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It’s time for my monthly roundup of the best travel credit card offers currently available, and April is turning out to be an exciting month! American Express announced a limited-time historically high sign-up bonus on its Hilton Surpass card, while Barclaycard launched its new JetBlue cards and the Starwood-Marriott merger appears to back on again.
With all that news, it’s as important as ever to keep up with developments in the world of points and miles. That will ensure that you are maximizing your loyalty and your spending by taking full advantage of the credit cards associated with your chosen programs. And by doing so, you’ll have a much more powerful, effective award travel strategy in place, and will better protect yourself against further changes or devaluations, such as Alaska’s sudden rate hike for Emirates awards.
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 fairly contsant 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 Hilton HHonors Surpass Card makes a rare appearance on this list thanks to its all-time high sign-up bonus of 100,000 points, as does the new JetBlue Plus MasterCard from Barclaycard thanks to its sign-up bonus and high earning potential.
For a list of all the top cards on the market, check out the Hot Deals page, where you can always 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 choices of the moment. You can check back each month for updates and the latest and best offers out there.
Before you get started, take a look at these posts for advice on checking your credit score, applying for new cards and getting approved:
- How Credit Card Applications Affect Your Credit Score
- 5 Things to Understand About Credit Before Applying for Cards
- Should I Be Concerned About A Credit Card Denial?
- Your FICO Score and Which Credit Cards Offer it for Free
- Credit Card Application Restrictions for the Major Issuers
- Avoiding Late Payments and Other Silly Credit Card Mistakes
- 5 Lesser-Known Things That Affect Your Credit Score
- How to Use the CardMatch Tool to get Even Better Sign-Up Offers
THE SHORT LIST
Here’s the short list of this month’s cards, but continue reading below for more details on each of them.
1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
2. Chase Ink Plus Business Card
3. Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express
4. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Card
5. Citi Prestige
6. JetBlue Plus Card
7. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express
8. Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
9. British Airways Visa
10. Hyatt Visa
Here’s an in-depth look at each of the cards listed above, including their benefits and reasons to apply now.
Current Bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after 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 high 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, trip cancellation coverage 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: The Sapphire Preferred card has been one of my all-around top travel credit cards since it was first introduced a few years ago. It’s the card I use for most of my purchases thanks to the ability to earn 2 points per dollar on restaurant and a range of travel purchases with no limit. It ranks as the top card this month because Chase has kept the sign-up bonus at 50,000 points — a 25% increase over the previous bonus of just 40,000 points. The program did lose Amtrak as a transfer partner in December. However, Ultimate Rewards still has 10 other travel transfer partners and you can redeem Ultimate Rewards points directly for airfare at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece, giving you even more flexibility.
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, and 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:
- 5 Reasons Chase Sapphire Preferred Should Be Your First Credit Card in 2016
- 5 Chase Sapphire Preferred Benefits You Might Not Know About
- 10 Fun Ways to Use 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Points
- One Year of Earning and Burning With The Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Why All Award Travelers Should Earn Transferable Points
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.
You do have pay the first year’s $95 annual fee, whereas with the prior offer of just 50,000 points, you did not. But 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 cents 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:
- 10 Chase Ink Benefits You Might Not Know About
- A Year of Earning and Burning with the Chase Ink Plus
- Business versus Personal Credit Cards
- Top 10 Reasons to get a Business Credit Card
Current bonus: 100,000 bonus HHonors points after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
Benefits: Earn 12 points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton HHonors portfolio of brands; 6 points for each dollar of eligible purchases at US restaurants, at US supermarkets, and at US gas stations; and 3 points per dollar on all other purchases. Get complimentary Hilton HHonors Gold status as long as you are a cardmember. Spend $40,000 on eligible purchases on your card in a calendar year and you can earn HHonors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year. Access to over 700 airport lounges around the world with complimentary Priority Pass membership, valued at $99. With this complimentary membership, all lounge visits are subject to a fee of $27 per person per visit.
Annual Fee: $75
Reasons to get it: This card comes with a lower annual fee than the comparable Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card and offers higher spending bonuses both on Hilton purchases and everyday purchases at restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations in the US instead of the airline/car rental bonuses the Citi card offers. Like the Citi card, it also offers automatic Gold status, which can be valuable thanks to perks like 25% points bonuses, a 5th night free benefit and complimentary breakfast. The biggest reason to get this card, though, especially if you have some of the other Hilton cards already, is this limited-time all-time high sign-up bonus of 100,000 points. We haven’t seen a bonus this high on the card, and aren’t likely to again for a while, so if you’ve been waiting to rake in some points, this could be a good chance.
For more information, check out these posts:
- Which Hilton Card Offers Elite Status
- What is Hilton Elite Status Worth in 2016?
- The Award Traveler’s Guide to Hilton HHonors
- 8 Hilton Properties That Make For Awesome Award Redemptions
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 remains 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, as well as the ability to earn elite credit based on spending. Rapid Rewards points are worth about 1.5 cents apiece, 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, including on the airline’s rapidly expanding international route network.
For more information, see these posts:
- One Year of Earning and Burning with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Earning Southwest Rapid Rewards Points Without Flying
- How Can I Earn Points for the Southwest Companion Pass?
- Maximize 50,000 Southwest Points on Flights to the Caribbean
- What is Southwest Elite Status Worth in 2016?
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. Get a $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 higher sign-up bonus, and an array 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 its main competitor, 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!
For more information on the Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Rewards, check out these posts:
- Maximizing Benefits with the Citi Prestige in 2016
- How I’ve Gotten $2,250 in Value from my Citi Prestige Card
- Maximizing Citi Prestige Benefits – A Reader Success Story
- Immediately Denied for the Citi Prestige? You’re Not Alone!
- Is Amex Platinum or Citi Prestige Better for Lounge Access?
- Which Citi ThankYou Rewards Transfer Partner is Best?
Current Bonus: 30,000 TrueBlue points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months.
Benefits: Earn 6 points per dollar on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Each year after your account anniversary you will earn 5,000 bonus points. Get 10% of your points back every time you redeem points for an award toward your next redemption. You also get 50% savings on all eligible in-flight purchases including cocktails, food and movies, plus enjoy all Mosaic benefits for one year after you spend $50,000 or more on purchases after your anniversary date.
Annual Fee: $99
Reasons to get it: Barclaycard just launched its new family of JetBlue cards, including this top-tier one that’s still something of a bargain at just $99 per year. Assuming you use your card to purchase JetBlue tickets online, you will be earning at least 12 TrueBlue points per dollar you spend. I value TrueBlue points at 1-1.4 cents apiece, which means the sign-up bonus alone is worth about $300-$420 in value, and you’re getting about 12%-16.8% return on your ticket purchases! The redemption refund and in-flight savings are also a big benefit. All in all, this card is a big step up from the former Amex version of the JetBlue card, so if this is your carrier of choice, this new product is a no-brainer.
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 them: Unfortunately, the all-time high sign-up bonuses of 35,000 points on these cards ended last week, but they are still worth getting while the future of Starwood is up in the air — with the latest news indicating that Marriott may acquire Starwood after all.
Apart from the great benefits these cards offer on their own, including new perks like waived foreign transaction fees and free Boingo Wi-Fi access, 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-point 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 your various 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, including the newly added Design Hotels, where there is also a lucrative promotion currently being offered. 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.
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:
- Ultimate Guide to Starwood Airline Transfers
- Starwood Preferred Guest Amex Cards Adding New Benefits
- One Year of Earning and Burning with the SPG Amex
- Starting 2016 off Strong with Starwood Preferred Guest
- 9 SPG Properties that Make for Awesome Award Redemptions
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.
Current Bonus: 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 $15,000 on purchases for a total of 75,000 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 ninth 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 $17,000 in order to get the full 75,000-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 based on your spending habits.
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 is a much better option for some flyers.
For more information on how to maximize British Airways Avios, check out these posts:
- 7 Ways to Get Great Value From the British Airways Visa
- Lesser-Known British Airways Visa Perks
- British Airways Avios and What to Do After the Devaluation
- Best Ways to Redeem British Airways Avios
- How to Redeem British Airways Avios Without Huge Fees
10. Hyatt Visa
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.
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 than 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:
- Maximizing Chase Hyatt Visa Free Night Certificates
- Which Credit Card is Best When Paying for Hyatt Stays?
- Will I have an Issue Booking Hyatt Visa Free Reward Consecutive Nights Separately?
- What is Hyatt Gold Passport Elite Status Worth in 2016?
- The Award Traveler’s Guide to Hyatt Gold Passport
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||16.24%-23.24% Variable||Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95||0%||Excellent Credit|