As consumers, we all aim for the best bang for our buck while striving toward our travel goals. Deciding where to focus your rewards-earning efforts can help you save money and see the world. So, out of the best travel credit cards, which kind of credit card should you get — an airline or hotel rewards card?
In this article, I will walk you through the value of airline and hotel points, which of the two is generally worth more, and the information you need to determine where to focus your points-and-miles earning efforts.
- Airline points are worth 1.3 cents per point on average, while hotel points are generally worth 0.075 cents.
- The actual worth of a point varies by hotel and airline, however.
- However, it’s best to choose a card based on your preferences and spending habits, not just monetary value.
Are airline or hotel credit card points more valuable?
While there is subjectivity to this conversation, there is also the objective value of each points system. Keep in mind that none of the brands listed have publicly announced the value of their points. The valuations discussed below are estimated by various reward program experts.
Hotel points are generally worth an average of 0.075 cents per point. This is a rough average of all the major hotel rewards programs. World of Hyatt points are known for being much more valuable than this figure, while Hilton Honors points are typically less valuable because they are very easy to earn.
Airline points are generally worth an average of 1.3 cents per point. Similar to the value of hotel points above, this is an average of the value of points across the major airlines, of which there are many.
Now, given the math above, it is obvious to say airline points are more valuable. However, just because airline points are worth a bit more doesn’t mean you should automatically start earning these. Choosing to earn airline miles or hotel points is a personal decision based on your needs and goals, so avoid jumping to airline miles just because they tend to be more valuable.
How to choose between airline or hotel rewards
If you are torn in deciding between airline and hotel points, and you don’t want to open more than one credit card right now, here is how you can figure out which is more valuable to you. Simply look at where you are spending the most money and decide what you value more in regard to your travel experience.
- If you spend a significant amount of money in categories such as restaurants, gas, or groceries, a hotel credit card with broad spending categories may suit you well.
- If you only use credit cards for purchasing flights and don’t typically stay in hotels, a co-branded airline credit card could work for your strategy.
- If you travel with multiple people, an airline credit card will come in handy to earn miles to cover the cost of tickets. Also, it can save a family a ton in checked bag fees.
- If you are primarily a road-trip traveler, a hotel credit card with travel insurance will be perfect to cover your stays along your journey.
- Do the cards you're considering include perks like statement credits to help cover TSA PreCheck and Global Entry application fees and airport lounge access? Are those perks important to you?
- Finally, consider what you “need” more. If you need to save money on flight costs, an airline card is best. If you need to save on hotel costs, a hotel card will suit you well.
You'll also want to be the type of traveler who is loyal to a particular airline or hotel brand and its travel partners to get the most out of a hotel or airline card.
Which type of card is best? For myself, I’d much rather fly first class and will happily sleep in a hostel. My perspective is that flying can be a memorable experience, while the primary purpose for accommodations is sleeping. In my mind, a 16-hour flight in economy sounds more miserable than a hostel.
Others argue that a flight is only a short period of time while a hotel stay is a much longer duration of time to enjoy. Or they may be traveling with children and want an upgraded hotel suite so the family isn’t all climbing over each other. This decision is personal to your needs and wants.
How airline rewards work
Airline rewards are an excellent way to help you save on what is typically your largest expense — airfare. With the average base fare of a domestic round-trip ticket floating around $340 per person, airline rewards can save you big. If you travel as a family, these rewards, along with the benefits that come with co-branded airline credit cards, can quickly add up to save you thousands of dollars.
With co-branded credit cards, you can often earn a sign-up bonus of airline miles and enjoy benefits such as free checked bags, complimentary food/drinks at airport lounges, priority boarding, and in-flight discounts. These benefits can save you a lot during your travels.
Additionally, a credit card sign-up bonus can potentially earn you one or more flights completely paid with miles, not counting fees and taxes. Currently, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card offers an outstanding welcome bonus where you can earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in purchases in the first 6 months. With these 40,000 bonus miles, you are off to a great start. Terms and conditions apply.
For example, you could take this flight from Los Angeles to New York City. Using Delta SkyMiles, the flight will cost just 22,000 miles round trip in economy, plus $12 in taxes.
If you were to pay cash instead of redeeming SkyMiles for this same flight, it would cost $295. That makes each Delta SkyMile in this booking worth 1.34 cents per point, which is a great value. (Just divide the cost of the ticket by the miles required to book it to find the value: 295 / 22,000 = 0.013409) So airline miles have the potential to save you a good amount of money.
Another value of having a credit card that collects airline points is that it could save you money on baggage. Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and JetBlue all charge between $60 and $70 for one checked bag on a round-trip ticket.
While $60 may not sound like a lot, it can grow quickly if you fly as a family. At this rate, you would pay $240 round trip for a family of four people, each traveling with a checked bag. But this cost can be mitigated or completely eliminated by holding a co-branded airline credit card with your favorite airline.
For example, if your preferred airline is American, it may be worth it to have an American Airlines credit card to avoid those bag fees. And the card won’t just cover the cardholder. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® gets the first bag checked free for you and up to eight of your travel companions on domestic flights.
Additionally, there are other airlines with valuable loyalty programs, such as Southwest Rapid Rewards and Alaska Airlines. Each of these frequent flyer programs is valuable in its own unique way, but all have one thing in common — they can save you money on flights.
Recommended airline rewards cards
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, $99 per year thereafter (Terms apply)
Rewards rate: 2X miles on qualifying Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S supermarkets; and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases.
Why we like it: It has a generous welcome offer that allows you to earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in purchases in the first 6 months. And you get free checked bags for yourself and companions booked on the same reservation.
JetBlue Plus Card
Annual fee: $99
Rewards rate: 6X points on JetBlue purchases, 2X points at restaurants and grocery stores, and 1X points per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Why we like it: JetBlue is a popular airline, and this card helps you earn JetBlue status faster. You also get a free checked bag and half off inflight cocktails and food.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
Annual fee: $99 (waived first year)
Rewards rate: 2X miles at gas stations and restaurants, and on eligible American Airlines purchases; and 1X miles on all other purchases.
Why we like it: Like our other recommendations, this credit card offers a free checked bag for you. It also offers a free bag for up to eight companions when you’re flying domestically. You also get preferred boarding.
How hotel reward points work
Hotel rewards are great to help you save on another large expense of traveling — a place to lay your head. In August 2023, the average hotel room in the United States cost $149 per night. That means for a week-long vacation, you would be looking at over $900 to stay in an average hotel. By earning hotel rewards, you can avoid spending this amount on your room and focus your spending on fun activities.
For example, a weekend stay in Los Angeles at the Kimpton La Peer Hotel would cost almost $1,200 for two nights with taxes and fees included. This kind of rate is to be expected in a city like Los Angeles, but it’s still a high price for a quick weekend trip.
However, you could choose instead to spend 137,000 IHG points to completely cover the cost of this two-night stay. This may seem like a lot of points, but the value of this redemption is quite good at over 0.8 cents per point. (1,145.52/ 137,000 = 0.00836)
Hotel loyalty programs and status
As with airline credit cards, hotel credit cards also come with value that goes beyond the redemption value of an individual point. The main perk you can earn is automatic hotel status, which can earn you things like free hotel nights, free room upgrades, late check-out, early check-in, free meals, and more. These perks can make your stay more enjoyable and affordable at the same time.
One great hotel reward program is World of Hyatt. Hyatt’s rewards program is based on what’s known as a “fixed award chart.” This means that for each category of their hotels, there is a predetermined set of points needed to book a stay.
Other hotel chains, like Hilton, have programs where the number of points needed for a room can fluctuate based on demand. This makes World of Hyatt a very simple rewards program to participate in because you will always know exactly how many points you need to stay in a specific hotel.
You can earn Hyatt points with a card like The World of Hyatt Credit Card or transfer points into your Hyatt account from cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.
In addition to Hyatt, Marriott Bonvoy is another great hotel rewards program because of its giant list of properties that range from budget travel at Fairfield Inn to ultra-luxury with Ritz-Carlton. With over 7,000 properties around the world, you will be able to find a property nearly anywhere in the world to use your rewards at.
Recommended hotel rewards cards
Marriott Bonvoy Bevy™ American Express® Card
Annual fee: $250 (Terms apply)
Rewards rate: 6X points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program; 4X points at worldwide restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and U.S. supermarkets (up to $15,000 in combined purchases per calendar year, then 2X points); and 2X points on all other eligible purchases.
Why we like it: This card offers complimentary Gold Elite status in the Marriott Bonvoy program. You also could earn a free night award worth up to 50,000 points after spending $15,000 on eligible purchases in a calendar year.
Hilton Honors American Express Card
Annual fee: $0 (Terms apply)
Rewards rate: 7X points at participating hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio; 5X points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations; and 3X points on all other eligible purchases
Why we like it: The $0 annual fee makes this card an appealing option. (Terms apply) It includes Silver status.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card
Annual fee: $95
Rewards rate: up to 9X points on stays at Hyatt hotels (4 bonus points plus 5 base points as a World of Hyatt member); 2X points on restaurants, airline tickets purchased directly from the airlines, local transit and commuting and on fitness club and gym memberships; and 1X points on all other purchases
Why we like it: This card has a reward you can earn of one free night after your cardmember anniversary at a Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort. You also get automatic Discoverist status in the World of Hyatt program.
Points that you can use for airlines or hotels
One option we like are cards that aren’t tied to a specific airline or hotel. These cards are best for those who aren’t loyal to any one particular airline or hotel chain and who prioritize flexibility. Here are some of our favorite travel cards:
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Annual fee: $0
Rewards rate: 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases
Why we like it: This card has a simple rewards rate, so you don’t need to worry about which card is best for what category. We also like the card’s introductory APR offer of a 0% APR on purchases for 15 billing cycles (then 18.24% - 28.24% Variable APR). It also has a 0% intro APR for 15 billing cycles for any qualifying balance transfers made in the first 60 days (then 18.24% - 28.24% Variable APR).
Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card
Annual fee: $0
Rewards rate: Earn unlimited 3X points on restaurants, travel, gas stations, transit, popular streaming services, and phone plans; plus earn 1X points on other purchases
Why we like it: We like the rewards you can earn on practical categories, its cell phone protection, and its travel insurance benefits.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Annual fee: $95
Rewards rate: 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 3X points on dining, select streaming services, and eligible online grocery purchases; 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases
Why we like it: Your points are worth 25% more if you redeem them through the Chase travel portal, you get $50 in statement credits each account anniversary year for hotel stays purchased through the Chase travel portal, and you get account anniversary bonus points equal to 10% of your purchases each year.
What is the downside to an airline credit card?
The main downside to an airline credit card is its limited flexibility. You can typically only redeem miles for flights with the airline or one of its partners. That might work well if you’re a frequent flyer and loyal to one airline, but not if you prefer more flexibility.
How do you redeem airline points?
You can typically redeem airline points, typically called miles, by logging into the airline’s website. You can usually search for flights using miles, then choose a flight and redeem your miles when you check out. You typically need to pay a small amount in taxes as well.
You may also be able to redeem miles by calling your airline's reservation line and booking a flight with miles over the phone.
How do you redeem hotel points?
You can redeem hotel points by logging into the hotel's website and searching for rooms using points for payment. You may also be able to redeem hotel points by calling the hotel or the hotel loyalty program's reservation line.
Are hotel points or airline points worth more?
In terms of monetary value, airline points are worth more. Airline points are worth 1.3 cents per point on average, while hotel points are generally worth 0.075 cents.
That said, value also depends on what's most beneficial to you. If you prefer to road trip, hotel points might be more helpful. Airline points might be more useful if you fly places but stay with family or friends.
We know from a sheer value-per-point perspective that airline points are more valuable than hotel points. However, the best choice for you is the choice that fits your lifestyle and travel preferences. If you love luxurious hotel suites, you should earn as many hotel points as possible. If you love to fly and maybe splurge on first-class flights occasionally, airline points will give you a great return for your spending.
There are many strategies to earn points and miles. However, there is only one right way for you — and that is the way that saves you the most money and makes your travels as memorable as possible.
Easy-to-Earn Unlimited Rewards
- Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
- Earn 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases
- Longer intro APR on qualifying purchases and balance transfers
- No foreign transaction fees
- Apply Now
- Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire as long as your account remains open.
- 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
- Use your card to book your trip how and where you want - you're not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions.
- Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for travel or dining purchases, such as flights, hotel stays, car and vacation rentals, baggage fees, and also at restaurants including takeout.
- 0% Introductory APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases, and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After the intro APR offer ends, 18.24% - 28.24% Variable APR will apply. A 3% fee applies to all balance transfers.
- If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards® member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase. That means instead of earning an unlimited 1.5 points for every $1, you could earn 1.87-2.62 points for every $1 you spend on purchases.
- Contactless Cards - The security of a chip card, with the convenience of a tap.
- This online only offer may not be available if you leave this page or if you visit a Bank of America financial center. You can take advantage of this offer when you apply now.
Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
Why we like it