The Best Hotel Rewards Credit Cards Face Off—Hyatt, Starwood, Marriott & Hilton
Anyone who travels even a little bit gets bombarded with a seemingly endless array of frequent flyer mileage and hotel frequent guest program credit card offers. They all seem great at first glance but when you dig down which ones are the best. Today we are going to run down the best of the hotel frequent guest programs credit card deals.
Hyatt Visa Card — Rating A+ (Average Bonus Value $1629)
The best perk of the Hyatt Visa Card is that you get two free nights in any Hyatt property worldwide after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months after opening the account. You also get 3 Hyatt Gold Passport points for every dollar you spend at a Hyatt hotel, 2 Hyatt Gold Passport points spent at restaurants, on airline tickets (purchased directly from an airline) and at car rental agencies, and 1 Hyatt Gold Passport point on all other purchases. In addition, if you sign up for the card while making a Hyatt reservation (but before completing your purchase) you will get an additional $50 statement credit. A couple of additional kickers, Hyatt automatically upgrades you to Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum status (for as long as you hold the card) with its 15% point bonus, complimentary internet, 72 hour room guarantee, expedited check-in and preferred reservation line. The Hyatt Visa card entitles you to forgo foreign transaction fees on international purchases (see card offer for details). Additionally, there is no annual fee for the first year ($75 a year after that).
Bonus Value–Two nights at Park Hyatt Paris–Vendome $799 a night ($1598 value) or two nights at Park Hyatt Chicago $475 a night ($950 value) or two nights at the Park Hyatt New York $983 (value $1966). Remember, your two free nights must be used within one year of card issuance or you lose them.
Starwood Preferred Guest American Express–Rating B+ (Average Bonus Value $912)
The SPG American Express card earns you 25,00o Starpoints after you spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months. The introductory annual fee is $0 and $65 a year thereafter. You earn up to 5 Starpoints for each dollar spent at participating SPG hotels (2 points from the card and 2 to 3 points from your stay). You also receive a 5,000 point bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to the nearly 30 participating airline frequent flyer programs (usually on a one to one basis). Minor benefits include a small leg up toward SPG Gold status (a 5 night and 2 stay credit) and some of the regular AMEX card benefits like purchase protection, dispute resolution, return protection and car rental damage and loss insurance.
Bonus Value–Two nights at W Hollywood in Los Angeles $310 a night ($620 value) or two nights at the Westin Chicago River North $459 a night ($918 value) or two nights at the Sheraton New York Times Square $599 ($1198). Starwood has no hotels in Paris so we substituted Los Angeles.
Marriott Rewards Visa Card–Rating C+ (Average Bonus Value $755)
The Marriott Rewards Visa card currently offers 50,000 Marriott Rewards bonus points (I have seen this bonus as high as 70,000 points) after you spend $1,000 in the first three months after account opening plus one free night in a Category 1-4 hotel after account approval. The annual fee for the first year is waived and you pay $85 a year thereafter. You earn 5 points for every dollar spent at any Marriott hotel (or partner hotels), 2 points for every dollar spent on airline tickets (purchased directly from the airline), and at car rental agencies and restaurants, and 1 point per dollar everywhere else. There are no foreign transaction fees and the card has an embedded chip for protection. Additionally, you get 15 credits toward your next Elite membership level upon card approval and every year after your account anniversary. Finally, you get one free night in a Category 1-5 hotel for each year you renew your Marriott Rewards Visa card. Be very careful to monitor the date when your free bonus night (not your Marriott Rewards points) expires.
Bonus Value–One night at the Paris Marriott Champs Elysees Hotel (45,000 points) $783.63 a night ($783.63 value) or one night in the JW Marriott Chicago (40,000 points) $459 a night ($459 value) or one night at the Courtyard New York Manhattan/Fifth Avenue (40,000) $499 a night ($499 value). I added $125 to the Average Bonus Value for the free night (in a Category 1-4 hotel) and the fact that you have a few extra points left over after the redeeming your bonus.
Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from Amex–Rating D (Average Bonus Value $365)
The Hilton HHonors Surpass Card currently offers a 60,000 point bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first three months of card membership. You get a rather generous 12 HHonors points for each dollar spent at Hilton portfolio hotels, 6 HHonors points for each dollar spent at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, and 3 HHonors points for all other dollars spent. The problem is that HHonors is a pretty weak program so the extra points don’t really get you that much. You will also get upgraded to HHonors Gold status with the card and, if you spend $40,000 in a calendar year, you will get upgraded to HHonors Diamond status. The annual fee the for card is $75 and it is not waived in the first year.
One night in Paris at the Hilton Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (50,000 points) $334 a night ($334 value) or one night in Chicago at Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Chicago–Magnificent Mile (50,000 points) $359 a night ($359 value) or one night in New York at Hilton Garden Inn New York/Manhattan-Chelsea $404 a night ($404 value).
Comparing the cards is not an easy task. There are some slight differences in features of the cards–the real difference is in the size of your bonus. To properly value the non-bonus features we are assigning a $75 value to an automatic upgrade to elite status, a $50 value for a card that charges no foreign transaction fees and a $75 value for the ability to convert hotel miles to airline miles. Minor card features are assigned no value. I’m assuming that most people want to use their free miles or nights to splurge on something they wouldn’t ordinarily buy for themselves. Accordingly, we have assumed you will book luxury properties with your bonus. We have also spread the comparison geographically using Chicago, New York and Paris as the test cities (Starwood has no Paris properties so we substituted Los Angeles). The Average Bonus Value is calculated by the averaging the cost of the most expensive hotel room you can access with your bonus in each of our test cites. Then we add or subtract the feature bonuses set forth above. We will subtract any first year annual fee charged by the card company from the Average Bonus Value. All prices quoted were for stays beginning September 16, 2015.
Please note that if you want to redeem your miles at more moderate hotels the results of the ratings could change substantially.