Last month, we looked at the best credit cards that earn airline miles, as many credit card users find that award flights are some of the most valuable credit card rewards. And while this may be true in most cases, hotel reward cards can offer travelers incredible value. For the December edition of our Best Credit Cards in America series, we are choosing the top products with which to earn points in hotel chains’ frequent guest programs.
So what makes a hotel credit card rise to the top of this competitive market? First, it has to offer valuable rewards for spending, including bonus categories that earn as much as six points per dollar spent. Next, the card has to be backed up by a great hotel loyalty program. Unlike the challenges faced when redeeming frequent flier miles, hotel guests expect to use their points to book an award in nearly any available room. Another great feature is the ability to achieve elite status in a hotel program. Holders of elite status can enjoy room upgrades, free Internet service, late checkouts, and even free breakfast. Finally, a great hotel card should include features required for international travel such as an EMV smart chip (necessary for use at kiosks in Europe, Latin America, and other regions), and no foreign transaction fees.
At the same time, hotel cards are reward cards and users should not expect to see the same promotional financing offers and low interest rates seen in a low interest card or ones with 0% APR promotional balance transfer offers. Therefore, these products are best used in the hands of those who always pay their balances in full to avoid interest rates. But in addition, a hotel card can valuable to business travelers whose expenses are reimbursed by their company.
The simply named Hyatt Visa takes the top honors for meeting all of the criteria of a great hotel card.
Why it won:
The rewards: The Hyatt card earns valuable Gold Passport points for all spending and includes several bonus categories. Double points are earned on nearly every travel expense including dining, airline, and car rental purchases. Triple points are earned for spending at Hyatt properties. Once earned, points can be easily redeemed for any available room, starting at 5,000 points and going up to 22,000 points for a standard room at their most expensive properties. Club level rooms and suites can be reserved for just a few thousand points more.
In addition, all cardholders automatically earn mid-tier status in Hyatt’s Gold Passport program as well as further credits towards their top-tier Diamond status. New cardholders earn two free nights at any Hyatt property worldwide after spending $1,000 within three months. Furthermore, this is one of the few hotel cards currently offered with an EMV smart chip.
The costs: There is a $75 annual fee for this card, but a free night stay at a low- to mid-tier property is included each year upon renewal. Thankfully, there are no foreign transaction fees with this card.
Why it won:
The rewards: This card enjoys almost a cult following among award travel experts for its unmatched value and flexibility. New cardholders currently earn 10,000 points after their first purchase, and 15,000 points after spending $10,000 within six months. Although only one Starpoint is earned per dollar spent on most purchases, up to five points per dollar can be earned for spending at Starwood properties which includes the Westin and Sheraton brands. Points can be redeemed for award nights at rates starting at 3,000 points per night, but going up to 35,000 points for high end properties, and the fifth consecutive award night is free. And when you spend $30,000 dollars on this card within a calendar year, you get Gold status which provides room upgrades, late checkouts and complimentary Internet access.
Points can be redeemed for any available “standard” room with no blackout dates or capacity restrictions, but unfortunately, some hotels designate many of their rooms as “superior” which makes them unavailable for awards stays. Also, this card lacks an EMV smart chip at this time.
Another amazing feature of the Starwood Preferred Guest program is the ability to transfer points to miles with the programs of over 30 different airlines. This feature alone allowed it to also earn runner up last month for Best Airline Mileage credit card.
The costs: There is a $65 annual fee for this card that is waived the first year. Sadly, American Express continues to charge a 2.7% foreign transaction fee on this product that is clearly aimed at international travelers.
Why it won:
The rewards: The Hilton HHonors Surpass card is actually one of four Hilton cards, two from American Express and two from Citi. Nevertheless, this card offers superior value for several reasons. First, cardholders can earn 40,000 points after their first purchase, and an additional 20,000 points after spending $3,000 on their card within three months of opening an account. But keep in mind that Hilton HHonors points are generally worth less than those of other chains. For example 7,500 points are required for an award stay at their least expensive property, while 50,000 points are required for a free night at their most luxurious hotels. But at the same time, cardholders can accumulate HHonors points at triple the rates of most other cards, even if they don’t travel much. 12 points per dollar are earned for stays at Hilton properties, and six points per dollar at super markets, drug stores, gas stations, and on telephone and television services. Three points per dollar spent are earned for all other purchases.
Finally, cardholders are immediately granted low-tier silver status and can earn mid-tier Gold elite status after spending $20,000 in a year, and top-tier Diamond elite status when spending $40,000 in a year. This is the only card that offers its top-tier elite status based only on spending. Unfortunately, there is no EMV smart chip for this card.
The costs: There is a $75 annual fee for this card, and again, American Express charges a 2.7% foreign transaction fee on all transactions processed outside the United States.
At publishing time, the The Hyatt Visa card from Chase and the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express are offered through Credit.com product pages and Credit.com may be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.