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Top 10 Travel Rewards Credit Card Offers for March 2016

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – British Airways VisaStarwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express

Another month means it’s time to reevaluate the current credit-card offers and bonuses out there to help you stay on top of your points strategy. And March is a busy month! American Express announced a limited-time historically high sign-up bonus on its two Starwood Preferred Guest cards just for the month, while the impending devaluation of American Airlines’ award chart is set to take place March 22, with more news surely to come down the pike in the meantime.

St. Regis Bora Bora
Amex announced the highest sign-up bonus ever on its Amex cards this month.

With all that activity, it is more important 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 spending by taking full advantage of the credit cards associated with your chosen programs. By doing so, you’ll have a much more powerful, effective award travel strategy in place, and you’ll be better protected against any further changes or devaluations.

Imminent changes to American's AAdvantage program are just one more thing travelers need to stay on top of.
Imminent changes to American’s AAdvantage program are just one more thing travelers need to stay on top of.

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 and benefits, like those of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. However, the list does change, and rankings shift as new offers come out. For example, you’ll notice that the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express are right there at the top thanks to their limited-time 35,000-point sign-up bonuses.

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. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express / Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express
2. Chase Sapphire Preferred
3. Marriott Rewards Premier Card
4. Chase Ink Plus Business Card
5. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card
6. Citi Prestige
7. Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
8. British Airways Visa
9. Hyatt Visa
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.

1. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express

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

Current Bonus: Earn 35,000 points when you make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months on the personal card. Earn 35,000 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 them: Last week, Amex announced that now through March 30, 2016, both these cards would offer all-time high sign-up bonuses of 35,000 points. The bonuses are usually 25,000 points, and this might be the last bonus of its kind before the Marriott-Starwood takeover gets started in earnest. 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.

Starpoints can make for awesome redemptions at world-class properties like the St. Regis Princeville on Kauai.
Starpoints can make for awesome redemptions at world-class properties like the St. Regis Princeville on Kauai.

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, including the newly added Design Hotels. I’d recommend taking advantage of some of the awesome award redemptions we wrote about last year, though you could also get some great value at the low end of the category spectrum. The program also offers a Cash and Points option, which can be quite valuable as well.

Now that the cards offer a ton of new benefits, including no longer charging foreign transaction fees, they’re a much better choice for use abroad as well. In terms of the business card specifically, if you already have the personal card but are looking for another avenue to earn SPG points (and you own a small business or are self-employed), this could be it, as long as you haven’t had the business card before. Just keep in mind 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:

2. Chase Sapphire Preferred

 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.

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 10 travel partners, including British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, Southwest and United.

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 card 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 second card this month because Chase raised the sign-up bonus from 40,000 points up to 50,000 points a few months ago — a 25% increase. The program did lose Amtrak as a transfer partner in December, but Ultimate Rewards still has 10 other travel transfer partners that I think more than make up for it.

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 and having them make a purchase in the first three months. The bonus-spending categories are very broad, including restaurants and a range of travel purchases, which makes this a top earner in my wallet. 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 many 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:

3. Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card

Marriott's card make the list this month thanks to a huge sign-up bonus boost.
Marriott’s card make the list this month thanks to a huge sign-up bonus boost.

Current Bonus: 80,000 Marriott Rewards points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.

Benefits: Enjoy 1 free night stay at a Category 1-5 location every year after your account anniversary date. For every dollar spent, you’ll earn 5 points at 4,000 Marriott locations; 2 points on airline tickets purchases directly with the airlines, at car rental agencies and restaurants and 1 point everywhere else. 15 nights of elite credit per year after approval and after your account anniversary (enough for Silver status) and the ability to earn additional elite nights at a rate of one per $3,000 in spending per calendar year. Smart Chip technology. Earn an additional 7,500 points by adding an authorized user and making a purchase in the first three months.

Annual Fee: $85

Reasons to get it: This card’s sign-up bonus is usually around 50,000 points, but Marriott recently raised it to 80,000, a 60% boost! You do have to spend $3,000 instead of $2,000 and pay the $85 annual fee, but the opportunity to earn 30,000 more points than normal is worth it in my book. Plus, with the impending acquisition of Starwood, it might be good to have some Marriott points in your back pocket while we see how the two chains’ loyalty programs will be merged. This card also automatically confers 15 nights of credit toward elite status each year, enough for automatic Silver status. Marriott announced a new scheme that lets members redeem points for status if they failed to requalify this year, so a handy points bonus from this card might be just what you need, especially if you were Platinum and can get it back since.

Thanks to Marriott’s RewardsPlus partnership with United, Marriott Platinum members can get automatic United Silver status, so that’s another potential added benefit. The anniversary free night at a Category 1-5 property can be worth well over the $85 annual fee, so that should lessen the sting of not having it waived the first year. Finally, if you’re a Southwest flyer, if you take advantage of Marriott’s Hotel + Air packages and transfer Marriott points for an award stay and airline points with Southwest, those points will count toward Companion Pass qualification — a potentially huge value.

4. Ink Plus Business Card from Chase

Chase Ink Plus offer

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 Marriott.

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 continuing high sign-up bonus offer of 60,000 points. That’s 10,000 more points than usual, and it 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 thing to note is that you have to pay the first year’s $95 annual fee, whereas with the prior 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:

5. 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), so it stays on the list again this month. I rank it as one of my top airline co-branded credit cards because it offers a solid overall return on spending, with a relatively low minimum-spending requirement for that bonus.

I list Rapid Rewards points at 1.5 cents apiece in my most recent valuations, so the bonus alone is worth at least $750. 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 2016, 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 fairly soon, it will be valid not only through 2016, but also through 2017. That could equate to nearly two years of half-priced travel! If you applied for this card and the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card (which is also currently offering 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:

6. Citi Prestige Card

The Citi Prestige card offers a lot of great value-added perks that make it worth considering despite the high annual fee.
The Citi Prestige card offers a lot of great value-added perks that make it worth considering despite the high annual fee.

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 (when flying AA) 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 card, 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. But the real standout benefit as I see it is that fourth-night free perk. It recently saved TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig $1,490 on  a single hotel stay!

Citi Prestige offers a fourth night free at hotels.
Citi Prestige offers a fourth night free at hotels.

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

7. 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 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, so I got it for several TPG staffers) also get lounge access, greatly increasing its potential value. It also offers a credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application, which equals another $100 in value. American flyers will also benefit from an earning rate of 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, and 10,000 elite-qualifying miles for spending $40,000 on the card every calendar year (January through December billing statements), which can be a handy 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 formula might be more manageable. The expanded lounge benefits are a great selling point in my book 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.

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 Companion 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 full 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. BA also recently raised its lowest-level 4,500-Avios awards within the US to 7,500 Avios, meaning awards booked on American Airlines using BA Avios are now more expensive. The bonus categories on the British Airways Visa also changed in May so you earn more points per dollar spent on BA airfares, but fewer Avios on all other purchases, which is a major consideration.

That Travel Together ticket could be worth thousands of dollars if you redeem for business or first class.
That Travel Together ticket could be worth thousands of dollars if you redeem for business or first class.

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 thanks to off-peak pricing). 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% in October. That makes Membership Rewards points a less attractive option for BA redemptions, but using this card to earn Avios without having to transfer from Amex 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 spending and awards.

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

9. Hyatt Visa

The Hyatt Visa’s anniversary nights can be used at the Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica where room rates are more than $500 this week.

Current bonus: Get 2 free nights at Hyatt properties worldwide – in any category – after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months after account opening.

Benefits: Earn 3 points per dollar spent at all Hyatt properties; 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline and at car rental agencies; and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases made with your card. 1 free night every year after your cardmember anniversary at any Category 1-4 property. Get 5,000 bonus points when you add an authorized user to your account and make a purchase with your card during the first three months as a cardmember. Exclusive benefits with Platinum status as long as you’re a cardmember.  Receive 2 stay credits and 5 night credits toward Diamond status upon spending $20,000 in each calendar year. Receive an additional 3 stay credits and 5 night credits toward Diamond status upon spending $40,000 total in each calendar year. No foreign transaction fees on international purchases. Chip-enabled technology brings you greater worldwide acceptance and advanced security. Protection benefits including lost luggage reimbursement, trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, extended warranty protection and more.

Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $75.

Use your Hyatt free nights to stay at a historic property like the Park Hyatt Siem Reap.
Use your Hyatt free nights to stay at a property like the Park Hyatt Siem Reap.

Reasons to get it: This card remains a solid hotel choice in my estimation due to a few key benefits. First, those two free nights that come as a sign-up bonus can be used anywhere in the world (pending availability), including some very expensive, premium properties like the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, where TPG Points & Miles Editor Sarah Silbert just stayed. So the sign-up bonus alone can be worth thousands of dollars. Then there is the automatic elite status, travel-friendly perks like trip protection and waived foreign transaction fees, solid earning potential with great bonus categories, and the annual free night at a Category 1-4 hotel, which more thank makes up for the $75 annual fee. Though Hyatt is among the smallest of the major chains out there, it is slowly expanding, most recently with the announcement of its new Unbound brand, so there are some great redemption opportunities.

For more information, check out these posts:

10. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve

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

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. 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

Get tremendous value from your free nights by redeeming them for a stay at a property like the Conrad Maldives.
Get tremendous value from your free nights by redeeming them for a stay at a property like the Conrad Maldives.

Reasons to get it: You might be surprised to see this card on the list instead of the no-fee Citi Hilton Visa since that card is offering a higher-than-usual sign-up bonus of 75,000 points for spending $2,000 in the first three months, but there are good reasons to get the Reserve card instead.

Those two free nights that come as a sign-up bonus can be worth well over 75,000 points, and just for a slightly higher spending requirement. This card also confers automatic Gold status and the ability to earn Diamond status through spending, which the more basic version does not. 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. 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  get another free weekend night certificate, which can far outweigh the card’s $95 annual fee, depending where you redeem it.

For more information, check out these posts:

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Apply Now
  • Get 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
  • Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
  • Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
  • Get free nights at over 1,200 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries with no blackout dates. Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms and Conditions apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 15.49%-19.49% Variable $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95. 2.70% Excellent Credit