Travel Tuesday Top 10: Best Credit Cards for Travelers

by on May 1, 2012 · 63 comments

in Alaska, American Express, Bank of America, British Airways, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Credit Cards, Hyatt, Starwood, Top 10, United

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: Platinum Card from American ExpressCapital One Venture Rewards Card 

1. Starwood American Express: This is one of the best points-earning cards out there, especially because Starpoints can be so valuable thanks to great redemption options including Cash & Points at the over 1,000 Starwood properties all over the world. Members can also transfer your points into miles on over 30 different airlines at 1:1 ratio, including Aeroplan, American, Alaska, ANA, American, Asia Miles, British Airways, Delta, Flying Blue, Emirates, Hawaiian, Singapore, US Airways and Virgin Atlantic, along with a 25% bonus for very 20,000 points you transfer, essentially a 25% bonus if you plan your transfers correctly. Just having this card gets you 2 stays’/5 nights’ credit towards elite status, and you earn at least 2 points per dollar on spend at Starwood. The $65 annual fee is waived the first year, though there are foreign transaction fees. Current sign-up bonus is 25,000 points. 2. British Airways VisaUpdate: The current offer for the British Airways Visa is 50,000 Avios with $2,000 spend in the first 3 months. In addition to the current bonus of 100,000 Avios (50,000 with first purchase, 25,000 after you spend $10,000 within a year of account opening and 25,000 more when you spend an additional $10,000 within a year of account opening), this card has several other features that make it a great one for travelers including: no foreign transaction fees, SmartChip technology making it easier to make purchases abroad, super valuable companion tickets with $30,000 in spend and the fact that you earn 1.25 Avios per dollar spent rather than just 1 (and 2.5 on British Airways purchases). Major downside? Big fees on most award tickets to Europe and Australia, though huge value can be had through other redemptions.

Use your 100,000 Avios on British Airways flights for upgrades (and its partners for awards with lower fees).

3. Chase Sapphire Preferred: The current sign-up bonus is down to 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points, this still has to be one of my all-time favorite credit cards for a few reasons: the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, there are no foreign transaction fees, you earn 2x points on dining and travel (which includes all kinds of various expenses), a 7% annual dividend on all the points you earn including the sign-up bonus, and a growing roster of transfer partners including United (Star Alliance), British Airways (Oneworld), Korean Air (SkyTeam), Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club (Intercontinental, Holiday Inn) and Amtrak.

4. American Express Premier Rewards Gold: In my opinion this is the best Amex card. It earns triple points on airfare, double points on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, double points at U.S. stand-alone supermarkets, and single points on other purchases. There are foreign transaction fees, so I never use it abroad or for purchases from foreign companies. You also get 15,000 bonus points for spending $30,000 per calendar year. I like my Amex points because Amex runs transfer bonuses, like the current 50% to British Airways.

5. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: While the 100,000-point sign-up bonus is gone for now and it’s down to 20,000 points after $2,000 in the first 3 months, this is still a very solid card for consumers who don’t care about redeeming for premium rewards, but prefer the flexibility to book any flight, hotel or cruise anytime (and still earn elite status on those bookings), or to use the 2 points per dollar spent to take a small chunk out of their statement payments (it’s essentially 2% back when you redeem for travel). The card’s $59 annual fee is waived for the first year, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

6. United MileagePlus Explorer: Though the public offer for this card is just 40,000 MileagePlus miles, people have reporting up to 65,000 point sign-up bonuses when you log-in to your account. In addition to the bonus miles, which I value highly, this card comes with perks for United flyers who might not have elite status, such as a free checked bag for the cardholder and one companion, priority check-in, screening and boarding, 2 passes to the United VIP Club every year of cardmembership, and 2 miles per $1 spent on United.

Use your two free nights with the Chase Hyatt Visa at any Hyatt in the world, including the luxurious Park Hyatt Paris Vendome.

7. Chase Hyatt Visa: This one gives new cardmembers 2 free nights in any Hyatt property in the world after $1,000 spend within 3 months, including those luxury Park Hyatts I love, just for signing up and making a purchase, no minimum spend required. In addition, Platinum members of Gold Passport  who get this card get 2 suite upgrade certificates which can be used on paid stays and Diamond members get their two free nights in a suite. Every year thereafter, cardmembers get a free night in a Category 1-4 hotel, which makes up for the $75 annual fee. It also doesn’t carry foreign transaction fees and has SmartChip technology, making it a good choice for spending money abroad. 8. American Express Mercedes-Benz Platinum: 50,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first three months. 50,000 Membership Rewards points alone are worth over $3,000 to me, which makes the $475 annual fee palatable, and this card comes with the same perks as the Platinum Amex, such as $200 a year in airline rebates (including gift cards), free Global Entry/Nexus, Starwood Gold status, car rental benefits and elite status and a bunch of other benefits. Plus, you get access to American, Delta, US Airways and Priority Pass Select lounges. It also has Mercedes benefits such as a $1,000 credit toward the future purchase or lease of a Mercedes-Benz, up to 2,000 excess miles waived at the end of a lease, $100 toward MB merchandise, and 5x points on Mercedes-Benz purchases. 9. Citi ThankYou Premier: 50,000 point bonus after spending $2,500 within 3 months–no annual fee for the first year. While these points cannot be transferred to hotels or airlines, they can be used to book airfare at 1.33 cents a point, so getting this card will mean you can get $665 in airfare. The great thing about tickets booked with ThankYou points is that they accrue miles and elite status. $665 for a single credit inquiry? Not too shabby! 10. Bank of America Alaska Visa: Though the sign-up bonus is just 25,000 Mileage Plan miles, you can actually churn (get the bonus multiple times) this card fairly easily, racking up those miles again and again to use on Alaska’s vast slate of partners including both American and Delta. Members earn 3 miles per dollar spent on Alaska, and an annual Companion ticket and the potential for some very lucrative miles bonuses on purchased fares. It does carry a $75 annual fee.

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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  • Rebecca D.

    Great overview Brian! Question: You say, “In addition, Platinum and Diamond members of Gold Passport who get this card get 2 suite upgrade certificates which they can combine with their free nights.” I was under the impression that you CANNOT use the 2 free suite upgrades with the 2 free nights because the suite upgrades can only be used on paid stays. I’d love to be wrong though. Can you confirm?

  • Guest

    You forgot the 15% off flights through Spirit Incentives for the Thank You Premier – more than makes up for the annual fee (esp. if you’re in a hub).

  • Michael W Travels

    What are your thoughts on the new benefits offered by the Citi AA cards and how do you feel they stack up against cards on this list?

  • thepointsguy

    Sorry copy had gotten mixed up- the Platinum suite certificates are only on paid stays and the Diamond suites are the two award nights. Sorry for the confusion!

  • Rebecca D.

    Thanks for clarifying. I’m bummed though since I’d love to use the 2 free nights AND 2 suite upgrades on my 2 nights in Hong Kong in January. Which is better for a first time visitor to Hong Kong (using the 2 free night I have from the card), the Grand Hyatt or the Hyatt Regency in Kowloon? Or is it really worth it to pay for the stay and use the suite upgrades then?

  • HighlandsDenver

    Isn’t this the exact same information on both your ‘Top Deals’ tab, ‘Credit Cards’ tab, and the posts you always write? While this info is being regurgitated, frequentmiler came up with an innovative idea.

    I complain because you used to be my favorite blogger! What happened with the quality of content?

  • Lantean

    I’d say that unless you own a Mercedes, Morgan Stanley Amex platinum is better, just because it is cheaper…

  • Marianag

    If husband and wife apply for the Hyatt Visa, can the 2 free nights for each be used consecutively in the same hotel (to get 4 free nights?). Thanks.

  • SF

    I had not realized that Amex travel existed and gives you an additional point for airfares. Has Chase something similar, like Ultimate travel to buy tickets (not using your points)?

  • thepointsguy

    I’ve never written a top 10 best credit card post before and this is just one of 4 post scheduled for today. Appreciate the feedback, but there is plenty of other posts to read if this one doesn’t interest you

  • thepointsguy

    Yep- you can book through Ultimate rewards for an extra 2 points through vendors like Travelocity

  • thepointsguy


  • thepointsguy

    Yea, but you need to have a Morgan Stanley brokerage account to get that one, which is a dealbreaker for most people

  • thepointsguy

    New Citi AA benefits are decent, but I still don’t think those cards are industry leading- especially since the sign-up bonuses are so lackluster

  • Grant

    Do you have a link to the 30,000 points sign-up bonus for the Starwood credit card offer? All I see is that 10,000 point bonus available.

  • thepointsguy

    Right now the bonus is 25k, but in August they usually run a 30k promo. If you only see 10k, its because you are logged into your Amex account and they don’t offer existing cardholders the best offers when logged in.

    To get the 25k use a new browser
    “Earn up to 25,000 Starpoints

    Receive 10,000 Starpoints after your first purchase and an additional 15,000 Starpoints when you spend $5,000 in 6 months 3,4- enough for two free nights at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco, the W Boston or any other category 5 hotel.5 “

  • Kathy

    I signed up for the United Explorer card thinking I was going to get the 50,000 miles promised on the link on the United website when I was looking for flights to TBEX. When I got the card and activated it the customer service rep said I only got 25,000 miles. She said that the add was for “up to” 50,000 miles! I complained and she said she would put in a request for the extra miles and that I would get an email or snail mail reply in 7 to 10 days. We’ll see how it goes.

  • Rogo57

    Is there a bonus for the Starwood American Express Business Card?
    I use the personal one for my business but would gladly try for a new card if there is a bonus.

  • thepointsguy

    Yep- 25,000 points

    “Get up to 25,000 Starpoints®– receive 10,000 Starpoints® after your first purchase, and get an additional 15,000 bonus Starpoints when you spend $5,000 in 6 months”

  • Rogo57

    Thank you. Do you think this is a good offer? I am seriously thinking of doing this to bump up my starpoints balance.

  • PTB26

    I did not realize that when booking a flight through AMEX’s site you can earn 4times the points. How to you ensure that is properly credited?

  • thepointsguy

    Its only when you book airfare with the Premier Rewards Gold card (

    Just make sure Amex travel’s price is the same to what you could get elsewhere- sometimes it makes more sense to forego that extra point for a better price or booking via another Amex vendor like Travelocity to get 2x additional points.

  • Mike Clemson

    Is there a “two browser trick” available for the Citi ThankYou Premier card as well, or have I mixed up what I’ve read on the internet? Are there two versions available of the Citi ThankYou Premier?

  • whendoublewidesfly

    I’m actually surprised not to see the Platinum MR AMEX on here

  • Bobbi Shaftoe

    I also was surprised to learn about the 25k award when I called to activate the card. The CSR was very nice and asked me if I remembered where I applied for the card (mail, website) and whether I had an invitation code. Fortunately, thanks to advice on this and other blogs, I had taken a screen shot of the website and was able to provide her the url. I’ll be getting my miles.

  • Hc

    Can you explain how 50,000 membership rewards points are worth $1000? I don’ t see it. Is there some really good redemption option that I’m missing?

  • thepointsguy

    I included the Mercedes Platinum because it has a publicly available 50k sign-up bonus and the same benefits as the regular Plat which only has a 25k sign-up bonus.

  • thepointsguy

    Yea- transferring to airlines can be worth even more than $1,000. For example 50,000 Amex to British Airways with the 50% bonus = 75,000 Avios. That is three roundtrip coach awards on American- so three JFK-Los Angeles roundtrips is easily worth $1,000 (and with fares the way they are, more like $1,500).

    There are a lot of other options as well that can easily get you $1,000+ in value- just depends on the type of travel you value

  • thepointsguy

    I’d use the free nights at Grand Hyatt.. Hong Kong is an easy city to get around.. nice, clean public transit and decently priced cabs

    As for suite- it just depends if you really value the space or not and what kind of rate you can get

  • OverandOut

    Have to agree with Highlands….this blog used to be my favorite but the content has been WAY down in the past few months. I think the downward spiral started when you kept complaining about first class seats and four star hotels.

  • thepointsguy

    Which first class seat did I complain about? I’ve only flown Cathay First recently and absolutely loved it!

  • Mike

    If this is your full time job now, like you frequently discuss, take the constructive criticism rather than defending yourself.

  • Dave Op

    I don’t agree that content quality nor quantity has changed at all recently. I think it has improved if any. When a blog just starts out, the very best deals/ideas are noted. Overtime, the low hanging fruits will be all gone. That is life and the natural progression. Next to the forum website, I have thepointsguy as my next bookmark. That says something.

    PS. I am not connected to Brian in anyway other than a reader here.

  • thepointsguy

    There is a Premier and Preferred, but I havent done the two browser trick with those products (only the AA Visa/MC which worked beautifully)

  • Pingback: Travel Tuesday Top 10: Best Credit Cards for Travelers | The Points … | Krispy Hut()

  • Andy Pahwa

    What is the “two browser trick”?

  • PTB26


  • Tt

    was this question asked rhetorically?

    TPG does this “full time” now. more mentions = more hit rates = more referral fees = more income.

    while i may or may not like it (still undecided), i certainly understand the motivation.

  • Tt

    obviously Grand Hyatt are more luxo than Regency…. that said, both Regency in HK (TST and Sha Tin) are fantastic properties with great views………

  • William

    Would it be worth it if I apply for the MB platinum and cancel my regular platinum now that one year is almost up? Thanks.

  • Grant Thomas

    Thank you for the suggestion. I used IE to enroll and the bonus was good, but I got the dreaded “Your application is pending further review”

    Thank you for applying for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card. Your application has been received and will be processed as soon as possible and we will notify you of the decision by mail within 14 days. Thank you for applying.

    Is there a number for their reconcieration line to convince them to give me the card?

  • Scobro99

    Sorry if this is a dumb question but British Airways Avios points can be used on American Airlines domestic flights which appears from what you said to be about $25,000 miles for a domestic this correct ? Thank you and I love your blog. Ignore the naysayers/ You provide very valuable information and I read the blog every single day.

  • PJ

    honorable mention:discover card; which has 5 % rebate on quarterly rotating categories and more and no foreign exchange fees the card is gaining popularity in SA countries I just visited: Brazil ARGENTINA and shomehow does not go well in CHile while so many resutaurant take Diner International ( Discover affiliated card) cool to get 5 % off to be ahead of Sapphire Preferred.

  • Michael W Travels

    I wonder if the new benefits had any impact on decreasing the bonus .
    I’d rather have the big upfront bonus! Last year I did very well with Citi AA cards- I got 4 with 75K bonuses. I got a 50K Citi AA biz card about a month ago.

  • Paul

    I always fly American (live in Dallas) and I have an Amex corporate card. I don’t want another Amex because so many places don’t accept Amex outside the US. What card would you recommend?

  • Jeremy

    I just applied for this United card last month (end of March). I was credited the 50K miles on April 24. It took less than 4 weeks to credit to my United account. I didn’t have any trouble, but I took a screenshot of the deal when I signed up online (just in case). Good luck to both of you!

  • Alex

    I personally appreciate the review of the current card offers-it is sometimes a little difficult to remember all of this and keep it straight. And, whether Brian is paid, volunteer, or otherwise-this is a valuable product-useful and current information. I can’t be anything but grateful for that. This blog has saved me thousands of dollars! So, you have my thanks. Keep up the good work!

  • Larry

    Thanks for a very good walk through. I might add that the United card covers primary automobile insurance when renting….a very good benefit indeed.

  • Ruthlevi

    does the chase sapphire 2x dining points include foreign restaurants? thanks…love the blog!!

  • Debt Free

    the first two are the best , hands down. Your list pretty much covers everything. I have my eyes on th CIti Prestige, but looks like it does nt really have much to offer for its annual fee

  • thepointsguy

    They certainly do!

  • Scotti Mac

    Like he said above, the Chase Sapphire Preffered card has no foreign transaction fee’s and you get double points on all travel.

  • bf

    My wife and I each obtained a Citi TY Premier Visa and a Citi TY Premier MC, each got bonus of 50K TY points, for a total of 200K. We didn’t use any 2 browser trick. For some reason, Citi processed my wife’s single application and approved her for both a Visa and MC with only one credit pull. Me, I got approved only for the Visa and then later applied and was approved for a MC, so 2 credit pulls.

  • PJ

    the Hyatt Visa is there for application with $75 statement credit to offset the initial fees. wonder if Brian can get it linked up with this website so my family and friends can apply

  • PJ

    and the conversion rate is always as sharp as a razor

  • Jeff

    I don’t know
    the points guy from squat. have never met him. however, I love this blog and his comments and how it is organized and I check it once a day at least….maybe more. I have referred him on to others as well. as far as I am concerned, keep up the good work.

  • PJ

    get your friend to do the referral for 5K; I did that for my daughter and days later the sign on bonus was changed to 30K and the referal 10K ; Amex did not want to make good on 30K ( very rare and weird) but did settle for 3K for applicant and 3K more for refereal as goodwill adjustment so altogether we got 36 K for one new SPG card

  • papelet

    Ok, so I applied for the 50k bonus points ThankYou Premier MasterCard, I got a instant approval with this message:
    Citi ThankYou® Premier Visa® Signature Card
    Initial Credit Line: $$$$$
    Annual Fee:$125 for each primary cardmember. However, the annual fee is waived for the first 12 months.
    Purchase APR: 13.99%. This APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate.
    I called the CS # to verify it was actually a MasterCard I applied, CSR confirmed it was a MC with a 22.99% APR?!?!?!? That is way higher than my Sapphire Preferred!
    Me: Why do I get a 22.99 APR when the approval says 13.99%?
    6 CSR, 1 hung up on me!, 3 phones numbers and 5 transfers and nobody was able to tell me what was going on, not even were they able to tell me what kind of MC I’m approved for-standard, world, WE-. They even try to blame it on the link! saying they have different offers depending on the source.
    They CS sucks big time!

    -Anybody knows how to deal with this kind of stuff?
    -Should they honor the 13.99%? I did print it and saved the webpage
    -Or, should I cancel the card and ask them to remove the credit inquire? To me this is very misleading…
    -Report this to the credit bureaus, BBB, etc?

    I know this is very long but I’m kinda frustrated now. Worst Customer Service I’ve dealt with, even CapOne is better lol.

    Thank you for your help!

  • Jeff

    The first question I would ask you is, “why do you even care what the interest rate is?” One should never ever be in this card churning/point hobby if you cannot pay your cards off every month and avoid interest completely. If you pay interest, the bank wins in the end. If you avoid interest, you win and your points are basically free and so is your travel. As a direct answer to your question, do not cancel the card before it is issued. Get the card, get your points. Just use the card in such a way that you do not have to carry a balance and then cancel it after 6 months and after you have used your points in some way. Also, wait and see how the interest actually turns out before you write the BBB, if you are going to do that…..and remember, you might want other cards from Citi in the future and you don’t want to be on a black list somewhere for all time. Good luck.

  • Sean

    Brian… I need to figure out which Chase card to go after for my next round of apps in June. I got the United Explorer and Chase Sapphire Preferred in Jan / Mar. I am deciding between the BA 100k Avios and the Hyatt card (would apply during my 3 month trial of Platinum status for the additional two suite upgrades).

    I travel primarily for leisure, so I’m not loyal to a hotel, but thought the Hyatt could provide some value. Domestically, I’ll travel whomever, but internationall, I’ve tended to go with *A, living in DC. Will be getting the two AA cards soon, so OW will soon be in my plans. With that said, the 100k Avios (50k now and 50k after a year) is also very appealing. Any thoughts on which Chase card I should go for this time? Ideally, I’d do them both, but that would be a little Chase-heavy.

    Was great hearing you speak last weekend at FTU… I wish you could have stayed longer, so sorry to hear that.

  • papelet

    Thanks Jeff is just that I know I deserve a better APR, that’s it lol.

  • bf

    It means you use two web browsers (for example, IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari) to prepare two separate applications for two credit cards (for example, Citi TY Visa and Citi TY MC) on your computer. When you are ready, you send one application (for example, the one for the Citi TY Visa) and then you send the other application (for example, the one for the Citi TY MC). No guarantees, but folks had a lot of success using this method for the Coiti AA Visa and the AA Amex. See Million Mile Secrets for full discussion.

  • RC752

    Starwood Amex fine print indicates that the 25k bonus points are only for first time SPG Amex cardmembers.

    I had a Starwood Amex a few years back.

    Does anyone know if the record of having the same card with Amex previously will “sunset”, such that one can still get the bonus points? Or does the SPG Amex fine print mean what it says?

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