Hotel Point Earning Credit Cards USA Edition And Best Uses for Eco-Travelers

This is a continuation of the Mileage Earning Credit Card post.  General advice for Americans about credit cards can be found there.



Generally speaking, hotel point earning credit cards will be less valuable for eco-travelers than for mainstream tourists looking for elite status and 5 star accommodations.  The eco-lodges we are seeking won’t be affiliated with any of these programs.  There are a couple of good uses of hotel points.

  • Stays at gateway hotels in your departure city or the gateway city from where you will travel on to the rainforest, savannah or other habitat.
  • Hotel points can be converted into airline miles to top up your accounts so you can get a free ticket faster and signup bonuses really speed this along.

Here are my recommendations:

1.  Club Carlson Visa (blogged about here):  Issued by US Bank, several versions so choose the one that suits you best and you could get at least 2 free nights at any Club Carlson hotel.  My main interest in this card is the 50k after any first spend and second award night free so I will probably go for the Visa Signature in my next app-o-rama.  They have fairly decent transfer rates to airline miles and you can choose from 20 airline programs.  The best ones for eco-travelers are AA, BA, DL, UA and US.

2,000 points 250 miles
50,000 points 8,000 miles
100,000 points 18,000 miles

2. Priority Club Visa:   Issued by Chase, signup bonus is currently 60k after $1000 spend.  Historically, it’s gone as high as 80k with no minimum spend but all the Chase cards seem to have at least a $1000 in 3 month spend these days.  Annual fee of $49 is waived the first year but you get a free night certificate each year starting on your first anniversary so this card is well worth keeping.  I’m into my 3rd year with this card and have redeemed my free night at hotels that range between $160 and $230 a night.  Transfer rates to airlines are a flat 10k PC = 2k airline miles and their partners include AA, BA, DL, QF, SQ, US, UA, and DJ.

3.  SPG American Express:  Issued by American Express, signup bonus is usually 25k of which you get 10k after first spend and 15k after spending $5000 within 6 months.  They occasionally have specials where you get a total of 30k of which 20k requires the 5k spend.  Annual fee $65, waived first year.  Best values are Cash and Points redemptions which give a huge savings on regular hotel rates with fewer points than an outright free night redemption.  SPG has an amazing transfer program which is usually 1 SPG = 1 airline mile but if you transfer 20k, you get a bonus of 5k.  LOTS of partners but best ones for eco-travelers are AA, BA, DL, SQ and US.  In this case, UA is not a good option as the rate is only 2 SPG = 1 UA.

4.  Hilton Honors (several cards):  Hilton has cards issued by Citibank and Amex.  The Citicards have free night certificates or 40k sign up bonus and come in $95 annual fee/no annual fee versions.  The Amex cards give you 40k signup bonus  and come in $75 annual fee/no annual fee.  Minimum spends are between $750-$3000 in 3 months so you really need to compare all the cards on their site.  Transfer rates to airlines are very poor:  10k HH = 850 airline so only get  these cards if you want to use them for hotel rooms.

5.  Marriott Rewards Visa:  Reviewed by me and I can get you a nice bonus if you let me refer you to join Marriott Rewards.  See details on this post.  Issued by Chase, signup bonus 50k and one free night at Cat 1-4 after $1000 spend in 3 months.  Historical high 70k.  Annual fee $85 waived first year, and you receive an anniversary bonus of one free night stay at a Category
1-5 hotel every year.  Transfer rates to airlines is somewhat complicated so best to see it on their site.    AA is not a partner but eco-travelers may be interested in BA, UA, US, GOL (Brazil domestic flights), Avianca-Taca, LAN, Qantas.

6.  Hyatt Gold Passport Visa:  Issued by Chase, signup bonus is 2 free nights at any Hyatt worldwide after $1000 spend in 3 months.   People seem to find the best value in either Sydney or various European properties so limited usefulness to eco-travelers.  You get free night certificates, not points so you can’t use this signup bonus to transfer to airlines.

7.  Wyndham Rewards Visa:  Issued by Barclays, sign up bonus currently 16k, historical high 30k, no minimum spend, just “first purchase”.  Good transfer rates to airlines.  Wyndham properties are usually reasonably priced so I would just pay for hotels and transfer these points to an airline.  Rates are 8k Wyndham = 3200 airline, 17,500 Wyndham = 7000 airline, 30k Wyndham = 12k airline.  Best partners for eco-travelers:  AA, DL, UA, US.

8.  Choice Privileges Visa:  Issued by Barclays, sign up bonus 8k first spend, + 24k after using the card to pay for a stay at a Choice hotel.  No annual fee.  Transfers to airlines 5k Choice = 1k airline, partners include AA, DL, UA, US.

9.  Best Western MasterCard:  Issued by Barclays, signup bonus 16k after first spend, no annual fee.  Transfers to airlines 5k Choice = 1k airline, partners include AA, DL, US and Avianca LifeMiles.

I have put these credit cards in roughly the order of which I think they have value to eco-travelers.  People seeking elite status or stays at European and North American city properties would most likely prioritize cards in a different order.  If the SPG card didn’t have such a high spend requirement, I would have put it first but $5000 could be a challenge.  Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below.

Flexible Points Credit Cards