If you're loyal to a specific hotel chain, such as Hilton or Marriott, a branded credit card offering increased rewards and benefits can be an easy way to make your stay both more affordable and more luxurious. These mega hospitality companies often have a wide range of hotels in their portfolios — for example, Hilton owns both the high-end Waldorf Astoria and the more affordable Embassy Suites — and using a hotel-specific card can earn you increased rewards, free stays and complimentary room upgrades at a variety of properties.
In addition, many hotel cards offer annual statement credits on resort purchases, free lounge access, complimentary loyalty membership and travel protections. All of these hotel perks usually come with a high annual fee, but it can be worthwhile for frequent travelers.
However, if you're not loyal to a specific hotel chain, these cards can be pretty limiting. If you stay at hotels that aren't a part of the brand's portfolio, you typically only earn 1 point per dollar spent and miss out on unique hotel discounts.
Even if you favor one hotel chain versus another, a general travel credit card may be a better choice than a hotel-specific card. With a travel card, you can earn the same amount of rewards on all hotel purchases, regardless of whether you stay at a Marriott or a Hilton, and you can also benefit from general travel discounts, such as annual travel credits, travel insurance and no foreign transaction fees.
Learn more: How to make the most of your hotel points
Hotel rewards credit cards offer high rewards rates on purchases made with the brand, but the value of points varies a lot. As a result, for co-branded hotel cards, we only calculated the estimated number of points you can earn after one and five years. The dollar value of points depends on whether you redeem them for hotel stays, merchandise, gift cards and more. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)
Here are CNBC Select's picks for the top hotel rewards credit cards:
5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠, 1.25X miles per dollar on every purchase
20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
0% APR for 12 months on purchases
15.49% to 25.49% variable
3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR
Who's this for: If you want to earn a competitive rewards rate on hotel purchases without paying an annual fee, consider the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card. Cardholders earn 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠.
All other purchases earn 1.25X miles per dollar spent, which is lower than the other cards on this list, but a good value considering the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card has no annual fee. Miles can conveniently be redeemed at any amount — no need to wait for a $25 rewards balance like many other rewards cards.
In addition to rewards, this card comes with many of the same travel benefits offered on the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, one of our top travel rewards credit cards, but without the annual fee. That includes travel accident insurance, 24-hour travel assistance services, auto rental collision damage waiver and no foreign transaction fees. Plus, you can benefit from a year of no interest on new purchases, which is hard to find among travel cards. After the intro period ends, a 15.49% to 25.49% variable APR applies.
Check out CNBC Select's Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card review for more details.
14X points per dollar for eligible purchases on your card made directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio; 7X points for eligible purchases on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies, and at U.S. restaurants; 3X points for all other eligible purchases
150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of card membership
15.74% to 24.74% variable
Who's this for? The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers an extensive suite of perks for loyal Hilton guests, whether you stay at the Waldorf Astoria or Homewood Suites or any other property in Hilton's portfolio.
Each year, cardholders receive a total of $500 in statement credits — $250 at Hilton resorts and $250 for airline fees. On top of that, you get a $100 property credit when you stay a minimum of two nights at Waldorf Astoria® Hotels & Resorts or Conrad® Hotels & Resorts. This adds up to fantastic savings and more than pays for the $450 annual fee.
Cardholders can take advantage from other luxury benefits: Receive up to two complimentary weekend night rewards (a free night stay on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday) when you spend $60,000 on eligible purchases in a calendar year and Hilton Honors Diamond status, which provides executive lounge access, complimentary breakfast at all brand hotels, a guaranteed room when you make a reservation at least 48 hours prior to your arrival and more.
Frequent fliers will also appreciate that the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card comes with a Priority Pass™ Select membership (valued at $429), giving you access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. There are also no foreign transaction fees, an essential feature for travelers.
This card offers the highest rewards rate when compared to the other two Hilton Amex cards: Cardholders earn 14X points per $1 spent at Hilton; 7X points per $1 spent on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies, and at U.S. restaurants; and 3X points per $1 for all other purchases.
Based on the average American's spending budget, you could earn 90,088 points a year with this card (not including the welcome bonus), which can be redeemed for future hotel stays.
6X Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar spent on eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3X points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, 2X points on all other eligible purchases
75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you spend $3,000 in purchases within your first 3 months of card membership
15.74% to 24.74% variable
Who's this for? If you want a card that offers premium travel perks at Marriott properties and competitive rewards, you should consider the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. The card comes with a steep $450 annual fee, but the benefits help to offset that cost.
Every year, cardholders receive a $300 statement credit toward incidentals, including charges at restaurants, spas and other establishments within Marriott Bonvoy hotels. This is a great way to cover the cost of room service, a massage or other perks during your hotel stay. And guests staying two nights or more at the Ritz-Carlton® or St. Regis® properties get an additional $100 property credit.
Cardholders also receive complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status and one free night award — no spending required. The free night award can be redeemed for hotels worth up to 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points and certain hotels may charge additional resort fees.
Frequent fliers can take advantage of an application fee credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, as well as Priority Pass™ Select membership (valued at $429), which gives members access to more than 1,000 lounges worldwide. There are also no foreign transaction fees.
The rewards rate is higher when compared to the other two Marriott Bonvoy cards: Earn 6X Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar spent on eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3X points per $1 spent at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2X points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases.
Based on the average American's spending budget, you could earn 50,955 points a year with this card (not including the welcome bonus), which can be redeemed for future hotel stays.
9X points total for Hyatt stays (4X bonus points per $1 spent with Hyatt and 5X base points per $1 you can earn as a World of Hyatt member); 2X bonus points per $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, local transit and commuting (taxis, mass transit, tolls and ride-share services) and gym memberships; 1X bonus point per $1 spent on all other purchases
Earn up to 50,000 bonus points: 25,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening, and an additional 25,000 bonus points after you spend $6,000 total on purchases within the first 6 months of account opening
15.99% to 22.99% variable
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Who's this for? If you frequent Hyatt hotels, such as the Grand Hyatt, Hyatt House or Andaz, and want to benefit from enhanced loyalty membership, you might want to consider the World of Hyatt Credit Card. For a $95 annual fee you can receive World of Hyatt Discoverist status and other perks.
With Discoverist status, you can take advantage of free breakfast at participating Hyatt Place hotels, waived resort fees on free night awards, a preferred room based on availability and more.
Cardholders can also benefit from up to two free-night awards per year and up to seven credits that can help you reach the next level of World of Hyatt membership. One free-night award is given annually on your account anniversary, and the other award requires you to spend $15,000 during a year — which is lower than some other hotels cards on this list that require $60,000 to $75,000 in spending.
You can also receive 5 World of Hyatt qualifying night credits automatically each year (no spending required). A qualifying night is considered any night when you stay at a Hyatt property, pay an eligible rate or redeem a free night award, and use your World of Hyatt membership number with the reservation. You can be promoted to Explorist status once you've racked up 30 qualifying nights in a qualifying year. (Here's more information on the Hyatt Membership Program.)
This card also offers a range of travel protections, including baggage delay insurance and lost luggage reimbursement.
The rewards rate is good, with bonus rewards on Hyatt purchases and select other categories: Earn 9X points total for Hyatt stays (4X bonus points per $1 spent with Hyatt and 5X base points per $1 you can earn as a World of Hyatt member); 2X bonus points per $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, local transit and commuting (taxis, mass transit, tolls and ride-share services) and gym memberships; and 1X bonus point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Based on the average American's spending budget, you could earn 31,312 points a year with this card (not including the welcome bonus), which can be redeemed for future hotel stays.
Up to 25X points total per dollar at IHG® (earn 10X points per $1 spent at IHG® hotels as a cardholder, plus 10X base points as an IHG® Rewards Club member and 5X points with Platinum Elite Status, which comes as a benefit of this card); 2X points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants; 1X point per $1 spent on all other purchases
125,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
15.99% to 22.99% variable
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
Who's this for? Loyal guests of InterContinental Hotels Group hotels may want to check out the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. For an $89 annual fee, you can benefit from multiple free night awards and IHG® Rewards Club Platinum Elite status.
IHG® Rewards Club Platinum Elite status provides complimentary room upgrades upon availability, late checkout, $30 in-room spa credit at participating hotels, among other perks.
Every account anniversary year, you receive a free night award that can be redeemed at IHG hotels with a current point redemption level of 40,000 points or less. Hotels in the IHG brand include Kimpton, Holiday Inn and Staybridge Suites. When you redeem points for stays of four nights or more, zero points will be deducted from your account for the fourth night.
The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card offers a high hotel rewards rate of 25X points total per dollar at IHG®: Earn 10X points per $1 spent at IHG® hotels as a cardholder, plus 10X base points as an IHG® Rewards Club member and 5X points with Platinum Elite Status (a benefit of this card). Plus earn 2X points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants and 1X point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Based on the average American's spending budget, you could earn 48,089 points a year with this card (not including the welcome bonus), which can be redeemed for future hotel stays.
To determine which cards will put the most money back in your pocket, CNBC Select evaluated 11 popular rewards credit cards offered by major banks, financial companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join and offer bonus rewards on hotel-related purchases. We compared each card on a range of features, including travel rewards (points and miles), annual fee, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, one-time perks, annual perks, redemption rates, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available.
CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.
Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses. CNBC Select used this budget to compare cards that reward specific purchases and estimate how many rewards the average consumer might earn.
We then estimated how many points the average consumer could earn over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases.
It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them, and this is especially true for co-branded hotel rewards cards.
Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.
While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your travel habits.