Which credit cards to use for hotel stays?

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I get several emails per week about which credit cards to use for hotel stays, given the number of factors at play, including category bonuses and foreign transaction fees. So I figured I’d provide a quick rundown of the credit cards I suggest using for hotel stays depending on the hotel chain and also whether it’s a stay in the US or abroad (due to foreign transaction fees). In many cases using the hotel’s co-branded credit card makes the most sense, though the obvious alternative is Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. The card offers two points per dollar spent on hotels, which means you’re essentially earning 2 points per dollar spent on hotel stays. These points can be transferred directly to United, Southwest, Korean Air, Hyatt, Marriott, and IHG, so it’s pretty easy to make a direct comparison. Furthermore, the card charges no foreign transaction fees, which in many cases is a deciding factor.

Now, the valuation of points I use below are of course subjective. We all value points currencies differently, and the below is just my perspective. If you disagree with my valuations below you should be able to easily calculate which card to use based on the points per dollar you earn and your valuation per point.

As a starting point I should mention that I value Ultimate Rewards points at about two cents each. That means you’re essentially earning a 4% return on hotel stays using the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. My valuation of Ultimate Rewards points is based on what I value United miles at, which I think remain the strongest mileage currency there is, and the best transfer option for Ultimate Rewards points. You’re of course free to value your miles differently, and can adjust the math accordingly (if you value Ultimate Rewards points at 1.5 cents each, for example, you’re only looking at a 3% return for using your Chase Sapphire Preferred card at hotels).

With that in mind, here are my suggestions based on my valuations:

Hilton

Co-branded credit card: Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
Points per dollar spent on hotel stays: 10
Foreign transaction fees: None
Value per Hilton HHonors point (in cents): 0.8
Return per dollar using Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa: 8.0%
Card to use for US stays: Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa (8.0%)
Card to use for international stays: Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa (8.0%)

Hyatt

Co-branded credit card: Chase Hyatt Signature Visa
Points per dollar spent on hotel stays: 3
Foreign transaction fees: None
Value per Hyatt Gold Passport point (in cents): 1.8
Return per dollar using Hyatt Signature Visa: 5.4%
Card to use for US stays: Hyatt Signature Visa (5.4%)
Card to use for international stays: Hyatt Signature Visa (5.4%)

Marriott

Co-branded credit card: Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Points per dollar spent on hotel stays: 5
Foreign transaction fees: None
Value per Marriott Rewards point (in cents): 0.8
Return per dollar using Marriott Rewards Signature Visa: 4.0%
Card to use for US stays: Chase Sapphire Preferred (4.0%)
Card to use for international stays: Chase Sapphire Preferred (4.0%)

IHG Rewards Club

Co-branded credit card: IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card
Points per dollar spent on hotel stays: 5
Foreign transaction fees: None
Value per IHG Rewards point (in cents): 0.5
Return per dollar using IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card: 3.0%
Card to use for US stays: Chase Sapphire Preferred (4.0%)
Card to use for international stays: Chase Sapphire Preferred (4.0%)

Starwood

Co-branded credit card: Starwood American Express
Points per dollar spent on hotel stays: 2
Foreign transaction fees: 2.7%
Value per Starwood Preferred Guest point (in cents): 2.5
Return per dollar using Starwood American Express: 5.0%
Card to use for US stays: Starwood American Express (5.0%)
Card to use for international stays: Chase Sapphire Preferred (4.0%)

Hopefully that’s helpful. Of course if you think my valuations are off, feel free to tear me apart in the comments section and/or share your valuations.

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Comments

  1. Are people really so stupid that they need to email to ask someone else which card to use and they can’t work it out for themselves? Or are the emailed questions not actually in existence and just a good excuse to pump the cards. Or maybe Mr Lucky emails Gary asking him questions and vice versa so they can say they get asked about this stuff “all the time” 🙂 And yes please do correct the above Hyatt is 3 points per $ If you are going to shamelessly plug cards at least get the facts right

  2. The way to get the best value out of Marriott is to book their vacation packages, you get can get a week at a cat 6 + 100K miles, compare this to Hilton which you only get you a similar hotel award using GLON/AXON for about the same amount of points. So I personally value Marriott at about 1.2c per point, where I think your Hilton valuation is about accurate.

  3. Also, for a low volume consumer or someone who stays at multiple chains, you should probably consider using a card like Sapphire or AMEX where you have flexibility, even if the % return is slightly lower.

  4. Lucky, I’m disappointed to see far & fewer trip reports & more credit card (ahem!) reviews. You are losing your mojo. That’s what set u apart from others. Nothing wrong with earning a living but u r creating a void that could be filled by someone else. Ditto for Gary. I also sense that u r starting to get sick of flying a bit and are not the same guy who was thinking of moving to FCT in FRA. Right or wrong , justan opinion, but if web hits matter to you, you will start go see a change

  5. What, you mean I shouldn’t be using my debit card? 😀 FWIW, if you really value Chase UR at 2.0 cents I’d be glad to sell all of mine to you. Just email me.

  6. great thing about the hitlon surpass card is it also upgrades you to gold for the first year, and for the average user hilton gold is pretty good status to have with free internet and breakfast, also once you have the hilton surpass card you can refer friends through amex site and get 10k bonus

  7. About UA having the “strongest mileage currency” is that still true today? And, if so, what in particular about them makes them stronger than any other option?

  8. Ben–

    Under “Marriott”, for USA stays, you list “Marriott Chase Sapphire Preferred”. Don’t you mean just “Chase Sapphire Preferred”?

  9. @ Phil — It’s not that they can’t work out the math, but rather that they don’t know what hotel points are worth. I expect many can do the math on their own, though I’ve received tons of emails (and even Tweets) about it.

    @ Stargoldua — I just got done writing several trip reports and am in the process of finalizing several others, though my laptop had all my pictures on it and is now dead, so it’s taking a bit of time to recover. I appreciate your patience, and trust me, there’s nothing I enjoy more than writing them.

    @ HikerT — And I’d gladly buy ’em at that price!

    @ Dax — I’d argue they do. They have very liberal routing rules, allow you to go from the US to Asia via Europe, allow a stopover AND an open jaw, and allow changes after departure. I can’t think of any other mileage currency that matches that.

    @ jmd001 — Whoops, that wasn’t supposed to say Marriott. Fixed!

    @ david — That would be a good deal if you value Ultimate Rewards points at less than a cent a piece, which I think is a tough argument to make.

  10. Wouldn’t you also earn more by booking your hotel reservation through the Ultimate Rewards portal with your Sapphire Preferred? For example, 3 points/$ for Marriott and 4 points/$ for Intercontinental and Holiday Inn through the Portal in addition to the 2 for travel?

  11. Lucky,

    Thanks for the summary, it’s nice to see everything wrapped up nice and neatly.

    Could you do a new post with some more in depth analysis on how you value hotel points at what you do? That goes for airline points, too.

    I look at SPG points, and you say 2.5 c/p. Well, I’d say at least 3 c/p, and I generally won’t even redeem them for less than 4 c/p most times. Heck, I got a 17 c/p valuation at the Sheraton Krabi over xmas in 2010.

    I’m just getting into the Hilton racket, and while I’d never redeem 50k points for a Cat 7 award outright, there’s got to be decent value for an AXON7 award.

    I realize you can’t assign an average value to a point based on cherry picking awards, but you could really add a lot of value if you broke down valuations into “I don’t really care about value, I just want to redeem some points” vs “can afford to be somewhat picky and look for better values.”

    (The same is true with airline awards… if you’re just doing domestic Y, that’s one set, but if you’re holding out for int’l F that’s another.)

  12. I’ve been using Hilton exclusively for awhile and found I was only really able to get about .5 cpm out of them, unless doing axon or at very expensive properties in summer or during peak times ( Super Bowl comes to mind).

    Of course, when I found myself forced to spend a couple days in London around Christmas (tough problem, I know) and didn’t have much money I was happy to burn 100k on a room at park lane. You can worry about the value of points all you want, but in the end every situation is different.

  13. For Marriott you’d be better off using an Amex card with Open 5% savings plus the 2% for the MR pt for a 7% rebate.
    Also make sure you go through a portal to book for extra points.
    For the Amex MR portal you then need to use a MR card instead of the card you reco here, but the 4x MR pts now being offered on Marriott, PC, Sheraton (plus Choice, Carlson) would put you at 8% rebate.
    For the UR portal you could use the card you mentioned above plus get extra 4x UR pts for PC, 3x for Choice, Marriott, Best Western, Fairmont and 2x for SPG right now.

  14. I used to come to Lucky’s site every day to read about great trips that I aspired to take. I always liked playing the system with Lucky’s help and guidance. Today I clicked on my bookmark for Lucky thinking, “I wonder what credit card referral post Lucky has today?” Sure enough this post was at the top of the page.

  15. I have the regular Hilton Amex and have been using it for cable and cell phone charges for the 6x points rather than using any of my other cards. Agree?

  16. I think it also depends where you’re going. For instance, if you want to go to Italy, Hyatt doesn’t help you and therefore the Hyatt Card is useless.

  17. @HikerT if you DON’T value your Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents apiece then you shouldn’t use the Sapphire Preferred card anywhere that spend isn’t bonused, and use a 2% (or greater) cash back card instead. If you use it to earn 1.07 points per dollar on any spend you DO value it the points at ~ 2 cents apiece minimum based on your demonstrated behavior.

  18. Gary,

    I have the “old” Ink Bold which doesn’t offer any bonus spending categories. I was planning to wait until mine is up for renewal to apply for the new version.

  19. nice summary Lucky! Appreciate the considerable effort in putting this together for FREE for all of your readers who pay NOTHING to read your FREE blog.

  20. Am I the only one that is more confused? e.g. If I wanted to earn Marriott points to redeem for a hotel stay wouldn’t I be better off using the Marriott card rather than converting UR points at 1:1 for Marriott points?

  21. Gary, I don’t use my Sapphire unless it earns 2x or more (or if I am making a significant enough purchase from the UR mall). The vast majority of my UR points have come from signup bonuses, the UR mall, 5x or 2x spend, and the 7% bonus. I emailed Lucky 2 hours ago to offer him my UR stash but you’re more than welcome too it at 2 cents per point if he passes on it. But I digress. The problem with Lucky’s analysis is it doesn’t factor in the cost of obtaining and holding the cards. Annual fees would bring down the true value, as would the opportunity cost given up to reap sign up bonuses for other cards. If you have the cards great, use them. If you don’t have them you’re better off focusing on the best signup bonuses available to you rather that trying to tweak an extra cent or two on hotel stays. Nice theoretical exercise, but probably will be suboptimal advice to a reader who can’t think for themselves. That’s why I think lucky deserves some backslash for supplying application links, because the cards are only of value to the optimization equation if you are currently holding them.

  22. There is no way one Marriott point has the same value as a Hilton point. Marriott points have greater value, especially for travel packages and pointsaver awards. I agree with Nick’s value of 1.2 cents per Marriott point. Of course, this would make your recommedation of the Sapphire card the wrong one.

  23. As one of the people who e-mailed asking for your valuation of various hotel points, I thank you for this post.

    What does AXON stand for?

  24. Thanks Lucky. I am staying at TPA airport Marriott this weekend and I was going to use my Marriott plastic for the stay. After glancing over your info, I’m going to stick with my trusty Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa for the stay. In addition, you saved me a trip to the safety deposit box!

  25. So if you book a hotel through a mall for extra bonus points, does it only work on prepaid rates or do you get credit when you eventually stay on regular rates?

  26. Lucky, why are you only linking the Hilton Surpass AMEX as the Hilton co-branded card? There is also a co-branded card with no annual fee that gets 6pts/dollar at Hilton instead of 9pts/dollar (all other earning rates are the same). This is probably the smarter play for many people who don’t spend a ton of nights at Hilton in a year. I’ve had it for a couple years and find it pretty valuable, and love the fact that I’m not blowing money on an annual fee.

  27. Lucky, one cannot not notice the change in the blog’s content from the day you decided to offer affiliate links. I have no qualms about you wanting to earn money from your blog but please do some research before you post affiliate links. The least you should do is subscribe to the sticky in FT’s milesbuzz forum. Your Marriott and PC links both offer 20k points less than the current best signup offers.

  28. @Andrew, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think all the cards up there have annual fees. I think it’s safe to assume that the analysis assumes one would spend enough at the property to justify any fee. But, of course, the above analysis isn’t perfect for everyone, as he clearly states.
    The Citi Hilton Card comes with Silver status, the AMEX comes with Gold (for a year). 2 stays at a Hilton, and I’d say the fee easily pays itself off though more earned points through the card, more points from status, and the free internet and breakfast and room upgrades you get as a Gold.
    Having said that, I’m currently churning with the Citi card (since I already have Gold status from the Visa Signature promo). But once that status expires, I plan on switching over to the Amex in order to 1) get more signup bonus points, and 2) regain Gold status.

  29. For the Marriott Card, you left out the fact that getting the cards gets you 15 elite night credits and elite credits based on dollar spend.The 15 either gets you Silver Status (a 20% point bonus) or might put you up to another Status which gets you up to a 50% bonus.

  30. Great write up Lucky!

    You might have done a write up already, which hotel chains are good for booking free award nights in Europe aside from SPG?

  31. The UR portal has caused me to stop using my Marriott card at Marriotts, because perversely, the Sapphire Preferred actually gets me more Marriott points than the Marriott card does (2 points for hotel + 3 points/dollar through the UR portal = 5 flexible points, vs. 3 Marriott points using my current Marriott card). If you had the Marriott Signature card at Marriott points per dollar, I guess that would be a wash, though I’d still prefer the UR points because they’re flexible.

  32. You can use the UR portal with a different credit card. It’s just like a Fatwallet. Done it many times.

  33. @Egg
    The Marriott Premier card gives you 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott. And that’s every dollar spent there, food and drink, mini-bar and lobby store, the occasional parking fee, etc. Not just the room fee you get with the portal.

    Plus the 15 night credit towards elite keeps you at least Silver, which has been getting me top floor view rooms every night at US Courtyard locations lately. Even when checking in as late as 10pm. YMMV…

    The portal points may be more “flexible”, but the Sapphire annual fee is $10 more, you lose the 15 nights credit toward elite, and the free Cat 1-5 room certificate every year.

    I will probably get the Sapphire card eventually, mainly for the bonus miles. At least until the fee comes due. But I’ll still keep and use my Marriott Premier card for Marriott bookings.

  34. For Hyatt stays, the best card is the SPG Open Business card. With open, you receieve 3% cash back, plus 1 SPG point per stay. I value this minimally higher than using the Hyatt card at Hyatt hotels.

  35. Just want to say that this is a smart post, and while it does promote credit card sign-ups much like Gary and The Points Guy, Lucky does a much better job than anybody else of evaluating the cards and their benefits.

    Thanks Lucky! I don’t mind the CC posts, just as long as you keep blogging (like you have been) about your travel and other promos.

  36. It seems that the Sapphire Preferred card has not only surpassed some of the affinity hotel cards but also some affinity airline cards. One example would be the Southwest RR Visa. Am I mistaken that you get more points from booking SW flights with the Sapphire card than the RR card after taking into account the 7% bonus?

  37. Time to update this post, given now that there’s a better Hilton CC for both domestic and international stays.

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