If you're a casual traveler, signing up for a hotel credit card can qualify you for upgrades and special perks usually reserved for touring rock stars. Frequent guests can cover the costs of personal trips to the kinds of resorts not usually covered under corporate travel policies. Our list of this season's best hotel credit cards features rewards programs that maximize your earnings without holding back on bonus rewards.
Hilton relationships with two different banks mean you don't have to choose between your favorite hotel and your preferred bank. The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card from Citibank includes automatic Gold status, bumping you into preferred rooms and granting you Executive Lounge access at many Hilton properties. The no annual fee Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card from Citibank offers a sign-up bonus large enough for a few free nights in most cities. Both cards include Visa Signature benefits, including purchase protection and concierge services.
Frequent fliers may find more value in the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express. This card includes complimentary airport lounge access and a discounted private car service among its benefits. At just a $75 annual fee, those features alone can save you a few hundred dollars each year. The basic Hilton HHonors Card from American Express carries no annual fee and upgrades you to Gold status for a year when you spend $20,000 on the card.
Starwood Preferred Guest
The Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express rewards you with 2 bonus Starpoints for every dollar you spend at participating SPG hotels. Upgrade to Gold or Platinum status for an extra bonus Starpoint. You'll get one Starpoint per dollar on your everyday purchases. With 12,000 Starpoints you can book a free hotel room in New York city on a typical holiday weekend, but bargain seekers can scope out free stays for as few as 7,000 rewards points per night.
SPG gets consistently high marks from business travelers for its flexible redemption program and for Starwood's ever-expanding lineup of hotels and resorts. While "sales teams" typically flock to the nearest Sheraton, the company's Aloft, Westin and W Hotels brands have upped the ante for immersive guest experiences. Cardmembers get a head start toward earning elite status, with perks including late checkout, enhanced rooms, and surprise check-in gifts. Your reward stays even earn credit toward future free nights.
Marriott has won the Freddie Award for best American hotel loyalty program five years in a row. Chase's Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card eliminates foreign transaction fees and includes full Visa Signature benefits for an $85 annual fee. After 50 qualifying nights, members enjoy free in-room Internet access, complimentary breakfast, and free membership in the Hertz #1 Gold car rental program. Marriott's rewards network now includes Renaissance Hotels, the luxurious Autograph Collection, and Marriott's new Edition brand.
Hyatt Gold Passport
Hyatt's portfolio may not be as large as its competitors, but new brands like value-oriented Hyatt Place could help bring the company's signature service offerings to a wider market. The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase kick-starts new memberships with two free nights after your first purchase. You'll spend your two free nights in upgraded suites if you're already a diamond member when you apply. This no foreign transaction fee card includes "chip and PIN" technology that means you won't have to carry a backup card in Europe.
While not a traditional hotel loyalty program, the Orbitz No Hassle Rewards Card from Capital One can help you enjoy luxury hotel perks at discount prices. Book one of the website's discount vacation packages, and you'll earn 2,000 bonus rewards points, along with 3 points per dollar spent on your itinerary. While you won't automatically earn the same perks and privileges as participants in hotel loyalty programs, deep price cuts can land you on the same concierge floors as platinum-level travelers. Redeem 60,000 points for a $600 statement credit on your already-discounted travel purchases.
Finding the best value among hotel credit cards
Such strong competition among both hotel chains and credit card issuers has resulted in some unprecedented signup offers for new customers. Each of the hotel credit cards on our list (with the exception of the Orbitz.com card) offers enough rewards points with your first purchase for at least one free hotel night.
But the very best cards rocket you into the same orbit as guests who had to earn their gold, platinum, or diamond status one night at a time. The extra recognition at the front desk, an unexpected gift on your dresser, and the incremental bonus points you'll earn with elite status offer big returns on relatively low annual fees.