Travel Tuesday Top 10: Current Travel Credit Cards (And 10,000 Chase Point Giveaway)

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

Over the weekend I gave a talk at Frequent Traveler University in Tysons Corner outside Washington, DC called “The Points Guy’s Credit Card Thunderdome.” As you might guess from the title, we had a lot of fun debating the relative merits of the various travel credit cards on the market at the moment and putting them up against one another in a points death match.

It was a packed room at FTU this weekend!
It was a packed room at FTU this weekend!

Before things got too boisterous, I walked attendees through the three types of travel rewards credit card points:
-Transferable
-Co-Branded
-Fixed-Value

The audience voting on their favorite cards.
The audience raising their hands when I asked who had more than 15 credit cards!

Then came the fun part – the Redemption Rally. Three teams of three people each were given a hypothetical 1,000,000 points to maximize in one of the top 3 programs: Ultimate Rewards (Ink and Sapphire) and Starwood Preferred Guest. Then audience voted on which team put together the best redemption. Ultimately they chose the team who put those 1,000,000 points to use with short-haul itineraries using British Airways Avios and Southwest Rapid Rewards points – both travel partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards – flying as many people as possible down to the next FTU in Tampa. The winners were awarded 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points each.

For those of you who were not able to attend FTU, here is my presentation in full, and then you can find details on the top credit card offers below. I’ve talked about a lot of these cards in the past, and I have every card, except the new Barclaycard Arrival and Chase Southwest Premier, but both are on my “to-get” list for future rounds of applications.

Giveaway
The rankings I came up with are based not only on the value of the sign-up bonus of each (which I explain below), but also on their various other perks such as the limited nature of some bonuses, bonus spending categories, other perks like lounge access or no foreign transaction fees and more. However, the value of these points is subjective and everyone will value them differently based on the redemptions they would like. So since value is in the eye of the redeemer, I’m asking everyone to comment on this post with their all around favorite travel credit card. On Friday I’ll pick a commenter at random to give 10,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to be transferred to your preferred transfer partner (United, British Airways, Southwest, Korean, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Priority Club or Amtrak) – so even if you missed FTU, you won’t miss out on a juicy prize! One entry per person.

My Credit Card Presentation for those interested:

Top Travel Credit Cards:

1. Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
Type: Business
Current Bonus: 25,000 points when you spend $5,000 in 3 months
Category Spending Bonuses: 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines, 2x points on purchases in the U.S. for advertising in select media, gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, and shipping, 1x points on other purchases.
Perks: use Pay With Points to book flights, cruises, hotels and vacations packages with no seat restrictions or blackout dates on americanexpress.com/travel
Transfer Partners: Aeromexico, Aeroplan (Air Canada), Alitalia, ANA, Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific), British Airways, Delta, El Al, Air France KLM, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic; Best Western, Choice Privileges, Hilton HHonors, Starwood
Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $175.
Value: I value Amex MR at 1.8 cents a piece, so 25,000 points = $450.
Offer Expiration: None, though targeted and one-day bonuses have hit 75,000 points, so it might be worth waiting to get in on one of those.

2. Ink Bold and Ink Plus
Type:
Business
Sign-up bonus:
50,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $5,000 in 3 months
Category Spending Bonuses:
5x points on up to $50,000 at office supplies/cell phone/internet/landline/TV; 2x on up to $50,000 at gas stations and hotels
Card Perks:
1.25 cents per point when redeeming for airfare, hotel, car rentals and cruises with pay-with points; no foreign transaction fees, 2 lounge passes per year; Ultimate Rewards shopping portal offers lucrative spending bonuses.
Transfer Partners:
British Airways, United, Southwest, Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club, Amtrak.
Annual Fee:
 $0 first year then $95
Value:
I personally value my Ultimate Rewards points at around 2 cents per point, so just the bonus alone would be worth around $1,000.
Expiration:
None from my understanding, no short term changes planned to this offer.

3. Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum Card
Type: Personal Charge Card
Current Bonus: 50,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months (this was recently increased from spending $1,000 in 3 months)
Category Spending Bonuses: 5x points on eligible Mercedes-Benz purchases, 1x points on other purchases
Perks: Airport club access including; Delta Skyclub and US Airways Club, no foreign transaction fees, $200 annual airline credit, Global Entry $100 statement credit, Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits, Priority Pass Select Membership for lounge access, automatic Starwood Gold Status, Premium Companion Ticket, $1,000 reward certificate towards the future purchase or lease of a new Mercedes-Benz and $100 towards Mercedes-Benz accessories.
Transfer Partners: Aeromexico, Aeroplan (Air Canada), Alitalia, ANA, Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific), British Airways, Delta, El Al, Air France KLM, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic; Best Western, Choice Privileges, Hilton HHonors, Starwood
Annual Fee: $475
Value: I value Amex MR at 1.8 cents a piece, so 50,000 points = $900. I’d value lounge access at $300 plus $200 in airline credit, $100 Global Entry rebate, $75 for Starwood Gold and $100 a year in FHR benefits for a rough total of $1,675 – $475 annual fee = $1,200, though that annual fee might be a big consideration for you.
Offer Expiration: None for the time being- it has been 50,000 since the card launched last year.

4. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Type:
Personal
Sign-up bonus:
40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in 3 months
Spending Bonuses:
2 points per $1 on travel (flights, hotels, car rentals, subway, parking, taxis, etc.) and restaurants (basically any food establishment and catering) with no maximum caps
Card Perks:
1.25 cents per point when redeeming with pay-with-points for airfare, hotel, car rentals and cruises; 7% annual points dividend even on points already redeemed; no foreign transaction fees; extra earning potential through the Ultimate Rewards earning mall; Ultimate Rewards Exclusives experience redemptions
Transfer Partners:
British Airways, United, Southwest, Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club, Amtrak.
Annual Fee:
$95, waived the first year
Value:
The 40,000 bonus points you’d earn meeting the minimum spending requirement plus the bonus are worth a minimum of $500 when redeemed for travel with pay with points. However, I’d put Hyatt and United redemptions at 2 cents per point, so you’re looking at $800 at least, and if you spend a lot of money on travel and dining, like I do, the 2.14 points per $1 total earning on those (including the 7% annual benefit) puts your earning potential even higher.
Expiration:
No expiration, but it used to be 50,000 points, so if it does change I hope it increases, but I don’t think that will happen anytime soon.

5. Barclaycard Arrival
Type:
Personal
Current Bonus: 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 in 90 days.
Category Spending Bonuses: 2x points on all purchases
Perks: 10% miles refund on redemptions; no foreign transaction fees; free year-long TripIt Pro membership World Mastercard benefits.
Annual Fee: $0 first year then $89
Value: Because of that 10% miles refund, your bonus miles are worth about $480.
Offer Expiration: None stated, but until recently the card only offered a 20,000-mile bonus, so if you have been thinking about this card, now is the time to apply.

6. British Airways Visa
Type:
Personal
Sign-up Ponus:
50,000 Avios after $1,000 in spend in 3 months.
Spending Bonuses:
1.25 Avios per $1 on all purchases, 2.5 Avios per $1 on all British Airways purchases
Card Perks:
“Travel Together” companion ticket with $30,000 spend per calendar year; 10% discount on British Airways purchases; Chip & Signature technology; no foreign transaction fees.
Transfer Partners:
Can’t transfer your points to other programs, but can redeem them on BA’s Oneworld partners like American, Cathay Pacific and Qantas, as well as non-alliance partners such as Aer Lingus and Alaska
Annual Fee:
$95
Value:
There are no fixed-value redemptions, so there really is a huge range here, though I conservatively value those redemptions at about 1.5 cents per Avios, so you’re getting $750 from the sign-up bonus.
Expiration:
None

Update: This offer is no longer available. View the current offer for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card here.

7. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa
Type:
Personal
Sign-up Bonus: 50,000 points when you spend $2,000 in 3 months
Spending Bonuses: 2 points per $1 on Southwest and AirTran, 1 point per $1 on everything else
Card Perks: Sign-up bonus points count toward Companion Pass qualification
Annual Fee: $99 not waived
Value: At most you’ll get 1.8 cents per point in Wanna Get Away fares. So 50,000 points is $900. The Companion Pass is difficult to value, but conservatively I’d say it’s worth at least $1,000 per year, and if you can snag the Companion Pass in January, it will essentially be good for 2 years until the end of 2015.
Expiration: None noted, though this card is outside the affiliate networks so it might disappear at any time.

8. Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express
Type: Personal & Business
Current Bonus: Up to 25,000 Starpoints – 10,000 with first purchase and another 15,000 with $5,000 spend in the first 6 months of Cardmembership
Category Spending Bonuses: 2x points on Starwood purchases, 1x on other purchases.
Perks: Get 5,000 bonus Starpoints when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to a frequent flyer program with more than 30 airlines; 2 stays/5 nights credit toward elite status qualification.
Transfer Partners: 30 airlines
Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65
Value: I value Starpoints at 2.1 cents each, so 25,000 = $525, the 2 stay/5 night elite qualification is easily worth $100 for a value of $625
Offer Expiration: None, though hopefully the bonus will go back up to 30,000 points at some point in 2013.

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Signature
Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Signature

9. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Signature
Type: Personal
Sign-Up Bonus: Two weekend night certificates, each good for one weekend night (standard room, double occupancy) at most hotels and resorts within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio, after $2,500 in eligible purchases within the first 4 months.
Category Spending Bonuses: 10 points for every $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio; 5 points for every $1 spent on airline and car rental purchases; 3 points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
Card Perks: Automatic Hilton HHonors Gold status; Diamond status with $40,000 annual spend; no foreign transaction fees, SmartChip technology; Visa Signature benefits; cardholders who spend $10,000 annually get an anniversary free weekend-night certificate as well that can be used at any property; GLON discount award redemption rates
Annual Fee: $95
Value: Those two free weekend nights are good at any Hilton property in the world (except the exclusions list) including top-tier Waldorf Astorias. You could be getting easily $400 per night out of them for $800 total just from the sign-up bonus.
Expiration of Offer: None

10. Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature and Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa Signature
Type: Personal & Business
Current Bonus: 85,000 bonus points – 50,000 upon first purchase, additional 35,000 when you spend $2,500 in 90 days.
Category Spending Bonuses: 10 points per $1 at Carlson Rezidor hotels, 5 points per $1 on other purchases.
Perks: When you redeem Gold Points for 2 or more consecutive Award Nights, your last night is free; 40,000 renewal bonus points each year; automatic Gold Elite Status; existing elite members get 10 qualifying nights toward obtaining or maintaining elite status; Visa Signature benefits.
Annual Fee: $75 on the personal; $60 on the business.
Value: A top Radisson Blu free night is 50,000 points, so I’d peg their value at about .5 cents apiece since it isn’t hard for those free nights to be worth $250. That would make the 85,000 point sign-up bonus worth $425. However, since the second award night is free on two-night stays, I’d put the value closer to $500 (2 nights at $250 per night), even with the annual fee.
Offer Expiration: None.

Maximize your rewards, points and cash back. Get a Personalized Recommendation Now