The best hotel credit cards for 2017

The best hotel credit cards for 2017 The best hotel credit cards for 2017 Image:
The best hotel credit cards reward consumers for their loyalty, but you'll need to consider redemption flexibility, the sign-up bonus and earning potential before you pick a card.

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At a glance: The best hotel credit cards

N/A Best card for flexibility
IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card Low annual fee
N/A Best sign-up bonus
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card Best for free nights

Whether you stay in a five-star resort for your family vacation or a three-star airport hotel for business travel, hotel stays can get expensive.

Sure, you could use a travel rewards credit card to pay for your hotel, but you may get more rewards with a hotel credit card.

For example, the N/A gives you two points per dollar for every travel and dining purchase. However, the Citi® Hilton Honors™ Reserve Card gives you 10 Hilton Honors bonus points per dollar spent on Hilton hotel stays, 5 points per dollar for airline and rental car purchases and 3 points per dollar on everything else, essentially rewarding your loyalty and allowing you to earn the most points when you use your card to pay for hotel purchases — similar to other hotel cards.

With some hotel credit cards, everyday purchases such as gas, groceries and dining also earn you points. This means travelers can rack up rewards more quickly with frequent use. travel insurance and safety expert Joe Cortez recommends thinking about what features and perks you’re looking for before applying for a card. “Consumer’s reasons for choosing a hotel credit card may be different. Some will be looking for the easiest path toward earning free room nights, while others may want ways to maintain loyalty status with their favorite brands.”

Not sure which card to choose? Here’s our list of the best hotel credit cards.

Best card for flexibility: N/A

Who’s it for?

Frequent travelers who love luxury hotels and need the flexibility to transfer points.

Why we like it

Starwood has more than 2,100 hotels worldwide, including over 900 in North America. With the N/A you can earn up to five Starpoints® for every dollar you spend at participating Starwood hotels if you’re an Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG®) member.

But what sets this card apart is its flexibility. Thanks to Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood in 2016, you’ll also earn two Starpoints® for every dollar you spend at participating Marriott Rewards® hotels — a portfolio that includes more than 4,400 hotels worldwide.

This flexibility also extends to airline travel. Cardholders can redeem their Starpoints® for flights on more than 150 airlines with no blackout dates through the SPG Flights® program.

As a card member, you receive 5,000 bonus Starpoints® when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints® to purchase airfare. This could come in handy considering Starwood has alliances with more than 30 frequent-flyer programs.

Watch out for

First of all, this card comes with a N/A annual fee.

Another drawback is that you only earn one Starpoint® per dollar spent on eligible non-hotel purchases. If you’re hoping to maximize your rewards by using your card for everyday purchases, a better option might be the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card, a hotel rewards card that will get you two points for every dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants.

How to use it

There’s no foreign transaction fee, so this could be a good card to use when you travel abroad.

Earn a welcome bonus of 25,000 Starpoints® after you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first three months, and get a head start on earning free nights.

Best low annual fee card: IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

Who’s it for?

Budget travelers who want to earn points and perks without having fees cut into their rewards earnings.

Why we like it

The IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card has no annual fee the first year. After that, it increases to $49 annually. This is about half the annual fee of the N/A and the Citi® Hilton Honors™ Reserve Card.

“I gladly paid the $49 renewal fee because last year I got a Crowne Plaza stay out of it, and this year I cashed rewards in for a $349 night at The Willard InterContinental® in Washington, D.C.,” says Tim Leffel, author of “The World’s Cheapest Destinations.”

IHG® Rewards Club Select offers several enticing perks:

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Earn five points per dollar spent at IHG® hotels (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Candlewood Suites, Kimpton hotels and more).
  • Get two points for every dollar spent on gas, groceries and dining.
  • Receive a free night after each account anniversary.
  • Pay no foreign transaction fees.
  • Get a 10 percent rebate when you redeem your points (up to 100,000 points each year).

Watch out for

If you book your IHG® hotel through a third-party website, you likely won’t earn points for your stay. Complimentary stays also don’t qualify for points.

And keep an eye on your card activity: Your points expire if your account is inactive for 12 months.

How to use it

You’ll need at least 10,000 points to redeem for a free night. This means to get a free night each year, you’ll need to spend about $415 a month on gas, groceries or dining, or about $170 a month at IHG® hotels.

A weeklong family vacation or extended business travel at one of the pricier IHG® hotels (Kimpton or InterContinental) could help you meet this threshold, along with the sign-up bonus and 10 percent rebate.

Best sign-up bonus: N/A

Who’s it for?

Everyone from road warriors to business travelers who want to be loyal to a hotel brand that’s found almost everywhere.

Why we like it

With 5,700 hotels in 110 countries (4,400+ of which are properties where you can earn rewards), Marriott hotels are all over the world. The N/A awards 80,000 points as a sign-up bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months.

You also get a free night stay every year after your account anniversary and 15 Elite credits each year, giving you Silver Elite status every year. This status comes with discounts and perks such as late checkout.

You can earn five points per dollar spent at participating Marriott Rewards® and SPG® hotels with your card. Also, you’ll receive two points per dollar spent at car rental agencies and restaurants, as well as two points per dollar spent on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline. You’ll get one point per dollar spent on everything else.

Bonus: You can earn unlimited points, and they never expire as long as you make credit card purchases every 24 months.

Watch out for

There’s an annual fee of N/A.

How to use it

Use the sign-up bonus for a four-night stay at a category 4 hotel (a mid-tier hotel that costs 20,000 points a night for a free night). Or save them and continue to earn rewards that you can put toward a more expensive vacation.

Best for free nights: Citi® HHonors™ Reserve Credit Card

Who’s it for?

Those who prefer Hilton hotels — including the Hampton Inn, DoubleTree, and Hilton Hotels & Resorts — and want to be rewarded for their loyalty.

Why we like it

As a sign-up bonus, you can earn two weekend night certificates after you spend $2,500 in purchases within the first four months. You’ll also get 10 Hilton Honors points per dollar spent at Hilton hotels, five points per dollar spent on airline and rental car purchases, and three points per dollar on everything else.

Cardholders automatically get Hilton Honors Gold Status. This comes with a 25 percent bonus on any Hilton Honors base points you earn, a fifth night free on standard room stays of five nights or more, late checkout, complimentary Wi-Fi and more.

Watch out for

There’s a $95 annual fee, which isn’t waived the first year.

Also, the card offers a weekend night certificate at select Hilton hotels as an anniversary bonus, but you’ll need to spend $10,000 on purchases each year and remain a cardmember to get this bonus.

How to use it

You’ll get the most value when you use this card at a Hilton property. But considering the card also offers three points per dollar spent on nontravel purchases, you can earn big rewards with every swipe.

Bottom line

Hotel cards can be great options if you’re already loyal to a brand, but you have to use them wisely, Cortez says. His advice? Always use your card to pay for nights at hotel properties, which can help you earn rewards toward free nights. Also, make sure you understand your card’s bonus categories and benefits.

“By knowing which stores can help you earn the most points, or the on-property luxuries you are entitled to with each card, you can gain the most benefit from holding the card — leading to more free nights and luxury experiences,” Cortez says.

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