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Updated March 22, 2017

Study: Hotel Credit Cards for Free Nights

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Must-read list of hotel credit card promotions. Check out this essential list of credit card offers before your next hotel stay.

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For many travelers, hotel rewards take a backseat to airline perks.

This is unfortunate because, in many cases, hotel loyalty programs can get you a much better return on your rewards. For hotel lovers, it's a great opportunity to stay in properties you usually wouldn't splurge on. Many hotel-branded credit cards give big sign up bonuses equivalent to a few free nights.

But the hotel credit card market is a crowded field, and some cards are worth significantly less than others. There is no standard for what "1 point" equals, and the real value can range anywhere from less than 1 cent to several cents depending on where and how you redeem them. In this guide, we do our best to give you our estimate of what each reward program is worth.

To help you figure out which hotel credit card is right for you, CreditDonkey has put together a comparison of popular options, including promotions from our partners.

Checking In: The Basics

© prayitnophotography (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

First, let's get the obvious out of the way: if you don't like to stay in hotels (even free ones), you have no business signing up for a hotel-branded card. While there are many benefits, they do you no good if you never step foot on a hotel property. In this case, you'd be better signing up for a general travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus.

For Travel Rewards: Travel Credit Card Deals

Hotel Rewards Compare

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Still with us? To decide on the hotel credit card for you, consider the following factors:

  • Hotel loyalty: To get the most out of hotel credit cards, you'll want to stay at the same hotel chain. This allows you to rack up points faster to your free-nights goal.

    Major hotel chains have loyalty programs tied to each card, and some cover a large variety of properties worldwide. Consider which hotels you often frequent, or want to stay at in the future. If you go to a certain city often or have vacation plans, look up which hotel chains are in the city.

  • Rewards structure: You also want a card that gives you good rewards on everyday spending. You should be able to earn rewards for regular purchases like food, gas, and online shopping. This will allow you to earn points faster.

  • Redemption value: How many points does it take to get one free night? Calculate approximately how much you'd have to spend to get to a free night and if it's worth it. Some hotel programs have more expensive award charts.

  • Annual fee: Hotel-branded credit cards often have annual fees. Some might waive the fee for the first year, but you still need to factor this extra cost into your decision and estimate whether you'll get enough in rewards year over year to make up for it.

  • Flexibility of use: Can you use the card only at specific hotels? And how extensive is the worldwide coverage? Some hotel cards let you transfer your points to airline partners, which gives you more ways to use your points.

    Related: Airline Credit Cards

These guidelines are meant to help you decide which card works best for you. Hotel stays have so many variables that it's impossible to determine one card that's perfect for every budget, every lifestyle, and every location.

Worst hotel credit cards:

  • Hotels with limited footprint. Whether you travel domestically or internationally, you want a hotel program you can easily use. Some hotels don't have as wide of a footprint as others, making it difficult for you to find a property to use your points. Think about where you want to travel to and look up what hotel options are in the area.

  • Hotels with blackout dates for award booking. Some programs only release a limited number of basic rooms to be available for booking with points. This can make booking a room troublesome for the dates you need.

  • Cards that are slow to earn points. You want a card helps you rack up the points faster. Some cards don't offer as generous reward structures.

Here's a list of CreditDonkey's featured hotel credit cards:

AMEX Starwood Preferred Guest: Hotel & Airline Card

© Take Back Your Health Conference (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
Apply for Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
At American Express' Secure Site
  • Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent on the Card at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on International purchases.
  • Redeem Starpoints® at over 1,300 participating hotels and resorts in over 100 countries and for flights on more than 150 airlines with SPG flights, all with no blackout dates.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Introductory Bonus Hotel RewardsTravel RewardsAirline RewardsBonus Airline RewardsHotel RewardsNo Limits on RewardsCar Rental InsuranceExtended WarrantyPurchase Protection Return ProtectionTravel Accident Insurance$0 Fraud Liability
Intro APR for PurchasesIntro APR for Balance TransferRegular APRAnnual Fee
N/AN/A
16.24% - 20.24% Variable
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, a CreditDonkey partner

  • Signup Bonus: Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.

  • Rewards: Up to 5 Starpoints per dollar spent at participating SPG locations (explained below), 1 Starpoint everywhere else
  • Benefits: 5,000 bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to an SPG partner airline's frequent flyer program
  • Annual Fee: $95 ($0 intro annual fee for the first year)

Regular Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) members earn 4 Starpoints per dollar spent at Starwood hotels (2 Starpoints® per dollar at participating SPG® hotels, in addition to the 2 Starpoints you can get as a SPG member). Gold and Platinum Starwood hotel members earn 5 Starpoints per dollar(an additional 1 point for being SPG Gold or Platinum).

Hotel Credit Cards for Airline Miles: The SPG credit card lets you transfer your rewards to as many as 30 airlines. Transfer 20,000 points and you'll get an additional 5,000 Starpoints as a bonus. If you value airline miles, that flexibility puts the SPG card at the high end for your consideration.

And since the Marriott and Starwood merger in late 2016, you can now also transfer Starpoints to Marriott and Ritz Carlton Rewards programs. The transfer rate is 1 Starpoint = 3 Marriott/Ritz Carlton Rewards Points.

Tip: Starwood rewards are structured from Category 1 (2,000-3,000 points) to Category 7 (30,000 - 35000 points). Starpoints are highly valued in the hotel card world, generally worth over 2 cents a point based on our estimates. For example, a room at the W Hotel at Times Square in NYC for the weekend of May 11 to May 14, 2017 costs as much as $400/night. But it only costs 20,000 Starpoints/night, which gives makes each point worth 2 cents.

Category 1 and 2 hotels have the potential to be worth even more points. For example, if you're going to Vegas and are willing to stay off the Strip, you can save a lot. You can stay at the Four Points by Sheraton (Category 2) for $100 a night or just 3,000 Starpoints. This makes the points worth around 3 cents each.

Want to learn more about the SPG credit card? Read our AMEX Starwood Review.

Hilton Credit Cards

© Chris Favero (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

Hilton Surpass offers 75,000 Hilton Honors™ bonus points if you spend $3,000 on purchases on the card within the first three months of opening your new card account. This card earns 12x points for eligible purchases charged on your card directly from a participating Hilton hotel or resort. You will earn 6x points for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations. You earn 3x points for all other eligible purchases. Plus, you enjoy complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status. If you spend $40,000 on eligible purchases on your card in a calendar year, you can earn Diamond status (through the end of the next calendar year). There is a $75 annual fee. Terms apply.

Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card

East side of JW Marriott
East side of JW Marriott © Lars Plougmann (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

  • Signup Bonus: Earn 80,000 Bonus Points after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • Rewards: Earn 5x points at Marriott Rewards and SPG hotels; 2x points for airline tickets purchased directly with the airlines, car rental agencies & restaurants; and 1x point everywhere else.
  • Benefits: Receive a free 1 night stay in a category 1-5 hotel each year after your account anniversary date
  • Annual Fee: $85 annual fee (not waived the first year)

When it comes to getting a free night in a hotel, few cards make it easier than the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card. You get a free night at up to a Category 5 hotel (25,000 points) each year you renew your membership. That's basically paying $85 for a room for one night. For example, you could get a free night at the Renaissance Paris de la Defense, which goes for $155. That's a savings of $70 after the annual fee.

However, be prepared to make some travel compromises. Unfortunately, most major destinations are at least a Category 6, so you'll need more points to play. That includes popular destinations like Hawaii, downtown Los Angeles, Manhattan, or Boston.

Now with the Marriott and Starwood merger, you can also transfer your points. 3 Marriott Reward Points transfer to 1 Starwood point. This gives you even more hotel options. There are over 5,700 participating Marriott Rewards and SPG hotels worldwide.

Tip: Marriott properties are structured from Category 1 (7,500 points/night) to Category 9 (45,000 points/night). In general, we value Marriott Rewards at around 0.5 cents a point for the higher category hotels based on our estimates. Lower categories hotels are worth more, often 0.8-1.0 cent based on our estimates. The reward rate isn't the best with Marriott, but the free night a year could be worth it.

Marriott: Pricing information have been collected independently by CreditDonkey from published website on May 4, 2017. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

The Hyatt Credit Card

Hyatt Hotel - zoom ins
Hyatt Hotel - zoom ins © Elliott Brown (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

  • Signup Bonus: 2 free nights at any Hyatt hotel or resort after you make $2,000 in purchases during the first 3 months. (This offer is available as long as you haven't received a new cardmember bonus for this product in the past 24 months.)
  • Rewards: 3x points at all Hyatt hotels and resorts; 2x points at restaurants, car rental agencies, and airline purchases directly from the airline; 1x point on everything else
  • Benefits: Free night award every year after your cardmember anniversary (at a category 1 to 4 property); Hyatt Discoverist status
  • Annual Fee: $75 annual fee ($0 intro annual fee for first year).

Hyatt wins the free night bonus category by letting you redeem at any location worldwide (the Category 7 Park Hyatt New York goes for $1,000 a night). You'll get another free night each year as an anniversary gift that's good at Hyatt locations up to a category 4. And as a frequent stayer at a category 4 Hyatt, I can assure you that there are still benefits to be had (I'm looking at you, giant bathtub).

One downside is that Hyatt doesn't have as much worldwide availability. It has more than 700 locations in 56 countries, which sounds like a lot until you compare it with the 4,000+ offered by other major chains.

Tip: Hyatt rewards are structured from Category 1 (5,000 points) to Category 7 (30,000 points). Hyatt rewards have great value generally, with many hotels worth over 2 cents a point based on our estimates. With the awesome sign-up bonus and free night very year, this makes the Hyatt reward program one of our favorites.

Hyatt: Pricing information from published website as April 17, 2017.

Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature Card from Barclaycard

Wyndham Hotel Resort
Wyndham Hotel Resort © Greg Grimes (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

  • Signup Bonus: Earn 15,000 bonus points after your first purchase.
  • Rewards: Earn 3x points at participating Wyndham hotels; 2x on gas, utilities, and groceries; 1x point on everything else
  • Benefits: Get automatic Gold Status
  • Annual Fee: $0 annual fee.

Wyndham has more than 25,000 locations worldwide with familiar roadside names such as Super 8, Ramada, and Travelodge. Redemption is simple: it's a flat 15,000 points for a free night at any Wyndham hotel, home, or condo. That makes the signup bonus worth a free night, for no annual fee.

You also get automatic Gold Status, which includes perks like late check-out and free wi-fi. But the most valuable perk is either 10x points per dollar or 1,000 points for each stay, whichever is more. So, you could stay at a budget location 15 times and earn enough points for a free night at any luxury Wyndham in the world.

Tip: In general, we feel like that 15,000 points is quite expensive for what you get. Most Wyndham properties are budget accommodations. There are some upscale resorts worldwide that is great value for the flat redemption rate. Never redeem for lower tier budget hotels.

Wyndham: Pricing information from published website as of March 21, 2017

Checking Out

© CreditDonkey

Hotel credit cards can offer great value, but typically only if you travel more frequently and like to stay in the same hotel chain. This will allow you to earn rewards faster and take advantage of all the perks. When choosing the best hotel card for you, remember to consider your travel destinations, the everyday earning structure, and reward rate.

While I'm confident that all of these cards would be a solid pick, your particular travel tastes might be better suited by another option. If you have a favorite hotel not mentioned here, more than likely there's a credit card with its name on it.

Ross Frasier is a research analyst at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial education website. Write to Ross Frasier at ross@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped travelers make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. This site may be compensated through the Advertiser's affiliate programs.

Disclaimer: The information for the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card has been collected independently by CreditDonkey. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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CreditDonkey does not know your individual circumstances and provides information for general educational purposes only. CreditDonkey is not a substitute for, and should not be used as, professional legal, credit or financial advice. You should consult your own professional advisors for such advice.