5 Best Hotel Credit Cards

5 Best Hotel Credit Cards

Overall Best Hotel Credit Card for Travelers
#1
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
  • High credit limit from day one for most cardholders
  • No predetermined daily spending limit
  • Option to transfer points
Best Hotel Credit Card for Bad Credit
#2
Best Western Rewards Secured MasterCard
  • Potential to upgrade to an unsecured card in less than a year
  • Credit limit increase without an additional deposit in as early as 7 months
  • Bad credit accepted
Best Hotel Credit Card for Long-Term Use
#3
U.S. Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature
  • Generous anniversary bonuses
  • Redeemable at more than 1,000 hotels
  • Easily attainable rewards
Best Hotel Credit Card Without an Annual Membership Fee
#4
American Express Hilton Honors Card
  • No annual fee - ever
  • Generous sign-up bonus makes it easy to rack up points fast
  • Automatic upgrade to Silver status for new members

After 20 hours of research evaluating 112 products, we picked Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express as our top choice.

Overall Best Hotel Credit Card for Travelers

Best for Card
Best Hotel Credit Card for Travelers Who Like Boutique Hotels
Stash Hotel Rewards Visa Card
Best Hotel Credit Card Without an Annual Membership Fee
American Express Hilton Honors Card
Best Hotel Credit Card for Long-Term Use
U.S. Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature
Best Hotel Credit Card for Bad Credit
Best Western Rewards Secured MasterCard
Overall Best Hotel Credit Card for Travelers
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

You probably spend too much time at your job - despite what your boss thinks.

The average American works more than 40 hours per week with some racking up a whopping 100 hours a week. This leaves little time for the fun stuff. First, we believe you should always plan for the fun stuff. Second, it may pay off in spades to have the best hotel credit card you can find.

Okay, but what’s the solution?

There is something delicious about collecting free hotel nights while while you are just "living life". If you carefully choose from one of the best hotel credit card options available, you can maximize those free stays.

Let's face it, hotel credit cards are one of the coolest ways to spend money you are going to already spend anyways.

We’ve just got one piece of unsolicited advice: Take more vacation time.

What's the bottom line?

You deserve an enjoyable vacation, whether you take a family cruise after visiting Disneyland with your kids or collect stamps on your passport during a trip abroad with your sweetheart.

However, we realize a lack of funds can make travel difficult, or maybe you simply want the most bang for your buck by earning rewards like cash back, airline miles, or complimentary hotel stays.

Regardless of what you're looking for, we’re here to help! We’ve compiled a detailed list of travel-friendly cards to help you choose the best hotel credit credit card for your getaway. Scroll through our top picks for hotel credit cards below and pick the one that suits your needs. Bon voyage!

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.


Editorial staff

5 Best Hotel Credit Cards

5 Best Hotel Credit Cards

Read Video Infographic Tips

After 20 hours of research evaluating 112 products, we picked Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express as our top choice.

Overall Best Hotel Credit Card for Travelers

Best for Card
Best Hotel Credit Card for Travelers Who Like Boutique Hotels
Stash Hotel Rewards Visa Card
Best Hotel Credit Card Without an Annual Membership Fee
American Express Hilton Honors Card
Best Hotel Credit Card for Long-Term Use
U.S. Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature
Best Hotel Credit Card for Bad Credit
Best Western Rewards Secured MasterCard
Overall Best Hotel Credit Card for Travelers
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

You probably spend too much time at your job - despite what your boss thinks.

The average American works more than 40 hours per week with some racking up a whopping 100 hours a week. This leaves little time for the fun stuff. First, we believe you should always plan for the fun stuff. Second, it may pay off in spades to have the best hotel credit card you can find.

Okay, but what’s the solution?

There is something delicious about collecting free hotel nights while while you are just "living life". If you carefully choose from one of the best hotel credit card options available, you can maximize those free stays.

Let's face it, hotel credit cards are one of the coolest ways to spend money you are going to already spend anyways.

We’ve just got one piece of unsolicited advice: Take more vacation time.

What's the bottom line?

You deserve an enjoyable vacation, whether you take a family cruise after visiting Disneyland with your kids or collect stamps on your passport during a trip abroad with your sweetheart.

However, we realize a lack of funds can make travel difficult, or maybe you simply want the most bang for your buck by earning rewards like cash back, airline miles, or complimentary hotel stays.

Regardless of what you're looking for, we’re here to help! We’ve compiled a detailed list of travel-friendly cards to help you choose the best hotel credit credit card for your getaway. Scroll through our top picks for hotel credit cards below and pick the one that suits your needs. Bon voyage!

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.


Editorial staff

Best Hotel Credit Card for Travelers Who Like Boutique Hotels

Best Hotel Credit Card for Travelers Who Like Boutique Hotels: Stash Hotel Rewards Visa Card
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    17.49%
  • Cash Advance APR
    See terms.
  • Rewards Rate
    3 points per dollar spent at Stash Partner Hotels, 2 points per dollar spent on all other hotels, dining and gas, 1 point per dollar for all other qualifying purchases
  • Annual Fee
    $0 the first year, then $85.
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    Earn 10,000 points towards free stays at Stash Partner Hotels when you spend $1,500 within 90 days of opening your account.

Pros

  • No expiration date for points
  • Geared toward non-chain hotels
  • Booking discount when you pay with points

Cons

Value Penguin warns that this card isn’t the best choice for someone who spends less than $10,000 per year on travel-related expenses. That’s because the APR and annual fee can potentially cancel out the rewards you receive.

Details

  • Points don’t expire
  • No travel blackout dates
  • No limit on the number of points you can earn

Application Process:  Apply online and get an immediate decision unless someone has to manually review your app.

FYI: This card is issued by Synchrony Bank, so make sure any other cards you have with them are in good standing before you apply. Synchrony Bank handles credit cards for PayPal, Amazon, Sam’s Club, and a bunch of other retailers.

Rewards:  The Stash Hotel Rewards Visa offers some great rewards as long as you visit boutique hotels frequently throughout the year. As of 2017, there are only around 150 boutique hotels that participate in this card’s reward program, but you can also earn points for dining at restaurants and fueling up at gas stations.

Cardholders get 3 points for every dollar they spend at Stash-friendly hotels, which is lower than other cards on our list. However, those cards are designed for folks who frequent chain hotels with thousands of locations, so we find the points program for this boutique hotel card reasonable. If you don’t visit boutique hotels enough to rack up some major points, you can collect 2 points for every dollar you spend at other hotels. Oh, and you get 2 points for every dollar spent at participating restaurants and gas stations, plus one point on all other qualifying purchases.

Bonus Offers: Hotel cards are known for their bonus offers, and this card is no exception. If you spend at least $1,500 within your first 90 days as a cardholder, you get 10,000 bonus points. That’s enough to get a free hotel room in some cities.

APR:  Your variable APR is 16.99% for the first year, but we’ve heard it’s possible to get it decreased after paying your bill on time for a while. In general, 78% of consumers have successfully convinced a credit card company to lower their APR by simply calling and asking.

Annual Fee: As with most hotel credit cards, Stash waives your fee the first year. Expect to shell out $85 per year after your fee-free year ends, and don’t forget to budget for the expense. Multiple cardholders complain that they forgot about the $85 fee until they saw it on their statement.

Best Hotel Credit Card Without an Annual Membership Fee

Best Hotel Credit Card Without an Annual Membership Fee: American Express Hilton Honors Card
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    17.24% to 26.24%
  • Cash Advance APR
    26.74%
  • Rewards Rate
    7 points per dollar for Hilton hotel stays, 5 points for dollar for U.S. restaurant, supermarket and gas station purchases, and 3 points per dollar for general purchases
  • Annual Fee
    $0
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    50,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months

Pros

  • No annual fee - ever
  • Generous sign-up bonus makes it easy to rack up points fast
  • Automatic upgrade to Silver status for new members

Cons

Some cardholders aren’t happy that the card charges a cash advance fee plus a high APR for cash advances. However, this is a credit card and not a debit card, so many people expect these fees.

Details

  • Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors™ after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. Offer ends 05/31/2017.
  • 7 HHonors Bonus Points for every $1 spent with a participating hotel or resort
  • 5 HHonors Bonus Points for every $1 spent spent at US restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations
  • 3 HHonors Bonus Points for every $1 spent otherwise
  • Redeem Hilton HHonors points towards free hotel nights without blackout days
  • Complimentary Silver status with credit card
  • Account upgraded to HHonors Gold status after spending more than $20,000 on the Card during the year (benefits: 25% bonus on HHonors Base Points, room upgrades when available, and free high-speed Internet and health club access)
  • +500 HHonors Bonus Points when booking Hilton hotel reservations online with HH credit card
  • 10% discount and +500 HHonors points when booking private car and driver at EmpireCLS Worldwide with this card
  • Access to Global Assistance hotline, roadside assistance, travel accident protection, and car rental loss and damage protection
  • Exclusive access to ticket presales and American Express cardmember-only events in your city
  • Extended warranty and protection for purchases made on the card

Application Process:  It takes just a few minutes to complete the online application for the Hilton Honors card. Many applicants score an instant approval, but some folks get the generic “You’ll hear from us in 7 to 10 business days” response.

If you’ve got bad credit, we recommend waiting until your score at least hits the mid 600s before you apply. We checked FICO scores via the Credit Pulls Database for this card, and it looks like most approved applicants have scores in the high 600s and mid 700s. We did see one person score an approval with a 633 FICO score, but that’s definitely not the norm.

Rewards: We’ve noticed the best rewards are generally found on cards with annual fees, but this Hilton Honors card has some decent perks. You earn 7 points for every dollar you spend at qualifying Hilton hotels, 5 points per dollar at participating gas stations and restaurants in the United States, and 3 points per dollar for all other eligible purchases.

All cardholders automatically receive Silver status when they join, and you can land a promotion to the card’s coveted Gold status by spending $20,000 on qualifying purchases during your first year. The card also includes popular features found on other hotel cards, such as fraud protection, travel accident insurance, and rental car insurance.

Bonus Offers: Numerous cardholders rave about the easily attainable sign-up bonus for this American Express card. All you have to do is spend $1,000 during your first 3 months as a cardholder to snag 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points.

There’s also a popular bonus offer for long-time members: An online booking bonus. Simply schedule and pay for a qualifying hotel stay online in exchange for 500 Hilton Honors Bonus Points.

APR:  APR ranges from 16.24% to 20.24% depending on your credit. Cash advances have a fee of 26.24%. Make sure you pay your bill on time so you can avoid the penalty APR, which is a whopping 29.99% for at least 6 months.

Annual Fee: The American Express Hilton Honors is one of the only hotel credit cards we’ve seen that never charges an annual fee. A few other cards waive the fee the first year but hit you with a hefty charge at the beginning of year two.

Best Hotel Credit Card for Long-Term Use

Best Hotel Credit Card for Long-Term Use: U.S. Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    15.49% to 24.49%
  • Cash Advance APR
    26.49%
  • Rewards Rate
    10 points per $1 spent in eligible net purchases at participating Carlson Rezidor hotels, 5 points per $1 spent in eligible net purchases everywhere else
  • Annual Fee
    $75
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    Receive 50,000 Gold Points after your first purchase plus 35,000 points once you spend $2,500 on your card within the first 90 days

Pros

  • Generous anniversary bonuses
  • Redeemable at more than 1,000 hotels
  • Easily attainable rewards

Cons

A foreign transaction fee deters some users from presenting the card during overseas travel.The card doesn’t offer a promotional introductory APR or waive the annual fee during the first year like similar cards.

Details

  • Earn 50,000 Gold Points after your first purchase
  • Earn 35,000 points once you spend $2,500 on your card within the first 90 days
  • 10 points per $1 spent at Carlson Rezidor hotels
  • 5 points per $1 spent everywhere else
  • Automatic upgrade to Gold Elite Status
  • Card members who've already reached Concierge Elite Status will receive 15 qualifying nights toward obtaining or maintaining Concierge Elite status
  • Redeem Gold Points towards free nights at Carlson Rezidor hotels, gift cards, prepaid cards, charitable initiatives, vacation savings, and exchanges for airline miles
  • Visa Signature concierge privileges
  • Travel & Emergency Assistance Services, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, and Travel Accident Insurance for card purchases
  • Subject to credit approval

Application Process:  The U.S. Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature offers a standard online application process. You can also contact the company via telephone during the application process.

Rewards:  This hotel credit card doesn’t skimp on rewards; it’s easy to rack up plenty of them as long as you frequent Carlson Rezidor properties. You get 10 points for every dollar you spend at participating hotels, and you get 5 points for every dollar you spend on other eligible purchases.

The best part? This isn’t a get-it-and-forget-it card. The U.S. Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature shows that it values loyalty by giving users 40,000 bonus points during annual renewals. Long-time cardholders can also rack up a free hotel stay once a year (in addition to their other other rewards) by spending at least $10,000.

Bonus Offers: We love the bonus offers that the U.S. Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature provides its members, and so do cardholders. In fact, this card has better bonuses that nearly every hotel credit card we’ve researched. That’s one reason why it received the award for best long-term hotel credit card from our Faveable team.

The card treats new members to an impressive 85,000 Bonus Gold Points during the first year if they make at least one purchase and spend a minimum of $2,500 during the first 90 days. You get 50,000 points for your first qualifying purchase and 35,000 points for spending $2,500, so that’s how we came up with a possible 85,000 for new cardholders.

APR:  APR varies from 14.99% to 23.99% depending on your credit history. There’s no penalty APR, but you should still pay your bill on time so you don’t get hit with a $38 fee.

Expect to get hit with a 25.99% APR plus a fee of at least $5 for cash advances. There’s also a 3% foreign transaction fee, so watch out for that.

Annual Fee: The card has a $75 annual fee which isn’t too high when you compare it to similar cards. You owe the fee every year; there’s no zero-fee first-year deal that some of the other hotel credit cards on our list offer.

Best Hotel Credit Card for Bad Credit

Best Hotel Credit Card for Bad Credit: Best Western Rewards Secured MasterCard
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    21.24%
  • Cash Advance APR
    25.49%
  • Rewards Rate
    Receive 13 points per $1 on Best Western stays (10 points as Best Western Rewards member, 3 points for using your MasterCard), plus receive 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee
    $40
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    5,000 bonus points after your first purchase

Pros

  • Potential to upgrade to an unsecured card in less than a year
  • Credit limit increase without an additional deposit in as early as 7 months
  • Bad credit accepted

Cons

The benefits aren’t as great as the ones you’ll find on other hotel credit cards, but this is the only well-known secured credit card for travelers.

Details

  • 5,000 bonus points after your first purchase
  • Receive 13 points per $1 on Best Western stays (10 points as Best Western Rewards member, 3 points for using your MasterCard)
  • Receive 1 point per $1 on all other purchases

Application Process:  Apply online through First Bank if you want a secured Best Western credit card. You may also receive an invitation for this card if you get denied for an unsecured Best Western credit card.

You need a checking or savings account to pay your deposit of $300 to $5,000 for this secured hotel credit card. There are no payment plans available, so you need at least $300 to open your card. You can increase your credit limit by sending additional payments in $50 increments after you open your card, but the company has the right to reject future deposits.

Rewards:  You earn 13 points for every dollar you spend at Western Best properties and 2 points for other qualifying purchases. You only need 8,000 points to get a free stay at some participating hotels, but the average complimentary stay costs 16,000 points.

In addition to earning points, you get a 10% discount on some hotel stays by choosing the Best Western Reward Rate for your visit. This secured card also hooks you up with auto rental insurance, extended warranties, and free FICO score monitoring.

Bonus Offers: Cardholders rake in 5,000 bonus points after their first qualifying purchase. That’s almost enough for a free night when you consider that some complimentary stays start at just 8,000 points.

APR:  There’s a variable APR of 21.74% when you open your card. That’s a decent rate for a secured card even though it’s slightly higher than some of the unsecured hotel credit cards on our list.

If you withdraw cash using your card, your APR jumps to 25.99%. There’s also a cash advance fee of 5% or $15, whichever ends up being higher.

Annual Fee: The annual fee is only $29 - which is cheaper than every hotel card on our list except the American Express Hilton Honors card. In general, that’s a low annual fee for a card geared toward folks with bad credit, so this price is very reasonable. We generally see fees ranging from $50 to $100 for cards of this nature.

Overall Best Hotel Credit Card for Travelers

Overall Best Hotel Credit Card for Travelers: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
Apply Now
On Card Issuer’s Secure Website
  • Variable APR
    16.74% to 20.74%
  • Cash Advance APR
    26.74%
  • Rewards Rate
    5 Starpoints per dollar spent at participating SPG hotels, 2 Starpoints per dollar at Marriott Rewards properties, and 1 Starpoint per dollar on all other purchases
  • Annual Fee
    $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months

Pros

  • High credit limit from day one for most cardholders
  • No predetermined daily spending limit
  • Option to transfer points

Cons

We scoured review sites and considered the personal experiences of people close to us, but nobody had any major complaints about this card. In fact, we found it on several well-known websites' lists of best hotel credit cards, including ValuePenguin, The Points Guy, and NerdWallet. A handful of people are upset about paying an annual fee, but you get your fee back - and then some - in reward points if you travel regularly.

Details

  • Earn 25,000 Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on International purchases.
  • Redeem Starpoints® at over 1,300 participating hotels and resorts in over 100 countries and for flights on more than 150 airlines with SPG flights, all with no blackout dates.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Planning a road trip? Rent your car, fill up your tank, book your hotel, and pay for it with your American Express® Card.
  • Terms Apply.

Application Process:  Apply online with the click of a button. Enter some basic info about your residence and income for a quick decision regarding your approval or rejection.

NerdWallet lists the recommended credit score range as 690 to 850 for this card, and we agree. We’ve seen the occasional report of someone with a lower score getting approved, but the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card generally requires good or excellent credit.

Rewards:  U.S. News compiled the average reward rates for hundreds of popular hotel credit cards and other travel-related credit cards in its Credit Card Directory, and the Starwood Preferred Guest snagged the number-one slot. It has a rewards rate as high as 5%, and when you choose participating partners, points often convert without any loss in value. In addition to redeeming your points at the 11 approved hotel brands that span the globe, you can use them to book flights through popular airlines like British Airways and Delta.

Cardholders earn as many as 5 Starpoints for qualifying purchases from Starwood properties. You get 2 Starpoints for every dollar you fork over at eligible Marriott Rewards hotels and 1 Starpoint for other qualifying purchases.

Bonus Offers: Boost your balance with 30,000 complimentary Starpoints if you spend at least $3,000 the first 3 months you have your card. If you transfer points to a participating airline (anytime, not just during the first 90 days), you score 5,000 bonus points for every 20,000-point transfer.

Oh, and let’s not forget that 5 nights and 2 stays count toward your potential upgrade to Gold or Platinum status. Gold status only requires 25 overnight stays (not counting the 5 nights we just mentioned), so you’re just a few family vacations or business trips away from securing a Gold membership.

APR:  APR varies from 16.24% to 20.24%. This seems high for someone with excellent credit, but it’s actually low as far as hotel credit cards go.

Annual Fee: There’s no annual fee for the first year, so you have plenty of time to decide whether the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card is right for you. After that, you’ll shell out $95 per year.

If you’ve ever Googled “How to sleep in my car” because you couldn’t afford a hotel room or simply felt like staying in one wouldn’t be worth the money, we’ve got some must-read info for you below. Many people in situations just like yours find that they enjoy having a hotel credit card for their local, cross-country, or overseas vacations. Keep reading to learn more about what hotel credit cards do, as well as why and where people use them.

Let us know if you have any other questions - we’re always happy to help!

Hotel Credit Cards: The Basics

What is a hotel credit card?

A hotel credit card is a card that offers a line of credit for travelers who frequent specific hotels. As with most credit cards, hotel credit cards are usually compact pieces of rectangular plastic that feature a 16-digit number on the front and a 3-digit credit card security code on the back. American Express cards have a 4-digit security code on the front rather than a 3-digit code on the back.

You can use many hotel credit cards for purchases other than vacation-related goods and services. However, you may miss out on points or other perks if you go this route. You can find more info about card benefits under the heading titled “Card Fees and Rewards.”

Why do people get hotel credit cards?

There are tons of reasons why someone might get a hotel credit card, including one (or more) of the following:

  • They want to boost their FICO score by adding a new line of credit
  • They need help funding business trips or personal vacations
  • They prefer to pay off a vacation on a monthly basis rather than upfront
  • They want to take advantage of the generous perks commonly associated with hotel credit cards (free hotel stays!)
  • They hate carrying cash or debit cards during trips

There are also people who apply for hotel credit cards simply because a hospitality rep at the front desk encourages them to do so. We don’t recommend this, which is why we have thoroughly explained the pros and cons of various hotel credit cards above.. We at Faveable want you to make informed choices when it comes to your credit.

What does it mean if I get a cobranded hotel credit card?

A cobranded hotel credit card is a credit card that’s associated with multiple companies, typically a hotel brand and a credit card provider or bank. The Starwood Preferred Guest from American Express is one popular example of a cobranded hotel credit card.

If you get a hotel credit card that isn’t cobranded, you can only use the card at a specific group of hotels. A cobranded hotel credit card is accepted at participating businesses around the world if it has a Visa, MasterCard, or American Express logo. You can use it to get gas, eat at restaurants, or even pay your rent or electric bill.

Is a hotel credit card the same thing as a travel credit card?

Nope, but that doesn’t stop people from using the terms interchangeably. A hotel credit card, as we explained earlier, is a line of credit for a specific hotel brand. You can use the card other places if it’s a cobranded card, but its rewards are still geared toward the hotel brand.

A travel credit card focuses on traveling in general rather than targeting a specific hotel brand. You can rack up rewards for free hotel stays and flights with a travel credit card, and you often have more choices for hotels and airlines than you do with a hotel credit card. However, keep in mind that you may have fewer rewards.

How many hotel credit cards do I need?

There’s no cookie-cutter answer to this question because all of our readers have different financial situations and goals. However, we want to encourage you to ask yourself the following questions before you apply for one - or more - hotel credit cards:

  • How often do I travel?
  • Do I prefer a specific hotel brand, or can I happily stay at any hotel?
  • Do I usually stay in hotels, or am I more an Airbnb person?
  • How much can I afford to spend on monthly credit card bills?
  • Is my credit poor, fair, good, or excellent?

The answers to these questions play an important role when it comes to determining how many hotel credit cards you should get. If you don’t travel very often, it doesn’t make much sense to get a hotel credit card - unless you’re planning to take more vacations in the near future. If you typically choose Airbnb rentals over hotel rooms or you don’t care which hotel you visit, you might do better with a travel credit card than a hotel credit card.

Assessing your budget is a must so you don’t get stuck with more monthly credit card statements than you can handle. Your credit score matters because it generally affects each card’s APR, so you might end up paying hundreds - or even thousands - of extra bucks for each trip you take.

What’s the best hotel credit card?

We love the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express - it was our top pick on our list of the best hotel credit cards. It’s a popular card that’s also a favorite with well-known websites like NerdWallet, The Points Guy, ValuePenguin, and The Simple Dollar.

We also recommend the Stash Hotel Rewards Visa, American Express Hilton Honors, U.S. Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature, and Best Western Rewards Secured MasterCard. However, while we’re certain you’ll find a card you like on our list of favorites, we want to remind you that our best card might not be your best card. You have to consider factors like the annual fee and the hotel(s) where you can use the card, as well as whether the card is geared toward folks with a credit score similar to yours. That’ll help you find the hotel credit card that’s perfect for you.

The Application Process for Hotel Credit Cards

How do I get a hotel credit card?

Apply at a hotel, contact a company via phone, or fill out an online application if you want a hotel credit card. Some hotels let you apply at the front desk and then use your card to pay for your stay, but that’s not always the case - so bring a backup payment method just in case. Ask the hospitality specialist behind the counter if you don’t see any signs advertising hotel cards. Even if they don’t have any applications on hand, they can probably tell you where to get one.

Am I more likely to get approved if I apply directly at the hotel?

Nope, probably not. Credit card companies generally use a computer-generated approval system that considers factors such as your credit score, previous history with the company, and debt-to-income ratio. If you get denied, you can request a manual review by an employee at the credit card company, but this doesn’t take place at the hotel.

Do I have to join a hotel’s rewards program before I apply for their credit card?

Generally the answer is no, but we’ve heard some reports that Wyndham properties try to make you join their rewards program prior to applying for a card. You can often earn points from a rewards program and points from a credit card, so it’s smart to join anyway.

Notice we didn’t mention combining the points, though. Some companies let you combine or transfer points, but many of them don’t. That means you may earn a free room from a rewards program and a free room from a credit card, but you can’t transfer 5,000 points from a hotel’s rewards program to increase the point balance on your hotel credit card.

Do I need good credit to get a hotel credit card?

Yes, most of the time you do. We’ve found that most hotel credit cards expect you to at least have a credit score in the high 600s or low 700s, although some lucky folks score approvals with scores in the low-to-mid 600s.

The exception is if you apply for a card like the Best Western Rewards Secured MasterCard. It’s a secured credit card, so you’re funding the credit limit yourself. However, you still get some of the awesome perks - like free and discounted hotel rooms - associated with unsecured hotel credit cards.

I got a message that says the card company couldn’t reach an immediate decision - does that mean I got declined?

It’s common to assume the worst when you get hit with a “Sorry, we couldn’t reach an immediate decision,” but that generic message isn’t always a polite way of rejecting you. Basically, this message means the computer couldn’t decide whether to approve you or not, so a real person has to take a look at your app. You’ll probably get an answer via postal mail in a couple weeks, but you can contact the company by phone if you want to speed up the notification process.   

Using Your Hotel Credit Card

Can I use my hotel credit card at any hotel?

Yes, as long as you have a cobranded card and not a card that’s issued by the hotel itself. We talked about cobranded cards in the section titled “Hotel Credit Cards: The Basics”. If you don’t have time to scroll back up and read that info, just remember that cobranded cards are backed by two companies/agencies. That means if you have a cobranded card, it probably has a Visa, MasterCard, or American Express logo on the front.

But hey, just because you can use your credit card at any hotel doesn’t mean you should. You typically get the most bang for your buck by visiting hotels that are associated with your credit card. You earn higher points and qualify for deeper discounts, which makes it easier to rack up points for free hotel stays. If you don’t like staying at a particular hotel brand, you should probably use a travel credit card rather than a hotel credit card.

Can you book a hotel without a credit card?

Sometimes, but we don’t recommend it. TripSavvy agrees, explaining that it’s risky to book with a debit card rather than a credit card. Hotels often place an authorization hold on cards, and sometimes that amount is higher than the cost of your actual stay. If you use a debit card, you may end up overdrafting your checking account or losing access to necessary funds.

Paying with cash might be an option, but many hotels require payment via a debit or credit card. Even if they accept your cash, they may still ask you to give them a card in case you trash the room or raid the mini bar.

Can I pay with cash and my hotel credit card?

Yes, you can pay with cash and a hotel credit card as long as the hotel allows it. Some hotels don’t like cash payments, so check with the manager or a front desk agent before you arrive.

Keep in mind you only earn points for the amount you put on the credit card. If your room costs $500 for 2 days and you pay $450 cash, you only earn points for $50 of your purchase.

Can I only use hotel credit cards in the United States?

Nope, you can use your hotel card around the world unless the company’s terms of use forbid it. However, many credit card companies charge foreign transaction fees, so make sure you budget accordingly.

What’s the best hotel credit card for international use?

The Stash Hotel Rewards Visa has no foreign transaction fees, so it’s a great option if you travel abroad regularly and stay at boutique hotels. We also love the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express - like the Stash Hotel Rewards Visa, it has no foreign transaction fees.

Do I need to carry a balance on my credit card?

No, you’re welcome to pay off the card each month. In fact, we recommend it! Over time, high interest rates can turn a cheap getaway into a pricey vacation.

Some people leave a small balance because they feel like it helps them build credit. If you decide to go this route, try to keep your balance lower than 30% of your credit limit. That means if you have a $2,000 limit, you shouldn’t have more than $600 on your card.

Card Fees and Rewards

Are hotel credit cards worth it?

For some people, yes. Is a hotel credit card worth it for you? Ask yourself the following questions, and we’ll help you decide:

  • Do I travel regularly or take infrequent but long vacations?
  • Do I prefer a specific hotel brand?
  • Do I want free nights at my favorite hotels?
  • Will I probably earn enough rewards to balance out the card’s annual fee or a high APR?
  • Can I handle the monthly payment for a hotel credit card?
  • Do I have decent credit?

If you answered yes to all of the questions above, congrats - you’re an excellent candidate for a hotel credit card!

Do most hotel credit cards have an annual fee?

Yes, nearly all hotel credit cards require members to pay an annual fee. We consider it a necessary evil that gives us exclusive access to things we want - like free hotel rooms and airline miles.

Can I get my annual fee waived?

It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask the company that issued your card. Honestly we haven’t heard reports from anyone who has managed to avoid the fee for any hotel credit card, but that doesn’t mean you won’t succeed at getting it dropped. If you do, please come back and let us know so we can update our response.

How do I earn points with my hotel credit card?

Well, it depends on which hotel card you have. You can generally earn points by:

  • Qualifying for sign-up bonuses
  • Meeting annual goals set by the company, such as “Spend X dollars every 12 months to get extra points”
  • Staying at approved hotels
  • Buying goods and services from participating businesses
  • Linking your credit card to a hotel’s rewards program

Cardholders typically earn more points for staying at approved hotels than they do for visiting other vacation properties.

Do my points expire?

Sometimes, but there are credit cards (like the Stash Hotel Rewards Visa Card) that offer expiration-free points. If you’re not using a card like that, you should still have plenty of time to redeem your points - typically a minimum of 12 to 24 months.

Some cards offer transferable points. If you think you won’t stay at a participating hotel in the near future but need points for flights or other vacation-related essentials, consider a card like the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express.

What can I do with my points?

Whatever you want! Well, as long as you don’t violate the terms of your credit card agreement.

Some credit card companies only let you redeem points for hotel stays, but you may also have the chance to trade your points for airline miles or cash. If you don’t have to redeem all of your points at once, you can potentially fund an entire trip if you have a card with a transfer-friendly points program.

How can I get extra points with my hotel card?

You can maximize the number of points you rack up with your hotel credit card by paying attention to special offers and primarily using your card at participating hotels. Most hotel cards we’ve researched offer a generous sign-up bonus, and some of them have an annual bonus. These bonus offers typically require you to spend a specific amount of money in a certain time frame in exchange for extra points.

When you book a hotel room, make sure you’re at a participating hotel. You can stay at any hotel unless your card restricts you from doing so, but cardholders usually earn more points at approved vacation properties.

If you have an issue during a hotel stay, politely yet firmly state your complaint to a customer service rep for your credit card. You may receive some extra points for the inconvenience you experienced, but there’s no guarantee.

Choosing the Right Card for Your Needs

Why should I choose a hotel credit card over a travel credit card?

You don’t have to choose - it’s okay to have one of each. However, you may not feel comfortable doing that. If that’s the case, you should choose a hotel credit card over a travel credit card if you:

  • Prefer chain hotels (unless you apply for the Stash Hotel Rewards Visa Card - it’s good for boutique hotels)
  • Tend to stick with a specific hotel brand
  • Regularly stay in hotels rather than crash with friends/family or book Airbnb homes

Also, make sure you travel enough to make the annual card fee worth it. Hotel credit cards are notorious for having hefty - yet justifiable - annual fees. Travel credit cards also have annual fees, but the majority of them waive the annual fees for the first year. If you’re unsure whether you’ll do better with a travel credit card or hotel credit card, look for one with a waived fee. That gives you time to test drive the card and figure out if it’s a good match for you.

What’s the best credit card for business travel?

The best travel credit card for your colleague might not be the best business card for you. The card you choose should reflect your personal preferences and fit your budget, especially if your company requires you to pay business-related expenses yourself and then submit a request for reimbursement.

If you like chain hotels, get a card that reflects that. If you need a card that transfers points so you can pay for flights, apply for one.

A lot of business travelers like the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. It’s not a business card, but it has no foreign transaction fees, making it a popular option for business travelers who conduct business overseas.

The company also offers an official business credit card, the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card, that might be a better fit for you. We discuss it in our list of the best business credit cards as well.

What’s the best credit card for all types of travel?

We feel like the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is the overall best hotel credit card for travelers. You can use it at hotels around the world, and there are no foreign transaction fees. Points are transferable to participating airlines, and the APR is on the lower end (well, at least for hotel credit cards).

What is the best credit card to accrue points for flights?

Okay, we know you might be sick of hearing about the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express by now, but we think it’s the best for earning airline points (and pretty much the best for everything else, too).

You can redeem points through Delta, British Airways, and more than 150 other trusted airlines. Oh, and did we mention American Express hooks you up with a 5,000 point bonus if you transfer 20,000 points to an approved frequent flyer program? Pretty sweet!

Should I only get a credit card at a hotel I frequent?

Possibly. Find out which brand owns the hotel you frequent so you can decide whether it’s smart to get a card with them. That way, you can stay at any hotel associated with the brand.

Most hotel credit cards work pretty much anywhere, but you can apply for a cobranded card if you want to make sure you aren’t locked into a specific hotel brand. However, it’s important to remember that you typically score more perks and points at participating hotels.

What if I don’t like the credit card I choose?

Get rid of it or stop using it. You don’t have to use a credit card unless you want to or your credit card agreement states otherwise.

There are drawbacks to cancelling a card, so you might do better just keeping it tucked away for safekeeping. If you cancel a card, your FICO score can drop because the cancellation decreases your overall available credit and impacts the part of your score that’s factored by how long you’ve had different types of credit.

If you do cancel a card, try to get rid of it before you get hit with an annual fee. If you forget, you’ll still have to pay the fee - for a card you don’t even want to keep.

Missy Nolan is a single mom who is too sleep-deprived to come up with a clever bio at the moment. She has been a professional writer for more than 10 years and loves staying home with her 3 kids. Well, most of the time. Missy rocks at parenting, baking, cooking, saving cute outfits she'll never wear on Pinterest, and sipping her beloved secret-menu Starbucks Pink Drink while strolling through Target.

She's your go-to girl for advice or feedback on any of the things listed above, as well as tips on healthy living, bargain hunting, marketing, and finances. Connect with Missy here or at MakeItWithMissy.com, a food blog that features healthy recipes and grocery deals.

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