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Hotel credit cards are hot right now, and I get a lot of questions about them. Benefits are being added to these cards constantly, and in the past few years we’ve seen Club Carlson and Hyatt introduce co-branded credit cards, and have also seen Hilton introduce a new co-branded Citi credit card, arguably their best co-branded card yet.
While I do think bank rewards credit cards (like those that accrue Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards points) are still the best if you want to have just one or two credit cards, I think hotel credit cards have become more lucrative than airline credit cards on the whole. Yes, there are exceptions, but not only do hotel credit cards typically offer a pretty good return on everyday spend, but almost without exception they offer some amazing annual perks just for keeping the cards.
I figured I’d write a short series comparing the benefits of the major hotel credit cards. To keep things simple I’ll share only what I consider to be the best co-branded card from each hotel chain. For example, Club Carlson has both a “premier” and a “standard” card. The difference in the annual fee is just $15-25, yet the “premier” card gets you so many more benefits and points.
In this post I’ll focus exclusively on the sign-up bonus. In the next post I’ll focus on which cards offer the most rewarding perks and annual bonuses, and then in the last post I’ll cover which cards are the most rewarding for everyday spend. The reason I’m splitting it up like this is because I think there’s no easy answer to which hotel credit card is best. Yes, there are one or two that are less awesome than the others, but besides that it all depends on your travel preferences, where you have elite status, and what you value most in a hotel.
That won’t stop me, however, from sorta kinda just a little putting them in the general order from what I consider to be the best(ish) sign-up bonus to the worst(ish) sign-up bonus (so what I’m saying is that I don’t think the first card is objectively better than the second card, but I do think the first card is objectively better than the fifth card):
Chase Hyatt Visa Card
Current sign-up offer: Two free nights at any Hyatt property after spending $1,000 within three months; for Platinum members two free nights and two suite upgrades; for Diamond members two free nights in a suite (note: sometimes the Hyatt website has better offers on the card which include a statement credit)
Annual fee: $75
Hyatt simply has so many spectacularly aspirational properties, like the Park Hyatts in Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, the Maldives, etc. Getting two free nights at a hotel that retails for $800+ per night is pretty tough to beat. And as an added perk if you’re a Gold Passport Diamond member, those two nights are in a suite. I recently redeemed my two nights in a suite at the Park Hyatt Zurich, which retailed for over $1,500 per night.
Fairmont Visa Signature Credit Card
Current sign-up offer: Two free nights at any Fairmont property including breakfast after spending $1,000 within three months
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Fairmont has some awesome properties, and the fact that the annual fee on the card is waived right now is a nice bonus. It’s also nice to get free breakfast on the two free nights. Beyond that just for joining the Fairmont President’s Club program you get free wifi whenever you stay.
Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card and Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa Card
Current sign-up offer: 50,000 points after the first purchase, 35,000 additional points after spending $2,500 within 90 days
Annual fee: $75
If you complete $3,000 of spend on the card you’ll have 100,000 Club Carlson points (the card accrues five points per dollar). That’s enough for two nights at any Club Carlson property. But just for having the card the second night of every points redemption is free, meaning this actually gets you two sets of two nights (for a total of four nights) at Club Carlson’s top properties. Yes, admittedly Club Carlson’s top properties aren’t as nice as Hyatt’s top properties, but there are some nice ones out there.
The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months, and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express offers 10,000 Starpoints after the first purchase, and 15,000 additional Starpoints after spending $5,000 within six months.
Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65
Starwood points are incredibly versatile. Not only can you redeem them for hotel stays, but you can also efficiently transfer them to one of Starwood’s dozens of airline partners at a 1:1 ratio. For every 20,000 points you transfer you get a 5,000 point bonus, so in reality this sign-up bonus will also get you 30,000 miles in any of a number of airline programs. Terms apply.
And while I have no inside knowledge, it’s worth noting that historically American Express offers an increased 30,000 point sign-up bonus on this card in August/September, so if you’ve been thinking of getting this card it may be worth waiting another couple of weeks in hopes of it returning.
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
Current sign-up offer: Two free weekend nights at most Hilton family properties after spending $2,500 within four months
Annual fee: $95
Hilton recently hugely devalued their award chart, so as a relative matter the value of the free nights offered with this card have increased. With the introduction of category 10 properties, Hiltons now cost up to 95,000 points per night, so the two free night certificates potentially get you a whopping 190,000 points of value. That being said, they are limited to weekend stays, which to me makes the sign-up bonus slightly less valuable than the ones offered by Hyatt and Fairmont.
IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card
Current sign-up offer: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Annual fee: $49, waived the first year
IHG’s top category hotels will run you 60,000 points per night, so the sign-up bonus is enough for one night there.
Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Current sign-up offer: 80,000 Marriott Rewards points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening and 1 free night stay in a category 1-5 location every year after your account anniversary date
Annual fee: $85
Marriott’s top category hotels will run you 45,000 points per night, so the sign-up bonus is enough for one night at a top hotel and one night at a category 1-4 hotel. While that’s a good sign-up bonus for someone looking to redeem at a mid-tier property, it’s not all that valuable if you’re looking for an aspirational hotel stay of more than one night.
I think the Hyatt, Fairmont, Club Carlson, and Starwood cards could all be considered the best sign-up bonuses depending on what specifically you’re trying to redeem for. While the Hilton, IHG, and Marriott sign-up bonuses are also generous, objectively I think they’re not quite as valuable as the others.
But with hotel credit cards especially, sign-up bonuses are only a small part of the equation. The other perks that come with the card can be just as valuable as the sign-up bonus itself, as I’ll cover in the next post.
Which hotel credit card’s sign-up bonus do you consider to be most lucrative?