redeemed only on weekend nights. Still others require spending a certain amount on your card each year. Review the rules of any anniversary night benefit you might be entitled to and be sure you know how to put it to the best use.
- Travel statement credits: Some premium credit cards include hundreds of dollars in statement credits annually to use toward things like room charges, on-property purchases such as restaurant tabs, and airline incidental costs like checked bag fees. Leveraging them to their fullest can help offset even the most expensive cards’ annual fees.
- Automatic elite status: Normally, earning elite status with a hotel chain involves staying dozens of nights in various hotels throughout the year (or hitting certain spending thresholds). But many hotel credit cards simply offer automatic elite status as one of their benefits. It depends on which hotel program you participate in, but elite status can unlock perks like earning bonus points on stays, room or suite upgrades, and conveniences such as early check-in and late checkout.
- Bonus earning categories: Although you should always expect to earn bonus points on purchases from the hotel chain with which your credit card is cobranded, hotel credit cards offer many other bonus spending categories where you can accrue extra points, such as dining, gas, groceries, and fitness club memberships.
- Premium travel perks: Some exclusive hotel credit cards promote perks that extend beyond stays. For instance, your hotel card might include a statement credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee once every four or five years. Or you might be able to enroll in Priority Pass for access to over 1,200 airport lounges. Be sure you will actually use these perks before signing up for a card with them since the annual fee is likely to be high.
- Convert your points into miles: If you’re still unconvinced, remember that many types of hotel points, including those from Marriott Bonvoy, can be converted into airline miles with different frequent flier programs. So in a sense, hotel credit cards are more like general travel credit cards whose rewards can come in handy whether you want to use them for stays or flights. But these types of conversions typically occur at abysmal ratios (like five hotel points to one airline mile) so this shouldn’t be your main reason for getting a hotel card.
- Travel protections: Look for hotel credit cards that extend travel protections, such as trip delay coverage or lost luggage insurance.
- Waived foreign transaction fees: Many credit cards aimed at travelers waive foreign transaction fees—charges of up to 3 percent on purchases you make abroad. If you’re a frequent international traveler, make sure your hotel credit card waives them.
The 5 best hotel credit cards
While any particular hotel credit card you settle on might not include all the perks listed above, chances are it will have some of them. Think about the benefits you will value and use most, and then focus on the cards that offer them. Here are the best credit hotel credit cards right now and why you might want to apply.
1. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card
Current welcome offer: With the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, you can earn 150,000 bonus points after $6,000 in purchases within the first six months of card membership. Plus, earn 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you stay six eligible paid nights at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy through January 31, 2024. Offer ends August 9, 2023.
Annual fee: $650 (see rates and fees)
Standout benefits: The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant ranks among the top hotel credit cards of all time thanks to the following portfolio of perks.
- Up to $300 in statement credits per calendar year—up to $25 per month—for eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide.
- Annual free night award after your account anniversary worth up to 85,000 points
- Option to register for Priority Pass Select membership for access to over 1,200 airport lounges worldwide
- Up to $100 back in statement credits for either a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application once every four years (4.5 for PreCheck)
Enrollment is required for select benefits. Terms apply.
2. Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Current welcome offer: With the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, you can earn 150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)
Standout benefits: Almost too many to list . . .
- Up to $250 back in statement credits on purchases at Hilton Resorts, specifically, each year
- Up to $250 back in statement credits for airline incidental charges such as baggage or seat selection fees with a U.S. airline the cardholder designates each year
- A free weekend night rewards (good Friday–Sunday) at nearly any Hilton property
- Up to $100 in statement credits toward on-property charges on stays of two nights or more at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels booked through a dedicated site
- Automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond status, including bonus points and dining credits on stays
- Priority Pass Select membership for access to over 1,200 airport lounges
Enrollment is required for select benefits. Terms apply.
If you find the Aspire too expensive, consider the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card instead. Its annual fee is $95 (see rates and fees); it’s currently offering 150,000 bonus points after making $3,000 in purchases in the first six months of card membership.
3. The World of Hyatt Credit Card
Current welcome offer: The World of Hyatt Credit Card allows you to earn up to 60,000 bonus points—30,000 after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months, plus up to 30,000 more points by earning two points per dollar in the first six months on up to $15,000 of purchases that normally only earn one.
Annual fee: $95
Standout benefits: Although not as perks-rich as some of the other cards on this list, the Hyatt card is still a strong contender.
- Earn up to nine bonus points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels—four bonus points plus the five base points World of Hyatt members earn per dollar; two points per dollar at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, on local transit and commuting, and on fitness club and gym memberships; and one point per dollar on all other eligible purchases
- Receive automatic Discoverist elite status with a better shot at upgrades and a modest points boost on Hyatt spending
- Get a free night award redeemable at any Hyatt category 1–4 hotel (worth up to 15,000 points) each year after your account anniversary, plus another one when you spend $15,000 or more on purchases in a calendar year
- Obtain great travel and purchase protections including trip interruption and cancellation coverage and baggage delay insurance
4. IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card
Current welcome offer: With the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card, earn 175,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Annual fee: $99
Standout benefits: Here’s why this card makes the list.
- Earn up to 26 bonus points per dollar on IHG hotel purchases; five points per dollar at gas stations, travel, and restaurants; and three point per dollar on all other eligible purchases
- An annual free night worth up to 40,000 points deposited into your account every year after renewing your card and paying the annual fee. Plus, enjoy a free night for reward stays of three or more nights.
- Automatic Platinum elite status with perks that include earning bonus points on stays, a shot at room upgrades, and priority check-in and late checkout
- A Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit of up to $100 once every four years as reimbursement for the application charge
5. The Platinum Card® from American Express
Current welcome offer: The Platinum Card® from American Express allows you to earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 on purchases on the card in your first six months of card membership.
Annual fee: $695 (see rates and fees)
Standout benefits: The Amex Platinum recently revamped its slate of perks to include many new ones. Here are the hotel-specific ones that landed it on our list.
- Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold elite status—yes, elite status with two of the largest hotel chains, all for carrying the card
- Up to $200 in statement credits each year for prepaid bookings through the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts portal of over 1,100 luxury properties around the world, plus its Hotel Collection (minimum tw0-night stay)
- Five points per dollar on prepaid hotel bookings made on AmexTravel.com and on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel (up to $500,000 per calendar year) and one point per dollar on other purchases
- Transfer of Amex Membership Rewards points to three hotel programs: Choice Privileges (on a 1:1 basis), Hilton Honors (1:2), Marriott Bonvoy (1:1)
Enrollment is required for select benefits.
There are plenty of other nonhotel benefits, so if this card has been on your radar, familiarize yourself with them and see if they make sense for your needs, travel and otherwise.
There are hotel credit cards for every budget and taste. The key to finding the right one will be pinpointing the hotel loyalty programs you participate in the most, and narrowing your search to cards that offer you travel benefits you will actually use. Don’t forget about other cards with points that transfer to various hotel programs either, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Sure, you won’t enjoy chain-specific benefits, but having the flexibility to transfer your points to a number of different hotel programs (not to mention various airline frequent flier clubs) might be more valuable to you.
While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available. This article was published in 2021; it was updated on February 9, 2023, with current information.