Which hotel credit card offers the most rewarding perks and annual bonuses?

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Most rewarding sign-up bonus
Most rewarding perks and annual bonuses
Most rewarding for spend


A lot of people are drawn to credit cards by the high sign-up bonuses. While they can see the value in keeping the cards long term due to the ability to accrue points through everyday spend, there’s not really an annual bonus that makes the card an absolute no brainer to keep year after year.

Hotel credit cards are the one consistent exception to that rule. They almost all offer huge bonuses just for keeping the card each year, from free nights to status. So I figured I’d run through the various perks and annual bonuses offered by the major hotel credit cards.

As I prefaced my post yesterday, I’ll sorta kinda be putting them in the general order from what I consider to be the best(ish) perks to the worst(ish) perks (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):

Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card and Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa Card
Annual fee: $75

I think the Club Carlson credit cards are the gold standard for the perks and annual bonuses they offer. You get Gold status in the Club Carlson program for as long as you have the credit card, which comes with perks like free internet, bonus points on stays, room upgrades, and a welcome gift.

The single biggest perk of the card, however, is that every second night of an award redemption is free. That means if you book an award stay for two nights at a top Club Carlson property you only have to pay for one. You can take advantage of this benefit up to 50 times per year, which I think is more than any of us could reasonably take advantage of.

Lastly, just for having the card you get 40,000 points on your account anniversary each year. Club Carlson’s award chart looks as follows:

Club_Carlson_Award_Chart

So just for having the card each year you almost get enough for a free night at one of their top properties, and that free night can turn into two free nights just by having the card. Given the low annual fees on the personal and business cards of $75 and $60 respectively, they’re an absolute no brainer.

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card
Annual fee: $49, waived the first year

The IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card has the lowest annual fee of any major hotel credit card, though despite that it offers some of the best benefits. First of all, just for having the card you get Platinum status in IHG Rewards Club, the perks of which include bonus points on stays, free internet, and room upgrades.

Beyond that, just for having the card you get one free night at any IHG property on your account anniversary. This could be the InterContinental Bora Bora or InterContinental Paris, for example, both of which retail for $500+ per night.

Lastly, just for having the card you receive a rebate of 10% on all your award redemptions, up to 100,000 points per year.

Chase Hyatt Visa Card
Annual fee: $75

The Hyatt card offers Platinum status in the Gold Passport program for as long as you have the card. The perks of that include bonus points on stays, room upgrades, and free internet. Beyond that, Hyatt offers tiered bonuses for reaching spending thresholds. If you spend $20,000 on the card annually you get two stays and five nights towards status, while if you spend $40,000 on the card annually you get an additional three stays and five nights towards status. Those thresholds are rather high, though if you’re a big credit card spender and a loyal Hyatt guest, that can get you much closer to Diamond status.

Lastly, and most importantly, you get a free night certificate upon your account anniversary each year, redeemable at up to a category four property. Hyatt only has six hotel categories, so that includes plenty of nice hotels like the Park Hyatt Melbourne, Park Hyatt Saigon, Andaz West Hollywood, Andaz Shanghai, etc. You can find a full listing of category four properties here.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
Annual fee: $95

The single most valuable benefit of the Hilton Reserve card is that it offers Gold status in the HHonors program for as long as you have the card. This is the single most valuable status that you can get just for having a credit card. The key benefits are free internet and free breakfast and/or club lounge access, which to me are the most valuable elite status perks at hotels. That more than justifies the annual fee in and of itself given how many properties Hilton has around the world.

The card also offers some tiered bonuses based on spend. Any year in which you spend $10,000 on the card you get a free weekend night certificate valid at virtually any Hilton property worldwide. That can potentially be redeemed for a Hilton property that would go for 95,000 points per night.

Furthermore, you get HHonors Diamond status any year in which you spend $40,000 on the card. This is top tier status with Hilton, and a very reasonable spending threshold for top tier status.

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card
Annual fee: $85

Just for having the Marriott Rewards card you get a free night upon your account anniversary each year valid at category 1-5 properties. Marriott has nine categories, so that’s basically valid for up to a mid-tier hotel.

You also get 15 nights elite nights towards status each year just for having the card, and an additional one night towards status for every $3,000 you spend. That means you basically get Marriott Silver status for as long as you have the card, which takes just 10 qualifying nights. The catch is that Marriott Silver is probably the least valuable hotel status, and primarily only gets you bonus points on stays.

Fairmont Visa Signature Credit Card
Annual fee: $95, waived the first year

You get President’s Club Premier status for as long as you have the card, which comes with an annual suite/room upgrade, some dining credit, etc.

The card “only” offers a free night for any year in which you spend $12,000 on the card.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Annual fee: $65, waived the first year

The Starwood card is one of the best cards out there for everyday spend, but fairly weak in terms of the annual benefits for the average traveler. The card offers Gold status in the Starwood program for any year in which you spend $30,000 on the card. Starwood Gold isn’t even as valuable as Hilton Gold, which comes with the Hilton Reserve card.

The other perk of the card is that you get two stays and five nights towards elite status annually. Best of all if you have both the business and personal card those bonuses stack, for a total of four stays and 10 nights towards status annually.

Conclusion

The Club Carlson card should be a no brainer for just about anyone, given that it offers status, 40,000 points annually, and 50 second free night redemptions per year. I don’t think there’s anyone that won’t get their money’s worth with that annual fee. The same is true for the IHG and Hyatt cards, which offer status and a free night annually just for having the card.

The Hilton card is extremely valuable and worth keeping long term if you usually make at least a couple of stays per year at Hiltons, given the value of HHonors Gold status. If you’re a big credit card spender it might even be worth going for Diamond status.

The Marriott card is great as well for the annual free night, though it’s capped at a category five and only comes with Marriott Silver status, which doesn’t get you much.

The Fairmont card has a great sign-up bonus and was near the top of my list yesterday, though it’s simply not as rewarding as the other cards for keeping long term.

Lastly, the Starwood card doesn’t offer any compelling annual bonuses for the average traveler, aside from the return on everyday spend. That being said, I hugely value the card for the two stays and five nights towards status annually. I have both the personal and business cards, so they give me a nice jump start towards status with four stays and 10 nights towards status annually. Those are nights I’d otherwise have to mattress run, so that saves me a ton of money.

Which hotel credit card’s perks and annual bonuses do you consider to be most valuable?

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Comments

  1. If I wanted to get one of the cards for my son, are the benefits transferable if I add him as an additional member? In other words, can I apply and let him have the points or book him an award stay using the points and would he receive any benefits for having an additional card (like airline cards?)

  2. I think SPG should step up their game with this card. I almost never use it any more because so many other cards are so much more useful and offer so much more in terms of benefits.

  3. Marriott card does give you Silver Status if you had no status otherwise (15 nights credit satisfies the 10 nights for Silver), which gives you free internet at least.

  4. @ Michael — The status itself typically only applies to the primary card member. That being said, almost every hotel chain lets you make a booking in your name while adding someone else to the reservation as an additional guest, and elite benefits will typically be honored.

  5. @ RakSiam — While I still think it’s a great card, I do agree it would help if they stepped up their game a bit (even if that meant the annual fee going up a bit). At the very least I’d love to see them add some bonus categories or get rid of foreign transaction fees, because it always kills me that it doesn’t make sense to use my Starwood credit card for international Starwood stays.

  6. @ Tommy — Whoops, you’re absolutely right, thanks. Updated the post to reflect that. Kind of forgot Silver even exists, given the lack of benefits that come with it.

  7. Until I go to Scandinavia, I don’t see the value of the club Carlson card. Not enough desirable hotels elsewhere.

    Thanks for publishing the Hyatt cat 4 list! Almost seemsmore appealing than Carson’s entire roster.

    Great post and great series of posts!

  8. Lucky, I’ve gotta disagree with you on your placement of the Hilton card. I would rank it second at the absolute worst if not at the top. Sure, the Hyatt and Priority Club Visas offer lower annual fees, but Hilton HHonors Gold status is WAY more valuable than IHG Platinum and Hyatt Platinum. $10,000 for the free night is very reasonable, especially since the automatic Gold status will get you breakfast and internet on said free night. Keep in mind that having the card also allows you to access the fifth night free benefit on award stays, which isn’t available to non-status Hilton HHonors guests.

    I do agree with your take on the SPG Amex. I opened it last year when the bonus was 30,000 points, and since they already posted my nights/stays for having the card, I will probably cancel it before the annual fee kicks in. Step up your game, SPG!

  9. I have no idea why people still consider SPG Amex card as a great card. There are so many cards out there that provide more points based on the category spends like Travel, hotel, dining, gas, utilities, grocery etc. I don’t know what else expense one may have on a daily basis. I cancelled mine long back

  10. Thanks you for finally covering the hotel card topic. However I would disagree about Carlson – nobody really wants free rooms in low end Carlson properties. I suppose the points might be food for trading…

  11. I used to carry a Hilton card, but after the recent loyalty devaluation I didn’t see myself staying there much anymore. Acquiring points for a top-tier Hilton stay became like climbing Everest.

  12. Beachfan, Boraxo – greetings from the Mayfair Hotel in London, where I’m enjoying a 2 night stay for 50,000 Club Carlson points. It may not be an absolute top “aspirational” property, but it is mighty nice. :-).

  13. I know you meant this order as only a rough order of which ones you think are best, but I have to agree with Lord Fish (above), I cannot see how you put the Hilton card above the Marriott and SPG cards, considering HHonors recent seismic devaluation.

    Yeah, it comes with the Gold VIP perk, for $95. I can buy Gold VIP off Ebay for less. I was Gold VIP until a couple of months ago, not that special. Gold gets 3 things: free breakfast, which varies wildly from one place to another. Free internet, but all the Hilton brands below the actual Hilton chain get free internet for everyone. (Plus I get free internet with Visa Signature.) And you get upgraded to the VIP floor, except there are so many freebie Gold VIPs these days that the executive floor is often like Times Square.

  14. @ Joseph — And that’s the fun in these valuations. Nick E said it should be the most valuable and Lord Fish said it should be the least valuable.

    It definitely depends if you stay at Hilton properties a good amount and which ones you stay at. For example, if you’re staying at the Conrad Hong Kong I think the free internet and club lounge access is worth quite a bit to just about everyone. On the other hand if you stay at a Hampton Inn, you’re not going to get much value out of it.

  15. Do you have any intel on how long the free night certificates last, such as one year from your anniversary or one calendar year? My Priority Club one issued in January was good until January 2014 and the stay had to be completed by the expiration. Is that pretty standard?

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