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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – British Airways Visa Signature Card, The Blue for Business Credit Card from American Express

November was a big month in terms of loyalty-program news. Marriott announced plans to acquire Starwood, American Airlines unveiled huge changes to its AAdvantage miles program and amidst more competition, Chase finally raised the sign-up bonus on the Sapphire Preferred back up to 50,000 points.

Marriott's plans to acquire Starwood was just one of the major pieces of points news last month.
Marriott’s plans to acquire Starwood was just one of the major pieces of points news last month.

If anything, these announcements made it clearer than ever how imperative it is to keep up with developments in the world of points and miles, and to make sure you’re maximizing your loyalty programs and the credit cards associated with them. Doing so helps ensure that you have a strong, cohesive award-travel strategy in place and that you’re insulated against any further changes or devaluations.

Since there’s a lot to keep track of, each month I compile a list of what I think are the top travel rewards credit cards to help you make the most of the offers out there. Many of the cards on this list remain consistent from month to month thanks to great benefits and relatively constant bonus opportunities, like those of the Ink Plus Business Card from Chase and the Citi ThankYou Premier cards. However, the list does change and the rankings shift along with the offers. For example, you’ll notice that the Chase Sapphire Preferred tops the list this month due to its higher-than-usual sign-up bonus of 50,000 points; and the British Airways Visa has been on the list for a few months thanks to an opportunity to earn a total of 100,000 bonus Avios — 50,000 Avios after $2,000 spent within the first three months and the ability to earn an additional 50,000 Avios after $20,000 spent within your first year.

This is not a list of every offer on the market. For that, I recommend checking out the TPG Hot Deals page where you’ll find a comprehensive roundup of the best deals currently available, as well as specific hotel and airline credit cards that might interest you. However, if you’re thinking of applying for a credit card now, this list features my top all-around choices of the moment. You can check back each month for updates and the latest and best offers out there.

According to myfico.com, these next two mistakes will impact almost two-thirds of your credit score!
Before you apply for new cards, check your credit score and read the posts below for advice and tips.

Before you get started, take a look at these posts for advice on checking your credit score, applying for new cards and getting approved:

THE SHORT LIST

Here’s the short list of cards, but continue reading below for more details on each of them.

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
2. Ink Plus Business Card from Chase
3. Chase Freedom
4. British Airways Visa
5. Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card from American Express
6. Blue for Business Credit Card from American Express
7. Citi Prestige
8
. The Platinum Card from American Express
9. Citi ThankYou Premier
10. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve

THE DETAILS

Here’s an in-depth look at each of the cards listed above, including their benefits and reasons to apply now.

 The Chase Sapphire Preferred always earns a place on this list thanks to a higher sign-up bonus and its great benefits and points-earning potential.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns the top place on this list thanks to a higher sign-up bonus and its great benefits and points-earning potential.

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
Current Bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points
when you spend $4,000 on the card in the first three months. You’ll earn another 5,000 bonus points when you add an authorized user and make a purchase within the first three months.

Benefits: This card regularly ranks highly on my list of top travel credit cards thanks to 2 points per dollar on travel and dining, no foreign transaction fees, primary auto rental insurance and the ability to transfer points to travel partners, including British Airways, Southwest, United, Hyatt and Marriott.

Annual Fee: $0 Introductory annual fee the first year, then $95.

Reasons to get it: Since it was introduced a few years ago, this has been one of my all-around top travel credit cards. It’s the card I use for most of my purchases thanks to the ability to earn 2 points per dollar on restaurant and travel purchases with no limit. It ranks as the top card this month because Chase raised the sign-up bonus from 40,000 points up to 50,000 points, a 25% increase, and that puts this card squarely back into competition with other offerings like the Citi ThankYou Premier.

However, it’s important to point out that there have been some negative developments to the card in the past year or so as well, including a higher sign-up bonus spending requirement (it increased from $3,000 to $4,000), and the 7% annual points dividend was eliminated last year. As of December 8, you can no longer transfer points to Amtrak, but Ultimate Rewards still has 10 other travel transfer partners. Chase has also said that it will end the First Friday 3x dining bonus in 2016. That’s not a huge bonus-earning opportunity, though, so I don’t count it as a major blow to the card.

This card’s tremendous benefits still far outweigh those negatives, though. Not only is the sign-up bonus back up to 50,000 points, but you can score an extra 5,000 points just for adding an authorized user…for free! The bonus-spending categories are very broad, including restaurants and a range of travel purchases, but the card also offers primary rental car insurance instead of the usual secondary coverage offered by most travel credit cards, and its trip cancellation coverage was raised to $10,000. All that makes it a great choice for travel purchases and to use when you’re on the road, either domestically or abroad.

For more details on the card and why I think it’s worth applying for, check out these 5 reasons to get the Sapphire Preferred now. Then if you do get the card, be sure to check out this post on 5 things to do when you get the Chase Sapphire Preferred to make sure you maximize this card’s outstanding benefits.

Note: If you recently applied for this card when the bonus was still 40,000 points, it’s worth calling Chase or sending them a secure message and asking for the higher bonus.

Beyond that, read these posts for more information on the card and the Ultimate Rewards program:

Chase Ink Plus offer

2. Ink Plus Business Card from Chase
Current Bonus: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

Benefits: Earn 5 points per dollar at office supply stores, on cell phone, land line, internet and cable TV services (on up to $50,000 in spending annually), and 2 points per dollar spent at gas stations and on hotel accommodations (again, on up to $50,000 in spending annually). No foreign transaction fees. Ability to transfer points to 10 travel partners, including United, British Airways, Southwest and Hyatt. Again, note that as of December 8, you can no longer transfer points to Amtrak.

Annual Fee: $95

Reasons to get it: The Ink Plus gets one of the top slots on the list this month again thanks to its higher-than-usual sign-up bonus offer of 60,000 points. That’s 10,000 points more than it normally is and represents a 20% increase. If you’ve been thinking of applying for this card, now is the time since it’s unlikely we’ll see the bonus go up from here.

The one caveat is that you have to pay the first year’s $95 annual fee, whereas with the previous offer of just 50,000 points, you did not. So one way to look at it is that you’re basically paying $95 for an extra 10,000 points. That’s about 0.95 cents per point. However, I value Ultimate Rewards points at 2.1 cent apiece, so I’d still say this is a great opportunity if you’re considering signing up.

Based on the same valuations, I would peg the sign-up bonus at about $1,260 in value. Plus, the card offers 5x and 2x category spending bonuses, which makes it a great option not only for small-business owners, but also for strategic spenders who can take advantage of those categories to rack up the points.

For more information on how you can maximize this card and the Ultimate Rewards points it earns you, check out these posts:

3. Chase Freedom
Current Bonus: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. Earn a $25 bonus after you add your first authorized user and make a purchase within the same three-month period.

Annual Fee: $0

Reasons to get it: It might be a bit of a shocker to see three Chase Ultimate Rewards cards at the top of the list this month, but there are a few good reasons for it. Though the Freedom is ostensibly a cash-back card, if you also have one of the premium Ultimate Rewards cards (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Plus Business Card), you can then combine points and transfer them to any of the program’s 10 travel partners as well (again, not Amtrak as of December 8). The sign-up bonus was raised in mid-November from $100 to $150. Considering the spending requirement to earn that is just $500, the sign-up bonus alone is worth about 30% cash back, while if you add an authorized user (for free), you get another 5% back for a total potential return on spending of 35%!

You can check the whole calendar and register to earn those bonuses at this page. While the Freedom doesn’t have the most lucrative offer in terms of sign-up bonuses, those bonus earning opportunities and the seasonal 10% cash back make the Freedom card a very solid product, and a great card for those looking to get started with points.

For more info on the Chase Freedom card, check out these posts:

4. British Airways Visa Signature Card
Current Bonus: A total of 100,000 Avios. Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios when you spend $10,000 on purchases for a total of 75,000 bonus Avios. You’ll also earn another 25,000 bonus Avios when you spend a total of $20,000 on purchases within your first year for a total of 100,000 bonus Avios.

Benefits: Earn 3 Avios for every dollar spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every dollar spent on all other purchases. 10% off British Airways ticket purchases with CARDOFFERU cardholder code through the end of 2015. No foreign transaction fees. Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa card, you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years.

Annual Fee: $95

Reasons to get it: Though this card ranks fourth place on this list thanks to that high sign-up bonus, there are several caveats to keep in mind before applying. First, you have to spend $20,000 in order to get the full bonus. Second, British Airways’ Avios program underwent a major devaluation in April that brought some huge increases in redemption requirements for most premium-cabin and partner awards. Not only that, but BA also recently announced that its lowest 4,500-Avios awards would be eliminated within the US, meaning awards booked on American Airlines using BA Avios are going to get more expensive as of February 2016. The bonus categories on the British Airways Visa also changed in May. Now you earn more points per dollar spent on BA airfares, but fewer Avios on all other purchases.

However, there are still a lot of good reasons to get the card, including the fact that most economy awards did not increase in price (and some even decreased), and Avios can still offer some pretty good value on short-haul flights (including on BA’s Oneworld partner, American Airlines, within the US, as well as Cathay Pacific flights in Asia and Qantas flights in Australia).

Recently, BA has offered discounted award redemptions of up to 40% off. One of the major reasons you might consider this card now, though, is the fact that British Airways and Amex also decreased the transfer ratio of Membership Rewards to Avios by 20% as of October 1. That makes Membership Rewards points a less attractive option for BA redemptions, but earning Avios (without having to transfer) a much better option for some flyers.

If you purchase flights on the airline, you can get some tremendous value from this card’s 10% discount on BA fares. Plus, the ability to spend your way to a companion award ticket can be worth thousands of dollars if you strategize your awards. There’s also been some great business-class award availability from the west coast to Europe, and some new routes from the US to the UK will be opening up in the coming months.

For more information on how to maximize British Airways Avios, check out these posts:

Use the Starpoints you earn from this card’s sign-up bonus to stay at properties across the globe.

5. Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card from American Express
Current Bonus: Earn 25,000 points when you make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months on the personal card. Earn 25,000 points when you make $5,000 in purchases within the first three months on the business card.

Benefits: Earn 2 Starpoints per dollar on purchases at participating Starwood hotels, in addition to what you’d normally earn through SPG. Earn 2 stays/5 nights of credit toward elite status each year, plus automatic Gold status when you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year. As of August, American Express added a slate of new benefits including no foreign transaction fees, complimentary unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at once and complimentary premium in-room internet access. The business version also comes with more perks as part of the OPEN program, as well as free access to Sheraton Clubs when you book rates that are eligible to earn Starpoints.

Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $95.

Reasons to get it: You might think it strange that these cards are on the list given the recent news that Marriott plans to acquire Starwood and the uncertainty this entails for both hotel chains’ loyalty programs. However, for the moment at least, we’re not going to see many changes to either program. But there’s no way to tell how long that will be the case. So it’s now or never. If you were thinking about getting one of these cards, now would be a good time to do so and to put those points to use before the merger gets underway.

Apart from the great benefits these cards offer on their own, the Starwood Preferred Guest program is unique in that it offers both great hotel redemptions and has more than 30 airline transfer partners. Not only can you transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to many of those partners, but you can also earn a 5,000-mile bonus when you transfer 20,000 points at a time to airline partners, making this card a great option if you need to top up various frequent-flyer accounts. SPG sometimes offers bonuses above and beyond those 5,000 miles, like the recent 20% transfer bonus specifically to American Airlines.

I also consistently rank Starwood points among the most valuable loyalty currencies out there because of the return you can get by redeeming them for hotel stays at SPG properties around the world. Now that the card no longer charges foreign transaction fees, it’s a much better choice for use abroad as well. Though the sign-up bonus sometimes goes up to 30,000 points (instead of the usual 25,000), that offer generally only comes around once a year, and it just ended in September. Plus, we don’t know if this card will be around in another year.

In terms of the business card specifically, if you already have the personal card but are looking for another avenue to earn SPG points, this could be it. Note that the bonus spending requirement on the business card is $5,000 versus $3,000 on the personal card.

For more information, check out these posts:

The Amex Blue for Business is offering a sign-up bonus that's double the usual points.
The Amex Blue for Business is offering a sign-up bonus that’s double the usual points.

6. Blue for Business Credit Card from American Express
Current Bonus: Up to 20,000 points. Get 10,000 Membership Rewards points after making your first purchase on the card in the first three months, plus for a limited time get an additional 10,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on the card within the first six months of card membership. Applications must be received by 07/29/2016.

Benefits: The major benefit of this card is that you earn an annual points bonus of 30%, bringing your earning rate up to 1.3 points per dollar.

Annual Fee: $0

Reasons to get it: This card usually only offers a sign-up bonus of 10,000 points with first purchase, which is still part of this offer, though you also have the opportunity to earn another 10,000 points by hitting that spending requirement. The key is to apply before this limited-time offer ends on January 25, 2016. While the points you earn with this card are called Membership Rewards, they’re actually not the transferable kind. Though if you have a card that earns transferable Membership Rewards points, like the Premier Rewards Gold or the EveryDay Preferred, you can combine the Membership Rewards points from your various accounts and then transfer them to the program’s travel partners.

This card is also part of the OPEN Savings program and gets you access to discounts at several merchants, though Hyatt will no longer be a partner in 2016.

For more information, see these posts:

7. Citi Prestige Card
Current Bonus: 40,000 ThankYou points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months.

Benefits: Earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar on air travel and hotel purchases, 2 points per dollar on dining and entertainment and 1 point per dollar on everything else. $250 air travel credit each year for things like airfare, baggage fees, lounge access and some in-flight purchases. Admirals Club access and Priority Pass Select lounge membership. No foreign transaction fees. $100 Global Entry application fee waiver. Get your fourth night free at hotels with no blackout dates when you book four consecutive nights at any hotel via a personal travel adviser designated by MasterCard. Redeem your points for air travel at a rate of 1.33 cents apiece, or 1.6 cents apiece on American Airlines. Finally, Citi ThankYou Rewards now has 13 transfer partners, including Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Virgin America and Hilton HHonors, among others.

Annual Fee: $450

Reasons to get it: This card has a much higher annual fee than its mid-tier counterpart, the Citi ThankYou Premier, but the Prestige comes with a bevy of high-end benefits that make it potentially much more valuable. The annual $250 air travel credit equates to more than half of the annual fee, and you can even use it on airfare, which sets it apart from competitors. If you take advantage of the other great benefits (such as lounge access, a Global Entry fee waiver, the fourth night free and free rounds of golf), this card is a clear winner. Citi has also made some major improvements to the ThankYou program during the past year; namely it added more than a dozen transfer partners, including, most recently, Virgin America. It has also begun offering transfer bonuses to some of them, including Virgin America and Hilton.

Finally, Citi also recently launched a program called Smart Savings to compete with Amex offers where cardholders are sent targeted offers for discounts and statement credits on purchases at partner merchants. The offers are limited so far, but expect to see more of them as the program expands.

For more information on the Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Rewards, check out these posts:

The Amex Platinum Card has lost some benefits, but new amenities like a growing list of Centurion Lounges keep it on my list of top cards.
The Amex Platinum Card has lost some benefits, but new amenities like a growing list of Centurion Lounges keep it on my list of top cards.

8. Platinum Card from American Express
Current Bonus: 40,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. There are targeted offers through the CardMatch Tool, where you might be eligible for special bonuses like 100,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months, which we saw over the summer.

Benefits: This card comes with an entire laundry list of valuable benefits, including a $200 annual airline rebate, access to Delta and Priority Pass lounges (as well as the Amex Centurion Lounges) and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application rebate (which can be especially useful now that the TSA is ending the managed inclusion program).

Annual Fee: $450

Reasons to get it: Though the annual fee on this card is among the highest on the market, it has several valuable perks that you can learn more about in the posts I’ve linked to below. If you can maximize benefits like the $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status (which is fairly new) and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status, as well as the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credits, this card’s perks can easily be far more valuable than the cost of the annual fee. The Platinum Card did lose some of its lounge benefits last year, but Amex is actively expanding the network of Centurion Lounges throughout the US and beyond, including the recently added lounges in Miami and Seattle, and one is slated for Houston in 2016 — with an additional location possibly opening at LAX.

For more information, check out these posts:

9. Citi ThankYou Premier
Current Bonus: 40,000 ThankYou points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

Benefits: Earn 3 ThankYou Points per dollar spent on travel (including gas), 2 ThankYou Points per dollar spent on dining and entertainment and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Citi ThankYou Rewards also now has 13 transfer partners, including Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Virgin America Elevate and Hilton HHonors, among others. This card charges no foreign transaction fees, and it features EMV chip technology and Citi Price Rewind, which has saved consumers $2 million so far this year according to Citi.

Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $95.

Reasons to get it: There are plenty of reasons to consider the Citi ThankYou Premier, including recent positive changes both to the card and to the ThankYou Rewards program in general. First and foremost is the current sign-up bonus, which was simplified from the old convoluted formula that took over a full year to earn. Citi also dropped the annual fee down from $125 to $95 and waives it for the first year, making it even more competitive with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and EveryDay Preferred from Amex.

However, the biggest benefit in its favor might be the new broader bonus spending categories, which Citi changed earlier this year so that you earn 3 points per dollar on a wide range of travel purchases and 2 points per dollar on dining and entertainment. I applied for this card myself earlier this year and have found it easy to maximize both earning and redeeming with it, so I plan to keep it even after that $95 annual fee is due.

For more information, check out these posts:

The Citi Hilton Reserve card gives two free nights.
The Citi Hilton Reserve card’s sign-up bonus includes two free nights.

10. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve
Current Bonus: Two weekend night certificates after spending $2,500 in the first four months. Each certificate is good for one weekend night (standard room, double occupancy) at most hotels and resorts within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio.

Benefits: Earn 10 HHonors points for every dollar spent on hotel stays within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio, 5 points for every dollar spent on airline and car rental purchases and 3 points for every dollar spent on all other purchases. Receive automatic Hilton HHonors Gold status and earn Diamond status with $40,000 in annual spending. No foreign transaction fees. SmartChip technology. Visa Signature benefits. Cardholders who spend $10,000 annually (starting on your annual fee date) get a free weekend night certificate on the account anniversary.

Annual Fee: $95

Reasons to get it: The free nights, automatic Gold status and the ability to earn Diamond status through spending all make this card a top choice for Hilton HHonors loyalists, but also for folks who can maximize its benefits and use those free weekend nights at high-end properties, since the sign-up bonus alone can be worth thousands of dollars depending on where you redeem those free-night certificates. I do see the status as less of a benefit since Hilton (following Hyatt’s lead) announced it would be offering status matches through March 2017, so there might be a glut of new elites, but it’s still worth something in my book.

Another great benefit: If you spend $10,000 annually, you also get another free weekend night certificate, which can far outweigh the card’s $95 annual fee, depending where you redeem it. Citi sometimes offers a limited-time $100 statement credit for your first Hilton stay within three months of account opening, but that extra incentive isn’t available at the moment. If you aren’t in a rush to apply, you might hold out to see if that offer shows up again, but this is a great card even without it.

For more information, check out these posts:

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
16.49% - 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Balance Transfer Fee
5.00%
Recommended Credit
Excellent Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.