Hotel credit card point density

The best way to earn free travel is by having someone else pay for it, usually an employer.  "Road warriors" can earn elite status and hundreds of thousands of points and miles by taking flights and staying in hotels for which their employer pays or reimburses them.  The rest of us earn points either traveling on tickets we pay for ourselves, or the old-fashioned way: with co-branded credit cards.  Today we'll be examining the question, how lucrative are purchases made with different co-branded hotel credit cards.  Specifically, we'll want to know how much we need to spend on different credit cards in order to earn a free hotel night.

This is important information, because if it's possible to manufacture spending at an average cost of .8 cents per dollar in manufactured spending, we need to know which credit cards make it worth doing so.  Which card earns the most value per dollar spent?

To make this determination, we'll perform a similar calculation as we do here, but without taking elite status into consideration.  Looking only at the credit card earning rate, how much do we need to spend in order to earn a free night at a bottom-tier, mid-tier, and top-tier hotel?

As you can see, the main takeaway here is that manufacturing spending on a co-branded hotel credit card is rarely worth doing unless you have a specific redemption in mind.  The best value here is Club Carlson, which has a good earning rate on non-bonused spending.  If you frequently travel to cities with relatively expensive Club Carlson properties, it may be worth manufacturing spending on your Club Carlson card in order to quickly redeem for free nights, especially since Club Carlson credit cardholders receive their last night free with every award redemption of 2 or more nights.

Starwood Preferred Guest offers an interesting case, since their points can also be transferred to their airline partners and redeemed for flights.  This creates a situation whereby you can spend $35,000 on the Starwood American Express and redeem those points for a single night at a top-tier hotel, or you can spend $5000 more and transfer 40,000 points to one of their airline partners and then redeem the points for two free domestic round-trip flights.  On the other hand, Starwood's low- and mid-tier properties are relatively reasonable point redemptions, costing $24-$80, if you're able to manufacture spending at .8 cents per dollar, versus $280 for a top-tier property.