Top 10 Travel Rewards Credit Card Offers for January 2016

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – British Airways Visa

2015 was a big year in the world of points and miles. We saw the final steps in the merger between American Airlines and US Airways including a total overhaul of the AAdvantage mileage program, devaluations from Aeroplan and British Airways, and a proposed takeover of Starwood by Marriott.

In terms of credit cards, we saw bonuses go as high as 100,000 points or miles on several cards including the Platinum Card from American Express and the British Airways Visa, new and improved benefits on cards like the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Citi ThankYou Premier, including a totally revamped ThankYou Rewards program with a dozen new transfer partners.

Another year means another opportunity to hit calendar-year spending bonuses.

Another year means new opportunities to meet your travel goals.

The news was a mix of good and bad. But the major takeaway was that it’s more imperative than ever 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. By doing so, you’ll have a much stronger, more cohesive award-travel strategy in place, and you’ll be better insulated against any further changes or devaluations.

To that end, each month, I compile a list of the top current travel rewards credit card 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 Card. However, the list does change, and rankings shift as new offers come out. For example, you’ll notice that the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard makes an appearance thanks to its exciting new lounge-access benefit expansion, and the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card also earns a place here thanks to one of its periodic 50,000-point sign-up bonus offers.

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. Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
4. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier
5. Citi ThankYou Premier
6. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express
7. Citi Prestige
8. British Airways Visa
9. Chase Freedom
10. Platinum Card from American Express

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, the Sapphire Preferred 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 — last fall.

However, it’s important to point out that there have been some negative developments with the card in the past year or so as well. The sign-up bonus spending requirement was increased from $3,000 to $4,000, and the 7% annual points dividend was eliminated in 2014. Chase has also said that it will end the First Friday 3x dining bonus in 2016. But that’s not a huge bonus-earning opportunity, so I don’t count it as a major blow to the card. The program also lost Amtrak as a transfer partner in December. However, Ultimate Rewards still has 10 other travel transfer partners that I think more than pick up the slack.

Korean Air is one of Chase Ultimate Rewards' 1:1 transfer partners.
Ultimate Rewards’ great travel transfer partners are one of the reasons the Sapphire Preferred is my top-ranking card.

The way I see it, this card’s tremendous benefits still far outweigh those negatives. 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. The bonus-spending categories are very broad, including restaurants and a range of travel purchases, which makes this a top earner in my book. 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 is higher than its competitors’ at $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.

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.

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’s 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. Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
Current Bonus:
50,000 AAdvantage miles when you spend $5,000 in the first three months.

Benefits: This card’s greatest benefit is probably Admirals Club access, which is why the annual fee is at a premium level. However, the card recently expanded this benefit so that authorized users (of which you can add up to 10 per card account) also get lounge access, greatly increasing its value proposition. It also offers a credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application, which equals another $100 in value. Apart from that, cardholders earn 2x miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, and can earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles for spending $40,000 on the card each calendar year, which can be a nice shortcut to earning elite status. Cardholders also get priority boarding, 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases, first checked bag free and concierge service, and the card comes with embedded Smart Chip technology.

Annual Fee: $450

Reasons to get it: While the sign-up bonus on this card has been as high as 100,000 miles in the past, you had to spend $10,000 in three months to get there, so this spending-bonus equation might be more in your wheelhouse. The expanded lounge benefits are a great selling point in my book, too, especially because you can get up to 10 additional cards at no further cost. So you’re basically getting lounge access for 10 people (and the guests they can bring) for the price of one. Many people seem to wonder whether to get the Citi Prestige or the Citi / AAdvantage Executive because the two cards offer similar benefits. The Executive card is still a great option for American Airlines loyalists who value elite status (or perks that mimic it), while the Prestige offers a broader range of benefits. Check out this post for a more thorough answer to that question, and see these tips on how to use 82,500 miles from the Citi / AAdvantage Executive Card.

 

4. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card
Current Bonus: 50,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $2,000 in the first three months your account is open.

Benefits: Earn 2 points per dollar on Southwest Airlines, and with Rapid Rewards participating hotel and rental car partners. No foreign transaction fees. Earn 6,000 bonus points each year after your account anniversary. Earn 1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points per $10,000 you spend on the card each calendar year up to a maximum of 15,000 Tier-Qualifying Points per year.

Annual Fee: $69

Reasons to get it: Chase recently relaunched this increased sign-up bonus (normally, the offer is just 25,000 points). The card offers a solid overall return with a relatively low minimum-spending requirement, even with the annual fee due in the first year. I list Rapid Rewards points at 1.3 cents apiece in my most recent valuations, so the bonus alone is worth at least $650. However, these points can be doubly lucrative if you can leverage this offer to earn the Southwest Companion Pass at 110,000 qualifying-points in a calendar year. The Companion Pass is essentially a two-for-one that allows you to bring a companion along on any flight and just pay the taxes on his or her ticket, including those you book with points.

The faster you earn the Companion Pass in 2015, the longer it’s valid, since it’s good not only for the calendar year in which you earn it, but the entire following year. So if you earn it right off the bat, it will be valid not only through 2015, but also through 2016. That could equate to nearly two years of half-priced travelIf you applied for this card and the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card (which also currently offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months), you’d be almost all the way to a Companion Pass just by meeting both cards’ minimum-spending requirements. And you’d have a ton of Southwest points to use as well.

For more information, see these posts:

5. 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 Citi says saved consumers over $2 million last year.

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

Reasons to get it: There are plenty of reasons to consider the Citi ThankYou Premier card, including positive changes both to the card and to the ThankYou Rewards program in general in the past year. First and foremost is the current sign-up bonus, which was simplified from the old, convoluted formula that took over a full year and several spending thresholds 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 the Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express.

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, Virgin America. It’s also begun offering transfer bonuses to some of them, including Virgin America and Hilton.

However, the biggest benefit in its favor might be the bonus spending categories, which Citi changed last 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 actually applied for this card myself, 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.

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, check out these posts:

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

6. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit 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 new benefits to both cards, 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, I do not anticipate many immediate changes to either program. That said, there’s no way to tell how long that will be the case. So in my opinion, 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 (and sometimes an even higher bonus), making this card a great option if you need to top up various frequent-flyer accounts.

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 because of that merger, so I wouldn’t wait on a slightly higher offer if you were already thinking of applying.

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:

7. Citi Prestige Card
Current Bonus: 50,000 ThankYou points when you spend $3,000 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 4th night free at hotels with no blackout dates when you book four consecutive nights at any hotel via a personal travel advisor 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. 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 slate 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 like the Platinum Card from American Express. If you take advantage of the other great benefits (such as lounge access, a Global Entry fee waiver, the 4th night free and free rounds of golf), this card is a clear winner.

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

8. 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 for every dollar spent on all other purchases. 10% off British Airways ticket purchases with CARDOFFERU cardholder code through the end of 2016. 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 the rest of the year and the following.

Annual Fee: $95

Reasons to get it: Though this card ranks eighth on this list thanks to that high sign-up bonus, there are a few things to keep in mind when applying. First, you have to spend $20,000 in order to get the 100,000-Avios 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, LAN flights in South America and Qantas flights in Australia. Recently, BA even offered a few 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 using this card to earn 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:

Chase Freedom's 2016 bonus categories.
Chase Freedom makes the list thanks to its lucrative 5x bonus earning categories.

9. 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.

Benefits: Each quarter you can activate your Freedom card to maximize category bonuses to earn 5% cash back at various merchants on up to $1,500 in purchases. Intro APR rate of 0% on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months.

Annual Fee: $0

Reasons to get it: It might be a bit of a shocker to see three Chase Ultimate Rewards cards on the list this month, but there are a few good reasons for it. The sign-up bonus for the Freeom 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%! 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.

The single biggest selling point of this card, however, is the opportunity to earn 5x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar per quarter (on up to $1,500 of purchases) at rotating merchants. For the first quarter of 2016, those include gas as well as Uber, Lyft and other forms of “Local Commuter Transportation.”

You can check the whole calendar and register to earn those bonuses at this page. While the Freedom card doesn’t have the most lucrative offer in terms of sign-up bonuses, those bonus earning opportunities make it 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:

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.

10. 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 and into the fall.

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). Just as important, you can transfer the Membership Rewards points it earns you to 20 airline and hotel partners.

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 in Houston in 2016 — with an additional location possibly opening at LAX.

For more information, check out these posts:

Which of these offers do you plan to take advantage of?

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named a 'Best Credit Card' for Travel Rewards by MONEY Magazine
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Sleek metal card design
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • $0 foreign transaction fees, plus chip-enabled for enhanced security and wider acceptance when used at a chip card reader
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs at full value — that means 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points
  • Travel confidently with premium Travel Protection Benefits, including Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Trip Delay Reimbursement and more
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Balance Transfer Credit Rating
N/A 16.24%-23.24% Variable Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 See Terms Excellent Credit