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Sunday Reader Question: What Credit Card is Best for a Big Sign-up Bonus, Low Annual Fee and No Foreign Fees?

by on February 19, 2012 · 44 comments

in American Express, Chase, Credit Cards, Sunday Reader Questions

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TPG reader Joseph writes:

I’m relatively naive to all of the different types of point programs. I’ve had an Amex Blue card since ’06 and typically spend $20-30K on it, and I’m in very good standing w/ Amex. I’m now looking for another card to add to my inventory, specifically to be used for international business purchases. I typically fly Delta. I’m also looking for no foreign transaction fees and the most generous signup bonus. I’d also like to minimize the annual fees if at all possible. Can you recommend a card for me?

First things first, if you have a ton of points earned on the Blue card, which accrue to the Membership Rewards Express program (which means you cannot transfer to airline partners, like Delta) then we need to get you an Amex card that is enrolled in Membership Rewards. Once you get a Membership Rewards card, your Membership Rewards Express points will automatically turn into regular Membership Rewards points, which means you can transfer them to airlines, like Delta. The only Amex Membership Rewards cards that don’t have foreign transaction fees are the Platinum ($450 annual fee) or Mercedes-Benz Platinum ($475 annual fee). Both have 50,000 point sign-up bonuses (Update: the sign-up bonus for the Platinum card is currently 25,000 points), but in order to get the personal one you need to get referred by an existing cardholder, so feel free to email me at info@ thepointsguy.com or ask someone you know who has the card to enter your information at http://www.americanexpress.com/referplatinum.

Since you want to stay away from hefty annual fees, I’d actually recommend applying for the Premier Rewards Gold card, which currently comes with a 25,000 point sign-up bonus (once again you need to be referred by an existing card member like the Platinum 50k offer or wait until this Tuesday when I’m told that offer will become public). That card is a great card which gives 3x points on airfare and 2x on gas and groceries and a 15,000 point bonus when you spend $30,000 yearly (so in essence it’s like earning 1.5 points per dollar). Plus, the $175 annual fee is waived for the first year. However, it does have a nasty 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so it’s not exactly perfect for your situation. 

If you want a card that has a low annual fee, no foreign transaction fees and a nice sign-up bonus of 50,000 points that can be transferred to Delta partner Korean Airlines, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a no-brainer. If I were you, I’d get both the Premier Rewards Gold and Sapphire Preferred (which is what I do as a Delta flyer who travels extensively internationally and abhors foreign transaction fees). It’s been rumored that the 50,000 point sign-up bonus is going down at some point in February/March, so take that into account when deciding which cards to get and when (Update: the sign-up bonus for the Sapphire Preferred is currently 40,000 points). If you have a good credit score and few cards, you should have no issue getting both a Premier Rewards Gold and Sapphire Preferred in the same day.

The combination of these two cards is powerful- I use the Amex PRG for all airfare, gas and groceries and the Sapphire Preferred for all other travel and dining. Big store purchases go on the Amex so I hit the $30,000 spend threshold and get the 15,000 point bonus. Once I get the bonus everything else goes on Sapphire Preferred, because I value Ultimate Rewards points more than Membership Rewards points.

FYI here are some other rewards cards that don’t have foreign transaction fees:
60,000-80,000 points for Chase Priority Club Visa. $49 annual fee, waived for the first year.
50,000 points for the Chase Ink Bold (Business) card. $95 annual fee, waived for the first year.
50,000 points for the Citi Thank You Premier, $125 annual fee, waived for the first year. (This link/promotion is technically expired, so take a screen shot).
100,000 miles for Chase British Airways Visa. $95 annual fee. I’d wait to see if this bonus goes back to 100,000, like it did in 2011 and 2009.
50,000 points for Chase Marriott Premier Visa plus free Category 1-4 hotel night. $85 annual fee, waived for the first year. 
30,000 points for Citi Thank You Premier. $125, waived for the first year
25,000 miles for the Citi American Executive AAdvantage card. $450 annual fee.
2 Free nights at any Hyatt in the world for Chase Hyatt Visa. $75 annual fee.
20,000 points after $1,000 spent in 3 months for the Capital One Venture One. No annual fee.
40,000 points after $3,000 spent in 3 months for Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. $59 annual fee, waived for the first year. 2x points on all purchases. I’d wait for this bonus to increase- there are rumors of 100,000 coming back.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Iris97

    One additional detail that may be important to some readers – trip insurance is automatic and free when paying for airline tickets with a Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

  • oldmanpeabody

    Good post, TPG. One quick question: you mention 60,000-80,000 bonus on the Chase Priority Club Visa but when I click the link I don’t see anything about the bonus at all. I even clicked “Apply Now” and I get the same thing. Can you clarify why this is a range instead of a fixed amount and how we know we’re getting it? If this is in a previous post, I apologize. Thanks

  • PJ

    Everyday AMEX fee free blue has 3 % rebate of groceries 2% on gas and 1 % everything else while Preferred Version with $75 annual fees offers 6 % on groceries 3 % on gas. the $6000 tier spending threshold to earn more than 1 % rebate is gone. EIther one is a good one to go with an Amex MR CARD not to mention the small sign on bonus: $100 on everyday card 150 on the other.

  • Anonymous

    I know the signup bonus is relatively weak, but doesn’t the “regular” Amex Mercedes Benz seem pretty solid too? The 2x points at restaurants and 3x points on gas seems pretty solid. Is there another Amex card that gets 2x points on restaurants?

  • Phil

    Based on what i have seen here the “best card” is the one that pays TPG the highest commish!

    Like the 30k Citi Thank You Premier…. which is lower than what you can find easily elsewhere on FT, Milepoint, other bloggers who don’t hide offers they don’t get paid on…..

  • Rob

    The AmEx Zync with the Restaurant pack, which when you have a Gold or Platinum card, accrues Membership Rewards points.

  • Rob

    Unfortunately, that card is fixed value (cash back), as TPG has pointed out, that’s great for domestic economy flights, but won’t get you far for Business and International flights.

  • Anonymous

    Actually a lot of the links in the post are ones that I don’t get paid for. As for 50k Premier- that offer is expired per Citi, but I added the link and recommended people take screen shots if they do decide to apply.

  • Anonymous

    I’d search your email- Priority Club often emails out targeted 80,000 point offers for the card. As for 60,000- that’s pretty standard- if the link above doesn’t populate- just google 60,000 point Priority Club offer.

  • Ann_l78

    He asked for a low annual fee and you recommend one that costs $175 a year?!

  • Anonymous

    It’s $0 for the first year- that’s pretty low to me ;-). You can always switch to the green card to get the fee down

  • Jamima9872

    Yes, I just love these weekly credit card posts that are all the same for this guy to get his commission. How many more of these posts do we need? Useless. Isn’t this what your “credit card” section on top of the page for?

  • Jamima9872

    The ones that you don’t get paid for get a one-line mention. The ones that you do, we get bombarded on their features on a daily basis. Classy.

    Why don’t you fully disclose from which one you do receive commission and don’t?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=558312122 Mike Chung

    I constantly amazed by the comments on here complaining about the advice that TPG posts for his readership. If you have issues with his advice, just don’t come here. Its obviously free and based on his opinion. If you feel that he is biased to only push products he gets a commission for, then don’t come here. Additionally, the information provided is merely his opinion, and in my experience, I’ve verified most of his research myself and its pretty solid, but if you’re intelligent/savvy, you’ll do the same.
    In a world where people have entitlement issues, its a bit ridiculous for people to complain about free advice.

  • PJ

    Amex told me points earned on AMEX BLUE are in no way possible to convert into airlines miles … contrary to my understanding early on per posting here
    “Once you get a Membership Rewards card, your Membership Rewards Express points will automatically turn into regular Membership Rewards points, which means you can transfer them to airlines, like Delta.”

  • Jamima9872

    Spot on, Mike–great disciple of nihilism. You neglected that blogs too should be ethical and responsible to the readers; and this blog has gone downhill over the past year. Per PJ’s post above, this is one of the many irresponsible things this Points Guy has said.

  • Jamima9872

    You need to be reminded that this Points Man has quit his regular job in HR and now fully relies on this blog for income. Let’s not kid ourselves here–he makes money off of his readers; therefore he should be held to the same level of social responsibility as we hold public and private companies. Yet what we see are salesmanship disguised as “advice” and him pushing certain cards without the full disclosure of his commission, which is not a leveled playing field for the best cards that are in the best interests of us–the readers.

  • Benthelefty

    Are you guys being charged to access thus site? I don’t think so. It’s his blog and he can write what he wants. If you don’t like the content don’t read it? Simply come back when he posts on trips or other things.

    it makes no sense to get mad about what he posts…

  • Benthelefty

    You should start your own blog and post good information. Then pay someone–it sounds like you favor the government–to read your blog and establish the ethical value. How ridiculous does tha sound?

    He doesn’t make commission unless you sign up for his cards, so you obviously are consuming a worthwhile product…or he wouldn’t be blogging!

    And what responsibility does he have to you? Public sector
    Employees are automatically funded by tax money; this isn’t nearly the case with Brian. Come on man…

  • Jo

    Brian’s link’s offer is 60K. You just have to look harder once you click to the site. Look at those 1, 2, 3 number.

  • Anonymous

    If you upgrade to a full Membership Rewards card, then those Express points become regular MR points, which are transferable.

  • Anonymous

    I 100% stand by my card recommendations. Honestly, what cards would you recommend to this reader in his situation? I firmly believe the PRG/ Sapphire Preferred is a strong combo.

    Yes, blogging is my full-time job so if you visit this site, you will see referral links and ads and thats not going to change anytime soon. I have several disclosures and I still promote cards that aren’t my referral links if I think they are a good deal.

    As much as I’d love to blog for free every day and not get paid, I got bills to pay!

  • Anonymous

    Jamima9872- credit cards are the top way to earn miles and points, which is the point of this site. If reading about them bothers you, feel free to not visit. :-)

  • Jamima9872

    No, I shouldn’t. By the way, your reply was fraught with faulty logic and disorganized thoughts.

    Neither public nor private companies have anything to do with the public sector. Not sure where you got that reference.

  • Paul W

    Do I have to upgrade my Blue card or can I open a new card and keep the Blue also?

  • Anonymous

    You can keep both and as long as the accounts are linked, all points should become Membership Rewards

  • Pingback: Sunday Reader Question: What Credit Card is Best for a Big Sign-up … | Krispy Hut()

  • AlexHolmes22

    Tpg, you have become a full blown credit card salesman. You used to be my favorite blog.

    My advice to readers who are frustrated at the constant peddling… Read other blogs that are much more balanced like Mommy Points or the Frugal Travel Guy

  • Anonymous

    They are both great blogs! I read them daily.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=558312122 Mike Chung

    How is blog that is essentially one persons opinion be put up to any ethical standard? You may live in a delusional ideal that thinks that blogs must be governed by some esoteric moral standard, but in the same way I have the right to post my opinions on my own blog or Facebook page, TPG has the right to post his opinions, whether or not he may profit from them.
    You neglect the fact that no one is forcing to read this blog, nor is anyone forcing to sign up for his credit card referral links. If you have an issue with them, do you due diligence and find a better deal and put it on your own blog or just don’t visit the site at all.
    We’re all better off when we don’t have people trolling against someones opinion because they believe its fraught with shadiness, without a better option of their own.

  • Stopwhining

    @Jamima

    If you don’t like it, don’t come here. There are plenty of other travel bloggers, but you’ll be hard pressed to find folks that give advice on travel deals without referencing credit cards. The two are almost inextricably tied these days. That’s just reality. People sign up for cards to get points to use on travel.

    Your post above picked at completely irrelevant discrepancies.

    What you’re forgetting is that TPG has every incentive in the world to provide sound advice. If he doesn’t, his readership goes down. That said, it’s still his opinion, and you are completely free to take it or leave it. The vast majority of people that look at this site are here because they enjoy the topic and are trying to enhance their lives through travel. You, on the other hand, are enhancing nothing. You’re entitled to critique, but TPG can’t make his site better if you just b*tch. Give him some constructive feedback if you want to see changes.

  • PJ

    I am 100 % supportive of TPG’s endeavours here; without reading his postings here I would not have raked in 1000K miles and points among my family members not to mention how many friends acted on my advices and applied on TPG’s links. Also I just booked 12 nights on upgraded to be Sheraton hotels at the old reward price Hats to PTG’s SPG upgrade alert.

    TPG reconfirmed points in Amex Blue is transferable to MR once it is upgraded or linked to the Amex GOLD Premier reward or platinum card. I certainly hope those CSRs gave me wrong information ; will certainly verify again with MR csr and /or verify by secure mail

    Many of you are spedning too much energy on wrong causes AMEN

  • Chris

    Just curious why you use the Amex PRG card for airfare compared to purchasing tickets through the Chase web site where you would also get 3 points per $ (2 for travel + 1 bonus for booking through the site)?

  • Anonymous

    I like being able to book directly on airline websites because I can then use my Business account and have hold/24 hour cancellation flexibility. But you have a great point- if you don’t mind booking through Chase, you can get 3x. (It would be 4x if booked through Amex Travel with the PRG). I also like to diversify and accrue both Amex and Chase points, even though I do value Chase points more.

  • PJ

    this is odd: different AMEX CSRs keep on telling me : points on BLUE in no way can be linked to MR program

    The AMex Blue Preferred with $75 annual fees rebates you 6 % on groceries 3 % on gas 1% anything else . it seems no way AMEX can let rebates on BLUE be transfered into MR

  • PJ

    I checked again with amex : no points from Blue can be linked withPlatinum or gold. would love to see YOU ARE RIGHT on your claim saying they are linkable. if they are linkable why bother with any other cards stick with 6 % Grocery ; 3 % gas etc and convert them into MR points.. for merely $75 annual fees i would be there charging all grocery gas purchases 24/7/366

    I care for your website enough to question your posting. glad you corrected me when I mistook Virgin Atlantic club points for Virgin American Elevate

  • Anonymous

    Do you have a regular blue card that is enrolled with membership rewards express? Or is it blue cash?

  • Niko21

    I just got the Chase Sapphire Prefferred card and I already have the Amex Premier Gold Card. I am wondering if I should ditch the Amex card. I typically spend $20-25k so I don’t reach the threshold of the 15k bonus. Any advice?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Perry-Platypus/100003075246852 Perry Platypus

    Just a quick thank you to TPG. Just got my rocking Chase Sapphire in the mail today. I used your refferal page so I hope you get the $$ Next month plan on getting the Bold Ink for my business. Thanks again TPG!

  • Gac

    Credit Cards are how you get points quick you dummy. If you don’t understand that, you are honestly too dumb to be in the points game.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/F7BANDE7JNESVKJIFUFXTVUHA4 Bonds

    And you need to get a job loser.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/F7BANDE7JNESVKJIFUFXTVUHA4 Bonds

    Jamama, just don’t come here, I am also tired of your mindless ranting. You should get a job.

  • Lamboferra

    TPG is referencing to the regular Blue card that earns MR express points, not the cash. If you have the PRG card, the Blue MR express will automatically be linked.

  • AJ

    You are dUMB!

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