Which Credit Card Should You Use At Hotels?

Which Credit Card Should You Use At Hotels?

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I’m often asked by readers which credit card they should be using to maximize points for a given hotel stay, or if there’s an overall best hotel credit card.

Typically recommending which credit card is best for a particular bonus category (like dining, grocery stores, gas stations, everyday spending, etc.) is easy. That’s not really the case when recommending which credit card to use at hotels, though.

The added wrinkle with making this recommendation for stays at chain hotels is that you don’t just have to consider which credit cards broadly offer the best bonus categories for travel, but you also have to consider whether the hotel brand you’re staying at has a co-branded credit card that offers bonus points for stays at that specific brand.

In this post, I wanted to look at the most rewarding credit cards for hotel spending in general (regardless of the brand you’re staying at), and then compare that to the bonuses offered by specific co-branded hotel credit cards.

The most rewarding credit cards for hotel spending

For this section, I’m excluding co-branded hotel credit cards. That’s because I’m looking at the cards that offer the best bonuses on hotel spending in general, rather than the best bonuses for a particular brand of hotel.

So, which major credit cards offer bonuses for hotel spending?

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Reward for hotel spending: 5.1% (3x points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $550

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve, apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

2. Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Reward for hotel spending: 5.1% (3x points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95
Things to be aware of: This is a business card, and the 3x points is limited to the first $150,000 in combined purchases in bonus categories each account anniversary year

Learn more about the Ink Business Preferred, apply for the Ink Business Preferred.

3. American Express® Green Card

Reward for hotel spending: 5.1% (3x points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $150 (Rates & Fees)

Learn more about the Amex Green, apply for the Amex Green.

4. Citi Premier® Card

Reward for hotel spending: 5.1% (3x points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95

Learn more about the Citi Premier, apply for the Citi Premier.

5. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Reward for hotel spending: 3.4% (2x points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95

Learn more about the Sapphire Preferred, apply for the Sapphire Preferred.

6. Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Reward for hotel spending: 3.4% (2x miles, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $395

Learn more about the Venture X, apply for the Venture X.

7. Capital One Spark Miles for Business

Reward for hotel spending: 3.4% (2x miles, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $395

Learn more about the Spark Miles, apply for the Spark Miles.

Several credit cards offer 3x points on hotel spending

The most rewarding co-branded hotel credit cards

As you can see above, there are four cards with the same return (by my valuation). All offer 3x transferable points, and all are points that I value at 1.7 cents each.

That means you’re looking at a return of ~5.1% regardless of which card you use. Do you get a better or worse return when using a co-branded hotel credit card?

To be comprehensive, let’s look at the co-branded credit cards issued by Choice Privileges, Hilton Honors, IHG One Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy, World of Hyatt, and Wyndham Rewards. First let me share how much I value a point in each of these currencies:

  • Choice Privileges — 0.6 cents each
  • Hilton Honors — 0.5 cents each
  • IHG One Rewards — 0.5 cents each
  • Marriott Bonvoy — 0.7 cents each
  • World of Hyatt — 1.5 cents each
  • Wyndham Rewards — 0.7 cents each

To keep things fairly simple, let’s look at the co-branded credit card(s) from each of the hotel groups that offers the highest return on hotel spending (keep in mind the main reason to get hotel credit cards could be for the elite status and free night certificates that they offer).

Choice Privileges

The Choice Privileges Credit Card offers 5x points on Choice spending, which I value at a return of 3%. This isn’t as good as the return on spending offered by some transferable points cards.

I wouldn’t use Choice’s credit card for hotel spending

Hilton Honors

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (review) offers 14x points on Hilton spending, which I value at a return of 7%. This is excellent, and beats the return on spending offered by all transferable points cards.

I use the Hilton Aspire Card for my Hilton hotel spending

IHG One Rewards

The IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card (review) and IHG® Rewards Premier Business Credit Card (review) offer 10x points on IHG hotel spending, which I value at a return of 5%. This isn’t quite as good as the return on spending offered by some transferable points cards, though others may feel differently based on their valuation of points.

Earn bonus points for hotel spending with IHG’s credit cards

Marriott Bonvoy

The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card (review), Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (review), and Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card (review) offer 6x points on Marriott hotel spending, which I value at a return of 4.2%. This isn’t as good as the return on spending offered by some transferable points cards. That being said, some may wish to still use a Marriott co-branded credit card, since there aren’t many other ways to efficiently earn Bonvoy points.

Earn bonus points on spending with Marriott’s credit cards

World of Hyatt

The World of Hyatt Credit Card (review) and World of Hyatt Business Credit Card (review) offer 4x points on Hyatt hotel spending, which I value at a return of 6%. This is excellent, and beats the return on spending offered by all transferable points cards.

I use the World of Hyatt Card for my Hyatt hotel spending

Wyndham Rewards

The Wyndham Earner Business Card (review) offers 8x points on Wyndham hotel spending, which I value at a return of 5.6%. This is very good, and beats the return on hotel spending offered by transferable points cards.

I wouldn’t use Wyndham’s credit card for hotel spending

Crunching the numbers

Everyone will value points differently, and those with different points valuations may also come up with different conclusions.

Personally, I think the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, American Express® Green Card, and Citi Premier® Card, offer the best general return on hotel spending, at 5.1%.

What’s surprising is that co-branded hotel credit cards largely don’t offer a better return for stays at their “own” hotels than these cards do for travel purchases.

Based on my valuation of hotel points:

Earn 14x points on Hilton stays with the Hilton Aspire Card

Other considerations with hotel spending

There are other potential considerations when deciding which hotel credit card to use:

It could be worth earning a Hilton free night reward

Bottom line

In many cases, you’re actually not best off using a co-branded hotel card for your hotel spending, counterintuitive as it might be. Hilton and Hyatt have especially good co-branded hotel credit cards, where it can be worth spending money on their cards at hotels.

Otherwise, you’re generally best off using a transferable points card for your hotel spending.

What’s your go-to card for hotel spending? Do you find it more worthwhile to use the hotel’s co-brand card, or do you use a card earning transferable points?

The following links will direct you to the rates and fees for mentioned American Express Cards. These include: American Express® Green Card (Rates & Fees).

Conversations (11)
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  1. FranP Guest

    Ben. You failed to mention Travel Protection coverage. Are there any significant differences between cards that should also be factored in?

  2. AC Guest

    I understand the math of using a card like CSR vs the hotel card. I've got a spreadsheet where I compare the overall pay-back based on point value and multiples for using hotel affiliated cards at their properties. With the exception of my Hilton Surpass card (12x points at .5 cent each = 6% bonus) my CSR offers the best (3x at 1.75 cent each = 5.25% bonus) over my Marriott, IHG or Hyatt cards....

    I understand the math of using a card like CSR vs the hotel card. I've got a spreadsheet where I compare the overall pay-back based on point value and multiples for using hotel affiliated cards at their properties. With the exception of my Hilton Surpass card (12x points at .5 cent each = 6% bonus) my CSR offers the best (3x at 1.75 cent each = 5.25% bonus) over my Marriott, IHG or Hyatt cards. However, I always use the hotel affiliate card at their property stays and CSR everywhere else (unless an Amex offer or booking through Amex for prepaid stays at 5x points). There are often other bonuses or considerations and I'm not micro managing my life if I lose 1-2% return on Chase Ultimate points versus Marriott's so just make it simple and take the additional hotel points. Of course I have large CSR and Membership Rewards accounts so not sweating having some go to my hotel point accounts to diversify things.

  3. Jerry Diamond

    What I personally think makes the Amex Green more valuable on hotels over the CSR is the fact that hotels can't try to hit you with DCC, so you naturally avoid that scam. I put all my non-Hyatt spend outside of the United States on it for that reason.

    1. Reno Joe Guest

      There have been a few articles on this subject. Apparently, the hotel networks allow hotels to require bill settlement in the guest's home currency . . . which mandates the hotel doing the currency conversion . . . and the hotel uses a wide spread on the currency conversion. When one complains to the hotel network, the response is that it is a pricing matter and it won't get involved. Of course.

  4. 305 Guest

    Not a credit card, but I've been booking most of my recent hotels via the AA shopping portal. Depending on vendor/bonuses, it can be 6-10 miles/$. That's not only a good amount of miles, but also loyalty points

  5. NK3 Member

    Another card to consider is the Citi Custom Cash. Hotels are part of Select Travel, so you can get 5x Citi points (8.5%) on up to $500. It is often possible to split charges for hotel bills, so you could charge any amount over $500 on a different card.

  6. Mantis Guest

    Best would be if you have a card with an Amex or chase offer on it, there are many offers now for hotel chains. That's usually a 20% or so discount. Second best would be the card you're working on an MSR for. Third is either a cobranded card or a card with good travel protections if it's a cash booking and there's some uncertainty.

  7. JohnnyBoy Guest

    I have to disagree with the IHG card conclusion, but mainly because the valuation of points is too low. I routinely get closer to $0.1/point value for IHG points without trying and without using the industry leading fourth (not fifth) night free. And this is not just staying in HI Express, but in IC, Indigo and Kimpton properties.

  8. Scott Guest

    10X points if booked through capital one travel with Venture X (another 2X I think)

  9. Never In Doubt Guest

    You can earn 5x points on any hotel booked/prepaid with the platinum card via AMEX travel, not just FHR hotels.

    Their rates are all over the map, but often are just as good as booking direct. Often you can preserve hotel elite benefits as well.

  10. DLPTATL Gold

    One thing that factors into my decision making with hotel cards like my IHG cards is that I don't have a lot of activity on them so when I stay with them I tend to put the charges on those cards. Often times it's only for incidentals on a free night certificate. I value the free night certs so don't want to have these cards cancelled based on inactivity.

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Scott Guest

10X points if booked through capital one travel with Venture X (another 2X I think)

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Never In Doubt Guest

You can earn 5x points on any hotel booked/prepaid with the platinum card via AMEX travel, not just FHR hotels. Their rates are all over the map, but often are just as good as booking direct. Often you can preserve hotel elite benefits as well.

1
FranP Guest

Ben. You failed to mention Travel Protection coverage. Are there any significant differences between cards that should also be factored in?

0
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