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With a number of co-branded hotel credit cards on the market, determining which is best can be a bit of a chore. Especially if you only want to hold one or two cards. So I thought I’d offer a little help by discussing the best hotel credit cards currently available.
Candidly, my wife and I have over 7 hotel credit cards between the two of us, so we aren’t the best example. We hold all of them for either status benefits or inexpensive “free” nights. Since we pay the annual fee on these cards, the nights aren’t exactly free. But $49 for a night at even a mid-scale place (thank you IHG Mastercard) is a good deal.
What I want to explore are 3 of the best hotel credit cards for the typical family. If you only want to hold onto one, each of these could earn that place for different reasons.
Best for status benefits: Hilton Ascend Amex
If you’re looking for easy elite status from a credit card that actually gives you measurable benefits, look no further than the Hilton Ascend American Express card. If you don’t already hold the card (or have held the old Surpass), it is currently still offering a sign-up bonus of 125,000 points. The Hilton Ascend earns 12x points per dollar at Hilton hotels, 6x on gas and grocery, and 3x everywhere else. While it isn’t one that I will pull out of my wallet for general spend, it isn’t a bad grocery option and is definitely worth using on Hilton stays.
Complimentary Gold Elite status is where the card really shines. Hilton Gold status will get you free breakfast at full service properties, which is the single greatest benefit of holding the card. Breakfast is technically just for two people (yourself and a guest). However, I’ve found that traveling with my older two kids, they’ve let us all three of us eat free. I’ve also heard of instances where hotels let families including both parents and multiple kids enjoy the breakfast benefit. But YYMV. Gold status will also get you an 80% boost in bonus points on paid stays, room upgrades, among other perks.
If you can put $15,000 per year on the card, you’ll also earn an additional free night. I personally wouldn’t spend more than this on the card, even though you can earn Diamond status if you spend $40,000 in a calendar year on the card. In that case, look at the American Express Hilton Aspire (150,000 point welcome offer). Assuming you put just $15,000 on the card, of which $10,000 is in the gas and grocery category, you’ll earn 75,000 Hilton points and an extra weekend night. Valuing Hilton points at 0.5 cents each and the free night at $150, this is an overall return of $525 per year for the $95 annual fee. An overall return of 3.5% back is pretty good.
The card also offers free 10 Priority Pass visits per year, which may actually make it one of the best Priority Pass options for families. Personally, I don’t see us visiting a lounge as a family more than once or twice per year, and the 10 free visits *do* cover guests. You can get your whole family of 5 in for free, as long as the lounge itself doesn’t have guest limits.
If your family travels a lot and you can put the credits and perks to good use, the Hilton Aspire card might worth some consideration. The biggest turnoff is the annual fee the card carries. However, it does offer an annual $250 Hilton resort credit and $250 airline credit that can offset that $450 per year price tag. For Hilton loyalists, this card makes a ton of sense. But I don’t find it as compelling for the average family.
Best for high spenders: World of Hyatt Visa
The refreshed Chase World of Hyatt Visa is a solid product and will be on any list of the best hotel credit cards. The earning rates have been improved slightly over the old Hyatt card, and it comes with the unique benefit of being able to earn elite credits through spend. For every $5,000 in net purchases you charge on the card, you receive 2 elite night credits. Spending at least $15,000 on the card per year is a must, as you not only receive 6 elite night credits, but also a Category 1-4 free night certificate. The card also offers 2x points on airfare and car rentals, as well as complimentary Discoverist status.
The other benefit of focusing on World of Hyatt is that the return on your spend is generally higher than with other hotels. Free nights in the Hyatt program start at 5,000 points, and these include some of the best hotel chains for families. If I knew I could hit Globalist status each year, I would consider switching a substantial portion of our spend to the Hyatt card. This year is going to be the test case (SEE: My Hyatt Visa gamble: do I upgrade? Or cancel and reapply?).
With Hyatt, it’s pretty much Globalist or bust. Top tier status will get you significant room upgrades, up to standard suites, four suite night certificates (2 of which are actually awarded when you hit 50 nights), and daily breakfast for up to 2 adults and 2 kids in the same room. Resort fees are also waived on all stays, and parking is even waived on award stays. It is no surprise that this is one of the most coveted hotel statuses out there.
If your family has a lot of spend to work with and would enjoy top-tier status with Hyatt, this card makes the most sense. The current sign-up offer is for 50,000 bonus points, which is worth up to 10 free nights (if you redeemed them at only Category 1 properties).
Best for more space: Wyndham Rewards Visa
Now for the curveball. I don’t think anyone was expecting this to be the third choice, but hear me out. Wyndham is one of the most undervalued hotel programs, in my opinion. Sure, they have a lot of undesirable properties, but in certain cases, their points can offer incredible value for families.
The best thing about Wyndham Rewards is the ability to redeem rewards points for their condo, timeshare and resort properties. With a unique flat price of 15,000 points for a free nights at any property, redeeming points at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort in Orlando while your family visits Disney will cost you just as much as a redemption at the Days Inn across town.
The ability to redeem for resort and condo properties is fantastic. Instead of a 350 square foot room with 2 queen beds, your points will get you a 900 square foot condo with a full kitchen. If you feel like a splurge or have a large family, consider booking a two bedroom condo at properties that offer this (Wyndham charges 15,000 points per bedroom per night). I recently took my older two kids to the Vino Bello Resort in Napa where we had a fantastic stay (SEE: Vino Bello Resort Napa Review).
The one thing I will mention about Wyndham is that their blackout dates for nicer properties are worse than other chains. Don’t expect to be able to book a resort hotel during peak season. I struggled to find more than one night at a Wyndham Grand hotel in December as well (SEE: The Mills House Charleston Review).
The current Wyndham card offer carries a sign-up bonus of 30,000 points. The card has a $75 annual fee, but does give you 6,000 points every card anniversary (about $60 in value if you exclusively redeem for nicer properties). The card also gives you Wyndham Platinum status, which I don’t find to be worth much. Bide your time, and you might catch the card with an increased sign up bonus of 45,000 points. Still, if you and your spouse each pick up the card, you’re looking at a 4-night vacation in a condo property. How I wish the old version of the card was still available with an annual 15,000-point bonus. I’m never gonna give you up, old Wyndham card.
Other best hotel credit cards?
There are a number of other credit cards that may be completely adequate for your needs, including the IHG card and the Marriott/SPG credit cards. While decent cards for those who prefer these chains, I don’t find them as compelling a product for a primary hotel card. There are even more options that may be good for a specific need, including the Radisson Rewards Visa and the Choice Hotels Visa, but these are typically poor choices, in my opinion. While I have picked up these products for their sign-up bonus, they quickly end up in the sock drawer.
If you’re looking to only pick up one hotel card for your family, consider one of the ones above. If you can afford more than one card per year, there may be reasons to hold onto multiple cards. Diversification of points is a good thing. But if you’re looking to be loyal and focus on only one chain, I find that these are the best hotel credit card for families.