Best Hotel Credit Card for Military and Spouses 2020 | Compare Marriott, Hilton, IHG, and Hyatt

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If you are in the military, hotel credit cards can be extremely valuable. For those who have taken the plunge into the world of military credit cards, this is old news, but to those who are new to the scene, there are some common questions and uncertainties.

Two of the most common question I hear are:

“What credit card should I get next?” and “Which card gives me the most benefits?”

There is a common answer to both of these questions…”it depends!”

First, it depends on how far along you are with the military credit card hobby. If you are brand new to military credit cards, I recommended starting with Spencer’s guide to military credit cards, the Ultimate Military Credit Cards Course, or the best military credit card bonuses this month.

Canyon Suites Pool at Phoenician Scottsdale 

Second, it depends on what your goals are.  Are you hoping to get points to book a hotel for your honeymoon, to fly your parents out to visit, to rack up free Uber rides?

There are many reasons for pursuing credit card points. One of the most common is to accrue hotel points to pay for vacation stays.

But there are so many different hotel credit cards out there, which one is the best? Well, allow me to shed some light on the subject.

Comparing the Best Hotel Credit Cards

There are four global hotel brands that offer travel reward credit cards: Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, and International Hotel Group (IHG).

Each hotel brand has their own “heavy hitter,” which is the best luxury card offered for that brand:

Free Diamond Status at Hilton Hotels for Military
Chase The World of Hyatt Military MLA
Chase IHG Premier MLA
  • Marriott – American Express Bonvoy Brilliant
  • Hilton – American Express Hilton Honors Aspire Card
  • Hyatt – Chase World of Hyatt,
  • IHG – Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier.

These are the cream of the crop. Thanks to the Chase Military Lending Act and AMEX Military Lending Act programs, military service members and their spouses don’t have to pay annual fees for any of these cards!

There are many other hotel credit cards available, but their benefits are significantly inferior, therefore they will not be discussed in this post.  As we compare the benefits of each card, we will focus on six major categories:

  1. Welcome Bonus Offer
  2. Annual Free Night
  3. Annual Travel Credit
  4. Elite Status Boost
  5. Points Earning Potential
  6. Annual Fee for Military Families

Hotel Card Welcome Bonus

Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant 

  • 75,000 Marriott points after spending $3000 in first 3 months
  • 75,000 points valued at $750 if you redeem at 1 cent per point

Amex Hilton Honors Aspire 

  • 150,000 Hilton points after spending $4000 in first 3 months
  • 150,000 valued at about $1000 if you redeem at 0.7 cents per point

Chase World of Hyatt 

  • 50,000 World of Hyatt points after spending $6000 in first 6 months (25k after $3k spend it first 3 months and another 25k after another $3k spent in first 6 months)
  • 50,000 points valued at $1000 if you redeem at 2 cents per point

Chase IHG Premier

  • 125,000 IHG points after spending $3000 in first 3 months
  • 125,000 points valued at $625 if you redeem at 0.5 cents per point

Best Hotel Credit Card Welcome Bonus Comparison


Welcome BonusMonetary Value*Minimum Spend
Amex Bonvoy Brilliant75,000$750$3000 < 3 months
Amex Hilton Aspire150,000$1000$4000 < 3 months
Chase World of Hyatt50,000$1000$6000 < 6 months**
Chase IHG Premier125,000$625$3000 < 3 months

* Value based on typical redemption rates listed above
** 25k after $3k spend < 3 months + another 25k after $3k spend < 6 months

Annual Free Night Award

Amex Bonvoy Brilliant 

  • Annual free night each account anniversary redeemable at Marriott property up to 50,000 points

Amex Hilton Aspire

  • Annual free weekend night each account anniversary at Hilton property
  • No point limitation, but only valid for a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night stay 

Chase World of Hyatt 

  • Annual free night each account anniversary redeemable at category 1-4 Hyatt property
  • One night at category 4 property equivalent to 15,000 points 

Chase IHG Premier

  • Annual free night each account anniversary redeemable at IHG property up to 40,000 points
View from Room at Ritz-Carlton Chicago

Hotel Credit Card Annual Free Night Comparison


Annual Free Night?Points CeilingMonetary Value *
Amex Bonvoy BrilliantYes50,000$450
Amex Hilton AspireYesNone**$500
Chase World of HyattYes15,000$255
Chase IHG PremierYes40,000$200

** Only valid Friday, Saturday, or Sunday

Annual Hotel/Resort/Airline Credit

Amex Bonvoy Brilliant 

  • $300 property credit valid at any Marriott property 
  • Valid for any charge including room rate

Amex Hilton Aspire

  • $250 property credit valid at Hilton Resort properties only 
  • Valid for charges to room only
  • $250 airline credit for incidental fees on single airline of choice 

Chase World of Hyatt 

  • No property or airline credits 

Chase IHG Premier

  • No property or airline credits

Annual Property/Airline Credit Comparison


Annual Property Credit?Annual Airline Credit?
Amex Bonvoy BrilliantYes ($300)No
Amex Hilton AspireYes ($250)Yes ($250)
Chase World of HyattNoNo
Chase IHG PremierNoNo

Elite Status

Amex Bonvoy Brilliant

  • Marriott Gold Elite (4th highest tier of 6 available)
  • Room upgrade if available
  • $100 credit at Ritz Carlton or St. Regis properties when booking 2-night minimum with the card
  • Fifth night free when redeeming points for a 4+ night stay
  • 15 complimentary nights toward Platinum status

Amex Hilton Aspire

  • Hilton Diamond (highest status offered by Hilton)
  • Complimentary continental breakfast 
  • Room upgrade if available
  • $100 credit at Waldorf Astoria or Conrad properties when booking 2-night minimum with Aspire card
  • Fifth night free when redeeming points for a 4+ night stay

Chase World of Hyatt 

  • Elite Discoverist (4th highest tier of 5 available)
  • Room upgrade if available

Chase IHG Premier

  • Platinum Elite (3rd highest tier of 5 available)
  • Room upgrade if available
  • Fourth night free when redeeming points for a 4+ night stay

Elite Status Comparison


StatusRelative Rank
Amex Bonvoy BrilliantGold Elite 4th of 6 tiers
Amex Hilton AspireDiamondhighest status available
Chase World of HyattElite Discoverist 2nd of 5 tiers
Chase IHG PremierPlatinum Elite 3rd  of 5 tiers

Hotel Points Earning Potential

Amex Bonvoy Brilliant

  • 6x points at Marriott properties, valued at 5.4 cents per dollar 
  • 3x points at airlines and U.S. restaurants, valued at 2.7 cents per dollar
  • 2x points all other purchases, valued at 1.8 cents per dollar

Amex Hilton Aspire

  • 14x points at Hilton properties, valued at 8.4 cents per dollar
  • 7x points at airlines, select rental car companies, and U.S. restaurants, valued at 4.2 cents per dollar 
  • 3x points all other purchases, valued at 1.8 cents per dollar

Chase World of Hyatt 

  • 4x points at Hyatt properties, valued at 6.8 cents per dollar
  • 2x points at airlines, local transit and commuting, and fitness club/gym memberships, valued at 3.4 cents per dollar
  • 1x points all other purchases, valued at 1.7 cents per dollar

Chase IHG Premier

  • 25x points at IHG properties, valued at 12.5 cents per dollar
  • 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants, valued at 1 cent per dollar
  • 1x points all other purchases, valued at 0.5 cent per dollar

Value of Points Earned per Dollar Spent


On PropertySelect CategoriesGeneric
Amex Bonvoy Brilliant5.4 cents2.7 cents1.8 cents
Amex Hilton Aspire8.4 cents4.2 cents1.8 cents
Chase World of Hyatt6.8 cents3.4 cents1.7 cents
Chase IHG Premier12.5 cents 1 cent0.5 cent

Hotel Credit Cards Annual Fee

Annual Fee Comparison
Annual FeeAnnual Fee for Military
Amex Bonvoy Brilliant$450$0!
Amex Hilton Aspire$450$0!
Chase World of Hyatt$95$0!
Chase IHG Premier$89$0!

Cumulative Value of Each Card Compared


Welcome BonusAnnual Free NightHotel/Airline CreditTotal
Amex Bonvoy Brilliant$675 $450$300$1425
Amex Hilton Aspire$900$500
$500$1900
Chase World of Hyatt$850$255$0$1105
Chase IHG Premier$625$200$0$825

Examples of Hotel Cards in Action!

Offering between $900 and $1900 of value, these cards are certainly capable of upgrading your travel life. The best part?? They are free for military members and their spouses! 

My husband and I have used these cards to take some amazing trips that we never would have been able to afford otherwise.  We have used our Amex Bonvoy Brilliant annual free nights at the Ritz Carlton Chicago multiple times and even took a $9000 Scottsdale vacation for only $900 thanks to the welcome bonuses we received from our Bonvoy cards.

Likewise, we used our Amex Hilton Aspire cards to take an amazing weekend getaway to the Waldorf Astoria Orlando valued at $3,200 for only $500.

Even better, we just booked a 6-night vacation to the Grand Wailea Maui entirely on points all thanks to our Hilton Aspire cards.  

Grand Wailea Maui – Can’t Wait!!

The Bonvoy Brilliant and Hilton Honors Aspire are our favorite premier hotel cards. But with $1900 in value and the highest hotel elite status available, we would argue the Hilton Aspire is the best.

How to Get 3 AMEX Hilton Aspire Cards

Waldorf Astoria Orlando –View from Balcony of Upgraded Room  Thanks to Amex Hilton Aspire

It’s important to note that Amex allows an individual to hold 3 (or more) Aspires at once and to receive a welcome bonus on each card. This is how I did this (and you can too!):

  1. First apply for the Aspire and hit the welcome bonus spend to earn the welcome bonus.
  2. Then apply for the AMEX Hilton Honors Surpass and hit the required spend to get that welcome bonus.
  3. Then apply for the AMEX Hilton Honors card and hit the minimum spend to get that welcome bonus.

After one year upgrade the Surpass and Honors cards to Aspires, and finally, find a fun way to spend your 3 free weekend nights, $750 resort credits, and $750 airline incidental fees.

Side note, if you have a spouse, you can refer Hilton cards to each other.  For example, my husband applied for the Aspire first, then referred me the card, earning him a 15,000 referral bonus.  We did the same thing for the Surpass and Honors cards, and by doing so accrued an extra 75,000 Hilton points!

It is also possible to hold multiple Bonvoy Brilliant cards, but a welcome bonus can only be achieved on the first card due to a 24-month welcome bonus restriction. Read more on credit card applications rules.

Chase IHG Premier vs Chase World of Hyatt

The IHG Premier and World of Hyatt cards have their place, especially for those looking to apply for Chase products first to avoid the 5/24 restriction.

Chase IHG Premier MLA
  • Learn how to apply for the Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier
  • $89 annual fee waived for US military according to Chase MLA policy
  • Earn 125,000 IHG points after $3000 of spend in the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn a free night each account anniversary
  • Fourth night is free each time you redeem points for a 4+ night stay
  • Earn 25x points per $1 spent at IHG properties
  • Automatic Platinum Elite Status (2nd highest membership level)
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Fee credit every 4 years – military members should get Global Entry, since you can get PreCheck with your DOD ID number off of your CAC
  • No foreign transaction fees – essential for international travel
Chase The World of Hyatt Military MLA
  • Learn how to apply for Chase World of Hyatt Card
  • $95 annual fee waived for active duty US military and spouses thanks to Chase MLA policy
  • Earn up to 50,000 Bonus Points (good for up to 10 nights) – 25,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Then earn an additional 25,000 Bonus Points after you spend a total of $6,000 on purchases within the first 6 months of account opening
  • Earn 9 points per $1 spent at Hyatt properties
  • Automatic World of Hyatt Discoverist status

For anyone interested in acquiring these cards, here is my suggestion: save the welcome bonus points until your one-year account anniversary, that way you can combine the free anniversary night with multiple nights from the welcome bonus to build a free extended stay.

For example, the IHG Premier welcome bonus plus the anniversary night up to 40,000 points could get you 4 free nights at the Intercontinental Bangkok! Likewise, the World of Hyatt welcome bonus plus the anniversary night at a category 4 Hyatt property could get you 4 free nights at the Hyatt Waikiki Beach!

Final Thoughts on Hotel Credit Cards

At first glance it may seem like a lot of work to manage multiple credit cards and multiple hotel loyalty accounts, but I assure you, it’s not. It’s actually a lot of fun!

In our 2019 travels, my husband and I spent over $20,000 worth of hotel/airline points and credits. To put that $20,000 into perspective, a W2 employee in an upper middle class tax bracket would have to earn would have to earn about $30,000 before taxes, which is 3 to 4 months of paychecks. Yikes.

But the good news is, thanks to MLA and SCRA, all military servicemembers and their spouses can learn the very simple rules of credit card rewards programs to access the opportunity to take the travels of their dreams. I hope you choose to do so!

Little Miss Traveler is a military wife who details the benefits of military credit cards on her blog. She and her husband are the founders and authors of littlemisstraveler.com and are passionate about helping service members and their families maximize their travel experiences via military credit cards. LMT thrives on experiencing new places and has a dream of visiting all 50 states.

Hotel Credit Cards FAQ

What is the best credit card for hotels?

If you are in the military, the best hotel credit card is probably the Amex Hilton Honors Aspire card or the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant. The $450 annual fee is waived on both cards for military servicemembers and spouses! Other cards that waive annual fees for military are Chase World of Hyatt, and Chase IHG Premier.

Is a hotel credit card worth it?

Hotel credit cards are definitely worth it, especially if you are in the military and your annual fees are waived! You can get upgraded elite status, free nights annually, credit on food, drinks, spa activities, and other room charges. Lounge access, early check in, late check out, and upgraded suites are all benefits that make hotel credit cards worth it!

What is the best Marriott credit card?

For military servicemembers, the best Marriott credit card is definitely the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant. The $450 annual fee is 100% waived for active duty and spouses.

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