Sweet dreams: best credit cards for hotel rewards

By , Editor-in-chief
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American Express is a CardRatings.com advertiser.

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 HHonors

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 offers the benefits of HHonors Gold status, as long as you are a cardmember. There is an annual fee of $95. The no annual fee Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card from Citibank offers a sign-up bonus large enough to redeem towards a couple of nights at participating select hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio. Both cards include Visa Signature benefits.

Frequent fliers may find more value in the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express. Basic cardholders of this American Express card get airport lounge access at participating lounges with complimentary Priority Pass membership, valued at $99. With this complimentary membership, all lounge visits are subject to a fee of U.S. $27 per person per visit. Also take advantage of a discounted private car service among the card benefits. The card has a $75 annual fee. 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 in a calender year of Cardmembership.

Starwood Preferred Guest

The Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express rewards you with Starpoints® for eligible purchases which you can redeem those Starpoints at over 1,100 hotels in nearly 100 countries worldwide — with no blackout dates. Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges. You can also redeem Starpoints on over 150 airlines with SPG Flights — with no blackout dates. 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. Terms and restrictions apply.

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.

Marriott Rewards

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, note there is a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $85. Marriott's rewards network now includes Renaissance Hotels, the luxurious Autograph Collection, and Marriott's new Edition brand.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Editor's Note: Thank you for your interest, this offer has expired and is not available.

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 be used toward any travel arrangements such as 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 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.

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