So you were mindlessly scrolling through your social media, and something caught your eye!
One of the many travel influencers you follow posted a video of an overwater bungalow in the Maldives and you decide that you absolutely have to go.
So, you research what it costs to stay there and realize that you don’t have thousands of dollars lying around. You think to yourself “I’ll never be able to go,” but have no fear: We at RAVE Reviews will help you get there with some plastic in your pocket!
A hotel credit card can help you reach your dream destination quicker than you think. Combine a large sign-up bonus with good bonus earning categories, and you could be lounging on a beach resort, visiting your bucket list destinations, or visiting a ski-in/ski-out resort in no time!
The Hotel Cards We RAVE About
Types of Hotel Credit Cards
When it comes to hotel credit cards, there are two standard categories: general travel cards and co-branded credit cards. These two different types have various advantages and disadvantages, so it is critical to know which category suits you best.
Co-branded hotel credit cards are exactly as they sound. They are issued by a bank or other credit card issuer that also has a specific hotel chain or brand associated with them (for example, Hyatt or Hilton). These types of cards are most beneficial for travelers that are loyal to a specific hotel chain.
Co-branded credit cards often provide some level of elite status for the specific hotel chain associated with them. They can regularly include free night certificates or offer upgrades during your hotel stays. If you regularly use your co-branded card at the associated hotel chain, you can really rack up points quickly for your next stay, thanks to high earning rates.
The downsides to co-branded cards are that they essentially lock you into redemption and earning for one specific hotel chain. This can pose a problem if the specific brand doesn’t have any hotels near your travel destination or if you value the flexibility of staying at alternate hotels.
General travel cards are credit cards in which you earn flexible points that can be used towards travel expenses, including hotel stays. These cards can give ample opportunity to maximize earning on bonus categories, and they offer flexibility in redemption choices. Some general travel cards offer bonus earning categories like gas stations, groceries, or shopping, which is very uncommon for most co-branded cards.
No matter where you go, general travel cards almost always have an option available for your accommodations. Even if the property you want to stay at is not associated with any of the major hotel chains, odds are that you will still be able to book your stay there. This can be especially valuable if you’re a traveler who values a deal and doesn’t care about fancy rooms or pointless perks.
The downside to a general travel card for hotels is that you would have to pass up many additional perks. General travel cards typically don’t offer any sort of elite status, meaning you could miss upgrades and things like complimentary breakfasts. There is no way to show your loyalty to a hotel chain, so the hotel is less incentivized to offer you anything on top of just a place to lay your head.
Major Hotel Chains
When it comes to the various hotels and hotel brands out there, it can be a bit confusing to know which hotel points can be used at which properties.
There are four major players in the hotel credit card game: Marriott, Hilton, IHG, and Hyatt, with each one having multiple hotel brands underneath it. Although there are other hotel chains that have credit cards and reward programs, these four hotel chains offer cards with the largest sign-up bonuses, the best earning, and most lucrative perks.
Marriott has the most properties of the four major chains with about 7,500, followed by IHG with over 5,600, Hilton with about the same as IHG, and Hyatt with less than 1,000. Despite Marriott having a much larger reach than the other chains, there are still plenty of Hilton and IHG properties to go around. Hyatt has a lot fewer properties, but they make up for it by having the most valuable points of any of the hotel chains.
The purpose of hotel credit cards can be different for everyone, depending on your goals. Do you care about elite status and all of the various perks associated with it? Do you want flexible points that you can also use for flights or other travel-related purchases? What about travel insurance for when something major interrupts or outright cancels your trip? To determine the best hotel credit cards for each category, we considered the following criteria:
- Annual fee: How much is the annual fee for this card? Are the perks worth the annual fee for you?
- Sign-up bonus: How much value is there in the initial sign-up bonus for this card? Is there more value in another card for an equivalent spending requirement?
- Bonus earning/categories: In which categories does each dollar spent earn additional points?
- Elite status: Does this card earn you elite status with a hotel chain? What benefits are included with elite status?
- Other benefits: Does this card have other perks and benefits associated with it? How much value is there for each additional benefit? Does it have perks like free nights?
Best Credit Card for Marriott
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Credit Card from American Express
- Annual fee: $450
- Sign-up bonus: 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after $3,000 spent in the first three months
- Bonus earning/categories: Six times points at Marriott properties, triple points at restaurants (in the U.S.) and flights booked directly with airlines, and double on all other purchases
- Elite status: Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold, earn Marriott Bonvoy Platinum after $75,000 spent in eligible purchases per calendar year, 15 elite qualifying nights towards the next Bonvoy elite status
- Other benefits: Free night award after every cardmember anniversary (worth up to 50,000 point redemption); Priority Pass Select lounge membership; Global Entry/TSA Precheck application free credit every four years; $300 statement credit at Marriott properties; $100 in credit for on-property charges at Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis properties when staying two or more nights; Boingo Preferred plan with unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi access (to be discontinued July 2020)
- Pros: Automatic elite status, Annual free night, Marriott property statement credit
- Cons: Large annual fee, Average sign up bonus
The sticker price annual fee on premium credit cards might deter you, but stick with me here. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Credit Card packs a massive punch with its many perks and benefits.
Starting with the sign-up bonus, you will earn 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after $3,000 spent, which is worth approximately $600. With the complimentary Gold elite status, every stay at a Marriott property comes with an enhanced room upgrade (based on availability), late checkout, and improved Wi-Fi in your room.
Don’t forget the many other lucrative perks from this card. You’ll receive a free night award, which can be worth about $400 by itself when you use it for a 50,000-point redemption… and you get that every year after your first year! You will also get $300 annually at Marriott properties and $100 at Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis properties. Even if you only use these benefits, you would still get up to $800 value annually.
The Priority Pass Select lounge membership gets you unlimited access to over 1,200 airport lounges throughout the world. Speaking of international travel, you can also get a TSA Precheck or Global Entry (which includes TSA Precheck) credit every four years, worth up to $100.
Seeing as this card earns large bonus per dollar spent at Marriott properties, it is ideal if you prefer staying in one of Marriott’s 30 different brands. This gives you a return of almost 5% of what you spend at Marriott properties. The bonus categories for restaurants and flights are great for regular travelers and foodies. The double points on everything else makes its everyday earnings on par with most other cards.
One of the huge advantages Marriott has over other hotel programs, is its fifth night free redemption perk. If you book four nights with Marriott Bonvoy points, your fifth night is free, regardless of elite status. Assuming you stay five nights during your stays, that makes every point worth 25% more!
Best Credit Card for Hilton
Hilton Honors Aspire Credit Card from American Express
- Annual fee: $450
- Sign-up bonus: 150,000 Hilton points after $4,000 spent in the first three months
- Bonus earning/categories: 14 times points at Hilton properties; seven times points on flights booked through amextravel.com or directly with airlines, restaurants, and car rentals booked directly through select rental companies; triple points on all other purchases
- Elite status: Hilton Honors Diamond
- Other benefits: Weekend night award certificate upon approval and every year after cardmember anniversary (can be used at most properties, with exceptions); additional free night award certificate after $60,000 spent each calendar year; $250 statement credit for purchases at Hilton resorts; $250 statement credit incidental fees (baggage, flight change, etc) for one pre-selected airline; $100 credit for purchases at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad Hotels & Resorts on stays of two or more nights; Priority Pass Select lounge access (with up to two free guests every visit)
- Pros: Large sign-up bonus, Free annual weekend night, Automatic elite status
- Cons: Large annual fee
As the premium co-branded Hilton card, the Hilton Honors Aspire credit card really knocks it out of the park. This card also has a high annual fee, but you will see that its many benefits make it incredibly worth it to have in your wallet, especially if you are a Hilton regular.
At first glance, the 150,000 Hilton point bonus almost seems fake. While it is a great sign-up bonus, be aware that Hilton points are not as valuable as other hotel chain rewards points. The sign-up bonus for this card will still earn you about $900 in value though, which is much higher than so many other cards!
As with most hotel co-branded credit cards, you earn a large bonus (14 times points) for spending at Hilton properties, but you will also earn some very good bonus points on flights, restaurants, and select rental cars. You will also earn tiple points on anything outside of these categories.
The Diamond status included with this card is downright unbelievable. You will get space-available room upgrades, which means even if you book a base rate standard room, you can potentially upgrade to larger rooms or even suites.
When you book with cash, you will also earn 100% bonus points. If you book a room with this card, you would earn 14 points with the card and 20 points with Diamond status, making that more than a 20% return for every dollar spent! Hilton also has a fifth night free promotion for anybody with elite status, making every point worth much more.
You can already see the massive value in this card, but we haven’t even talked about its many other perks. You will earn a weekend night award certificate, which has minimal restrictions on when and where it can be used. You can also earn another night if you spend $60,000 each year.
You will receive a $250 annual statement credit for purchases at Hilton resorts and $250 annual statement credit for airline incidental fees (but only for one airline, which you can choose). You also get $100 for purchases at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad Resorts. All of these credits can be used every year, for a total of $600 in credit!
This card also comes with unlimited Priority Pass Select lounge access, and you can also bring two free guests with you every single time.
As you can see, this card has massive perks despite the large annual fee. Even if you only stay at a Hilton once or twice a year, this card needs to be in your pocket.
Best Credit Card for Hyatt
World of Hyatt Visa Credit Card
- Annual fee: $95
- Sign-up bonus: 25,000 Hyatt points after $3,000 spent in the first three months, plus an additional 25,000 Hyatt points after $6,000 total spent in the first six months
- Bonus earning/categories: Quadruple Hyatt points on all Hyatt hotel purchases; double Hyatt points on plane tickets purchased directly from the airline; restaurants, local transit, commuting, and fitness/gym memberships; single points on all other purchases
- Elite status: Hyatt Discoverist, five qualifying night credits toward next elite status tier, two additional qualifying elite credits toward next elite status tier for every $5,000 spent
- Other benefits: Free Anniversary Night (Category 1-4) on cardmember anniversary; additional free night (Category 1-4) after $15,000 spent during cardmember anniversary year; no foreign transaction fees; baggage delay insurance; purchase protection; lost luggage reimbursement; trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance; Visa concierge
- Pros: Low annual fee, Large sign up bonus, Annual free night
- Cons: Tiered sign up bonus, Average Elite Status
The World of Hyatt credit card is the absolute best for anybody who stays at Hyatt hotels regularly. This card has a very reasonable annual fee of only $95, but offers so much more value with its many perks, bonus categories, and benefits.
The sign-up bonus for this card is in two tiers, earning 25,000 points for $3,000 spent in the first three months, then another 25,000 points for an additional $3,000 spent in the first six months. Since Hyatt points are worth up to 2 cents each, this sign-up bonus can be worth up to $1,000, which is massive for a mid-tier card like this one.
The bonus categories are similar to many of the premium hotel co-branded cards on this list. This card earns quadruple Hyatt points on all Hyatt purchases, which is in addition to the five times points earned on Hyatt expenses for all World of Hyatt members. At nine times points, that’s about an 18% return on any Hyatt purchase. You will also earn double points at restaurants, flights booked directly through airlines, gym memberships, and local transit (including your ride-share app of choice).
The Elite status on this card is on par with most co-branded mid-tier cards, earning Discoverist status, which is the program’s first tier of elite status. This card also gives you additional hotel night credits to help you reach your next elite status, be it Explorist or Globalist. You can also earn hotel night credits: two nights for every $5,000 spent.
Like most co-branded cards, the World of Hyatt credit card offers a free anniversary night (for Category 1-4 properties) on your cardmember anniversary, as well as another free night after spending $15,000 during your cardmember anniversary year. You will also get many amazing travel protections and perks, such as baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, and no foreign transaction fees.
Best Credit Card for IHG
IHG Rewards Club Premier from Chase
- Annual fee: $89
- Sign-up bonus: 125,000 IHG points after $3,000 spent in the first three months
- Bonus earning/categories: 25 times IHG points on IHG properties and resorts for the first 12 months; quadruple IHG points on all purchases for the first 12 months; double IHG points at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants after the first 12 months
- Elite status: IHG Rewards Platinum
- Other benefits: Fourth Award Night Free, free night certificate after cardmember anniversary, 20% discount when buying IHG points
- Pros: Low annual fee, Large sign-up bonus, Free annual night
- Cons: Average bonus earning
The IHG Rewards Club Premier credit card offers tons of benefits, even if you’re an infrequent IHG patron. First off, the 125,000 IHG point sign-up bonus is massive. With each point worth about half a cent, the sign-up bonus is worth $625 on IHG property stays.
This card absolutely shines when it comes to the bonus earning when you spend money at IHG properties. At first, it seems like you earn 25 times points at IHG hotels. However, being an IHG Rewards Club member, you will earn 10 times points on top of the 25 times. With the Platinum Elite Status, you also earn an additional 50% on top of the 10 times points, which makes for a massive total of 40 times points at IHG properties (about a 20% return per dollar).
If you decide to stay for four nights (or more), you also get the fourth night free, which can really add up if you regularly stay at IHG hotels for a minimum of four nights. And at every cardmember anniversary, you will also get a free night certificate, which you can use at any property that charges 40,000 points or less per night.
This card’s bonus categories are very good for a mid-tier co-branded hotel credit card. You will earn quadruples points on everything during the first four months, then double on gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants. These bonus categories are perfect, since everybody spends on them regularly.
Best Premium General Travel Card for Hotels
The American Express Platinum Card
- Annual fee: $550
- Sign-up bonus: 60,000 Membership Rewards Points after $5,000 spent in the first three months
- Bonus earning/categories: Five times points on airfare purchased directly through airlines, and prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel
- Elite status: Gold level elite status with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy programs
- Other benefits: $200 statement credit on incidental fees (baggage, flight change fees, etc) for on pre-selected airlines; statement credit towards Global Entry ($100) every five years or TSA Precheck ($85) every four years; Uber VIP status and $15 monthly Uber credit plus $20 bonus in December; $50 Saks statement credit each half of the year; American Express Global Lounge Collection access; elite status with Hertz, Avis, and National rental car companies; Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts access; point transfer to airline loyalty programs; no foreign transaction fees; car rental loss and damage insurance; purchase and return protection; extended warranty
- Pros: Global Entry/TSA pre-check credit, Marriott and Hilton elite status
- Cons: Large annual fee
As you can see from the massive list of perks, the American Express Platinum card is in a league of its own. Don’t let the large annual fee deter you, as this card offers values many times larger than the $550 annual fee.
The sign-up bonus is absolutely incredible at 60,000 Membership Rewards points for $5,000 spent in the first three months. With each Membership Rewards point worth up to 2 cents, that’s a whopping $1,200 sign-up bonus! Just be aware that American Express only allows one sign-up bonus per product per lifetime, meaning you can only get this sign-up bonus once.
The Platinum card has very strong bonus categories for the frequent traveler. You will earn five times points on airfare purchased directly through airlines as well as five times points on hotels booked through the Amex Travel portal. That’s a 10% return on a majority of your travel expenses, regardless of what airline you fly or hotel chain you frequently visit.
Despite this card not being co-branded, you will still earn elite status at not one, but two different hotel chains: Marriott and Hilton. No other card offers this benefit, making it a must-have for anybody that stays at both of these hotel chains. Even though some of the premium co-branded hotel cards offer higher levels of elite status for their loyalty programs, the elite status at two chains is worth more if you are flexible with where you stay.
With all of this card’s various credits, you can get over $500 worth of credit every single year you have this card in your wallet. You will get $200 in airline incidental fees, $200 to Uber, Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit, and $100 to Saks. You will also get elite status to rental car companies as well as various travel and purchase protections.
Don’t forget that you can transfer Membership Rewards to many other airline and hotel chains at different transfer ratios. For hotels, you can transfer points to Choice Privileges Rewards at a 1-1 ratio and Hilton Honors at a 1-1.5 ratio.
Best Mid-Tier General Travel Card for Hotels
Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Annual fee: $95
- Sign-up bonus: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards Points after $4,000 spent in the first three months
- Bonus earning/categories: Double Ultimate Rewards points on all travel and dining, single points on all other purchases
- Elite status: None
- Other benefits: Point transfer to airline loyalty programs via Chase Ultimate Rewards; trip cancellation/interruption insurance; auto rental collision damage waiver; baggage delay insurance; trip delay reimbursement; purchase protection; extended warranty protection; no foreign transaction fees
- Pros: Large sign-up bonus, Low annual fee, Point redemption flexibility
- Cons: Average bonus earning
When it comes to flexible travel points, Chase Ultimate Rewards are hard to beat and the Chase Sapphire Preferred stands out among other mid-tier cards. Despite not offering elite status, this card offers tons of perks and benefits. It’s a great card for hotels, but also perfect for all travel-related purchases.
The sign-up bonus on this card is very large for a mid-tier card at 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. This sign-up bonus is worth $750 at a minimum. When you use Ultimate Rewards on Chase’s travel booking portal for hotel nights, flights, or activities, each point is worth 1.25 cents.
However, you can transfer points to other loyalty programs for much more lucrative redemptions. For instance, you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to the World of Hyatt program at a 1-1 ratio, making them worth about 2 cents each.
With this card, you will earn two Ultimate Rewards points on all travel and dining, which includes hotel purchases for rooms or any other hotel related charge. You will earn single points on everything else.
Even though this card isn’t geared toward any particular hotel chain, the benefit of this card is in its flexibility. Through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, you can book any hotel room on Expedia at its cash price for 1.25 cents per point. Your options in accommodations are not limited to specific hotels, but you are able to book nights at motels, luxury hotels, or anything in between.
You will also get many travel protections like trip cancellation and interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, and no foreign transaction fees. This card gives you the peace of mind to travel both domestically and internationally!
Best Business Card for Hotels
Ink Business Preferred from Chase
- Annual fee: $95
- Sign-up bonus: 80,000 Ultimate Rewards Points after $5,000 spent in the first three months
- Bonus earning/categories: Triple points on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping, phone, cable, internet, and advertising on social media and search engines; single points on all other purchases
- Elite status: None
- Other benefits: Point transfer to airline loyalty programs via Chase Ultimate Rewards; no foreign transaction fees; trip cancellation and interruption insurance; roadside dispatch; auto rental collision damage waiver; cell phone protection; purchase protection; extended warranty
- Pros: Large sign-up bonus, Point redemption flexibility
- Cons: Large spending requirement, Average bonus earning
The Ink Business Preferred credit card from Chase is the best business card for hotels, balancing a reasonable annual fee with a massive sign-up bonus and great business bonus categories.
The Ink Business Preferred sign-up bonus is an astounding 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months. This sign-up bonus is worth a minimum of $1,000 but could be worth significantly more when you transfer points to some of the many hotel and airline transfer partners through Ultimate Rewards.
This card also has great earning potential for business owners, with triple points on many business expenditures: travel, shipping, phone service, cable, and internet service. You also earn triple points when you advertise on social media and search engines, something most businesses do today to earn patrons.
When it comes to using the Ink Business Preferred card for hotels, you earn triple points, since hotels fall into the travel category. If you want to transfer points to hotel loyalty programs, Chase allows a 1-1 ratio to Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott. However, due to the value of each point, it is recommended to only transfer points to Hyatt or the three hotel programs offered.
One of the best features of this card for hotels is that you can book them at the cash price through the Chase Ultimate Rewards booking portal, with each point worth 1.25 cents. This feature gives you immense flexibility on where to stay, as you aren’t limited to any specific hotel chain, and maximizes the value of your Ultimate Rewards points.
Will every hotel have availability for booking with points?
Not every single hotel has the availability to book with points, even if rooms are available to purchase with cash. Some hotel chains, like Marriott and Hilton, also have peak season pricing where the price of a room varies depending on the time of year.
Hyatt, however, has no block-out dates on booking with points. If there is a room available to purchase with cash, you can also book it with points. Hyatt also has one price for each category and does not use any sort of dynamic award pricing or peak pricing.
Can I get multiple co-branded hotel credit cards for the same hotel chain?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as it depends on both the credit card issuers and the loyalty programs themselves.
For instance, Marriott has the most intricate eligibility requirements for their cards, since they have cards with both Chase Bank and American Express. Applying for one of the personal or business cards from American Express can limit eligibility to open another Marriott co-branded card from Chase for up to 24 months and vice versa. The best bet is to call each card issuer to speak to a customer service representative about eligibility requirements.
What are the different hotel points worth?
Every hotel program has its own unique points that are worth different amounts. Hyatt points are worth up to 2 cents each, Marriott points are worth about 0.8 cents each, Hilton points are worth about 0.6 cents each, and IHG points are worth about 0.5 cents each.
What about getting both a co-branded hotel card and a general travel card?
This is absolutely the best thing you can do for your wallet and to maximize your earnings and redemptions for hotel stays. Your wallet will love the extra company and your travel budget will love that you can enjoy more on your vacations. With both types of cards, you can get the best of both worlds.
With a hotel co-branded credit card, you can get exclusive benefits like elite status and have elevated earning for your hotel chain of choice. The general travel card can help you earn more points in different categories, and give you redemption flexibility if your hotel chain of choice doesn’t have a property where you are visiting. General travel cards can also earn you points to cover other travel expenses like your flights!
Do hotel points have an expiration date?
Yes and no. The short answer is yes, they do technically have expiration dates. The long answer is that they won’t expire as long as you meet some very easy requirements. In order to keep your points from expiring, most hotel programs require that you have qualifying activity on your loyalty account, which then resets the expiration clock. Depending on which program’s points you have, the amount of time until expiration can vary.
“Qualifying activity” typically means any sort of earning or redemption. This can mean earning points by paying for a stay at a hotel or by using a co-branded credit card. It often works where transferring points from a general travel card counts as “earning.” Redeeming points for a hotel stay at a property also resets the expiration clock.
When will I get my free night certificates?
The free night certificates from many of the co-branded hotel credit cards are earned after your cardmember anniversary, with some even giving award nights upon approval. This helps the credit card issuer retain cardholders for longer periods of time rather than having members cancel after the first year.
Hilton free night certificates should arrive in your account between eight and 14 weeks (from approval or cardmember anniversary). Marriott certificates should arrive within eight weeks of cardmember anniversary, Hyatt certificates typically arrive within 10 weeks of cardmember anniversary, and IHG certificates should arrive within a day or two of your cardmember anniversary. These timelines are indicated by the card issuers, but they typically arrive quicker than advertised.
So, how do I book one of the overwater bungalows you mentioned?
There are a few hotel programs that have resorts featuring overwater bungalows you can book with points. With Hilton Honors points, you can book overwater bungalows at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island or the Conrad Bora Bora Nui. With IHG points, you can book overwater bungalows at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa.
Just be aware that availability for overwater bungalows can be hard to find (so start searching very early), and they have some of the highest award redemptions in any award program. Be prepared to save lots of points just to be able to stay a few nights. There are also many properties that allow standard rooms to be booked with points, but then require cash to upgrade to overwater bungalows.
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