How You Should Use the Best Hotel Credit Cards in 2018

Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3 points per dollar on all travel and dining. So paying for hotels with this cards gets you 3 points that transfer to different airline and hotel programs, you get to choose later.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is actually more rewarding for spending at hotels than any hotel credit card is. It’s better at Hyatt than the Hyatt card, better at Starwood than the Starwood card.

That means the role that hotel credit cards have is their signup bonus and the benefits that come with them. They aren’t for spending except for benefits-related threshold bonuses you may be after.

  • Hyatt Credit Card. You get it for the signup bonus [and it is not subject to 5/24 limits on getting approved for the card], and you keep it for the annual free night which is worth well more than the annual fee. You’re limited to category 1-4 properties for that free night but at Hyatt that’s most of their hotels.

    View of the Petronas Towers from the Category 3 Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur

  • Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express This is the strongest hotel card for actual spend because Starpoints are the most valuable currency. One Starpoint is worth more than 1 of any other point. I use this for some of my unbonused spend and have been a cardmember since 2001.

    However at Starwood properties I will still take 3 Chase points per dollar from the Sapphire Reserve which I value at 5.7 cents (3 x 1.9 cents) rather than 2 Starpoints which I value at 4.6 cents (2 x 2.3 cents).

  • Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card lets you earn 80,000 Bonus Points after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. You can also earn 7,500 bonus points for adding an authorized user to the account and making a purchase within the same 3 month period. (Offer expired)

    The reason to keep the card is its Category 1-5 hotel free night stay every year after your account anniversary date, and 15 elite night credits each year just for having the product. The reason to spend on the card would only be to earn more elite night credits.

    Al Wadi Desert Resort

  • Hilton has a variety of new credit cards but even the premium $450 card that earns 14 Hilton points per dollar on Hilton spend nets a 5.6% return (14 x .004) versus 5.7% for Chase Sapphire Reserve.

    You’re getting Hilton cards for benefits, primarily elite status, not for spending — although free weekend nights at spend tiers can be worthwhile for instance the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card which has a signup bonus up to 100,000 points also lets you earn free weekend nights for spend: $15,000 spend in purchases in a calendar year earns a weekend night reward and another weekend night after you spend an additional $45,000 in purchases on your Card in the same calendar year.

  • IHG Rewards Club credit card get it for the signup bonus and annual free night plus the 10% rebate on points redemptions. It offers the lowest return on spend of the major hotel card products.

All of these cards offers a reason to acquire the product, and a reason to keep the product.

Only the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express offers a strong enough value proposition for spending to keep making purchases on the card without having additional threshold bonuses as an enticement.

That’s because whatever rewards for spending these cards offer, Chase Sapphire Reserve offers even more.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. No mention of Citi Prestige in best hotel cards? Perhaps because no affiliate link for you I suppose. For 4+ night stays it’s the best hotel card hands down.

    I also don’t think CSR is an automatic choice over SPG at SPG/Marriott, since value depends on your point balances and goals.

  2. Gary,

    Thank you for an insightful article. I agree with all points although WR has a point in the tradeoff between using the AMEX SPG and the CSR.

    The only two travel cards we put active spend on these days are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the AMEX Starwood personal cards.

    Have a nice day.

  3. I think if you are very close to getting another free night at whatever chain. Say within 1,000 points, it makes sense, to just put a little spend on that card and get your free night. If you can transfer points from MR or UR, fine, but really should you do that? When the card in question, might earn 6 or 10 points per dollar, then it definitely sense makes over CSR. Goes back to what are your goals?

    The SPG Amex card isn’t universally accepted. I use my CSR at Costco. It makes the most sense, since the Costco Visa only earns 2% rebate at Costso. I was not happy about Costco’s switch, so sucks to be Citi. But Citi Premier earns 3x on gas and the CSR earns nothing on gas.

  4. @WR I go into some length on the margins along which valuations of each point will change, I do think CSR is pretty compelling over SPG/Marriott but you can make an argument at least with the new $450 premium Hilton card.

    As for Citi Prestige that card has lost a ton of its luster since losing AA club access, premium redemption value for AA tickets, golf, etc. And their transfer partners aren’t as compelling as Chase’s (or Amex’s).

    I agree the 4th night free benefit, even watered down as it’s become, it highly valuable if you make 4 night stays. I couldn’t tell you the last time I made a 4 night paid hotel stay though.

  5. Gary – how about a detailed analysis of when it makes sense to put spend on a card to get a free night certificate (for example, $15K on the HH Amex Business). If you assume unbonused spend, the trade off is 1 SPG point (2.3 cents), 1.5 chase points on the unlimited (2.85 cents), or 1.5 MR points on AMEX with 30 transactions/cycle (2.7 cents). So call it a loss of 2.8 points per dollar.
    Then of course you get the 1 HH point for the spend on that card (0.4 cents), for a net opportunity cost of 2.4 cents per dollar. And at $15k in spend, that is $360. So you need to get $360 out of the free night certificate to make it worthwhile. Did I do that right?

    Not impossible, but assuming you want to spend more than one night somewhere you need a stash of HH points or else are paying $360+ for the other nights. Of course, if you can spend a significant portion of that $15k at Hilton, that tips the scales considerably.

    Post with all the relevant cards would be useful, and an easy way to get some links in 😉

  6. I think the 14 points per dollar at Hilton is not too shabby. I’d probably do that if I were short Hilton and long UR.

  7. Hepworth, unbonused spend gets 3x Hilton points, or 1.2 cents, or an opportunity cost of 1.6 cents per dollar. 15k dollars times 0.016 is $240. So the free night costs $240. Good analysis otherwise.

  8. Yep, I use my JPM-R for all travel spend as it also comes with great travel insurance. Hotel cards sit in my safe deposit box, except for SPG Amex.

  9. Any ballpark of what FICO is required for these cards? I have a bankruptcy falling off mid 2018, but it’s there now and kept me from getting the IHG card last year.

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