Free hotel stays have always played second fiddle to free flights in terms of value. In the short-term, this could change as hotel rewards and hotel credit cards with sign-up bonuses could be a higher priority. If we are not venturing to airports as often, it could be great to have an amazing domestic vacation (or staycation) that includes free hotel nights.
Getting your hands on the best hotel credit cards can be a big game-changer for the way you do free travel. With the right card, you can easily get access to great hotel stays at next-to-nothing prices, free nights, bonus perks and more.
So to help you build up that point strategy for great accommodations, we’ve gathered the best hotel credit cards in this article and outlined how each card can benefit you the most. Also check out the tips we’ve included to get the most out of your hotel credit card and other opportunities that can enhance your free travel experience.
How do Hotel Credit Cards work?
Before we give you our list of best hotel credit cards, let’s talk about how they work.
Hotel credit cards are pretty straightforward. Most come with a generous sign-up bonus or “welcome offer” for meeting a minimum spending requirement. These points translate into free nights when booking an award night with points on their site. Some of the more premium cards (i.e. with higher annual fees) can include some elite status and extra perks like free breakfast.
One thing I like about the hotel cards with annual fees is that most come with one annual free night every year. This free night redemption easily outweighs the annual fee and encourages my wife and I to use them! As a couple, that means we can stack our annual free nights for a great weekend trip. I tend to keep my hotel cards (instead of cancel them) each year because of this free night value.
Just my opinion, but I tend to like the Hyatt and Marriott programs the best. Those are the ones I am most familiar with and feel good about the value I get when redeeming them. Hyatt points normally carry the highest overall value, and you can always top up your account by transferring Chase points to Hyatt (instantly) at a great 1:1 ratio. There are many people who love Hilton, but I haven’t found the value with Hilton compared to Marriott and Hyatt.
Below you will see options for co-branded cards (specific “Hotel” credit cards) and some options for bank cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred that offer far more flexible options via their travel portal, transfer partners, and exclusive hotel program. If you are brand new and do not have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, I would strongly recommend that card before you look at hotel cards.
Table of Contents
- Best Co-Branded Hotel Credit Cards
- Best Flexible Travel (Hotel) Credit Cards
Best Co-Branded Hotel Credit Cards
Despite starting late in the hotel industry landscape (1957), Hyatt is now one of the most recognized hotel brands in the world. With hundreds of hotels covered in its World of Hyatt rewards program, great earning opportunities, and unique membership perks, it’s easy to see why Hyatt is a top choice among free travelers. Hyatt recognizes and awards your loyalty strongly with generous benefits so you’re always guaranteed great bonuses.
Hyatt currently has one personal card, “World of Hyatt Credit Card“, and no business cards. As I mentioned above, if you have Chase Ultimate Rewards, the transfer to World of Hyatt Points is 1:1!
Why we love it:
- Although not as big as other contenders, there are lots of Hotel Brands that are under Hyatt, giving you access to hundreds of accommodations. Here are some of their brands to name a few: Andaz, Thompson Hotels, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, Destination Hotels, and Joie de Vivre.
- Generous offer on free nights you get a free night for every 5 different brands you stay with Hyatt and that includes both regular and award stays. You also get a complimentary free night for every year you keep the card.
- The freebies and perks you get with Hyatt easily offset the annual $95 fee for the card.
- Getting the Hyatt credit card automatically gives you a “Discoverist Status” which entitles you to an additional percentage of bonus points for all your stays, room upgrades, late checkouts when available and more. In addition, you’ll be able to achieve higher elite status quickly because you’ll receive qualifying-night credits for ever year you keep your card. Despite it being a “status,” it’s not a ton of value.
- No foreign transaction fees.
With the recent travel restrictions due to the Corona Virus Pandemic, you may want to check out current updates to policies and cancellation guidelines for Hyatt here.
What started as a root beer stand in 1927, Marriott is now a hotel chain with more hotel rooms than any other in the world. So if you look at it, it’s a no-brainer to get access to Marriott’s hotel credit cards. But even better is the fact that Marriott’s Marriott Bonvoy Rewards program has merged with two other hotel rewards programs: the Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton Rewards.
Check out our Marriot Bonvoy Complete Guide here for an in-depth look into this rewards program.
Marriott has a lot of options when it comes to credit cards, but here are two of the best Marriott cards on our list:
- Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless
- American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card75,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. A large annual fee but many perks to offset it, including $300 annual credit. This is a good ultra-premium option for people who like the Hilton Aspire card, but prefer Marriott Bonvoy hotels.
Both of these cards are different in their own ways, but here are some features you may want to take note of:
- Having a Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card automatically gets you a Gold Elite Status with Marriott Bonvoy Rewards. This Gold Elite Status comes with great perks such as additional bonus points on all hotel stays, late checkouts based on availability, extra points as in-hotel welcome gifts, and room upgrades.
- Having a Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant credit card grants you a Silver Elite Status with Marriott Bonvoy Rewards. Benefits of the Silver Elite status includes additional bonus points from stays, late checkouts and access to a dedicated reservations line for elite status holders.
Why we love it:
- As the largest hotel chain in the world, Marriott offers a wide range of hotels including ultra-luxury resorts, family-friendly hotels, and economical roadside stops. With Marriott being present in nearly every corner of the world, you can be sure that this card will be put to good use.
- Marriott houses a collection of so many hotel brands, such as Sheraton Hotels and Resorts, W Hotels Worldwide, The Ritz-Carlton, Bulgari Resorts and Hotels and more.
- Get great value for your points when you “Stay 5, Pay for 4.” This is Marriott’s incredible offer that allows you to redeem five nights for the cost of four nights. This perk is available for everyone.
- You can also transfer Marriott points to airlines, including many valuable loyalty programs with difficult-to-earn airline miles. However, the ratio is 3:1 in most cases, which is not great value.
- Racking up Marriott points can be very easy taking into account the considerable welcome bonuses and powerful point earning potential from Marriott expenses, U.S. restaurants, flights, and other expenses.
- Marriott also offers different levels of elite status which are sometimes automatic or complementary. With elite status, you can earn even more points, credits, and free nights.
With the recent travel restrictions due to the Corona Virus Pandemic, you may want to check out current updates to policies and cancellation guidelines for Marriott here.
If Marriott started out as a root beer stand, IHG’s humble beginnings start with a brewery! From William Bass’s brewery in the 1700’s, the Bass family later expanded into the hospitality industry, building its own hotel chains, and then ultimately purchasing Holiday Inn International. The IHG brand later came after several buyouts and acquisitions. Today, what is now known as IHG or the InterContinental Hotel Group is one of the largest hotel brands in the world with over 5000 hotels worldwide and counting.
Your best options for IHG is the Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. With IHG’s Rewards Club Program, the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is a great card for everyday spend, given IHG’s hefty sign-up bonus. Although the value of the rewards are not as comprehensive as Marriott’s or Hyatt’s, access to IHG’s 5000+ hotels stands as one of the top reasons why this card deserves your time and investment.
Why we love it:
- With IHG you have access to thousands of hotels around the world. Their catalog of brands includes Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, Kimpton, and InterContinental Hotels.
- IHG Premier cardholders get a fourth night award where fees for your fourth night are waived during award stays of four nights or more.
- On top of all the rewards and perks that come with being an IHG cardholder, IHG has frequent promotions such as discounts on accredited restaurants and bars.
- Every cardmember year, IHG gifts its members with an anniversary reward night certificate valid at IHG hotels.
- Get Global Entry/TSA Precheck credits of up to $100 every four years.
- IHG cardholders automatically become IHG Platinum elite status holders which comes with point bonuses on IHG stays. Platinum Elite status holders are also eligible for various upgrades and late checkout (when available). As a Platinum Elite member, your IHG points won’t expire.
- No foreign transaction fees.
With the recent travel restrictions due to the Corona Virus Pandemic, you may want to check out current updates to policies and cancellation guidelines for IHG here.
Founded by Conrad Hilton in 1919, the Hilton Brand is now a multinational company that boasts of nearly a million rooms across thousands of properties in over 100 countries worldwide. Those numbers alone definitely show how big of a player Hilton currently is in the hotel industry. Hilton’s rewards program is known as Hilton Honors.
We’ve listed two best hotel credit cards for Hilton; these are:
- American Express Hilton Honors Aspire150,000 Hilton Honors Points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. If you stay at Hilton properties throughout the year, you should really consider this high-end card. Lots of great benefits with a total value that exceeds the higher annual fee.
- American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Card150,000 Hilton Honors Points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months. For those who love Hilton, this is a great option for a welcome offer and to get and keep Hilton Gold status. Know that Hilton points are lower in value relative to other rewards programs, so don't be enamored by the big earning bonuses.
Here are some distinctions that you may want to take note of with regards to these two cards:
- The Hilton Honors Aspire card costs more in annual fees but grants automatic Diamond Elite Status. This status comes with a free weekend night reward each year. You also get a wide range of elite status perks, including unlimited Priority Pass lounge access for the cardholder and two other guests.
- The Hilton Honors Surpass card comes at a lower annual fee and automatic Gold Elite Status. Hilton’s Gold elite status include benefits such as free breakfast, 5th night free offers during award stays, free resort fees and free visits to Priority Pass.
Why we love it:
- Hilton Honors cards have built-in elite status that grants you access to loads of the most valuable perks. These include free breakfasts, no resort fees on reward stays, space-available upgrades, free in-room and lobby Wi-Fi, late check-out, and more.
- Hilton is home to brands like Waldorf Astoria, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Curio, Signia and more.
- Elite status holders can also enjoy the “5th night free” offer on Hilton award bookings. This applies to every 5th night on reservations of up to 20 consecutive nights, and you can use it an unlimited number of times.
- No foreign transaction fees
With the recent travel restrictions due to the Corona Virus Pandemic, you may want to check out current updates to policies and cancellation guidelines for Hilton here.
Best Non-Branded Hotel Credit Cards
Chase Credit Cards
Travel Freely’s most recommended card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of our top recommendations for best hotel credit cards. Simply put, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers an awesome signup bonuses and great redemption value. If you’re looking for hotel stays, you can use your Chase points to book within the Chase Travel Portal or transfer points at 1:1 directly to their hotel partners: IHG, Marriott, and Hyatt. Go here for specifics on hotel redemptions with Chase points.
Why we love it:
- When you use the Chase Travel Portal to redeem your points, you can get 25% more redemption value on hotels, airfare, car rentals and cruises.
- Chase has a number of travel partners which you can transfer your points to so you get even more perks. For hotels, Chase is partnered with IHG® Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy™, and World of Hyatt®.
- When you transfer your points to any of these three hotel programs, you can book free nights and have your points count toward earning an Elite Club Status that can lead to more bonuses.
- Read our article 6 Reasons Why We Love the Chase Sapphire Preferred
How to Book Hotels with Chase Ultimate Rewards
Check out this video below on how you can make the most out of booking hotels with your Chase points. Sometimes, the offers on the portal may not be the best offer that’s out there so do take the time to check this video for insider tips on how you can maximize your points for hotel bookings:
Also check the full article on booking hotels with Chase Ultimate Rewards here.
American Express Credit Cards
Getting great value with AMEX points for hotels is a bit different. It’s best to transfer your points to their partners (Choice, Hilton, Marriott) or book through The Hotel Collection or Fine Hotels and Resorts (Platinum cardholders only) to receive some extra perks. If you are looking for best available rates without extra benefits, it’s better to use Chase points if you have them.
Check here to learn about the highest welcome offer for AMEX Platinum Card via Cardmatch tool.
Here are the two most popular American Express cards:
- American Express Gold Card60,000 Amex Membership Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 in the first 6 months. This card has a new upgraded welcome offer and some of the highest returns (4x!) for spending at U.S. groceries and restaurants. Definitely worth a spot in your wallet.
- American Express Platinum Card75,000 Amex Membership Rewards Points after you spend $5,000 in the first 6 months. One of the most supreme cards out there loaded with benefits and perks. Incredible welcome offer right now that includes earning 10x points at U.S. Gas Stations and U.S. Supermarkets up to $15,000 in combined purchases during first 6 months.
Each card has its own specialty, but here are some of those that stand out:
- The Amex Gold card provides you with cash credits that you can use towards hotel expenses such as for food, spa services and other hotel facilities. The Amex Gold also grants you access to travel discounts and amenities as part of The Travel Collection by Travel Leaders Group program.
- With the Amex Platinum, cardholders can unlock complimentary access to a number of exceptional travel services. Platinum Card members are automatically Gold status holders for with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy programs, which entitle you to some solid on-property benefits, such as late checkout and bonus earnings on stays. Another special perk for this card is that you can enjoy benefits such as daily breakfast for two and available room upgrades with the FINE HOTELS & RESORTS® Program that lists over 1,000 properties. This card also grants you access to numerous airport lounges that fall under the American Express Global Lounge Collection®
Why we love it:
- Amex Membership Rewards points do not expire! This means that you aren’t pressed for time on when to redeem your points so that you can save them for even higher value rewards.
- Thanks to the Amex’s wide network of partners and the transferable nature of Membership Rewards® Points, you can move your points over to other loyalty programs like Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors which grants you access to a multitude of premium destinations. If you get to catch the occasional Amex transfer bonus, you can get more hotel points or airline miles than the usual ratio.
Booking the best hotel accommodations are a great way to upgrade your travel experience, and more so if you get them for free! So when choosing a hotel credit card, make sure you spend the time to check out the perks and offers you can get, as well as the flexibility of the card. Look into features such as transferring of points to other rewards programs, or added benefits for other travel needs – flights, food, car rentals, insurance and more.