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

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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.

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