How to Pick the Best Hotel Credit Card

Happy business people looking at credit card in airport

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Hotel credit cards offer rewards and perks on hotel stays, namely when you stay at the same brand of hotels. Whether you're a frequent traveler, or you're looking for a credit card to help cut the cost of your annual family vacation, choosing the best hotel credit card will help you make the most of your hotel stays. Here are a few things to look for.

Choose a Co-Branded Hotel Credit Card

Co-branded credit cards are affiliated with a specific hotel brand, like Marriott or Hyatt for example, and pay a higher number of rewards on that brand's hotels. If you have a favorite hotel brand or one that you find yourself staying at often because of its locations, choose that brand's hotel credit card to maximize your rewards rewards. If, on the other hand, you don't stay at hotels very often or you use a variety of hotel brands, it may be better to choose a travel credit card that pays points on other purchases, but allows you to redeem your points towards hotel stays.

Earn Rewards on All Your Spending

A hotel rewards credit card will, of course, pay rewards on hotel stays. Being able to earn rewards on your other credit card purchases will allow you to work towards upgrades and free hotel stays. For example, if you can earn more rewards on dining or gas purchases, it's much better than earning a flat one point per dollar on all other purchases.

Compare Sign-up Bonuses

Most hotel credit cards pay a sign-up bonus when you spend a certain amount of money on purchases within the first three months of having the credit card. The minimum spending varies by credit card, but is often between $1,000 and $3,000. Depending on the credit card, the sign-up bonus itself may be worth at least one night's hotel stay. When you're choosing the best hotel credit card, the sign-up bonus can help narrow your choices. Typically, the only restriction is that you can't have earned another sign-up bonus from that credit card (or sometimes even the credit card issuer) within the last 24 months.

Consider Other Hotel Perks

While free nights are one of the most obvious benefits of a hotel credit card, it's not the only one that makes the best hotel credit cards worth it. Look for credit cards that also offer room upgrades, the ability to earn elite status in the hotel's loyalty program, complimentary breakfast, or late checkout. These perks don't always have a specific dollar amount tied to them, but make your hotel stay much more convenient and encourage you to stay loyal to that hotel brand.

Estimate the Value of Each Point

Hotel credit card points are tougher to value than other types of rewards because you earn points at different rates, and because the cost of a night at the hotel varies by hotel and city. You can calculate the value of your points by dividing the cost of a hotel stay by the number of points required for that stay. For example, if 12,000 points are required for a $218 hotel stay, each point would be worth 1.8 cents. For a hotel credit card to be worth it, you need to be able to earn enough points for a hotel stay within a reasonable amount of time.

Value of each point: Divide the dollar value of the reward by the number of points, and then multiply that amount by 100. So, the numbers from the example above look like: (218/12,000) x 100 = 1.8

Don't Fear the Annual Fee

An annual fee isn't necessarily a bad thing. While you typically would want to avoid an annual fee on a credit card that doesn't offer rewards at all, some of the best hotel credit cards are those that charge an annual fee. The key is to be sure you get enough rewards and perks from the credit card to at least offset the annual fee.

Look For Other Credit Card Perks

Other credit card perks are a plus. While you're primarily in it for the hotel perks, it won't hurt to have some additional non-hotel benefits that make your credit card more beneficial. No foreign transaction fees, complimentary credit score access, roadside assistance, purchase protection, or travel perks give the hotel credit card value outside of being able to earn free hotel nights.

As with any rewards credit card, you should ideally pay your hotel credit card's balance in full each month to get the maximum benefit from your card. Otherwise, you'll offset the benefit of your credit card with interest payments. That means charging only as much as you can afford to pay in full so you can avoid carrying a balance and paying finance charges.