Instead of making a chart of credit card signup bonuses, I wanted to make one of annual bonuses, but decided to include annual fee, passive benefits, and foreign transaction fee.
Then I’ll go into the benefits below, explaining the benefits and comparing cards. Which cards are good deals, and which cards are full of buzzwords?
I will expalin that I have annual bonus and annual spend bonus. The Hyatt gives an “annual bonus” of a free night. The Fairmont card does too, but I put it under “annual spend bonus”, because it has a spend requirement to get that benefit. Here’s the chart.
|Card||Annual bonus||Annual Fee||Annual Spend bonus…||Passive Benefits||Foreign transaction fee|
|IHG||Free night||$49||10% of points back||No|
|Hyatt Visa||Free night @ category 1-4||$0 first year; then $75/yr||Platinum Status (worthless)||No|
|Fairmont||$0 first year; then $95/yr||Free night -> after $12,000||Premier Status||No|
|Club Carlson Premier||40,000 points||$75||Free night (in USA) -> after $10,000||Gold status (or 15 EQN), 5 points per dollar||3%|
|Club Carlson Platinum||25,000 points||$50||Free night (in USA) -> after $10,000||Silver status (or 10 EQN), 3 points per dollar||3%|
|Marriott||Free night @ category 1-5||$85||Silver status (or 15 EQN)||No|
|Hilton Reserve||$95||Free weekend night -> after $10,000||3 points per dollar; Gold status; & Diamond Status -> after $40,000||No|
|Hilton Surpass||$75||3 points per dollar; Gold status; & Diamond Status -> after $40,000||2.70%|
|Starwood||$0 first year; then $65/yr (soon $95)||2.70% (soon 0%)|
Paying Annual Fees
For me liking the benefit doesn’t actually mean I’ll pay the annual fee. Few cards are worth keeping past 13 months, in my opinion. And a lot of people justify a card’s annual fee by the amount they’ll earn from spending… but then they do that for multiple cards despite how many they will actually make back the value on.
Another thing is that people keep cards for “free nights” and pay an annual fee. With the Hyatt card, would I pay $75 for a category 1-4 Hyatt certificate? NO! I wouldn’t. Most of those hotels are around $100 anyways and in that case you’d actually earn points.
And even if you save a little so what? You can go broke saving money. Keeping a number of these cards will add up.
But I’ve said this all before in this post about which cards are not worth the annual fee.
I don’t pay any of these annual fees personally, but I enjoy some of the perks.
IHG Free Night
There’s 1 card I keep every year: the IHG card. 10% of points back for me is kind of a big deal, but it’s a no brainer for most people because of the value of the annual benefit, the free night.
This free night is without restriction (unlike the Hyatt cat 1-4) and without a giant spend requirement (like Fairmont, Club Carlson, and Hilton).
1 night at any hotel just for keeping the card. Plain and simple. As long as there is award availability, you can log onto your account and book a free night.
Also, I’ve stayed at many IHG hotels that were going for hundreds of dollars in major cities, so $49 is doable for even me. It’s hard to get a good deal in downtown London, Paris, Vienna, or New York. So why not stay at the InterContinental?
Fairmont vs Hyatt Cards
These two cards are very similar to me, but historically the Fairmont hasn’t been pushed (no payout). Both earn two free nights as a sign up bonus. Both by Chase. Both offer free nights on the anniversary. Which one is better?
Check out our InfoGraphic on The Best Hotel Rewards Program. They both have top hotels, but Hyatt has more hotels. In other words a higher percentage of Fairmonts are world class, and there are more Hyatts.
So for the 2 free nights, you could say it’s similar.
But the annual benefit for these cards are pretty different.
They both give free nights but the Hyatt card gives a free night at a category 1-4. There are many great category 4 Hyatts, but as great as those hotels are, it’s nothing compared to the top Fairmont hotels. And the Fairmont card does indeed give you a free night at any hotel.
The trade off is that the Fairmont annual bonus comes only when you spend $12,000 in the first year. The Hyatt card has no spend requirement. If you would hit the $12,000 without expense, the free night is definitely better at a top Fairmont.
The Club Carlson Free Night
The Club Carlson card has gone down in value a lot since they took away the buy one get one free benefit on award nights. Yet, the annual bonus has improved a bit.
The Club Carlson Premier card gives 40,000 points on the anniversary of the card (with a $75 annual fee), and the Club Carlson Platinum card gives 25,000 points (with the $50 annual fee).
But the card also gives a free night when you spend $10,000 on the card during the year. However, the free night is only good in the United States.
The nice thing about the $10,000 spend requirement is that the Club Carlson Premier card gives 5 points per dollar on all spend. Therefore $10k would get you 50,000 points.
In a way you’d get 40,000 points for keeping the card, 50,000 points for the $10k spend, and a free night in the US. That’s not a bad combo.
Is the Premier worth the extra $25? Well, two things are at play. You’d get 15,000 more points on the anniversary with the Premier. And you’d also get 5 points per dollar on everything instead of 3. So on $10k of spend you’d earn an extra 20,000 points. If the goal is to go for the free night (with $10k spend), then yes it is worth it.
Btw, did they get rid of the no annual fee version? Can you still downgrade to it? I can’t find it on their site.
This is another way to get a free night after spending $10,000 before the anniversary date. Note that like the sign up bonus, the free night is good for weekend nights (Fri, Sat, Sun).
The card gets you 3 points per dollar and Gold status, so $10k would get you the free night and 30,000 points. This is actually pretty tempting to me as I can think of a number of Conrad and Hilton hotels I’m interested in using a free night for. Particularly Moorea and Bora Bora.
Great card if the weekend restriction doesn’t bother you.
My least favorite cards
I’m really impressed that Starwood SPG has gone from an innovative card to a crappy card. So I was excited when I saw that they were updating the card… and then found out it was boring things like getting rid of the foreign transaction fee. What? For real? That crap never made sense in the first place. They aren’t adding benefits, they’re catching up to 2005. It’s like hotels advertising free wifi. Are you kidding, most busses nowadays have wifi and I’m supposed to be impressed my 5 star hotel now has free wifi?
My feelings on the SPG card are pretty clear. However, it’s the only way to earn SPG points and that’s the only thing they have going for them. It’s an exclusivity thing.
But worse than the SPG card is the Marriott card. It is the only Chase hotel card that doesn’t waive the annual fee for the first year? And a category 1-5 anniversery bonus was great 3 years ago, Chase! But since then Marriott has been plowing away at a devaluation seemingly every month.
A category 5 used to include the Renaissance Aruba (where a boat came into the lobby and took us to a private island (not a joke)). And then it was so bad that the best Marriott category 5 was the Marriott Guam which was kicked out of the chain for being so rundown that the 1,000 foot paint job made you think the place was abandoned.
And Silver status? Really? Lets look at these benefits.
“Elite Reservation Line”. Man, I just love being referred to as elite. I even feel elite knowing that no other people are just going to this page and using the same number.
“Exclusive Guest Services Line”. Exclusive agents that… “assist you with all of your membership needs”. Right…
“Ultimate Reservation Guarantee”. I kid you not, this is a guarantee that if you pay them for a hotel room, they will give you one. *scratches head*.
Mmk, you get the points. Lots of words like “elite”, “exclusive”, “ultimate”, “prioirty”, “elite-only”, and “free wifi” (a benefit already given to all Marriott guests, what the heck). It’s probably the most meaningless combination of words you can ever read.
I think the Fairmont, Club Carlson, and Hilton Reserve cards are under rated if only for their annual free nights. Even though they have spend requirements of $10,000 to $12,000, the benefit is more worth it to me than the Hyatt and Marriott cards which are good for the lower category hotels only. Those two cards are over rated in my opinion. Why get those, when you can have a similar better version?