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Updated May 4, 2018

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 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 applying 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 applying for a general travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or the Capital One Venture.

For Travel Rewards: Travel Credit Card Deals

Hotel Rewards Compare

(Click Image to Enlarge)
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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 featured hotel credit cards:

Hilton Credit Cards

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

Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express
Apply for Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express
At American Express' Secure Site
Intro APR for PurchasesIntro APR for Balance TransferRegular APRAnnual Fee
N/AN/A
17.49% - 26.49% Variable
$95

Tip: Hilton rewards are structured from Category 1 (5,000 points) to Category 10 (70,000 - 95,000 points). In general, Hilton points are valued at 0.5 cents per point based on our estimates, but remember that you are earning 3x-5x points for every purchase (and 7x points for Hilton purchases). So this makes the overall reward rate valued around 2 cents per dollar spent according to our estimates.

Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card

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

Marriott Rewards Premier offers 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. You enjoy 1 free night award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after your account anniversary. You earn 6 points per dollar spent at participating Marriott Rewards and SPG hotels. Earn 2 points per dollar spent all other purchases. There is a $95 annual fee.

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.

The Hyatt Credit Card

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

Hyatt Credit Card offers 40,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. Plus, get 5,000 bonus points after you add an authorized user to your account and make a purchase with your card during the first 3 months as a cardmember. You enjoy 1 free night every year after your cardmember anniversary at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort. You earn 3 bonus points for every $1 spent at Hyatt hotels and resorts. Earn 2 bonus points per $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airlines and at car rental agencies. Earn 1 bonus point per $1 spent on purchases elsewhere. There is a $75 annual fee

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 every year, this makes the Hyatt reward program one of our favorites.

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 Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card, and The Hyatt 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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About CreditDonkey®
CreditDonkey is a credit card comparison website. We publish data-driven analysis to help you save money & make savvy financial decisions.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed on this page are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any 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.