How to Choose a Hotel Credit Card

Consider your personal hotel preferences, spending habits and the value of the benefits.
Dec 16, 2021

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Whether you just got your first stay under your belt or have been saving up for a bucket-list vacation, choosing the right hotel credit card can make all the difference.

There are a variety of hotel cards to choose from, with perks such as top-tier elite status, annual statement credits, easy-to-earn points and large welcome offers. So how do you decide? Take a look at these steps to choose a hotel credit card that’s right for you.

Questions for finding a hotel credit card for you

1. Do you stay at a particular hotel chain?

The most important aspect of the hotel credit card equation is the hotel chain that you prefer. Many different chains feature their own co-branded hotel credit cards, including Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Wyndham, Choice and IHG.

Before you commit to a credit card, consider the type of travel that you’ll be doing. For example, are you heading out into rural locations or on a variety of business trips? You’ll likely want to stick with a hotel chain that will have properties no matter where you travel. Or do you want to go all-out on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Maldives? Then you’ll want to pick a card that will help you earn your way to that dream property faster.

You can also acquire more than one hotel card. Although this won’t be right for all travelers, those who want to maximize their hotel stays at multiple brands may want to consider getting a few different cards and switching them out as they go.

Nerdy tip: Be aware that some card issuers limit how often you can sign up for new credit cards — so do your research before applying.

Finally, if you don’t foresee yourself staying loyal to any one chain, cards such as the Hotels.com® Rewards Visa® Credit Card allow you to earn hotel stays and rewards without committing to a specific brand.

2. How valuable are the welcome offers?

One way that banks draw your business is by offering welcome bonuses. These tend to be a large, lump-sum amount of points awarded to you after you meet a certain spending threshold. For hotel credit cards, this can mean you’ll be able to earn anywhere from 30,000 points to 180,000 points depending on which card you acquire.

While you can redeem these points in a variety of different ways, one of the most common redemptions is for hotel stays. Some of the largest bonuses, such as the welcome offered by the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, can net you up to 36 award nights at a hotel. The current welcome bonus for the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card is: Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months. Terms Apply.

3. What benefits and rewards are included?

Just like other travel credit cards, hotel credit cards feature different tiers with different benefits. The more affordable cards will have no annual fee and a few ongoing perks. High-end cards, meanwhile, come with a high annual fee and a whole suite of benefits.

Consider the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. As Hilton’s most premium credit card, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card features complimentary Diamond elite status, an annual weekend night reward valid at most Hilton hotels, $250 in statement credits at resorts, airport lounge access and a $250 annual airline fee credit (enrollment required). Terms apply.

In exchange for all of these perks, however, you’ll be spending hundreds of dollars in annual fees. Of course, there are also mid-tier cards, such as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card, that offer lower annual fees and a midrange of benefits.

You’ll need to reflect on the amount of travel you do and how well you’ll be able to take advantage of the features offered before selecting a credit card.

Nerdy tip: Many co-branded credit cards also offer a small-business version. If you own a small business, consider opting for one of these cards to maximize your rewards.

4. How can you earn bonus points?

In addition to the welcome bonus, you’ll want to consider how you’ll be able to keep earning points. Different hotel credit cards will allow you to earn increased bonus points based on certain categories.

With the World of Hyatt Credit Card, for example, you earn 2 bonus points per $1 spent at gyms and restaurants, among other categories.

Meanwhile, with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, you can earn 3 points per $1 spent on both U.S. restaurants and flights. Terms apply.

Since each credit card offers elevated earnings in different categories, you’ll want to figure out where you spend most of your money (i.e., where is your highest earning potential) before applying for a card.

Also note that co-branded hotel credit cards tend to earn the most points for stays at their respective hotels. This means that if you stay at a Hilton hotel most often, a Hilton credit card is most likely going to earn you more points for your stays than nearly any other card you’d use.

Nerdy tip: If you’d rather have more options when earning and redeeming points, consider applying for a card with a flexible point currency. These cards earn points that can be transferred to multiple hotel chains.

Finally, not all bonus points are created equal. Each hotel chain will require its own unique amount of points per room, per night. Some cost more than others, which results in quite a spread when it comes to the value of your hotel points.

5. Can you afford the annual fee?

We’ve already mentioned annual fees above, but this is something important to stop and consider. How much are you willing to pay each year to keep your credit card?

Some cards make it easy to justify their annual fees. The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, for example, offers an annual free night reward worth up to 40,000 points. This free night can easily be redeemed for a stay worth hundreds of dollars. The annual fee for this card, however, is just $89.

The annual fee with other cards, like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card we mentioned earlier, may be a little more difficult to stomach. That card has an annual fee of $450.

Sure, you get plenty of perks and hundreds of dollars in statement credits each year. But if you aren’t a frequent flyer and don’t plan to stay at a Hilton resort, you’ll need to consider if the $450 annual fee is worth it.

If you’re looking to choose a hotel credit card

There are a number of factors you’ll want to consider before applying for a hotel credit card. How often do you travel? Which hotel chains are available in the locations you travel to? Are you looking for a high-end experience with premium offerings, or would you simply like to have some benefits when you take the occasional vacation?

Once you’ve figured out your needs, decide what kind of annual fee you can afford and are willing to pay. With a collection of hotel credit cards available, it’s easy to find an option that’s right for you.

All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:

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