Choosing your first hotel credit card is always the most difficult. Why? Because most people don't know which loyalty rewards program is the best for them. Most bloggers have their opinions using redemption rates, point values, and earning structures but that doesn't necessarily equate to the best solution for your particular needs. Before venturing out and pigeonholing yourself into a loyalty program, think about your travel patterns and your stay patterns.
Choosing the Right Program
Your individual preferences will sway what program to join and what credit card you may want to apply for. Are you looking for high end redemption options? Are you looking to simply earn points for free nights? Are you looking for status? These are all important questions that help define where you want to stay and what credit cards will benefit you the most. Before even thinking about getting a hotel credit card, think about whether or not a general travel credit card may serve you better. Getting a branded credit card means that you have to be faithful to one or two programs to maximize your value whereas a general travel credit card gives you the flexibility to choose any property you wish while earning valuable points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards Points, AMEX Membership Rewards, or Citi ThankYou points.
My Two Personal Favorite Programs for my travel patterns and needs are the Hyatt and IHG programs:
Hyatt Program: Personal opinion is that Hyatt is one of the better high end redemption programs out there. Their loyalty points are often espoused by travel bloggers to be one of the higher valued out there and the reward redemption's can be quite reasonable. With Park Hyatts, Grand Hyatts, and various higher end properties around the world...Hyatt is a wonderful program to redeem for on the high end. On the low end, there are fantastic value to be had as well. One of my favorite Hyatt partnerships is the one they have with Mlife (MGM Grand) in Las Vegas where they receive reciprocal benefits and you earn stay credits + points when you link your Gold Passport account with your Mlife account. When some of the lower end MGM properties such as Excalibur or Luxor being 40-50 dollars night, it's an easy way to earn status and points with Hyatt to be redeemed at higher end properties.
Hyatt Credit Card: The Hyatt Credit Card is a personal favorite of mine as well with the ability to earn 2 Free Nights at any property in the world after spending 1,000 within 3 months. Not only that but you also receive a free night at any category 1-4 property on your card anniversary. Considering most people spend roughly 1,000 in bills such as utilities, cell phone, eating out, gas, and groceries...this isn't a difficult requirement to reach. In addition to these valuable free nights, you'll also get automatic Platinum status which grants you a few perks such as late check out, dedicated lines at check in, 15% bonus points, etc. So 2 free nights, free Platinum Status, 1 anniversary night stay at a category 1-4 property, and 3 points for every dollar spent at Hyatt properties...this is a great card and with only $75 annual fee (waived the first year) means this credit card is a great long term keeper.
IHG Program: IHG is one of my go to programs because of the various tiers and brands that are available in the program. It's easy to find Holiday Inn's, the prices generally allow corporate travelers to book without hassle from corporate daily limits, and the points are generally able to be redeemed for some really nice higher end properties. You earn 10 points per dollar spent at IHG properties (some exclusions and restrictions apply) so for the most part, you will earn a decent rate not including any status bonus points or credit card bonuses. While the properties at IHG Group's higher end properties are not as great in my opinion as say a Hyatt or Ritz-Cartlton, the redemption values cannot be understated. IHG's quarterly bonus programs can sometimes be quite valuable but most importantly their quarterly points break program is probably one of the best redemption values out there. Select properties from around the world become 5,000 points a night and cannot be understated enough.
IHG Credit Card: The signup bonus varies between 60k to 80k points for 1k of spend in 3 months. This is similar to the Hyatt's requirement and is a general standard in the industry. The biggest benefit with this credit card is the 1 free night at any property in the world on your card anniversary. Considering the annual fee is only $49 dollars....this is an absolute steal! With 5 points per dollar at IHG hotels, 50% bonus points thanks to the free Platinum Status, and 10% rebate on point redemptions the credit card is an absolute must have if you stay at IHG properties.
At the end of the day
The main thing to remember when choosing a hotel credit card:
1) Are you going to be loyal to that brand or are you more likely to book the cheapest rate at whatever brand?
2) Are you going to be able to utilize the benefits conferred by a branded card or would you be better off with a general travel credit card like the Citi Premier or the Chase Sapphire Preferred?
3) The brand and program are available at the places you plan on visiting and staying most?
Examine yourself before you wreck yourself :).