The two most popular rewards credit cards are those that offer cash back, followed by those that earn frequent-flier miles. Less popular are the cards offered by major hotel chains.
Nevertheless, the best hotel reward cards offer superior value to cash-back and airlines cards. Here’s why…
1. The best hotel reward cards have no blackout dates or capacity restrictions
Airlines are making it increasingly harder to use frequent-flier miles for award seats at the lowest mileage levels. Travelers have to plan their trips long in advance and be extremely flexible — and even then it can be nearly impossible to find awards to some popular destinations.
In contrast, many hotel programs — such as Hyatt, Starwood, and Hilton — offer award nights for any unsold room with no blackout dates. In fact, you can even cancel a hotel award in advance, usually with no penalties. This flexibility translates directly into value.
2. Hotel reward cards offer substantial perks
Many hotel credit cards offer customers “elite status” in their frequent-guest programs, before even staying a single night at the hotel. For example, the Hilton HHonors Reserve card from Citi offers cardmembers Gold status, which is good enough to receive free Internet, free breakfast, and room upgrades. Although airline credit cards do offer some nice benefits, such as free checked bags, they’ll never offer elite status just for having the card.
3. Hotel reward cards work for everyone, no matter where you live
If you live near an airport that’s dominated by one airline, you’re pretty much committed to flying that carrier if you want to fly to most destinations without having to change planes. That means you have essentially just one airline credit card to choose from, perhaps in a few different flavors.
With hotel credit cards, you can go in any direction you want. If you don’t like any new changes made to your favorite program, you can just jump ship and go to a competitor’s.
My favorite programs
Rather than focus on a single hotel program, I’ve found several that work for me. I like the Hyatt program because it’s easy to earn rewards by using credit cards. I can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points with my Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold cards, which transfer to the Hyatt program. Or I can just use my Hyatt credit card, which offered me two free nights at any Hyatt as a sign-up bonus.
The Starwood Preferred Guest program is another one of my favorites. Their credit card, offered by American Express, allows me to earn points I can use at any Starwood property, which includes Westins, Sheratons, and several other brands. In addition, I can transfer Starwood points to many different airline programs in order to top off my accounts for frequent-flier awards.
The Club Carlson program is also great, largely because of its credit card offered by US Bank. Cardholders earn five points per dollar spent and always receive a free night on any award stay of two or more nights. That means a two-night stay costs only as many points as you need for a single night.
Finally, I really like Choice hotels, but only when I travel in Europe. Their properties in America are often budget motels, to put it as nicely as I can. But in Europe, they often have fantastic hotels that are centrally located in European capitals. For example, I booked three nights in Rome Italy for only 10,000 points per night. The hotel is in the heart of downtown, and their program lets me book any room in their property as an award. Since their credit card earns two points per dollar spent, that means I only had to spend $5,000 on the card to earn the free night award.
Furthermore, their program lets me book any room in the hotel, so our family is staying in a room that sleeps four that normally sells for $325 per night. So that’s like getting 6.5 cents in value for every dollar spent on the credit card. Superior award values like this are the best reason to consider using a hotel credit card.