Sep012010

Loyalty Traveler Compares Hotel Rewards Credit Card Benefits

In light of the new Hyatt Gold Passport Visa card I thought it would be interesting to see how the hotel related benefits for regular card members stack up next to each other.

Forget the transitory enrollment offer gimmicks of megabonus points and no credit card interest for six months. Bonus offers change frequently and churning credit cards for enrollment bonuses is a game for the creditworthy few. In my opinion, the real comparison of hotel loyalty credit cards needs to focus on the revolving benefits received with each year of membership.

 

Loyalty Traveler Summary of Annual Hotel Loyalty Benefits for Hotel Rewards Credit Cards

  • Carlson Hotels goldpoints plus
  • Hilton HHonors
  • Hyatt Gold Passport
  • InterContinental Hotels Group Priority Club
  • Marriott Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guest

 

Carlson Hotels Goldpoints Plus

Carlson Hotels Goldpoints Plus Visa (U.S. only)

  • 5 points per $1 spent at Carlson Hotels worldwide
  • 4 points per $1 on all other purchases
  • Sign-up bonus (9-1-2010) = 15,000 bonus points after first use within 90 days of opening account.

Loyalty Traveler comments: Goldpoints plus has one of the best exchange rates for hotel points-to-miles transfers where 100,000 points = 18,000 miles. Goldpoints plus gold elite member can earn 100,000 points for $3,334 in hotel spend at Radisson Hotels. Compare to Starwood Preferred Guest elites where $3,334 earns 10,000 SPG points. A person interested in miles will earn miles faster through Radisson hotel stays than SPG.  

However, compare SPG American Express card where $20,000 in spend outside of hotels earns 20,000 points = 25,000 miles in many programs. $20,000 on Goldpoints Plus Visa earns 80,000 points and Goldpoints Plus requires 100,000 points for 18,000 miles.  SPG is a better card for airline miles if you earn most of your points through credit card spend instead of hotel stays.

 

Hilton HHonors

Hilton HHonors has three different cobranded credit cards for residents of the U.S. There are also credit cards for residents of the U.K., Germany and Japan.

The two Hilton HHonors American Express cards for U.S. residents have more benefits than the Visa card. Top elite HHonors Diamond membership for $40,000 in annual spend on the HHonors American Express Surpass card is probably the highest value benefit of any hotel loyalty program credit card.

Hilton HHonors American Express (U.S.) – No annual fee

  • Complimentary HHonors Silver VIP elite membership while a cardmember.
  • Complimentary HHonors Gold VIP elite membership with $20,000 or more annual charges.
  • 6 HHonors bonus points per US$1 spent at Hilton Worldwide hotels, grocery stores, gas stations, drugstores, home and wireless phone, cable, internet.
  • 3 HHonors bonus points on all other purchases
  • 500 points online booking bonus when charged to Hilton HHonors American Express
  • AXON5/6 and AXON7 discount awards (Four Nights AXON 5/6  = 125,000 points; four nights AXON7 = 145,000 points and is lower cost than HHonors VIP rewards)
  • Sign-up bonus (9-1-2010) = 20,000 points after first purchase within one year and 2,500 points per Hilton stay, up to 10,000 points after 4 stays within first 18 months of cardmembership.

Silver elite membership opens access to HHonors VIP rewards with a 15% to 25% discount on award extended stays of four nights or longer.

 

Hilton HHonors Surpass Card American Express (U.S.) – $75 annual fee

  • Complimentary HHonors Gold  VIP elite membership for first year of cardmembership.
  • Complimentary HHonors Diamond VIP elite membership with $40,000 or more in annual charges. Complimentary HHonors Gold VIP elite membership with $20,000 or more annual charges.
  • 9 HHonors bonus points per US$1 spent at Hilton Worldwide hotels
  • 6 HHonors bonus points per US$1 spent at grocery stores, gas stations, drugstores, home and wireless phone, cable, internet.
  • 3 HHonors bonus points on all other purchases
  • Priority Pass airport lounge complimentary membership (but still costs $27 per lounge visit)
  • 500 points online booking bonus when charged to Hilton HHonors American Express
  • AXON5/6 and AXON7 discount awards (Four Nights AXON 5/6  = 125,000 points; four nights AXON7 = 145,000 points and is lower cost than HHonors VIP rewards)
  • Sign-up bonus (9-1-2010) = 40,000 points after first purchase within one year and 2,500 points per Hilton stay, up to 20,000 points after 8 stays within first 18 months of cardmembership.

 

Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature (U.S.) – no annual fee

  • Complimentary HHonors Silver VIP elite membership while a cardmember.
  • 6 HHonors bonus points per US$1 spent at Hilton Worldwide hotels.
  • 3 HHonors bonus points at gas stations, grocery stores and drugstore.
  • 2 HHonors bonus points on all other purchases
  • Sign-up bonus (9-1-2010) = 25,000 points after first purchase within four months of opening account.

HHonors credit card terms

Loyalty Traveler comments: Hilton HHonors is the clear leader in the credit card game with its array of benefits. The HHonors American Express cards allow you to earn high value bonus points for groceries, cable, internet, cellphone bills and gas.

The ability to earn HHonors VIP elite through HHonors American Express credit card spending, discounts on reward nights with VIP hotel reward access and exclusive American Express AXON award discounts, and the online booking bonus make HHonors American Express and particularly the HHonors Surpass card the best all around cards for hotel loyalty programs. 

The only drawback to the HHonors American Express is for someone who wants miles. Starwood American Express is a much better program than Hilton HHonors for points-to-miles exchange rates. 

The HHonors American Express Surpass card offers the highest value return for the big spender who wants free hotel stays with Hilton Worldwide.

Hyatt Gold Passport   

Hyatt Chase Visa Card (U.S. residents only) – $75 – link

  • Complimentary Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum elite membership while a cardmember (platinum elite normally requires 5 stays or 15 nights).
  • 3 Gold Passport bonus points per US$1 spent at Hyatt brand hotels worldwide.
  • 1 Gold Passport bonus point per US$1 on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Sign-up bonus (9-1-2010) = 2 free nights after first purchase. Gold Passport Diamond members will receive complimentary suite upgrade on these two free nights. Gold Passport Platinum members will receive two complimentary suite upgrades for use on paid stays. (according to View from the Wing)

Loyalty Traveler comments: The Chase Hyatt card website advertises a card feature as award nights with no resort or internet fees. While this is a true statement, these benefits are available to any Gold Passport Platinum elite member. Hyatt Gold Passport does not charge resort fees on award nights at Hyatt Resorts and all platinum and diamond members receive complimentary internet at Hyatt brands globally. 

The two free nights is a nice sign-up feature, but I think the Priority Club Visa has better benefits with the annual free night.  

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card is a hugely popular credit card for its points-to-miles exchange with a 25% bonus on points transfers in blocks of 20,000 points into 25,000 miles. Hyatt Gold Passport has the same 25% bonus when transferring 50,000 points into 25,000 miles. The earning rate of 1 point per US$1 for everyday purchases with both the Hyatt Visa card and the SPG American Express places the balance heavily in favor of SPG American Express for persons interested in maximizing credit card spending for airline miles.

InterContinental Hotels Group Priority Club Rewards 

Priority Club Chase Select Visa Card (U.S.) – $49 annual fee after first year free

  • Complimentary Priority Club Gold elite membership while a cardmember ($50 value).
  • Annual free night e-certificate (valid for any IHG brand hotel worldwide)
  • 10% rebate on all free night redemptions up to 100,000 points rebate per year.
  • 5 Priority Club bonus points per US$1 spent at IHG hotels worldwide.
  • 3 Priority Club bonus points per US$1 at gas stations, dining and grocery stores.
  • 1 Priority Club bonus point per US$1 on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Sign-up bonus (9-1-2010) = 30,000 points after first purchase or first use (includes balance transfers).
  • Priority Club Select Visa Card link

Loyalty Traveler comments: The best benefit of the Priority Club Visa is the annual free night e-certificate. An InterContinental Hotel night will usually be a $200+ rate or even $400+ per night in some locations. 

10% rebate on reward nights is unique and can be a 10,000 to 20,000 points savings for an active Priority Club member. 

Priority Club Visa and Marriott Rewards Visa are the only cards with higher points earning for dining. That can be a big factor for the restaurant aficionado. 

 

Marriott Rewards 

Marriott Rewards Signature Visa from Chase – $30 annual fee with first year free 

  • Complimentary Marriott Rewards Silver elite membership with 10 nights annual elite credit while a cardmember.
  • Earn 1 additional elite night credit for every $3,000 in charges annually.
  • 15,000 points rebate for reward stays of seven or more nights at category 7 or 8 properties.
  • 3 Marriott Rewards bonus points per US$1 spent at Marriott brand hotels worldwide.
  • 1 Marriott Rewards bonus point per US$1 on all other purchases
  • Sign-up bonus (9-1-2010) = free night e-certificate (valid for any Marriott Rewards category 1 to 4 hotel worldwide) and 22,500 bonus points after first purchase or first use (includes balance transfers). 

 

Marriott Rewards Premier Visa from Chase – $65 annual fee with first year free

  • Complimentary Marriott Rewards Silver elite membership with 15 nights annual elite credit while a cardmember.
  • Earn 1 additional elite night credit for every $3,000 in charges annually.
  • Annual free night certificate (category 1-5 hotels). First year is a category 1-4 e-certificate.
  • 15,000 points rebate for reward stays of seven or more nights at category 7 or 8 properties.
  • 5 Marriott Rewards bonus points per US$1 spent at Marriott brand hotels worldwide.
  • 2 Marriott Rewards bonus points per US$1 spent on airlines, dining and rental cars.
  • 1 Marriott Rewards bonus point per US$1 on all other purchases.
  • Sign-up bonus (9-1-2010) = free night e-certificate (valid for any Marriott Rewards category 1 to 4 hotel worldwide) and 30,000 bonus points after first purchase.

Loyalty Traveler comments: The initial free night e-certificate is limited to the lowest four of the eight Marriott Rewards hotel categories. The annual Marriott Rewards Premier Visa e-certificate with cardmembership renewal is good for category 5 hotels and that is a significantly higher value. There are some really nice Marriott category 5 hotels. 

The Hyatt card gives you two free nights at any Hyatt hotel as an enrollment bonus. Priority Club gives one night at any IHG hotel for each year of cardmembership. 

The Marriott Rewards card has weak benefits compared to most of the surveyed cards (except for dining credit), however, Marriott Rewards has the best points-to-miles exchange rate of any hotel loyalty program when transferring over 100,000 points. Marriott Rewards has its benefits but this card may not be the best fit for you. 

Big spenders may prefer the Hilton American Express for elite status. Starwood American Express has a better earning rate for miles. 

 

Starwood Preferred Guest

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express – $45 (increases to $65 October 14, 2010)

  • 2 bonus Starpoints per US$1 spent at Starwood Hotels and Resorts worldwide.
  • 1 bonus Starpoints per US$1 per US$1 on all other purchases.
  • Annual 50% off rack rate certificate (this benefit will be discontinued in October and replaced with five elite night credits annually and a 3rd night free credit offer).
  • Sign-up bonus (9-1-2010) = 10,000 bonus points after first purchase and 15,000 additional bonus points for $15,000 in credit card spending during first six months of cardmembership. 

Loyalty traveler comments: SPG is the program if you really want options to convert your hotel points to a variety of airline miles. Marriott Rewards and Goldpoints plus have better points-to-miles exchange rates for high transfers, but the SPG credit card favors the person who earns more points from credit card spending than hotel stays.

United, Continental and Singapore Airlines offer a poor exchange rate with SPG. You might prefer the Hyatt or Marriott card for these airline programs. Hyatt has the same or a better exchange rate for many airline partners but the earning rate is better for general purchases using the SPG program card compared to the Hyatt card. 

Update: Sep 30, 2010 – Wyndham Rewards Visa card was not included in this comparison. This card is actually a high value card for people interested in airline miles. All purchases earn 2 points per dollar and Wyndham hotel brands earn 5 points per dollar. Wyndham Rewards has a fixed points-to-miles exchange rate at 2.5 points = 1 mile. Most of the hotel loyalty cards shown here only give 1 point per dollar for most purchases. 

Wyndham Rewards is essentially giving 0.8 miles/dollar. SPG gives 1.25 miles per dollar for 1:1 airline partners points-to-miles transfers at the 20,000 points level and 1 mile per dollar at lower transfer levels.  Wyndham Rewards Visa is a good back-up card for miles with 17 airline partners. $4,000 in credit card spend earns 4,000 miles through American Express SPG or 3,200 miles for Wyndham Rewards Visa cardmembers.

If hotel stays are your primary interest and not miles, then consider the array of benefits offered by other cards, particularly the high annual value of Priority Club Visa free night and reward nights rebate or Hilton HHonors American Express award night discounts and elite status.

Loyalty Traveler Card Rank based on annual benefits

  1. Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express card
  2. IHG Priority Club Select Visa Card from Chase
  3. Hilton HHonors American Express
  4. Starwood Preferred Guest American Express
  5. Hyatt Gold Passport Visa from Chase
  6. Marriott Rewards Premier Visa from Chase
  7. Hilton HHonors Signature Visa from Citi
  8. Marriott Rewards Signature Visa from Chase
  9. Carlson Hotels Goldpoints Plus Visa

Update Sep 2: The ranking shown here was based on my subjective analysis of each card’s added value to the hotel loyalty program. In a subsequent post I compared these same credit cards using annual spend scenarios of $6,000, $13,000, $24,000, and $48,000 in various earning categories. The total annual points were then given cash equivalent values to rank the 9 credit cards.

The results of that analysis repositioned some of the cards slightly with Marriott Rewards Premier Visa moving above Hyatt Visa and Goldpoints Plus Visa moving above Marriott Signature Visa. SPG American Express ranks higher for higher spenders. See the points value credit card analysis in the post link below.

Loyalty Traveler – Hotel Loyalty Credit Card Comparison by value of points (Sep 2)

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »

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  1. […] Hotel Rewards Credit Cards Comparison of Benefits (September 1) Marriott and Priority Club have the benefit of a free night every year rather than just a sign-up bonus. Hilton AMEX Surpass is best for Diamond elite status if you spend $40,000. Hyatt has great signup bonus but comparatively weak to some other cards on regular cardmember benefits. __________________ Loyalty Traveler blog analyzes hotel loyalty programs and promotions for the frequent guest. […]

Comments

  1. Excellent Review of all the hotel cards and the comparison helps a lot now that Hyatt has come out with their own branded card.

  2. I set up some sample spending pattern scenarios over the past couple of hours to really test my card rankings. I come up with similar rankings except IHG, Marriott Premier, Hyatt and SPG rank a little better for low spend scenarios.

    http://loyaltytraveler.boardingarea.com/2010/09/02/loyalty-traveler-hotel-credit-card-comparison-by-value-of-points/

    Aside from the Marriott Rewards Signature Visa sign-up bonus and silver elite bonus points for Marriott stays, the goldpoints plus card tends to come out better for earning free nights. I might shift the ranking up for Goldpoints Visa higher than Marriott.

    SPG looks good on the free nights earning side for some scenarios and some frequent guests might place it as #2.

    SPG, HHonors Surpass, and IHG Visa should cover most needs with high value returns.

    IHG Priority Club Visa and Marriott Premier Visa for a low spend traveler since the annual free night is a huge, low cost benefit.

    SPG Amex and HHonors Surpass for big spenders covers earning large Hilton bonus points and SPG covers miles transfers.

  3. Nice analysis, Ric. However, I find the incremental benefits of Hilton HHonors Diamond vs. Gold to not be worth the $75 annual fee of the Surpass card. Especially if you don’t stay in Hilton hotels much and need the extra 3 points per dollar for staying at Hiltons, then I’d recommend just sticking with the free Hilton HHonors Amex.

  4. I’m a long time HH Amex guy, but I’ve got to say I prefer the SPG. It’s a bit easier to earn points for stays with the HH, but the SPG gives an incredible amount of flexibility. Plus, as you’ve mentioned before, cash & points is a pretty sweet redemption option.

  5. Interesting analysis. However I think it fails from a holistic perspective which includes the ease of redemption and value-per-point, rather than simply weak status benefits and signup bonuses.

    In general SPG has a wealth of good redemption options including 4night+1 awards and cash+points. Also SPG no blackout really means no blackout dates. So points earned with SPG Amex have real value both for hotel and air. The Marriott free night pays for the card right there, and Marriott has copied the 4+1 award bonus. By contrast the Hyatt annual fee doesn’t provide any free nights beyond the signup bonus, nor does the Hilton card (which includes a fairly mediocre signup bonus). The elite benefits below the top tier are generally comparable between cards and honestly not really all that valuable.

    In sum, I would rank as follows on the basis of providing value for dollars on an annual basis (as opposed to signup bonus):

    SPG
    IHG
    Marriott
    Hyatt
    Hilton

    However, for those planning to charge $40k+, the Hilton Surpass would rank #1 based on the Plat status benefits (assuming the holder stays occasionally at Hilton).

  6. Boraxo –

    This post here mentions sign-up bonuses but does not focus on sign-up bonuses in the card analysis. I thought I made that point in the beginning of this post – “In my opinion, the real comparison of hotel loyalty credit cards needs to focus on the revolving benefits received with each year of membership.”

    The follow-up analysis on Sep 2 does take points value into account, but also does not consider sign-up bonuses.

    http://loyaltytraveler.boardingarea.com/2010/09/02/loyalty-traveler-hotel-credit-card-comparison-by-value-of-points/

    I guess what I am trying to determine is the added value of the credit card to a hotel loyalty program. I am simply considering the value of points and added benefits from the loyalty program credit card in this analysis.

    Hilton’s credit card gives high added value for high spenders with discount AXON awards and the ability to earn high elite status without numerous hotel stays over the course of the year.

    SPG has high added value for high spenders with its ability to earn various frequent flier miles and the low cost of awards with Cash & Points for people who do not stay in Starwood Hotels all the time.

    Priority Club and Marriott Visa cards have high added value with an annual free night. And PC gives a 10% rebate on reward nights. These cards have high added value for the low spender.

    The actual hotel loyalty programs would be rated in a different order in my opinion.

    I have had the SPG credit card for years. In the past eight years of being SPG Platinum I have earned fewer than 30,000 points on my SPG card. I have earned probably 300,000 points from Starwood hotel stays (not counting the free night promotions for category 6 hotels).
    SPG points are a flexible currency but the credit card has minimal added value for the loyalty program.

    Credit cards are a very minor strategy in my overall hotel loyalty plan. Hotel stays are the way I really rack up points.

    With regard to the value added opportunities that come with a hotel loyalty program credit card I do not see how Hilton could be ranked bottom.

    In terms of where to put your money for hotel stays during the year, then I would place Hilton a bit lower. But for someone with $50,000 or more in credit card spend, then Hilton Diamond is a fine benefit to have without making 28 hotel stays a year. And the Hilton points do add up over the course of the year as the Sep 2 Loyalty traveler analysis of credit card points value illustrates when you need gas and to pay many household bills.

    SPG Amex is a good all around card for low spenders and high spenders since all purchases earn at least 1 point. The low cost of award nights in the 2,000 to 5,000 points range with category 1, 2 and Cash & Points awards will make the opportunity for free nights come more quickly for low spending cardmembers than $2,000 to $5,000 spent on HHonors Amex. There are many more opportunities to use SPG for Cash & Points than HHonors PointStretchers. And $5,000 in HHonors AMEX spend, even at 6 points/$ still only gets you into a Hilton category 4 hotel. I’d guess SPG Cash & Points at a Category 4 hotel for 4,000 points and $60 is the better deal.

  7. The Marriott Rewards Premier Visa actually gives 15 nights of elite credit each year, not 10 like the Rewards Signature Visa. At the end of 2009, I saw multiple sign-up offers for 50,000 bonus points after the first purchase. These two benefits got me to join, and by charging all my Marriott stays to this card, I’ve gotten an additional 5 nights of elite credit ($3k spend => 1 night) on top of the hotel nights themselves.

  8. I have just been looking over Wyndham Rewards Visa card. 5 points per dollar spent at Wyndham brands and 2 points per dollar for all other purchases. Most of the cards shown in this post only award one point for dollar on most purchases.

    For people into CO or UA miles this card is better than Starwood American Express. $20,000 in spend will earn 16,000 miles through Wyndham Rewards compared to 12,500 miles for UA or CO with SPG.

    This card makes an excellent back-up card to SPG American Express.

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