a bedroom with a bed and a mirror
Hilton L'Opera Paris.

How you pay for hotels matters more than you could ever imagine. Which card you choose to pull out of the wallet can be the difference in free nights, upgrades, VIP perks and other benefits. To ensure you always get the most from your stays – here’s how to pick the best card to book with.

a large building with a pool
St. Regis Dubai.

Free Nights

Free night are the first credit card tie breaker. Mastercard, Visa and American Express negotiate deals each year with hotels to give free nights on stays. Mastercard currently offers up to two free nights if you book with their card for stays in Europe, Middle East and Africa with Starwood Hotels.

American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program for Platinum Cardholders (Learn More), offers free nights and other perks, depending on hotel. Visa free night offers can be found here.

The Citi Prestige card offers the fourth night free on all hotel stays worldwide. The offer can be combined with other free night offers to create multiple free nights.

a pool on a rooftop
Standard Downtown LA.

Bonus Points

Return on your spend is crucial. You can earn up to 5X points on hotel purchases using US credit cards. The Chase Sapphire Reserve (Learn More), Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Premier each offer 3X points on all hotel purchases. The American Express Platinum Card (Learn More) offers a whopping 5X points on all prepaid hotels booked directly with AmexTravel.

In other parts of the world, pick the card which will offer the most valuable points for your travel needs. In other words: if one card offers 1 point per dollar and so does the other, pick the more valuable currency of points.

a room with a bed and a couch

Free Perks

Much like free nights, Mastercard, Visa and American Express negotiate perks for bookings made directly through their websites. AmexTravel will often include a $75 food and beverage credit. Visa and Mastercard traditionally offer a $25 food a beverage credit, complimentary breakfast and a one category upgrade for booking with any of their cards on their websites. If you have multiple cards, be sure to compare potential benefits for each card.

a bedroom with a bed and a mirror
Hilton L’Opera Paris.

One Chain

Now -almost all this advice can change if you only stay at one chain, wherever you are in the world. Most hotels now offer their own credit cards, which come with lucrative guest perks and potentially more points per dollar spent.

If you are an extreme brand loyalist, look into what credit cards are offered from your favorite hotel chain – before booking with another card. For example, Hilton now offers a US card with instant Diamond status (Learn More), the chains highest elite guest frequent traveler status.

a pool with palm trees and chairs on a beach
Park Hyatt Maldives

The Verdict

You’ve already completed the most important step: thinking. Earning points up to 5X faster, or saving hundreds of dollars on free nights is too important to pass up. Sure, it may add to your time to get something booked, but the return is phenomenal.

Our top four credit card picks for US travelers booking hotels would be: Amex Platinum (Learn More), Citi Prestige, Citi ThankYou Premier and Chase Sapphire Reserve (Learn More). Between the points and potential for free nights and perks they are extremely solid options. For those outside of the U.S, Amex Platinum or any Mastercard would offer the most free nights and perks for hotel bookings, consistently. Enjoy.

What’s your favorite card for booking hotels?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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1 Comment

  1. Love the Fine Hotels & Resorts program that Amex offers it’s Platinum and Centurion cardholders! No minimum night booking requirements to snag these perks! $100 property amenity is the standard for FH&R – with some hotels specifying which charges are eligible (ie food & beverage, spa & salon, property credit etc.) Then complimentary breakfast for two (usually valued between $60-80 daily and breakfast type varies by location – buffet breakfast, specific hotel restaurants, room service etc.). Early 11am check-in (when available) and guaranteed 4pm late checkout gives you plenty of time to sleep in, relax and pack up before you head to your next destination. Room upgrade upon arrival when available (and some hotels have certain room types that do/do not have upgrade options – ask when booking). These are the most common perks of booking through the FH&R program – which can be done either online or via phone – though paying with points for these bookings is an online only feature. Sometimes the hotel direct sites offer lower prices or promotional deals but won’t necessarily honor the benefits of the FH&R program unless booked directly with American Express – though you can always have an AmEx agent give the hotel a call to see if they can honor both! 🙂

    Also worth knowing about is ‘The Hotel Collection’ by AmEx – book a minimum of 2 nights and you’ll unlock similar amenities (new for 2019 – the property amenity credit has increased from $75 to $100!) These are also high end lodgings with a more cost friendly range for rates. – certain AmEx Gold Cards along with Platinum and Centurion can book these rooms (either online or via phone).

    Both programs earn 5X bonus points when prepaid via booking online 🙂

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