This post comes from Jason Steele at partner site on MSN MoneyThis year has been a great one for hotels, as they have finally emerged from a prolonged period of depressed bookings and high vacancies. Now that these properties are filling up, several major hotel chains have started requiring more points for award nights, effectively devaluing the rewards earned by guests as well as users of their co-branded credit cards.

Man at concierge © Comstock, Getty ImagesThat has presented a challenge for those who are looking for the best credit cards for hotel rewards. Travelers must sort through the award charts of the major brands and figure out how many points they can earn from staying at the hotels or using their rewards credit card. Then, credit card users need to look at perks such as a large sign-up bonus and elite status in the program. Finally, prospective cardholders who travel internationally will want to make sure the card has features such as an EMV smart chip and no foreign transaction fees.

As with all rewards credit cards, those who carry a balance should not be using these hotel credit cards as they will have a much higher interest rate than the most competitive cards with low interest rates. In addition, these cards will not typically feature promotional financing offers, which can be a valuable tool towards paying down debt. Nevertheless, those who are traveling on business trips and are being promptly reimbursed by their client or company can use these cards effectively if they immediately pay off their statement balances in full every month.

Finally, before you apply for a credit card, it’s important to know whether you meet the lender’s guidelines — if you have poor credit, but apply for a card that is geared toward those with excellent credit, you’ll likely get denied. There are free tools that can help you monitor your credit scores, including’s Credit Report Card, which updates your scores every month and gives you an overview of your credit report so you can see what factors are influencing your scores.

The Winner: The Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express

This card moved up to No. 1 this year from last year’s rankings because rival hotel programs have been devalued.

The rewards: This has always been a strong card because of the strength of the Starwood Preferred Guest program. In the last year, Starwood was one of the only major programs that did not experience a significant devaluation. New cardholders receive 10,000 Starpoints after their first purchases, and another 15,000 after spending $10,000 on their card within six months. As little as 3,000 points can be redeemed for a free night, and when cardholders redeem four consecutive nights, their fifth night is free. Furthermore, the Starwood Preferred Guest program has been renowned for its excellent customer service.

Those who spend $30,000 on this card within a calendar year automatically receive Gold status, which entitles them to room upgrades, free Internet and late checkouts. And even though we weren’t taking airline mileage transfer options into account, it should always be noted that Starpoints can be transferred to miles with 30 different airlines. This is a valuable hedge against earning miles with a single airline that could suddenly devalue its mileage program.

The costs: There is a $65 annual fee for this card that is waived the first year. There is also a 2.7% foreign transaction fee imposed on all charges processed outside of the U.S.

1st Runner-Up: Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature

Shortly after we awarded the Best Credit Cards in America for Hotel Rewards in 2012, US Bank and Club Carlson hotels released this breakthrough card.

The rewards: New cardholders receive 85,000 bonus points after spending just $2,500 within the first 90 days of opening an account. Cardholders then earn 10 points per dollar spent at Carlson Rezidor hotels and five points per dollar spent elsewhere. Free nights start 9,000 points and top out at 50,000 points. Furthermore, the last night of your award stay is free, so if you are only staying two nights, it is like receiving a discount of 50%. Other perks include 15 night stay credits toward Gold status in Club Carlson’s program, which earns you room upgrades, early check-ins, late checkouts and an in-room welcome gift. Finally, cardholders receive another 40,000-point bonus each year when they renew their card.

This credit card might have even received the award for the best hotel card if it wasn’t for the narrow choice of Carlson Rezidor properties in the U.S., which are largely low to mid-range properties. Nevertheless, their network offers a generous selection of mid-range and luxury properties in Europe and other international destinations.

The costs: There is a $75 annual fee for this card that is not waived the first year, and a 3% foreign transaction fee (2% for foreign transactions in U.S. dollars).

2nd Runner-Up: The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase

The Hyatt Gold Passport program recently suffered a significant devaluation, but the Hyatt Credit Card is still a valuable card to have.

The rewards: Last year, we awarded the Hyatt Credit Card our top award, largely because a maximum of 22,000 points was all that was required for an award night at their finest hotels, such as the Park Hyatt Tokyo or Paris. However, Hyatt will soon charge 30,000 points for award stays in the same properties. They did not change the lower end of the award chart, which still offers award stays at their entry-level properties starting at 5,000 points per night.

Cardholders earn three points per dollar from charges at Hyatt properties, double points per dollar spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline and at car rental agencies, and one point per dollar on all other purchases.

Card members automatically receive Platinum status in Hyatt’s Gold Passport program, which features free Internet service, room upgrades and late checkout. This card is also still a good one to have when traveling as it includes an EMV smart chip, and no foreign transaction fees.

The costs: There is a $75 annual fee which is waived the first year, but cardholders also receive a free night at any category 1-4 property.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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