The best co-branded hotel credit cards can help you earn free hotel stays, room upgrades, and more. Plus, some hotel credit cards make it easy to earn special status that can lead to even more benefits.
Still, there are other rewards credit cards that function as hotel credit cards without necessarily being affiliated with a specific hotel chain. These cards have programs that vary widely, but some offer flexible rewards or even travel credit you can use to book any hotel.
The right hotel credit card for your needs can vary greatly depending on your goals and travel style. If you want a card to score cheap getaways at hotels in your area, for example, almost any of the top co-branded hotel credit cards might work just fine. If you would rather stay in hostels or vacation rental properties, on the other hand, a card that doles out flexible travel credit might be a better deal. As a reminder, we recommend you not maintain a balance on the card, keep it paid off as you use it, this will in turn help with your credit score ratings, rather than keeping high balances on your cards!
Best Hotel Credit Cards for 2016
Before we dig into the details of each card’s offerings, here is a list of the best hotel credit cards we will cover in this resource:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- IHG®Rewards Club Select Credit Card
- Marriott Rewards®Premier Credit Card
- Discover it® Miles
- Citi Prestige®
- Starwood Preferred Guest®Credit Card from American Express
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard
- BankAmericard Travel Rewards®Credit Card
- Hilton HHonors™ Card from American Express
- Hilton HHonors™ Surpass®Card from American Express
Chase Sapphire Preferred®Card
While the Chase Sapphire Preferred®Card is more of a flexible rewards credit card than a hotel card, it has perks that let it fit into this category quite nicely. For starters, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to a slew of popular hotel loyalty programs at a 1:1 ratio, including IHG Rewards, Hyatt Gold Passport, Marriott Rewards, and Ritz Carlton Rewards. Because of this, the Chase Sapphire Preferred®Card is an awesome companion card to any of the co-branded hotel cards Chase offers.
In addition, you can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book a room with any hotel chain at a 20 percent discount when you use the Chase travel portal. If you like to stay with different hotel brands or aren’t loyal to a specific brand, this is a huge perk. As a last resort, you can also redeem your Chase Ultimate Rewards points for cash back at a rate of one cent per point, which makes it easy to book any hotel or lodging option of your choice.
- Earn 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on your card within 90 days
- Earn 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
- $95 annual fee, waived the first year
- No foreign transaction fees
IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card
The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit card has become infinitely popular among travel enthusiasts for several reasons. First, you can use your points to stay at this brand’s popular all-inclusive resorts. And second, this card qualifies you for Platinum status that helps you qualify for room upgrades, special perks and more.
While this card does have a $49 annual fee, it is waived the first year. If you choose to keep the card after the first year, however, you’ll get a free night at any one of IHG’s 4,900 hotels worldwide each year you are a cardholder. Plus, you’ll earn 5x points for each dollar spent at IHG properties, 2x points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants, and 1x points on all other purchases.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on your card within 90 days
- Enjoy a free night each year of card membership
- Earn 5x points at IHG properties, 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants, and 1x points for all dollars spent elsewhere.
- Automatic platinum elite status, as long as you remain a cardmember
- $49 annual fee, waived the first year
Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card
The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card is a must-have for anyone who loves to stay at Marriott or Ritz Carlton properties. Since these programs are interchangeable, you can use the points to earn to stay at both brands of hotels and resorts.
With this card’s current offer, you’ll earn 80,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. Plus, you’ll earn 7,500 more points when you add an authorized user and they also make a purchase. Since free nights start at just 7,500 points (or 6,000 points for a PointSavers reward), that’s easily enough points for eleven free nights!
- Earn 80,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, plus 7,500 points for adding an authorized user who also makes a purchase.
- Get a free night stay at a Category 1-5 property on your card member anniversary
- Earn 5 points for every $1 spent at 4,000 Marriott locations, 2 points for every $1 spent on airline tickets purchased directly with the airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants and 1 point everywhere else
- $85 annual fee, not waived
Discover it® Miles
While you may not automatically think of the Discover it® Miles as a hotel credit card, it actually works well in this capacity. Basically, you earn 1.5 “miles” for every dollar you spend. Then, at the end of 12 months, Discover will double the amount of miles you earn. Over time, that set-up leaves you earning 3 percent back on every purchase you make.
Since these points are redeemed for cash at a rate of one cent per point, you can use them for any type of travel you want. And while the card is marketed as an airline card, it works extremely well as a hotel credit card. If you are looking for those flight perks, check out our review on Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card as well!
Let's say you spend $20,000 on your card within the first year, for example. At the end of the year, you would have 30,000 points with Discover. However, Discover would quickly double those points to 60,000. If you wanted, you could redeem your points or $600 in hotel stays at any chain and without blackout dates. Best of all, this card will never charge an annual fee.
- No annual fee
- Earn an unlimited 1.5 miles for every dollar you spend, plus Discover will double that amount after your first year
- Enjoy a $30 in-flight wifi credit when you use your card
- Get a free FICO score on your monthly statement
The Citi Prestige® is yet another flexible travel card that can easily work as a hotel credit card. For a limited time, you’ll earn 50,000 points after you spend $3,000 on your card within 90 days. Other benefits include $100 off global entry, a $250 annual air travel credit, and your 4th night free on any hotel stay booked through their travel concierge.
In addition to using your points to book travel directly, you can transfer your Citi points to the Hilton HHonors program at a rate of 1.5:1, or to a handful of airline partners. Conversely, you can use your points on American Airlines for the superior value of 1.6 cents per point.
This card does charge a hefty annual fee, however, which means it probably won’t be worth it unless you’re sure you can take advantage of all of its benefits.
- Earn 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 on your card within 90 days
- Earn 3x points on air travel and hotels, 2x points on dining and entertainment, and 1x points on all other purchases
- $250 annual air travel credit
- $100 off Global Entry
- Complimentary 4th night hotel stay
- $450 annual fee, not waived
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
With the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, you get the best of both worlds in terms of hotel and airline perks. Most importantly, you can use your points to book hotels at rates that start at just 3,000 points per night. In addition, you can transfer your starpoints to more than 30 different airlines, including popular airline loyalty programs like American AAdvantage and the British Airways Executive Club.
The current signup bonus on this card is 25,000 starpoints after you spend just $3,000 in purchases within 90 days. Plus, you’ll receive free, in-room premium internet access and Boingo wifi at more than 1 million hotspots worldwide. The $95 annual fee is also waived the first year on this card, making it a stellar deal.
- Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
- No foreign transaction fees
- Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
- Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at 1 million hotspots worldwide
- $95 annual fee, waived the first year
Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is another flexible travel credit card that works well as a hotel card and is a good introductory balance transfer credit card. By signing up for this card, you’ll earn 50,000 points after you spend just $3,000 within 90 days. Those points are worth $400 in travel credit, and you can use that credit to book a room with any hotel chain.
In addition to the signup bonus, you’ll earn 2x points for every dollar you spend. That’s a pretty sweet deal for any card that lets you redeem points for one cent each, but it’s even better when you take the signup bonus into account.
At the end of the day, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is a great hotel credit card for someone who wants to try a wide range of hotels and doesn’t want to deal with a specific loyalty program.
- Earn 50,000 points after you spend $3,000 on your card within 90 days
- Earn 2x points for every dollar you spend
- $89 annual fee, waived the first year
- 0% Introductory APR on balance transfers made in first 45 days after account opening
- Miles never expire
- No foreign transaction fees
BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card
The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card is yet another flexible travel credit card that works well with hotels. With this card, you’ll earn an unlimited 1.5 points for every dollar you spend, plus 20,000 bonus points worth $200 in travel after you spend just $1,000 on your card within 90 days.
Since this is “travel credit” and not tied into a specific loyalty program, you can use your points to book any hotel without worrying about blackout dates or reward availability. Once you rack up a huge stack of points, you can redeem them for hotels, airfare, cruises, rental cars, baggage fees, or any other travel benefit you desire.
Best of all, this card never charges an annual fee!
- Earn 20,000 online bonus points when you spend $1,000 on your card within 90 days
- Earn an unlimited 1.5 points for every dollar you spend
- Book any hotel or travel experience you want with no restrictions or blackout dates
- No annual fee
Hilton HHonors™ Card from American Express
The current offer on the Hilton HHonors™ Card from American Express lets you earn 50,000 Hilton HHonors points after you spend $750 on your card within 90 days. In addition, this card makes earning points extremely easy. For example, you’ll earn 7x Hilton HHonors points for every dollar you spend at participating hotels and resorts, 5x points at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations, and 3x points on all other purchases.
Plus, you can enjoy complimentary silver status just by being a cardholder.
- Earn 50,000 Hilton HHonors(TM) Bonus Points after you spend $750 on your card within 90 days.
- Earn 7X Hilton HHonors points for each dollar spent at Hilton properties, 5x points at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations in the U.S., and 3x points on all other purchases
- Complimentary silver status
- No annual fee
Hilton HHonors™ Surpass® Card from American Express
If you’re looking for a card that lets you earn points in the Hilton HHonors program, the Hilton HHonors™ Surpass® Card from American Express is another good option. In addition to the signup bonus, the earnings structure on this card is downright amazing. By using your card for everyday purchases and travel, you’ll earn 12x points for each dollar spent at participating Hilton properties, 6x points for each dollar spent at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations, and 3x points for each dollar spent on all other purchases.
Meanwhile, you’ll also earn Hilton gold status just for being a cardholder, plus the ability to earn Hilton HHonors diamond status after spending $40,000 on your card within a calendar year.
- Earn 12X points at participating hotels, 6x points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations, and 3x points on all other purchases
- Complimentary gold status
- $75 annual fee, not waived the first year
How to Get the Most Out of Your Hotel Credit Card
Signing up for a new hotel loyalty program is a smart move for anyone who travels frequently. However, there are plenty of ways to maximize the hotel points you earn – and get the most bang for your buck!
If you’re hoping to earn a ton of hotel points and score as much free travel as possible, consider these tips:
Pick a hotel loyalty program you already know and love.
Before you jump head first into a new loyalty program, it’s important to make sure it fits in with your travel style. For starters, you should make sure your new loyalty program actually has properties in cities you hope to visit. While most big loyalty programs have properties all over the world, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have one in your favorite city.
If you already stay with a particular brand all the time, picking up that brand’s co-branded hotel loyalty credit card is a no-brainer. Not only will you earn points for free hotel stays, but perhaps special status as well.
Consider a flexible travel credit card to rack up even more points.
If your favorite hotel loyalty program offers more than one credit card, you could consider getting them all to rack up even more points. If you love Marriott Rewards, for example, you could consider getting both the Chase Sapphire Preferred®Card and the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card. Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Marriott at a 1:1 ratio, this is a no-brainer.
Of course, the same can be said for the IHG Rewards program and its co-branded hotel credit card. With more than one signup bonus and way to rack up hotel points, you can earn more free hotel stays over time.
Of course, it helps to have a strategy for how you use those points. Let's use the card combination mentioned above as an example. If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred®Card and the Marriott card, it would pay to use them in a strategic way. For starters, you would want to use your Chase Sapphire Preferred for all of your travel and dining purchases. Why? Because this card doles out 2x points in those categories. Of course, you would want to use your Marriott card for all purchases made at Marriott properties since you earn 5x points for every dollar you spend in that category. Over time, these maximized points will add up.
Use your rewards card for as many purchases as you can, then pay it off right away.
No matter which hotel credit card you choose, you’ll want to make sure you use your card as much as you can to rack up as many points as possible. By using your card for everyday purchases, and especially in any category that offers “bonus points,” you can earn a lot more points and free hotel stays over time. Remember though, you’ll need to pay your card in full every month to avoid paying interest on your purchases.
Also remember that the interest rates hotel credit cards charge tend to be higher than average. If you carried a balance on your Chase Sapphire Preferred®Card, for example, you would pay between 16.24 percent and 23.24 percent depending on your creditworthiness. That's a huge chunk of money to fork over just for interest payments, and it can easily wipe out any rewards you earn as well.
Don’t forget about resort fees.
While most “free nights” you’ll earn with a hotel card won’t cost you a cent, certain high-end properties do charge resort fees. Whenever you are ready to book a free night, make sure to inquire about any taxes or fees so you can plan for them. While inconvenient, most resort fees aren’t very expensive and add up to no more than $30 per night.
Still, it pays to pay attention. If you're paying a $30 resort fee each night for a week-long vacation, you can easily fork over $210 for the week! That's a lot of money for a “free trip,” so you should tread cautiously and make sure it's worth it before you pull the trigger.
Weigh the pros and cons of paying an annual fee.
Some hotel credit cards charge an annual fee after the first year, and those fees can eat into your rewards in a hurry. However, some cards offer ongoing perks that make the annual fee more than worth it. When deciding whether to pay an annual fee, it always pays to analyze the perks you're getting so you can make an informed decision.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred®Card tends to be a card people keep for the long haul for myriad reasons. For starters, it lets you earn the most flexible and valuable rewards points on the planet – Chase Ultimate Rewards. Secondly, it offers free ongoing benefits like free trip cancellation/interruption insurance, free primary auto rental coverage, and more. The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit card is another card that falls into this category due to its “free annual night” benefit. By paying the $49 annual fee on this card, you get a free night at any IHG property in the world. Since some IHG properties cost up to $800 per night, this can be extremely lucrative if you play your cards right.
Either way, it pays to take a close look at your card's benefits to see if the annual fee is worth it. If not, you can always close your account and apply for a new card with benefits that work better for your needs.
Get your spouse involved.
There are no laws that prohibit two spouses from signing up for the same rewards credit card – and thank goodness for that. Obviously, getting your spouse to earn the same signup bonus can mean double the rewards, and that's always a good thing.
Again, it helps to have some strategy going in. If both you and your spouse earn the same signup bonus (instead of different bonuses on different cards), you can usually make your points go further. For example, some hotel programs offer a 5th night free benefit – a good example is Marriott Rewards. By pooling points with your spouse, you can earn enough for four nights with points – then score the 5th night free benefit. That's a lot bigger hurdle to climb when you're earning points on your own.
The Bottom Line
If you're angling for some free hotel stays, a hotel credit card is your best bet. As a standalone card or combined with a flexible rewards card, you can earn free nights fairly easily – plus score extra perks like hotel status, room upgrades, and welcome gifts.
The best part is, earning all of these perks is easy! Just use your card for your regular purchases, then pay down your balance right away. You'll be thanking yourself when you get a few free hotel stays under your belt. What are you waiting for?