Travel reward credit cards are a popular commodity with Americans, yet benefits tied to high annual spend offer little value to low spend consumers. My premise is a hotel card’s earn rate for groceries, gas, dining and general spend categories is a negligible point value difference for a low spender, say less than $5,000 annually, compared to other higher value hotel benefits of card membership like free nights, bonus points and elite status.
Here is my take on best value hotel loyalty credit cards for low spenders.
#1 — Priority Club Rewards Visa Signature has no spending requirement tied to card benefits. One free night every year at any IHG brand hotel is a $200 to $400-plus value at nearly 200 InterContinental Hotels. The $49 annual fee, first year waived, is a bargain for a free night at any of IHG’s 4,500 hotels globally.
The 10 percent points rebate on redeemed hotel rewards is likely more valuable than complimentary Gold elite with 10 percent bonus points. Redeem a Crowne Plaza free night for 25,000 points and get back 2,500 points as a Priority Club Rewards Visa card member.
This card is among the lowest earning in hotel points value for general spend. Pull out the card only to pay for IHG hotels and get five bonus points per $1. The annual free night fully compensates for the low earn rate. Cardholders can avoid foreign exchange fees on international credit card charges with Priority Club, Marriott Premier and Hyatt Visa credit cards.
Currently the Priority Club Rewards Visa offers a 30,000 points enrollment bonus. I’ve been offered 80,000 points in the past year–30,000 points in combination with a Points & Cash award is likely a $200 hotel value savings.
* Five points/$1 IHG hotels.
* Annual free night at any IHG hotel globally.
* Gold elite — 10 percent bonus points and little other real value.
* 10 percent rebate on awards, up to 100,000 rebated points annually.
* No foreign exchange fees.
#2 — Hyatt Card at $75 per year offers a high value enrollment bonus of two free hotel nights at any Hyatt globally and Platinum elite status. Hyatt recently added an annual bonus of a free night at a category 1 to 4 hotel.
* Two free nights at any Hyatt globally after first card use (potentially $600+ value).
* Annual free night at category 1 to 4 hotels in six-tier system ($200+ value).
* Complimentary Platinum elite benefits include free Internet and 15 percent bonus points.
* Three points/$1 Hyatt hotels.
* No foreign transaction fees.
#3 — Marriott Rewards Premier Visa is the remaining hotel credit card with an annual free night benefit. Current $85 annual fee is waived the first year. The first year free night certificate is valid for more than 2,500 hotels globally at any Marriott Rewards category 1 to 4 hotels. The annual free award night anniversary certificate is valid for category 5 hotels and adds 300 more upscale and resort hotels.
* Five points/$1 Marriott brands.
* 15 nights elite credit earns automatic Silver elite with a 20 percent bonus points.
* Annual free night certificate (expires six months from date of issue). First year certificate for category 1 to 4 hotels and anniversary certificate valid for category 1 to 5.
* 50,000 bonus points after first purchase (e.g. two free category-5 nights or one Tier-3 Ritz-Carlton night. Potential value = $400+).
* No foreign transaction fees.
#4 — Hilton HHonors no-fee American Express or $75 HHonors Surpass
* Complimentary Silver elite = 15 percent bonus points on stays.
* 20,000 bonus points after first purchase + 2,500 points per stay, up to 10,000 points for four stays within 18 months.
* Six points/ $1 at Hilton Hotels, gas, groceries and many household bills like cable, Internet and wireless.
* VIP award extended stay discounts 15 to 25 percent for four to six or more nights. Greater discounts on four-night AXON awards.
* HHonors Surpass: 40,000 bonus points after first purchase + 2,500 points per stay, up to 20,000 points for eight stays within 18 months.
* HHonors Surpass: Complimentary Gold elite for first year only for 25 percent bonus points, free breakfast and Internet with room upgrade potential. Other hotel benefits same as no fee card except nine points/$1 for Hilton hotel spend.
#5 — Starwood Preferred Guest American Express offers few benefits for a low spender. The card does not grant complimentary elite status. Starpoints high value makes this a good general spend card, but annual free nights make Marriott and Priority Club better value cards for the person charging less than $5,000 annually.
Little spend required
The good news is you do not have to raise your debt ceiling limit to receive tangible benefits from hotel credit cards. Free nights, bonus points and low-level elite status benefits offer real hotel value with some hotel cards that far exceed the annual fee.