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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
I spend a lot of time talking about the top travel credit cards including the Sapphire Preferred and Platinum Amex, but there are a ton of other cards currently in the marketplace that present some great values both in terms of earning and redeeming points and miles for travel. Here are five you should keep your eye on
1. IHG Rewards Club Select Visa (Via FlyerTalk): Although 80,000 IHG points (the sign-up bonus when you spend $1,000 in 3 months) won’t get you as far as 80,000 Hyatt points will, say, that’s still not a number to ignore since it means you can get at least one night in a top-tier property (50,000 points) – or two nights at 40,000 points each plus a $70 co-pay like in the example below – or two nights in a Category 7 hotel (40,000 points).
It also comes with the following perks: One free night every year at any IHG hotel (excluding all-inclusives) and earns 5 points per $1 spent at IHG hotels, 2 points per $1 spent on gas,groceries and dining and 1 point per $1 on everything else. It gives cardholders a 10% points rebate on any redemptions, carries no foreign transaction fees, and awards automatic Platinum status. IHG Platinum status is their highest level of elite status IHG offers, which normally requires 50 nights or 60,000 points per year to achieve. While Priority Club Platinum isn’t as generous as Hyatt Diamond or Starwood Platinum, it still has plenty of decent benefits, including a 50% bonus on base points, complimentary room upgrades, guaranteed room availability 72 hours in advance, priority check-in, and a dedicated Platinum Elite customer service phone number. Not bad for a card with the $49 annual fee waived the first year.
2. Frontier Airlines World MasterCard: Most people seem to forget about this predominantly Western US-based carrier and don’t feel inclined to use miles on it because of its low-cost reputation, but it flies to some sought-after smaller airports where fares are usually expensive that could be worth exploring.
The 40,000 miles you earn by spending $500 in 90 days (and you can earn up to an additional 10,000 with balance transfers) is enough for four one-way awards at 10,000 miles each, which can be especially lucrative on those high-cost short-hauls, and the card also earns double miles on Frontier purchases, one mile per $1 on other purchases, and allows cardholders to redeem for companion tickets at a 5,000 mile discount. This card, and the flights it opens up can be a great option if you need positioning flights from a smaller regional airport to an international hub where you can catch your main award flight to other continents or destinations as well. There is a $69 annual fee that is not waived.
3. Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard: I recently got this card because the bonus went up to an all-time high of 50,000 miles when you spend $5,000 in 3 months, but more importantly, each calendar year when you spend $40,000 on your card you will earn 10,000 AAdvantage elite qualifying miles which makes this card a powerful tool to help me requalify for top-tier Executive Platinum status. It also earns me 2X miles per $1 on American fares, which I purchase a lot as it’s my main airline program, so that brings in quite a few bonus miles, and then there are other money-saving benefits including 25% off in-flight purchases, and no foreign transaction fees. It does come with Admirals Club membership (hence the $450 annual fee), which will really be handy once the Platinum Amex partnership with American/US Airways ends in March.
While $40,000 might seem like a lot of spending for just 10,000 miles, those 10,000 miles to me might mean the difference between requalifying or not for top-tier American AAdvantage Executive Platinum status, which comes with a ton of perks including unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades (no more banking on 500-mile upgrade requests), 8 annual EVIP systemwide upgrades on any published paid fare – which can equate to thousands of dollars per flight in value – a 100% elite mileage bonus (Platinums get this as well), waived fees on ticketing and award mileage reinstatement.
4. British Airways Visa Signature Card: I have talked about this card a lot in the past when the sign-up bonus has gone up to 100,000 Avios, but haven’t been giving it much love lately because the bonus is just 50,000 Avios when you spend $3,000 in 3 months, but that can still be worth it and a great value proposition for a lot of folks. Especially because the 100,000 bonus is usually contingent on spending $20,000 in a year, which is out of some people’s reach.
- One of the great reasons I keep this card around is that when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year and receive a Travel Together Ticket good for two years that equates to getting two award tickets for the price of one, no matter which class of travel you book (hello 2 first class award seats!). The card also earns 2.5 Avios per $1 on BA fares and 1.25 points per $1 on everything else, which puts its earning potential higher than a lot of other cards out there. The one other benefit I focus on, however, is the 10% discount it offers cardholders on British Airways tickets – and that 10% isn’t just off the fare, it’s off the taxes and fees, too, which can mean huge savings.
Plus, you can redeem Avios for some very high-value awards thanks to the program’s distance-based formula, including expensive short-hauls like New York – Montreal, or flying from the West Coast to Hawaii for 10,000 miles less than using American miles.
For ideas on how to maximize British Airways Avios, check out my series. Posts include: Distance-Based Awards; Household Accounts; Using Avios to Upgrade Paid Tickets; The Avios and Cash Option; Save Money on Fuel Surcharges by Transferring British Airways Avios to Iberia; Using Avios For Non-Flight Redemptions; Using Avios to Book Domestic First Class FlightsDirect Flights, London Stopovers and UK Destinations; How to Redeem British Airways Avios Without Huge Fees; Using British Airways Avios on Aer Lingus to Avoid Huge Fees.
5. Amex Premier Rewards Gold (CardMatch Offer): I do talk about this card a lot, but I’ve been ignoring it a bit lately because it currently only comes with a sign-up bonus of 25,000 points when you spend $2,000 in 3 months, many people have reported that by going through the Card Match tool, which allows you to see if you have any special offers targeted towards you, that they are being offered a much higher bonus of 50,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $1,000 in 3 months with the $175 annual fee waived the first year. This offer below was available for several of my friends and family members as of January 15, 2014:
Beyond the sign-up bonus, though, it has a few other valuable benefits that make it one of the cards I use the most. First, it has some lucrative category spending bonuses including 3X points per $1 on airfare (4X if you book through Amex travel), and 2X on gas and groceries – those are three major spending categories in any household (and airfare is especially a big one for me for obvious reasons) so racking up bonus points happens fast. Not only that, but when you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year, Amex gives you a 15,000-point bonus, essentially giving you a 50% bonus on your spending. One other benefit I enjoy? Cardholders receive a $75 hotel credit and room upgrade at check-in when you book a minimum 2-night consecutive stay with the Gold Hotel Collection.
For more information on these cards and Amex Membership Rewards, check out these posts:
The Ultimate Guide to American Express Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners
Analyzing Amex Membership Rewards Star Alliance Transfer Partners
Top 10 Lesser Known Amex Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners