NerdWallet’s Best Hotel Credit Cards, Winter 2014

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If you’re searching for the best hotel credit cards, look no further. We’ve chosen a handful of our favorites that offer high rewards, free lodging and extra perks for loyal cardholders. Hotel-branded cards, unlike most airline cards or retail cards, can actually be worth your while. Frequent guests will discover benefits that both curb costs and add another dimension of luxury to the hotel experience.

As you read through our list, keep in mind these cards only make sense if you are truly a frequent hotel patron. One week out of the year doesn’t quite cut it. Most travelers will do better to check out our current list of the best travel cards to view more universally applicable options. Without further ado, here are NerdWallet’s picks for the best hotel credit cards.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

American Express Starwood Credit Card
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Our favorite hotel credit card, the Starwood American Express, packs a powerful punch. At first glance, the rewards program is fairly unassuming. You get 5 points per dollar spent at SPG locations and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else. So what’s the big deal? Well, while most rewards programs pay in points worth a penny apiece, we value Starpoints at an average of 2.3 cents each when redeemed for hotel stays.  That means the base rewards rate is around 2.3%–much, much higher than the industry standard. The signup bonus is currently 25,000 points (10,000 after a single purchase and 15,000 after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months). There are a number of other perks as well, including credit for elite status upgrades and airfare redemption. The annual fee is $65, waived the first year.

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card
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Want a gargantuan signup bonus? The Marriott Rewards Premier credit card awards new cardholders Earn 50,000 Points after spending $1,000 in your first 3 months from account opening. for spending just $1,000 in the first 3 months. Ongoing rewards accumulate according to a similar system as the Hyatt card. You earn 5 points per $1 at Marriott locations, 2 per $1 at restaurants, airlines and car rental agencies and 1 per $1 everywhere else. Points are redeemable at all Marriott properties, which include Renaissance Hotels, Courtyard, Residence Inn, and Fairfield Inn & Suites. Keep in mind that redemption values for Marriott Points aren’t that great – while you do get the fifth night free when you redeem for 4 award nights, based on the nightly rate-vs-points required value, we think that Marriott Points are worth about 0.8 cents each. This does diminish slightly the luster of the card. The Marriott Rewards Premier does not charge a foreign transaction fee, saving you 3% on every out-of-country purchase. The annual fee is $85, waived the first year. If that seems steep, think of it this way: The signup up bonus basically pays for almost five years’ worth of annual fees.

Citi® Hilton HHonorsTM Reserve Card

Citibank Hilton HHonors Reserve Credit Card
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Want an easy bonus of a two-night stay worth $650? Want that bonus to come with EMV technology, an anniversary award night and free elite status? Of course you do – and the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve is just the card to do it. With a signup bonus of 2 free weekend nights when you spend $2,500 in the first 4 months (worth $650 if you stay at a Category 7 hotel); an EMV chip and no foreign transaction fees; an anniversary bonus of one weekend night every year; and complimentary Gold status for the life of the card, there’s a lot to love about the Reserve. And the ongoing rewards rate is not too shabby either: 10 points per $1 at Hilton hotels, 5 per $1 on airlines and car rentals and 3 per $1 elsewhere. Even if you value HHonors points at 0.5 cents apiece (which we do), that’s a 5% rewards rate at the Hilton, 2.5% on airlines and cars and 1.5% elsewhere. There is a $95 annual fee, but given the anniversary bonus worth up to $325, there’s every reason to get the card.

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