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7 Rewards Credit Cards You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

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Today TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele looks at some less common travel rewards credit cards to see what kind of value they offer.

Would you rather drive an Alpha Romeo than a Honda, or drink craft microbrews over Budweiser? Then perhaps you might also be interested in trying out a rewards credit card that isn’t among the more popular, heavily marketed, or celebrity-endorsed products out there.

In fact, there are some relatively obscure credit cards offered by major banks and credit unions that still earn surprisingly valuable rewards. So today, I want to skip past the big name cards that most of us have in our wallets, and detail seven less conventional products out there that you can use to maximize your rewards.

1. LANPass Visa Signature Card from U.S. Bank

LAN is the largest carrier in South America, and it’s in the process of merging with the Brazilian carrier TAM. This card mostly offers the standard features one might expect: 20,000 bonus miles (kilometers actually) after your first charge, double miles on LAN/TAM purchases, and one mile per Dollar spent elsewhere.

But it also offers a few incredibly valuable perks for anyone who flies LAN. First, you get an annual discount of 20% off of a single LAN or TAM purchase, up to $1,000 per year. In addition, cardholders receive a 25% bonus on miles earned through airline travel on LAN or TAM, which can add up on long trips to South America.

Best of all, you automatically receive three LAN upgrade coupons in your first year, and three more each calendar year when you use your card to spend at least $15,000. Only one upgrade coupon is necessary for flights within South America, but you’ll need two or three each way for flights from North America to South America, depending on the destination country. You can read the details here.

This is a pretty good amenity, especially considering the full lie-flat seats that LAN has on its business class product, many of which are now offered on Boeing 787 Dreamliners. There is a $95 annual fee for this card that is waived for the first year, so think of it as a free way to enjoy a 20% discount on your flight to South America, plus a free business class upgrade, at least one-way. And since LAN is a transfer partner of the Starwood Preferred Guest program, you can use your Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express to top off your account.

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U.S. Bank offers several co-branded cards from South American carrier (and Oneworld partner) LAN Airlines.

2. LANPass Secured Card from U.S. Bank

There are many Americans who can’t qualify for rewards credit cards due to a damaged credit history, and some who can’t qualify for any credit cards at all, but the LANPass Secured Card from U.S. Bank is the rare card that’s both secured and offers travel rewards.

As a rewards card, it offers 5,000 bonus miles after the first use, one mile per dollar spent, and a 10% discount on a single LAN purchase (up to $500) once each year. No, this isn’t nearly as good as most travel rewards cards, but it’s a good option for anyone who has trouble qualifying for other credit cards.

At the same time, it’s one of the best secured cards offered. Cardholders place a minimum of a $300 refundable deposit, and once you make on-time payments for twelve months, you may be offered a standard, unsecured card. Best of all, the $25 annual fee is waived the first year, which is an incredibly good deal compared to other secured cards.

3. American Express Platinum card for Morgan Stanley

Most award travel enthusiasts are familiar with the vaunted The Platinum Card from American Express, but you might not know that it comes in a few different flavors. One is co-branded with Morgan Stanley, and it happens to offer a few perks beyond the standard Platinum card. New applicants receive 50,000 Membership Rewards points after completing just $1,000 in purchases within the first three months of cardmembership. This is higher than the standard offer of 40,000 bonus points, although it can be lower than the targeted offers some people receive. In either case, the minimum spending requirements for those offers are usually much higher.

In addition, this card offers two big perks that are missing from the standard Platinum card. First, you can obtain a single additional card for no additional annual fee (Platinum cardmembers are normally charged $175 for up to three additional cards). Second, you can receive an “Anniversary Spend Award” of $500 from Morgan Stanley each year you make $100,000 in purchases on your card (based on the cardmember year, not the calendar).

Like the standard Platinum card, the annual fee for the Morgan Stanley Amex Platinum card is $450, but if you’re likely to spend $100,000 on the card over a year, then Amex will effectively be paying you $50 each year to get rewards like Centurion Lounge access, the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, and more.

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Amex Blue for Business comes with a very straightforward 30% annual bonus.

4. Amex Blue for Business

American Express made a big splash with its new Amex Everyday card last year, which allows you to earn Membership Rewards points without paying an annual fee. Amex Everyday cardholders even receive a 20% bonus for using the card at least 20 times within a statement period.

However, The Blue for Business Credit Card from American Express (which has been around for a while) also has no annual fee, earns Membership Rewards points, and offers an annual 30% “Relationship Bonus” regardless of how often you use the card. The catch is that holding this card alone will not enable you to transfer points to airline and hotel partners, although holding any other qualifying Membership Rewards card will (including the no-fee Everyday card).

5. PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express Card

PenFed is the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, one of the nation’s largest credit unions, which was created to provide financial services to members of our armed forces and their families. Today anyone can join, either as a member of one of many military, government, or defense organizations, or by joining a military support charity for a one-time $15 fee.

The PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express Card offers impressive benefits when purchasing airfare. Cardholders receive 5 points per Dollar spent on airfare, and points are now worth about 0.85 cents each toward travel reservations, and 0.83 cents toward available gift cards, which include Amazon.com. That means a return of 4.15- 4.25% for your airfare purchases, which can really add up for heavy business travelers. There’s no annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.

6. NFL Extra Points from Barclaycard

While it doesn’t actually earn travel rewards, this card offers football fans some very compelling rewards, many of which are completely unavailable to non-cardholders at any price. The NFL Extra Points card offers double points on purchases of NFL tickets and merchandise, as well as one point per Dollar spent elsewhere. Points are worth a marginal one cent each as cash back statement credits, but the real neat stuff comes when you redeem points for rewards that are exclusive to your favorite football team.

For example, two regular season game tickets are 25,000 points, and two Super Bowl tickets are 200,000 points. Needless to say, the street value of these rewards can far exceed their face value. Barclaycard and the NFL also offer various experiences such as pre-game sideline access, a trip through the tunnel as players exit the locker room, or a visit to a post-game press conference. There’s no annual fee for this card, which currently offers a sign-up bonus of 10,000 points after new cardholders spend $500 within the first 90 days of account opening.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

7. Asiana Airlines American Express Card from Bank of America

Asiana is a Korean carrier and Star Alliance member, but the airline and its co-branded credit card have a pretty low profile here in America. The current sign-up bonus is for just 10,000 miles after your first purchase, but you boost your earnings with bonus categories: triple miles for Asiana purchases, double mile for gas and grocery purchases, and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere. You also get an annual bonus of 10,000 miles, 2 Asiana Lounge certificates, and a $100 automatic rebate on Asiana ticket purchases.

Asiana has a pretty amazing award chart. For example, round-trip business class awards to Europe from the United States and Canada are a mere 80,000 miles, with international first class award seats offered for only 100,000 miles. Round-trip business class flights to Southern South America are just 70,000 miles, and business class awards to Africa are just 120,000 miles round-trip.

One way awards are permitted for half price, and Asiana also allows two stopovers per award (which the airline calls “transits”) in addition to your final destination. Unfortunately, Asiana does impose fuel surcharges. With a $99 annual fee, this card isn’t a screaming good deal, but if you fly Asiana and its partners regularly, it could be lucrative. While the sign-up bonus isn’t much, Asiana is also a Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner, so you can use Starpoints to top off your account.

The Blue for Business® Credit Card from American Express

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  • Limited Time Offer: 10X points at U.S. restaurants for the first six months, on up to $2,000 in purchases. Offer expires 02/01/2017.
  • 2X points on all qualifying purchases on the first $50,000 for the first year. That's an additional 1 point per dollar spent on purchases.
  • 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after making your first purchase on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get a 30% annual points bonus based on the past year's purchases on your Blue for Business Card.
  • 0.0% introductory APR on purchases for 12 months, then a variable rate, currently 11.49%, 15.49% or 19.49%, based on your creditworthiness as determined at the time of account opening.
  • No Annual Fee
  • Terms & Conditions Apply
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
0% for 12 months 11.49% - 19.49% Variable No annual fee 2.70% Excellent Credit