Given how much travel I do every year, earning elite status with hotel chains is something I highly covet. I am currently Hilton HHonors Gold, SPG Gold, IHG Platinum, Hyatt Diamond and Marriott Silver. Having status with this variety of hotel chain helps make my hotel stays much more comfortable as I usually get upgraded to better rooms or just slightly better service from the hotel staff.
Some of you may be rolling your eyes right now and saying to yourself “well that’s great, but I don’t travel as much as you and would never be able to hit the number of nights needed.” But I will let you in on a little secret – I don’t maintain any of my elite hotel statuses by staying a ton of nights. Instead, I use co-branded personal hotel credit cards to maintain my status at the various hotel chains – and you can too!
Hilton was my go-to hotel when I first started in the points and miles game. The second credit card I ever got was a co-branded Hilton HHonors card that gave me instant Gold status. While I have since moved on from focusing on Hilton properties, I keep at least one Hilton co-branded card that will give me Gold status at all times. Luckily, Hilton’s property footprint around the world is gigantic and there are a lot of co-branded cards available for you to choose from.
Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card
The Citi HHonors Reserve card offers complimentary HHonors Gold status as long as you are a cardmember. In addition, if you spend $40,000 in a calendar year, you will earn top-tier HHonors Diamond status for the remainder of the year, as well as the next full year.
In addition to automatic HHonors Gold status, you would also earn 2 free weekend night certificates after making $2,500 in purchases in the first 4 months. The Citi HHonors Reserve card will also earn you 10 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, 5 points per dollar spent on airline and rental car purchases, and 3 points per dollar spent on everything else. For every year that you spend at least $10,000 on the card, you will earn another free weekend night certificate. The Citi HHonors Reserve card carries a $95 annual fee which is waived for the first year.
This was my first co-branded hotel card when I got into the points and miles game, and there is a good reason for that. The automatic Gold status is easily the best perk of this card as that is Hilton’s second highest tier level for elites. And best of all, you earn and keep HHonors Gold status just by holding the card. The 2 free weekend night certificates can also be extremely beneficial if you’re redeeming for a high dollar property. I recently used one of mine at the exceptional Waldorf Astoria – The Reach in Key West for a quick weekend get away with my girlfriend. My Gold status got us upgraded to a suite overlooking the ocean and they even gave us a bottle of champagne each day we stayed! While this card does not have the highest earning rate for actual Hilton stays (that honor goes to the Amex HHonors Surpass), if you’re only a casual traveler who wants higher tiered status for upgrades and other perks, this is probably the card for you. The $95 annual fee is reasonable so long as you hit the $10,000 per calendar year spend and earn the free weekend night certificate every year. While the $40,000 spend in a calendar year to obtain top-tier Diamond status is a spend which most people will not hit, it is still a nice perk to have just in case your spending reaches that level. Overall this would be my #1 recommendation for anyone looking to get a HHonors co-branded card.
American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass Card
The Amex HHonors Surpass card also offers complimentary HHonors Gold status for as long as you hold the card.
As with the Citi HHonors Reserve card, the HHonors Surpass card also offers top-tier Diamond status if you spend $40,000 in a calendar year.
In addition to complimentary Gold status, you will also earn 60,000 HHonors points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. The Amex HHonors Suprass offers the best earning rate of any of the co-branded Hilton HHonors cards at 12 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, 6 points per dollar spent at gas stations, restaurants and supermarkets, and 3 points per dollar spent everywhere else. The Amex HHonors Surpass card carries a $75 annual fee that is not waived the first year.
This is the current HHonors card in my wallet, though I go back and forth between whether it is more valuable to me than the Citi HHonors Reserve. While the annual fee on the Amex HHonors Surpass is $20 less per year, you also do not earn anything other than Diamond status (with $40,000 spend) with your spend. This card is ideal for the more frequent traveler who tends to frequent Hilton properties since the increase points per dollar at those properties can potentially help offset the lack of a free weekend night certificate. I generally recommend this card for the more advanced points and miles collector since it does take some planning to get the most out of it. This card is also ideal for the traveler (like me) who just wants to maintain a higher tiered elite status with a hotel brand that offers a large international footprint. The $75 annual fee is more than worth it to me to maintain my Gold status every year. I would also wait on applying for this card until the 80,000 HHonors bonus points offer comes back around, which seems to be 2-4 times per year.
Citi Hilton HHonors Signature Card
The Citi Hilton HHonors Signature Card offers complimentary Silver status for as long as you remain a cardmember.
If you spend $20,000 or more in purchases in a calendar year or if you have 4 Hilton stays within your first 90 days of account opening, you will earn HHonors Gold status for that year.
In addition, you will also earn 40,000 HHonors points after spending $1,000 in the first 4 months of account opening. You will also earn 6 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, 3 points per dollar spent at gas stations and grocery stores and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. Best of all, this card carries no annual fee with it.
For me, this is one of those AAoA (average age of account – which plays a role in your credit score as I discuss in my Points & Miles Beginners Guide) cards that you can pick up (or churn if you so desire as this card is churnable) and just put some sporadic spend on. While I would wait for the 60,000 HHonors points bonus to come back around (again, it comes around 2-4 times per year), this is not a high earning card. While you can potentially hit Gold status with it after 4 stays within the first 90 days, you would have to spend $20,000 per calendar year thereafter – and to be honest, the benefits just are not there for doing so. Pick this card up for what it is – an AAoA card with no annual fee that will help you top off your HHonors account with a few bonus points for a low spend.
American Express Hilton HHonors Card
The Amex HHonors card also offers complimentary Silver status for as long as you remain a cardmember.
Just as with the Citi HHonors Signature card, you can reach Gold by spending $20,000 in a calendar year.
In addition, you will also earn 40,000 bonus HHonors points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Again, as with the Citi HHonors Signature card, you will earn 6 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, 3 points per dollar spent at gas stations and grocery stores and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else, along with no annual fee.
Again, as with the Citi HHonors Signature card, to me this is nothing more than an AAoA card that you can pick up and just put some sporadic spend on. While you would have to spend $20,000 per calendar year to reach HHonors Gold status, again, the benefits just are not there for doing so. Pick this card up for what it is – an AAoA card with no annual fee that will help you top off your HHonors account with a few bonus points for a low spend.
Hyatt Gold Passport
Even though I currently hold top tier Diamond status (thanks to a recent status match offer) with Hyatt, I have actually only stayed in Hyatt properties a handful of times. With the recent news from SPG wherein they will be acquired by Marriott though, I think that Hyatt will be getting a good bit more of my business. Hyatt properties are almost always great and some of the most aspirational points redemption hotels in the world are Hyatt properties. Although Hyatt’s international footprint is decently large, there is only one co-branded Hyatt credit card currently available.
Chase Hyatt Card
The Chase Hyatt card offers complimentary Platinum status for as long as you are a cardmember.
You will also earn 2 stay credits and 5 night credits towards Diamond status (achieved after 25 stays or 50 nights) when you spend $20,000 in a calendar year, and an additional 3 stay credits and 5 night credits (for a total of 5 stay credits and 10 night credits) after you spend $40,000 in a calendar year.
In addition, you will earn 2 free night certificates for stays at Hyatt properties, as well as 3 points per dollar spent at Hyatt properties, 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants, on airline tickets and on rental cars, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. The annual fee on this card is $75 and it is waived for the first year.
If you stay at Hyatt properties regularly, then this card is a no brainer as it is the only co-branded card available for Hyatt. If you have a specific use in mind for the free night certificates at a higher end Hyatt, then the sign up bonus has the potential to be worth $700+. Outside of the sign up bonus and the spend multiplier for Hyatt hotels, this card does not offer much in the way of benefits. While it is a nice perk to earn additional night and stay credits for reaching tiered spends, this card falls short of the Hilton HHonors cards since those award you top tier status just for meeting the high spend. With that said, if you frequent Hyatt hotels, this is definitely a card worth picking up.
Starwood Preferred Guest
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) is my current go-to hotel chain. While their international footprint is not as big as that of Hilton, Marriott and IHG, the hotels are consistently excellent and the SPG program is, in my opinion, the most rewarding available. Since Marriott just announced that they would be buying out SPG, it remains to be seen what the resulting program will look like. I fully expect a devaluation and a lowering in service, but until the programs are combined, SPG will continue to be my go-to hotel chain.
American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card
The Amex SPG card does not offer an instant upgrade to elite status just for holding the card. It does, however, provide credit for 5 nights and 2 stays (which is 1/5 of the way to SPG Gold) every year just for holding the card.
In addition, you will earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. The card earns 2 points per dollar spent at Starwood properties and 1 point per dollar for all other spend. The annual fee is $95, but it is waived for the first year of card membership.
This card is a bit of an enigma for me. While it doesn’t offer the best spend bonuses, Starpoints are among the most valuable points out there right now. If you regularly stay in SPG properties, this is another no brainer card. In addition, if you hold the SPG Amex business card, the nights and stays credits are stackable (in other words, you would earn 10 nights and 4 stay credits towards your elite status just for holding both cards). Given the recent merger announcement with Marriott, it remains to be seen whether this card remains a viable option and if it holds its value. Since I value Starpoints highly due to their versatility, this card remains a go-to in my wallet for everyday uncategorized spend (i.e., items other than groceries, gas, dining and travel).
IHG Rewards Club
IHG is one of the few hotel chains that truly has a global footprint. While the hotels do not generally tend to be high-end or luxurious, the Intercontinental is a part of the IHG portfolio which makes IHG Rewards points valuable in my opinion. While there is only one co-branded IHG Rewards Club card available, it is one of the few cards where the benefits far exceed the relatively inexpensive annual fee.
Chase IHG Rewards Club Select Card
The Chase IHG card offers complimentary IHG Platinum status for as long as you are a cardmember.
In addition, you will earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in the first three months. The card earns 5 points per dollar spent at IHG properties, 2 points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. You will also receive a 10% rebate on points redemptions up to 100,000 points back per year. Lastly, just for holding the card, you will receive an annual free night reward good for any IHG property worldwide. The annual fee is $49 and it is waived for the first year.
This is one of the best cards available right now for hotels given that you receive Platinum status (the second-to-highest tier offered by IHG), the minimum spend and annual fee are both low, IHG offers an incredible worldwide footprint, and you receive a 10% rebate on the points you spend in a year. Considering that the Intercontinental it part of IHG, you can get some exceptional value out of the annual free night reward certificate, which more than justifies the modest $49 annual fee. If you do not have loyalty to any one hotel chain, I generally recommend this as one of the first hotel cards that people pick up. Also keep an eye out for the 80,000 bonus point offer which seems to pop up using the dummy booking trick.
Marriott is a lot like Hilton in that they have a similar worldwide footprint and a great array of hotel options from basic no frills to luxury properties. Surprisingly, there is only one co-branded card available for Marriott Rewards points.
Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card
While the Chase Marriott Rewards card does not per se come with automatic status, you do earn 15 credits towards elite status every year just for being a cardholder. That is enough for Marriott Rewards Silver Elite status every year without a single stay.
You will also receive 1 stay credit (which will count towards elite status) for every $3,000 in purchases made with this card. In theory, if you have a high spend, you could earn top-tier Platinum Elite status without a single night in Marriott properties (though I would not recommend that as it would take $180,000 in spend in the calendar year to reach).
In addition, you will earn 50,000 bonus points for spending $2,000 on the card in the first three months. You will earn 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott properties, 2 points per dollar spent on car rentals and airline tickets, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. You will also earn an annual free night certificate which can be used at any category 1-5 hotel. The annual fee is $85 and it is waived for the first year.
I do not love this card, but I also do not hate this card. If you frequent Marriott hotels, then this card is a must have since it is the only co-branded Marriott card currently offered. If you do not frequent Marriott hotels, I think there are better hotel cards out there since you only earn Silver Elite status which only gets you a 20% bonus on points and late check out. With that said, while the bonus is not the largest this card has offered, the annual free night certificate can help offset the $85 annual fee. Keep an eye out for the increased sign-up bonus too!
Ritz Carlton Rewards
Ritz Carlton Rewards is a program with which I have zero personal experience. I generally have expensive tastes when it comes to air travel, but most Hilton properties are more than enough for what I need/want in a hotel stay – which is why I do not frequent Ritz Carlton’s. But everyone is different and some of the attorney’s in my firm swear by Ritz and will not stay anywhere else. I would assume there is a good reason why Ritz Carlton remains one of the benchmarks for luxury hotels.
Chase The Ritz Carlton Rewards Card
The Chase Ritz Carlton card comes with automatic Gold Elite status for your first account year. You can maintain your Gold Elite status by spending $10,000 per account year (*not calendar year).
You can also earn Platinum Elite status by spending $75,000 per account year (*not calendar year).
In addition, you will earn 2 complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz Carlton hotels after making $4,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. You will earn 5 points per dollar spent at participating Ritz Carlton hotels, 2 points per dollar spent on restaurants, rental cars and airline tickets, and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. You will also receive 3 complimentary upgrades to the Ritz Carlton Club Level each year, a 10% annual points premium on Ritz Carlton Rewards points earned during the year, a $300 annual travel credit (for baggage fees, seat upgrades, etc.) and a $100 hotel credit towards dining, spa or other hotel recreational activities on paid stays of two nights or longer. The annual fee is $395 and it is not waived for the first year.
Although this card has a hefty annual fee that is not waived for the first year, the $300 annual travel credit and the $100 hotel credit can easily offset this in one paid hotel stay. That can make this card worthwhile even if you only stay in Ritz Carlton’s once or twice a year. Gold Elite status will also make you eligible for complimentary room upgrades which can make your stay(s) at the Ritz just that much more enjoyable. The $300 travel credit can also be used on items like Global Entry (which I think is essential for any traveler). This is not a card I hold, but I think the benefit is there despite the hefty annual fee.
Club Carlson is another hotel chain that I do not have a lot of personal experience with – mainly because their hotels tend to be in Europe. With that said, I have always heard positive things about the program as a whole. There are two personal Club Carlson hotel cards on offer:
Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card
The Club Carlson Premier Rewards card comes with complimentary Gold Elite Status just for being a cardmember.
If you already have Gold or Concierge Elite status, the Club Carlson Premier Rewards card offers 15 qualifying nights towards obtaining or maintaining your Concierge elite status just for being a cardmember.
In addition, you will earn 50,000 bonus Gold points after your first purchase, plus 35,000 Gold points after making $2,500 in purchases in the first 3 months, and 40,000 gold points each year upon renewal of the card. You will earn 10 Gold points per dollar spent at Carlson properties and 5 Gold points per dollar spent everywhere else. The annual fee is $75 and is not waived for the first year.
Gold Elite status is Club Carlson’s middle tier elite and comes with complimentary space-available room upgrades, 35% bonus points and a 72 hour room availability guarantee. For the modest $75 annual fee, this seems like a pretty good deal overall. If you are going to be traveling in an area with a lot of Carlson properties, this card has a lot to offer.
Club Carlson Rewards Visa Signature Card
The Club Carlson Rewards card comes with complimentary Silver Elite status just for being a cardmember.
If you already have Silver, Gold or Concierge Elite status, the Club Carlson Rewards card offers 10 qualifying nights towards obtaining or maintaining your Concierge elite status just for being a cardmember.
In addition, you will earn 50,000 bonus Gold points after your first purchase, plus 10,000 Gold points after making $1,500 in purchases in the first 3 months, and 40,000 gold points each year upon renewal of the card. You will earn 6 Gold points per dollar spent at Carlson properties and 3 Gold points per dollar spent everywhere else. The annual fee is $50 and is not waived for the first year.
Silver Elite status is Club Carlson’s second lowest tier elite (other than Red which is just a member) and comes with complimentary space-available room upgrades and 15% bonus points. I think for the extra $25 you are better off aiming for the Club Carlson Premier Rewards card. I do not really see much in the way of benefits to picking up this card unless you are just looking to top off your Club Carlson account.
The Choice Privileges program is yet another that I do not have any personal experience with. While I have never utilized the Choice Privileges program, I have stayed at a few of their properties over the years and I have always been satisfied. Luckily Choice Privileges offers a credit card that affords you elite status
Barclay Choice Privileges Visa Signature Card
With the Barclay Choice Privileges card, you will be awarded Gold elite status just for being a cardmember.
In addition, you will earn 8,000 bonus points after your first purchase or balance transfer and 24,000 bonus points when you pay for your first stay with your card. You will earn 15 points per dollar spent a select Choice Privileges properties, 5 points per dollar spent on Choice Privileges points or gift card purchases and 2 points per dollar spent on all other purchases. There is no annual fee on this card.
As this is a no annual fee card, the benefits certainly appear to be worth the cost of admission with this card. Gold elite status is Choice Privilege’s second to lowest tier (just above standard member), but it does give you a 10% elite bonus. If you find that you are frequenting Choice Privileges properties, this card is easily one that should be in your wallet.
While there are some good options out there for earning either elite status or additional elite qualifying nights/points towards elite status, it is often not worthwhile unless you have a significant level of spend or frequent that particular hotel chain. With that said, there are certainly some great options out there for next to top tier elite status (like the Hilton Surpass card) just for holding the card.
What are some of your favorite hotel cards and why?