By Jason Steele

NEW YORK ( —Redeeming frequent flier miles has become so frustrating that many rewards card holders now look to hotel cards to earn the most valuable rewards. Lodging is a large travel expense, and hotel programs generally offer awards with fewer blackout dates and capacity controls than airline programs.

However, many hotel programs have recently devalued their programs by requiring many more points than they had in the past.

So with all of the recent changes to these reward programs, what do credit card users need to know to choose the best card?

A great credit card generally starts with an attractive sign-up bonus, and hotel cards are no different. For example, the Hyatt credit card from Chase offers new applicants two free nights at any property worldwide. And since some of their most expensive hotels in Europe cost more than $1,000 a night, this offer can be extremely valuable.

Points from spending

Next, cardholders want to consider how many points can be earned from spending at various categories of merchants. Most cards will offer extra points when used at their properties, and some cards will offer bonus points for other categories of spending as well. But the real hard part is determining the value of the points, which can vary widely between programs. Look at both the minimum and maximum number of points needed for a free night, and how many points you need to stay at a hotel at one of your favorite destinations.

Chance to earn status

One of the nice perks of hotel cards is that in many cases, just having the card is enough to earn valuable elite status. For example, the Hilton HHonors Reserve card offers Gold status to all cardholders, which includes room upgrades and free breakfast.

Other point redemption opportunities

Hotel rewards are typically used for rewards nights, but many of these programs offer other ways to redeem points. For example, points earned in the Starwood Preferred Guest program can be transferred to airline miles with more than 30 different carriers.

And as with all rewards credit cards, these products are best suited to those who pay their balance in full each month. Those who carry a balance should look for cards with the lowest interest rate, not rewards cards.

A few good hotel rewards credit cards:

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card

This card offers two weekend night certificates after cardholders spend $2,500 within four months of opening their account. Cardholders earn 10 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, five points per dollar spent on airline and rental cars, and three points per dollar spent on all other purchases. Just be sure to note that Hilton significantly increased the number of points needed for awards. Thankfully, account holders still receive Gold status automatically, and Diamond status after spending $40,000 on this card within a calendar year. There is a $95 annual fee.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

This card is a favorite of rewards travel gurus due to its value and flexibility. Cardholders earn 10,000 points after their first purchase, and 15,000 after they spend $5,000 within the first 6 months of card membership. And those who spend $30,000 in a calendar year receive gold status. But the best part about this card may be the ability to transfer points to miles with more than 30 different airlines. There is a $65 annual fee that is waived the first year.

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase

Cardholders receive a free night at a category 1-4 hotel and another 50,000 bonus points after their first purchase. Then they earn five points per dollar spent at Marriott properties, two points per dollar on airline dining, and rental car purchases, and one point per dollar on all other charges. And for every $3,000 spent, cardholders receive a night's credit towards elite status. There is an $85 annual fee that is waived the first year.

These cards not for you? Here are some more rewards card options.

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