Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
I have five hotel credit cards. But I believe each of my cards provides enough perks to justify paying its annual fee for the foreseeable future. In particular, most of my hotel credit cards offer an annual free night that can more than justify the annual fee before even considering any other perks.
However, readers and friends often ask me what hotel card is best. My answer typically depends on the person’s preferred hotel loyalty program, budget and travel style. After all, the best hotel credit card for me may not be the best for you.
Each year at the TPG Awards, our readers select one best hotel credit card, but there are several worthy candidates for this title. So, today I’ll discuss my top three picks. In doing so, I’ll present arguments for why each of these cards is best.
My picks for the best hotel credit card
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Before diving into why I think each of these three cards could be named the best hotel credit card, let me first discuss why I didn’t list any Marriott Bonvoy cards. I have two Marriott Bonvoy cards and I get great value from the annual free night award and elite-qualifying night credits my cards provide each year. Indeed, earning 30 elite-qualifying nights from Marriott credit cards each year helps me maintain high-tier Marriott Bonvoy elite status.
But the three cards discussed in this article all have key aspects that could justify the card being named “best.” And although having at least one Marriott Bonvoy card is undoubtedly recommendable for Marriott loyalists, I don’t believe any Marriott Bonvoy cards offer showstopper benefits that would justify the title of the best hotel card.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
The Hilton Aspire is easily the best hotel credit card in my eyes. After all, you’ll receive top-tier Hilton Diamond status as long as you hold the card. The card also offers other perks, including annual statement credits and a free night reward each year that can more than offset its $450 annual fee (see rates and fees).
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Here are some reasons why I believe the Hilton Aspire is the top hotel credit card.
Based on TPG’s valuation of Hilton Honors points at 0.6 cents each and the card’s massive earning rate of 14 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, the Hilton Aspire offers an excellent 8.4% return on hotel spending.
That’s better than what I’d earn with my typical go-to card for booking hotels, the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, which awards 3 points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases each account anniversary year across a number of categories, including travel.
Top-tier Hilton Diamond status
Many hotel credit cards can help you earn elite status or provide low-to-mid-tier status. But the Hilton Aspire provides top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond status. And Hilton Diamond status offers some excellent benefits when staying with Hilton, including:
- Daily food and beverage credit at U.S. hotels and continental breakfast at non-U.S. hotels.
- Space-available room upgrades (up to one-bedroom suites).
- Executive lounge access when available.
- 100% elite status bonus on all the Hilton Honors base points you earn.
My husband and I have enjoyed excellent upgrades and buffet breakfasts due to his Diamond status, including during stays at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton in Penang, Malaysia, and the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Fiji.
Annual free night reward
Hilton Aspire cardholders get a free night reward each year to use at almost any property worldwide, and cardholders can earn a second free night reward each year after spending $60,000 on purchases in a calendar year. These rewards used to be restricted to weekends but are now good for any night of the week.
Many hotel credit cards offer annual free night certificates. But most programs limit annual free night rewards to particular point ranges or categories. The Hilton Aspire free night reward is unique and extremely valuable because you can use it at almost any Hilton property.
The Hilton Aspire also provides many other benefits that can help justify the card’s $450 annual fee (see rates and fees), including:
- Up-to-$250 Hilton resort credit each cardmember year for eligible purchases made directly with participating Hilton Resorts using your card.
- Up-to-$250 airline fee credit each calendar year for incidental charges charged by an airline of your choice to your card (enrollment required).
- Up-to-$100 Hilton on-property credit when you use your card to book an eligible two-night minimum stay at participating Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts through HiltonHonorsAspireCard.com or by calling Hilton Honors at 855-292-5757 and referencing ZZAAP1.
- Priority Pass Select membership (enrollment required).
Check out our full Hilton Aspire card review for more information.
IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card
The IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card provides many benefits that can justify the card’s modest $99 annual fee (for cardholders who applied prior to March 24, 2022, you’ll pay $89 until your 2023 renewal date). And combining these benefits makes the IHG Premier a solid contender for the best hotel card.
And this card is currently offering its best sign-up bonus ever: 175,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Here’s a quick look at the most valuable aspects of the IHG Premier.
Anniversary reward night
The benefit that most easily justifies the card’s annual fee is the anniversary reward night with a redemption value of 40,000 points or less for one standard room night. However, you can add points from your IHG One Rewards account to redeem your anniversary night at hotels above the 40,000-point redemption level.
Based on TPG’s valuations, 40,000 IHG One Rewards points are worth $200. So, even if you use your anniversary night for a night that would otherwise cost 20,000 IHG points, you’ll effectively recoup the card’s annual fee. But, especially since you can top off your anniversary night with points, it should be easy to get a much higher value from your anniversary night.
IHG One Rewards Platinum Elite status
- Complimentary room upgrades.
- Late checkout (2 p.m., if available).
- Elite rollover nights.
- 60% bonus earnings on top of base points.
- Exclusive access to discounts on reward nights at participating hotels.
Thanks to these benefits, I’ll happily keep Platinum Elite status as a perk of my IHG Premier instead of striving to earn Diamond Elite status. However, I plan to hit some of the elite night thresholds to earn specific milestone rewards.
The fourth-night-reward perk of the IHG Premier allows you to pay zero points for every fourth night on reward stays of four nights or longer. Although this perk isn’t helpful if you don’t redeem IHG points for stays of four nights or longer, this benefit provides significant value to me since I live on the road as a digital nomad.
My husband and I each have an IHG Premier. In 2019, we used the fourth-night-reward perk provided by these cards on 11 award stays. We saved 185,000 points thanks to this perk, which TPG values at $925.
If you’re doing the math, this means we redeemed about 555,000 IHG points in 2019. Of course, there are many ways to earn IHG Rewards points. But, to fuel this level of spending, we often take advantage of IHG promotions and buy points during periodic IHG promotions that offer a 100% bonus.
The IHG Premier offers some other valuable benefits, including:
- 10 points per dollar spent at IHG properties when you pay with your IHG Premier.
- A Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or Nexus application fee credit every four years.
- A $100 statement credit and 10,000 bonus points after spending $20,000 each calendar year.
- Up to $50 in United TravelBank Cash each calendar year after registering your IHG Premier with your MileagePlus account.
World of Hyatt Credit Card
The primary argument for the World of Hyatt Credit Card is that you can spend on the card to reach top-tier status. I don’t think this perk is enough to beat out the Hilton Aspire, which provides top-tier Hilton Diamond status as a cardmember benefit without requiring extra spending. Even so, in this section, I’ll discuss how you can use the World of Hyatt card to reach Globalist status.
Earn World of Hyatt Globalist status through spending
One perk of the World of Hyatt Credit Card is five qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every year. You can also earn two additional qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every time you spend $5,000 on your card.
Hyatt’s top-tier Globalist status requires 60 tier-qualifying nights, 100,000 base points or 20 meetings or events. So, if you want to qualify for Hyatt Globalist on nights and have the World of Hyatt card, you could:
- Stay 55 nights.
- Stay 49 nights and spend $15,000 on your card.
- Stay 39 nights and spend $40,000 on your card.
- Stay 19 nights and spend $90,000 on your card.
- Stay zero nights and spend $140,000 on your card.
So, if you have the World of Hyatt card and are working toward earning Globalist status, you can see where you stand near the end of each year and get the remaining nights you need through spending.
The World of Hyatt card has other benefits that may provide value and justify its $95 annual fee:
Many hotel cobranded cards can offer tremendous value, but the three cards highlighted above offer the best bang for your buck. Sure, the Hilton Aspire card has the highest annual fee of the trio in this story, but it comes packed with benefits that can pay off even if you only stay at Hilton properties a few times each year. Combined with the free night reward each year that you can use at almost any property and top-tier Diamond status, this makes the Hilton Aspire the best hotel card in my book.
But, you should be able to get more value than the annual fee from any of the hotel credit cards discussed in this guide. So, the best hotel credit card for you depends on your preference. In particular, if you prefer to stay with a specific hotel loyalty program, you should consider whether getting a cobranded card with this program would be beneficial since many provide elevated earning rates, free nights, elite benefits and on-site credits.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire, click here.
Additional reporting by Emily Thompson.