A Few Outsized Hotel Credit Card Bonuses

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Frequent flyer miles usually get all the love when it comes to credit card promotions, but there are several hotel cards out there that are currently offering “bonus promotions,” or sign-up bonuses that are better than normal. Here are the ones that stand out to me (although there may be more that I didn’t find; please feel free to leave them in the comments)

Hilton Cards from American Express

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The Surpass Card can get you a pair of nights in Barbados

Hilton’s American Express cards are an inexpensive way to accumulate a lot of points. Both products also offer reasonably good paths to elite status. With standard rooms ranging from 5,000 to 95,000 points, you can fund a good chunk of a vacation with these cards.

Hilton HHonors Surpass Card (Through 5/4/16)

Surpass, the premium Hilton American Express card, is offering a limited time only sign-up bonus of 100,000 Hilton HHonors points (after spending $3,000 in three months), the highest that I have ever seen for this card. The card comes with a $75 annual fee and a bevy of benefits.

Strong Spending Bonuses: 12 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, 6 at US restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations and 3 on all other purchases. I value Hilton points at about 0.5 cents each, although your usage may vary.* Still, that’s the equivalent of a 6% rebate.

Elite Status: You’ll get Gold status, the second-highest (or second-lowest) premium tier, just for having the card. Normally you need to stay 20 times or 40 nights in a year to earn that status. But they also offer the easiest way among the major loyalty programs to earn top-tier status with your credit card. Spend $40,000 per year on the card and you’ll get Diamond status with Hilton. No other company makes it that simple.

Hilton HHonors Card (Through 5/4/16)

The standard no annual fee card is offering a strong 75,000 point bonus after you spend $1,000 in three months.

Spending Bonus: 7 points per dollar at Hilton properties, 5 points at US restaurants, supermarkets & gas stations and the base 3 points per dollar on all other purchases. Not as good as the Surpass card, but generally preferable to the comparable Citi version.

Elite Status: The card gives you Silver status, Hilton’s lowest tier of elite status, which offers a small bonus on base earnings, among other benefits. Spend $20,000 per year and you’ll be elevated to Gold.

Either of these cards will do well for you but it seems to me that, for most moderate travelers, the $75 annual fee is probably worth it.

Helpful Hint: There are also Citibank versions of the Hilton cards. I believe that the American Express versions are preferable but, if you do want the Citi cards, keep an eye out for promotions. 

IHG Rewards Club Select

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A free night in Paris? Mais oui!

IHG is the rewards program from The Intercontinental Group, the owner of several brands, including Intercontinental and Holiday Inn. The sign-up bonus is currently 70,000 points, a slight premium to the standard 60,000 point, after spending $2,000 in the first three months. In addition, add an authorized user in those first three months and you’ll earn an additional 5,000 points. I value IHG points at about 0.6 cents each.

This is one of those cards that you may never actually use once you’ve earned your bonus points. 70,000 points is an excellent sign-up offer and is good for at least one night at any property, with standard rooms ranging from 10,000 to 60,000 points (Cardholders also get a 10% rebate on points redeemed, up to 100,000 per year.). However, most of the benefits are adequate at best, unless you stay frequently at IHG properties, where the spending bonuses are above average. You receive five points per dollar spent at hotels and two points at grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations. The rest of your spending gets a point per dollar. If you value points at 0.6 cents each, there are almost always better credit card reward options. Cardholders also receive platinum elite status, although no one has ever quite figured out the benefit of IHG platinum status.

The big benefit with the card is a free night, and this freebie alone makes the card worth holding. Each year that you are a cardholder, you will get a free night awarded upon renewal. Unlike other companies, however, that limit free credit card nights to certain categories of hotels, the IHG card lets you use it at any property in the system. If there’s a reward night available, it’s yours. Only once in four years have I not been able to get my first choice of hotel and date (and my second choice was wide open). The free night alone could be worth several hundred dollars per year, more than enough to offset the $49 annual fee (The fee is waived the first year.).

As for actually paying for anything with it? The only time I ever use my card is when I’m staying at a property or when it’s a requirement for one of Intercontinental’s ridiculous quarterly bonus schemes.

Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card

Not the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel
Not the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

Marriott Rewards is hard to pin down. The standard bonus is anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 points, while the value of a point has a wide range, generally in the 0.7 cents to 1.1 cents range.

But it’s fair to say that the current offer, which is 80,000 points (and 7,500 additional for adding an authorized user) for $3,000 spend in three months, is a pretty good one. That’s enough to get you a free night just about anywhere you want to go, including the luxury Ritz- Carlton properties. The annual fee is $85.

No single perk stands out as extraordinary but, overall, this is a good card.

Spending Bonus: 5 points per dollar at Marriott properties, 2 points at car rentals, airline tickets and restaurants, with everything else being a point. Adequate, not great.

Elite Status: You get 15 “nights credits” toward elite status each year, meaning that you will automatically get Silver status, the lowest elite tier, with Marriott Rewards. You’ll need an additional 35 nights for Gold and a total of 75 for Platinum. You can make up the difference with credit card spending, however. Every $3,000 in spend gets you another elite credit. The $180,000 in spend required to earn top-tier status, however, compares unfavorably with Hilton’s cards.

Free Night: Pick up a free night in Categories 1-5 each year upon renewal. It leaves out the high-end properties but you’ll still have thousands to choose from.

The Bottom Line

It is rare to find a hotel or airline credit card that doesn’t occasionally offer a bonus on top of the standard sign-up currency. Be sure to wait for them and take advantage of them when they arise.


*Valuing points is an inexact science, and likely worth a post in and of itself. Feel free to use my numbers, but give yourself some leeway.

Cover Photo Credit: Creative Commons

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