Sweet dreams: best credit cards for hotel rewards
September 17, 2012
By: Curtis Arnold
If you're a casual traveler, signing up for a hotel credit card can qualify you for upgrades and special perks usually reserved for touring rock stars. Frequent guests can cover the costs of personal trips to the kinds of resorts not usually covered under corporate travel policies. Our list of this season's best hotel credit cards features rewards programs that maximize your earnings without holding back on bonus rewards.
Hilton relationships with two different banks mean you don't have to choose between your favorite hotel and your preferred bank. The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card from Citibank includes automatic Gold status, bumping you into preferred rooms and granting you Executive Lounge access at many Hilton properties. The no annual fee Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card from Citibank offers a sign-up bonus large enough for a few free nights in most cities. Both cards include Visa Signature benefits, including purchase protection and concierge services.
Frequent fliers may find more value in the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express. This American Express card includes complimentary airport lounge access and a discounted private car service among its benefits. At just a $75 annual fee, those features alone can save you a few hundred dollars each year. The basic Hilton HHonors Card from American Express carries no annual fee and upgrades you to Gold status for a year when you spend $20,000 on the card.
Starwood Preferred Guest
The Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express rewards you with 2 bonus Starpoints for every eligible dollar you spend at participating SPG hotels. Upgrade to Gold or Platinum status for an extra bonus Starpoint. You may earn one Starpoint per dollar on your everyday purchases. With 12,000 Starpoints you can redeem points toward a hotel room in New York City on a typical holiday weekend, but bargain seekers can scope out stays for as few as 7,000 rewards points per night.
SPG gets consistently high marks from business travelers for its flexible redemption program and for Starwood's ever-expanding lineup of hotels and resorts. While "sales teams" typically flock to the nearest Sheraton, the company's Aloft, Westin and W Hotels brands have upped the ante for immersive guest experiences. Cardmembers get a head start toward earning elite status, with perks including late checkout, enhanced rooms, and surprise check-in gifts. Your reward stays even earn credit toward future free nights.
Marriott has won the Freddie Award for best American hotel loyalty program five years in a row. Chase's Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card eliminates foreign transaction fees and includes full Visa Signature benefits for an $85 annual fee, which is waived for the first year. After 50 qualifying nights, members enjoy free in-room Internet access, complimentary breakfast, and free membership in the Hertz #1 Gold car rental program. Marriott's rewards network now includes Renaissance Hotels, the luxurious Autograph Collection, and Marriott's new Edition brand.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
While not a traditional hotel loyalty program, the flexibility of the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card makes it a great "go-to" card for all things travel. You'll earn double miles per dollar on every purchase you make with this card, which is a good earning rate for not having to follow categories. Use your Venture card to book your hotel, then use Capital One's "Purchase Eraser" tool to erase your charge by redeeming your miles. Your miles can used toward any travel arrangements: airfare, hotels, cruises, even taxis. Want a straight-forward redemption rate? Just add two zeros to the purchase price, and that's how many points you'll need to cover the cost.
Finding the best value among hotel credit cards
Such strong competition among both hotel chains and credit card issuers has resulted in some unprecedented signup offers for new customers. Each of the hotel credit cards on our list offers enough rewards points with a qualifying purchase for at least one free hotel night.
But the very best cards rocket you into the same orbit as guests who had to earn their gold, platinum, or diamond status one night at a time. The extra recognition at the front desk, an unexpected gift on your dresser, and the incremental bonus points you'll earn with elite status offer big returns on relatively low annual fees.