Signing up for loyalty programs is a crucial point for anyone striving for travel maximization. Loyalty programs allow you to accumulate points and enjoy special perks and benefits if you use loyalty program services often enough. Moreover, with most of loyalty programs you can move towards its Elite status that grants additional valuable complimentary services.

The basics

Most of the loyalty programs are free to join, and the trick which makes travel maximization work is hidden in the possibility to transfer credit card points to hotel, airlines and car rental loyalty programs.

Below you can find a list of the best hotel loyalty programs together with their points transfer partners and related credit cards. In case if hotel loyalty program doesn’t have a co-branded credit card, we picked the best travel credit cards that will maximize your benefits from particular loyalty program. For each card you can read a detailed review to decide whether this card is valuable for you.

Chase Transfer Partners

Below we listed best hotel loyalty programs that are transfer partners of Chase – i.e. you can transfer reward points from your Chase credit card to one of this programs. All hotel loyalty programs listed in this section have its own co-branded credit card. Co-branded hotel credit card allows you to earn additional reward points for particular purchases – usually for purchases within hotel brand properties.

Hotel Loyalty Program

Best Related Card

Hyatt Gold Passport

The Hyatt Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card

IHG Rewards Club

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card

Marriott Rewards

Marriott Rewards® Premier credit card

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

Ritz-Carlton Rewards

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card

Marriott Rewards® Premier credit card

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

JW Marriott Hotel Lobby. The luxury hotel features tropical gardens in Quito’s financial and entertainment district. Quito, Ecuador.

For example, the Marriott Rewards® Premier credit card grants you 5(!) reward points for each $1 spent towards purchases within Marriott and SPG properties. You also get 2 reward points for travel and dining out, and 1 point on all other purchases. Same reward rate is offered by The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card.

However, co-branded credit card usually have quite high annual fee. The Marriott Rewards® Premier credit card has $85 annual fee, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card$450, The Hyatt Credit Card – $75. Thus, co-branded cards work well mostly for really dedicated customers of a particular hotel brand. If you value participation in these loyalty program, but you prefer to earn points on more diversified list of purchases, consider applying for one of Chase travel credit cards.

The best Chase travel cards are Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ and Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card. They are truly distinctive for great reward rate. The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ gives you 3 points, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card – 2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining at restaurants. For all other purchases you get 1 points per $1. Moreover, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card and Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ grant you 25% and 50% increase in redemption rate respectively. Thus, on this cards you can get a lucrative amount of points – especially if you are frequent traveler – to transfer them later to one of the hotel loyalty programs with 1-to-1 points transfer rate.

The Hyatt on the Bund is a luxury hotel located on the Bund (Waitan) promenade in Shanghai, China.

What is also important is the ownership structure of Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards loyalty programs. Ritz-Carlton is a part of Marriott, and Marriott, in turn, currently is merging with Starwood Hotels and Resorts. What does it mean? First, due to same ownership Marriott and Ritz-Carlton in fact share same loyalty program, and membership in one program means automatic membership in another. Thus, you can spend points earned at Marriott to get certain Ritz-Carlton benefits. Second, sooner or later (according to Marriott statements – no earlier than 2018) combined loyalty program shared by Ritz-Carlton and SPG members will arrive.

American Express Transfer Partners

Below we listed hotel loyalty programs that are transfer partners of American Express. These programs, as well as best cards related to them, are less popular than programs that are transfer partners of Chase. However, these programs provide valuable benefits and include high-end properties and services.

Hotel Loyalty Program

Best Related Card

Choice Hotels

Choice Privileges® Visa Signature® Card

Hilton HHonors

Hilton Honors™ Card from American Express

Hilton Honors Surpass® Card from American Express

Starwood Preferred Guest

The Starwood Preferred Guest® from American Express

The Comfort Inn hotel on Victoria Parade, Ramsgate, a coastal town in the English county of Kent, UK.

Let’s start from Choice Hotels program. This program doesn’t offer that much high quality properties options in US, but Choice hotels located in Europe are quite numerous and this loyalty program offers magnificent redemption rate on European hotel stays. To boost the quality of properties you use with this programs, you can use points to redeem them for hotel stays at Preferred Hotels & Resorts properties (don’t mix it with Starwood Preferred properties!). If you are a frequent Choice Hotels customer, apply for a Choice Privileges® Visa Signature® Card, which will grant you 5 reward points per each $1 spent at Choice Hotels. However, although this card grants 2 points per each $1 on all other purchases, this card is not the best options for points earning on non-hotel purchases due to low redemption rate for anything except hotel stays.

Hilton HHonors offers you a wide range of high-end properties – this loyalty program includes not only Hilton properties, but also Waldorf Astoria, DoubleTree, Hampton, and many more. This program is distinctive mostly for its in-property benefits and services, such as late and express check-outs, discounts, complimentary services and others. Also, you can use two co-branded credit cards to move towards Elite status and even more benefits of HHonors loyalty program. If your prefer a no-annual-fee credit card, consider Amex Hilton Honors credit card. This card will earn you 7 points per each $1 spend at Hilton properties, 5 points at gas stations, supermarkets and drugstores, and 3 points on all other purchases. 50,000 points signup bonus is included. You also get a automatic Silver status in within first three months you complete four stays at Hilton properties.

Building of Hilton hotel Paddington, near underground station in London, England, UK.

For those interested in faster obtainment of Gold status the Amex Hilton Honors™ Surpass is a good choice. Signup bonus is much higher – 75,000 points only, and you automatically get a Gold status. Also, reward rate is more attractive. You earn 12 points per each $1 on purchases within Hilton, 6 points – gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants, 3 points – all other purchases. However, this card also has $75 annual fee.

The St. Regis Hotel on 55th street off Fifth Avenue in Manhattan – New York City, USA.

The Starwood Preferred Guest hotel program includes hundreds of premium properties. They belong to such brands as St.Regis, Four Points, Sheraton,  Le Méridien and others. As we noted above, Marriott and SPG currently undergo the process of merging. SPG loyalty program soon will be replaced with combined program that will unite rewards within Ritz-Carlton and SPG properties. SPG loyalty program is valuable for a wide list of complimentary benefits, room upgrades, and special services. The only credit card that participates in this program is The Starwood Preferred Guest® from American Express with $95 annual fee waived for the first year. You can also apply for a Business version of this card which grants access to the Sheraton Lounge Club.

With this card you earn 5 points per each $1 spent at SPG properties, 3 points – at eligible Marriott properties, and 1 point on all other purchases. Each year you get a credit for 5 nights and 2 stays. You can use this credit to move towards SPG Elite status. To get a Gold status, you must stay for 20 night during a year at eligible SPG properties. To reach Platinum status, stay for 45 nights within a calendar year.

The bottom line

Overall, loyalty programs that are transfer of Chase have more attractive perks and benefits than Amex partners. However, none of loyalty programs and credit cards are painkillers for every customer – each program and card has its shortcomings. We strongly recommend you to decide precisely on you travel goals and understand your travel and spending habits. Only then make a decision on application for any travel card, co-branded or not.