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TravelBattle of the mid-tier hotel cards: Which card outshines the others?

Battle of the mid-tier hotel cards: Which card outshines the others?


There is an abundance of valuable hotel credit cards on the market right now. Unfortunately, some top hotel credit cards come with expensive annual fees that cost cardholders upward of $550 per year.

While frequent travelers can fully utilize the earning rates and benefits that come with those cards, it’s not always feasible for casual travelers — or even frequent travelers who hold multiple cards with annual fees — to have a premium hotel card.

The good news is that there are also several great mid-level hotel cards (some cobranded and some earning transferable points) for you to choose from. Of course, if you’re already loyal to a specific hotel brand, adding a cobranded card to your wallet may not make sense.

So today, we’ll compare the top mid-level hotel cards out there to see which offers the best value to cardholders:

Annual fee

Card Annual fee
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless $95
Hilton Honors Surpass $150 (see rates and fees)
World of Hyatt Card $95
IHG One Rewards Premier $99
Chase Sapphire Preferred $95
Citi Strata Premier $95
Wells Fargo Autograph Journey Card $95 (see rates and fees)

Which card comes out on top?

Several cards offer a low annual fee of $95, with only two other cards offering slightly higher annual fee cards at $99 and $150. Apart from the Hilton Surpass with a $150 annual fee (see rates and fees), this is not a defining factor.

ANDREA ROTONDO/THE POINTS GUY

Sign-up bonus/welcome offer

Card Sign-up bonus/welcome offer
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Earn three free night awards (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening.
Hilton Honors Surpass Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the card in the first six months of card membership.
World of Hyatt Card Up to 60,000 points — Earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning 2 bonus points total on purchases that normally earn 1 bonus point, on up to $15,000 in the first six months of account opening.
IHG One Rewards Premier Earn 140,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
Citi Strata Premier Earn 70,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.
Wells Fargo Autograph Journey Card Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first three months.

Which card comes out on top?

At face value, the IHG One Rewards Premier comes out on top with the highest number of bonus points at the lowest spending threshold.

However, keep in mind that not all hotel points are created equal. TPG values IHG One Rewards points at 0.5 cents each, which means that the 140,000 bonus is actually only worth $700.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred comes out on top with Chase Ultimate Rewards worth 2.05 cents each, meaning its sign-up bonus is worth $1,538.

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Related: Cards currently offering sign-up bonuses of 100,000 points or more

Earning rates

Card:  Earning rates: 
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless
  • Up to 17 points per dollar at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
  • 3 points per dollar on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on gas stations, grocery stores and dining
  • 2 points per dollar on all other purchases
Hilton Honors Surpass
  • 12 points per dollar at Hilton hotels and resorts
  • 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants (including takeout and delivery), U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets
  • 4 points per dollar on U.S. online retail purchases
  • 3 points per dollar on all other purchases
  • Terms apply
World of Hyatt Card
  • 4 points per dollar  at Hyatt hotels
  • 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting, restaurants, airline tickets purchased directly, fitness clubs and gym memberships
  • 2 point per dollar bonus points total on purchases that normally earn 1 bonus point per dollar, on up to $15,000 in the first six months of account opening
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
IHG One Rewards Premier
  • 10 points per dollar at IHG hotels and resorts
  • 5 points per dollar at gas stations, travel and dining
  • 3 points per dollar on all other purchases
Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • 5 points total points on all travel purchased through Chase Travel℠
  • 3 points per dollar on dining, including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out
  • 3 points per dollar on select streaming services
  • 3 points per dollar on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs)
  • 2 points per dollar on all other travel
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
Citi Strata Premier
  • 10 points per dollar on hotels, car rentals and attractions booked through the Citi travel portal
  • 3 points per dollar on airfare, hotels, gas stations, EV charging, restaurants (including takeout) and supermarkets
  • 1 point on all other purchases
Wells Fargo Autograph Journey Card
  • 5 points per dollar on hotels
  • 4 points per dollar on airline purchases
  • 3 points per dollar at restaurants and other travel
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases

Which card comes out on top?

As a general rule of thumb, cobranded hotel credit cards are typically best suited for hotel spending only — even when they have additional bonus categories. This is because cards with transferable points have more redemption flexibility and typically earn more valuable points. Therefore, I’m going to focus this analysis on which cards earn the most on hotel spending specifically.

The Hilton Honors Surpass outranks the competition here with an impressive 7.2% return on hotel spending.

The World of Hyatt is another top contender, earning a 6.8% on hotel stays while still offering a solid bonus on an array of other categories. Hyatt points are actually the most valuable hotel currency according to TPG valuations and is one of the only cobranded cards I’d recommend using on non-hotel bonus purchases as well.

Related: How to earn over 300,000 points in a year

Benefits

Card Benefits
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless
  • Anniversary free-night award (worth up to 35,000 points)
  • Automatic Silver Elite status
  • 15 elite-night credits annually
  • 1 credit toward elite status for every $5,000 you spend
  • Travel protections
Hilton Honors Surpass
  • Hilton Honors Gold status
  • Up to $200 Hilton statement credit (up to $50 quarterly credit)
  • Free night reward after spending $15,000 (enrollment required for select benefits)
  • National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive status
  • Shopping protections
World of Hyatt Card
  • Annual free night certificate
  • Additional free night reward after spending $15,000 in a calendar year
  • Automatic Discoverist elite status
  • Travel protections
IHG One Rewards Premier
  • Anniversary reward night
  • Automatic Platinum Elite status
  • Fourth-night reward
  • 10,000 bonus points after spending $20,000
  • 20% discount when buying IHG One Rewards points
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit
  • Up to $50 United TravelBank cash each year
  • Travel protections
Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • 25% bonus when booking through the Chase travel portal
  • Complimentary DashPass membership
  • Complimentary Instacart+ membership
  • Travel protections
Citi Strata Premier
  • $100 hotel credit on eligible $500 purchases, excluding taxes and fees, through ThankYou.com once per calendar year
Wells Fargo Autograph Journey Card
  • $50 annual statement credit for $50 airline purchase
  • Travel protections
  • Cellphone insurance

Which card comes out on top?

The perks category is a bit harder to quantify in terms of which card is actually the best. People potentially value certain benefits differently.

The Hilton Honors Surpass is certainly a strong contender, with automatic gold status, which can turn into Diamond status if you spend $40,000 on the card each year (enrollment required for select benefits). Plus, the annual free night award you receive after spending $15,000 can be used on any night.

SIX SENSES SOUTHERN DUNES, THE RED SEA/DANYAL AHMED

Even still, we think the IHG One Rewards Premier comes out on top in this round. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck in terms of perks for a $99 annual fee. The anniversary reward night is worth up to 40,000 points alone, and Platinum Elite status comes with a 50% bonus on paid stays, room upgrades (excluding suites), a welcome amenity and more. Add in the fourth award night perk and the Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee benefit, and you’ve got an all-star lineup of perks for a mid-tier hotel credit card.

Related: I use my hotel credit card benefits to travel in luxury — here are 5 ways to do it

Which mid-tier hotel card is best for you?

Before choosing a hotel credit card, consider your travel habits and which perks you’ll personally find the most useful. The price difference between these cards is small, so which card is best for you will really depend on which hotel brand you’ll want to stay at more frequently and which benefits you’ll find the most useful.

For example, if you rarely stay with IHG, won’t buy points and already have Global Entry/TSA PreCheck, the IHG Premier won’t be as valuable to you.

In that same vein, if you know you won’t spend at least $15,000 on your card each year, that weekend night award at Hilton won’t be earned (which makes that card less valuable from a benefits standpoint).

THE TAPESTRY COLLECTION BY HILTON

Each of the cards on this list has its advantages and disadvantages. On paper, the IHG One Rewards Premier offers the best benefits and earning rate compared to its annual fee, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for everyone.

Hilton and Marriott are larger hotel brands with more luxury property options worldwide, so travelers just starting with hotel points may want to start earning points in one of those programs.

On the other hand, Hyatt points are worth the most, based on TPG valuations. Even still, Citi and Chase are also strong options for casual travelers and beginners because what they may lack in hotel perks, they make up for in redemption flexibility.

Bottom line

“There is no right or wrong choice” is kind of a non-answer if you’re asking which mid-tier hotel credit card is the best.

As with any credit card decision, think about your spending habits and goals for the card. If you’re not loyal to any hotel brands and plan on staying a free agent, a card that earns transferable points like the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the better option of these choices (especially since you can transfer points to three hotel brands — IHG, Marriott and Hyatt).

If you are more loyal to one of the brands on this list, you should start looking at that specific brand card.

Related: How to choose a hotel credit card

For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Surpass, click here.

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