The Best Hotel Credit Cards of 2018

Credit cards

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Hotel credit cards offer reward points for purchases that can be used for hotel stays when you travel. Different types of hotel credit cards offer different benefits, which can include free nights at hotels, perks at certain hotels, and bonuses for certain kinds of spending and purchases. Are these cards more beneficial than ones that just offer cash back? Read on to see what they have to offer.

Types of Hotel Credit Cards

The two types of hotel credit cards available to travelers are chain-specific cards and more general travel credit cards. Each kind has its own benefits and drawbacks, which can vary depending on your frequency of travel and where you like to stay.

Chain-Specific Hotel Credit Cards

Chain-specific credit cards work well for people who like to stay in one specific hotel chain whenever they travel. Currently, chain-specific travel credit cards are offered by Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt, Hilton, Choice, Wyndham, Best Western and IHG (which includes Holiday Inn and others).

Chain-specific cards have many benefits for users. Most give you a certain amount of points when you first get the card if you spend a set amount within the initial period, plus one or two free nights just for signing up. Some cards offer double points or more for hotel stays plus elevated point levels for other categories of spending as well.

One of the best things about chain-specific cards is that they usually offer perks when you stay at one of the chain’s hotels, such as free wi-fi, late checkout, room upgrades, and priority check-in. Because of the limitations placed on chain-specific cards, you may want to choose a chain that has lots of different hotels included if you like to vary your travel and price points of the places you stay.

For example, Choice hotels include Ascend, Cambria, Comfort Inn, Sleep Inn, Quality Inn, Clarion, Econolodge and Rodeway Inn. These hotels can range from hundreds of dollars a night to well under $100 in most cases at an Econolodge or Rodeway Inn, and include thousands of hotels worldwide, so there is likely to be one or more Choice Hotels properties in the vicinity of just about anywhere you want to stay.

A chain with fewer types of properties will necessarily limit your options more but can be worthwhile if your travel habits are fairly regimented and include staying at the same hotel or hotels repeatedly over time. Chain-specific cards are usually co-branded, so they can be used for all kinds of purchases to help you earn the maximum rewards to use for free nights and discounts.

One drawback to chain-specific hotel credit cards is that they often have an annual fee, but the benefits earned can add up to hundreds of dollars a year for frequent travelers and be well worth the fee. If you only travel sporadically, however, you may be better off avoiding cards that charge fees and going with a fee-free card even if you get fewer benefits.

Best Chain-Specific Cards

Chase Mariott Rewards Premier–this card has an $85 annual fee but offers a free night every year at any hotel, even the higher-end ones that can go for hundreds of dollars a night. For signing up this year,  you can earn 75,000 points when you spend $3,000 on the card in the first 3 months. You also earn 5X points for Mariott stays and 2X for airlines and car rentals for this card.

For a no-fee card, the Choice Privileges Visa card offers 32,000 bonus points (worth about 4 free nights) for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days as well as enough points for a free night every year you spend at least $10,000 on the card. Choice also allows cardholders to combine points for purchases on the card with points for their rewards program to get 15 points per dollar spent on Choice hotel stays.

The Starwood American Express card is known for offering a one-to-one transfer of points to more than 30 airline reward programs, making it one of the best options for airline miles, despite the $95 fee after the first year. Points can also be used for free nights at Sheraton, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, Le Méridien, Westin, Aloft, Element Hotels, Four Points by Sheraton, Tribute Portfolio and Design Hotels.

Hotel room with bed and table lamp
The free hotel stays offered by many hotel reward credit cards can make signing up worthwhile.

General Hotel Credit Cards

While general hotel credit cards don’t offer some of the loyalty bonuses and perks that chain-specific ones do, they can be a good bet for the occasional traveler or one that likes to stay in different hotels rather than stick to one chain. Some general hotel credit cards also offer perks of their own, like discounts on rental cars and trip interruption or cancellation insurance that can really come in handy when traveling.

Best General Hotel Credit Cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa offers 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months after opening the account. These points are worth about $625 toward travel costs when you redeem them through Chase Ultimate Rewards, which offers 25 percent more per point. You also earn 2X points on hotel and airline purchases; there is a $95 annual fee after the first year.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard gives users 2X points on all purchases, not just on travel, and has a 0 percent balance transfer offer for the first 12 months for transfers made in the first 45 days. 40,000 bonus miles for $3,000 in initial spending is worth $400 toward travel, and the card gives back 5 percent of all points redeemed to use next time. Annual fee is $89 after the first year.

If you want a card with no annual fee, the Capital One VentureOne Rewards card offers 1.25X points on all purchases and 20,000 bonus points (about $200) when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. This card is also offering 0 percent APR for the first 12 months on purchases. As with most travel credit cards, you will give up benefits in exchange for not paying an annual fee, but this can be a good option for those who don’t know how much hotel rewards credit cards will benefit them at this point.

A Note About Foreign Transaction Fees

One thing to consider with both chain-specific and general hotel reward credit cards is that when you stay outside the United States, there are often foreign transaction fees assessed on purchases. These fees average 3 percent, so make sure you know ahead of time whether the card you plan to use has these fees. Of the ones listed here, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus is best suited to foreign travel since it does not have any foreign transaction fees.

Choosing the best card for your needs may take some investigating, but can mean significant savings on travel expenses for savvy consumers.

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