Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

Top 10 Travel Rewards Credit Card Offers for May 2016

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express

Every month, I compile a list of the top travel rewards credit card offers currently available. Many of the cards on my list remain consistent from month to month thanks to great benefits and fairly constant bonus opportunities, like those available with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. However, the list does change, and rankings shift as new offers come out. For example, the new JetBlue Plus MasterCard from Barclaycard has made the list again because of its sign-up bonus, and Chase’s new Freedom Unlimited card appears here for the first time thanks to its high everyday earning potential.

If you’re thinking of applying for a new credit card, I’d suggest checking in on my listings every month because there are sure to be changes. For example, I will be watching the Marriott-Starwood merger with great interest — and waiting to see how it affects both brands’ credit cards. Meanwhile, Alaska announced it would be buying Virgin America, indicating more uncertainty ahead in the airline industry. With all that news, it’s as important as ever to keep up with developments in the world of points and miles to ensure that you are maximizing your loyalty and your spending.

With news events like the Alaska takeover of Virgin America, you have to stay informed if you want to maximize your points and miles.
With news events like the Alaska takeover of Virgin America, you have to stay informed if you want to maximize your points and miles.

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 on the Hot Deals page. However, if you’re thinking of applying for a credit card now, this list features my top choices at the moment. 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, you can peruse 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 this month’s cards, but continue reading below for more details on each of them.

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
2. Citi Prestige
3. Chase Ink Plus Business Card

4. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Card
5. JetBlue Plus Card
6. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express
7. Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
8. Hyatt Visa
9. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve
10. Chase Freedom Unlimited

THE DETAILS

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

1. 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 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. Not only does the Ultimate Rewards program have 10 travel transfer partners, but you can also redeem Ultimate Rewards points directly for airfare at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece, giving you even more flexibility.

Korean Air is one of Chase Ultimate Rewards' 1:1 transfer partners.
Ultimate Rewards’ airline partners including British Airways, Southwest and United.

For more details on the card and why I think it’s worth applying for, check out this post of 5 reasons to get the Sapphire Preferred now, and these 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:

2. Citi Prestige Card

You can now transfer ThankYou points you earn with the Citi Prestige to 13 travel partners.
You can now transfer ThankYou points you earn with the Citi Prestige to 13 travel partners.

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, recently improved travel protections and free rounds of golf), this card is a clear winner. The real standout benefit as I see it is that 4th 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, which can equate to major savings.

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

3. 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 again this month thanks to its continuing high sign-up bonus offer of 60,000 points. That’s 10,000 more points than the Sapphire Preferred, though this card is meant for small business owners. 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. However, it’s worth noting that you can currently earn 70,000 points when you sign up for this card at a Chase branch and spend $5,000 in the first three months — though this offer is only available through May 15, 2016.

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 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:

4. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards points can be very useful, especially if you earn the companion pass.
Southwest Rapid Rewards points can be very useful, especially if you earn the Companion Pass.

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: $99

Reasons to get it: Chase relaunched this increased sign-up bonus (normally, the offer is just 25,000 points) in the fall, and it’s stuck around ever since, though there’s no knowing how long it will remain. I rank this card 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/her ticket, including those you book with points, and including on the airline’s rapidly expanding international route network.

For more information, see these posts:

5. JetBlue Plus Card

Get the points for those JetBlue MInt redemptions faster with this
Get the points for those JetBlue Mint redemptions faster with this card.

Current Bonus: 30,000 TrueBlue points when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.

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. 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 a relative bargain at just $99 per year. Assuming you use your card to purchase JetBlue tickets online, you’ll 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 can be 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 JetBlue is your carrier of choice, this new product is a no-brainer.

6. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the 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 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 was only available for a few weeks in March, but they are still worth getting while they’re available in advance of Marriott’s takeover of Starwood.

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, including the recent addition of Virgin America. 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.

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

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:

7. Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard

The entrance to the closer Admirals Club.
The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard comes with Admirals Club membership.

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 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.

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 earn it, so this spending-bonus formula might be more manageable for some. The expanded lounge benefits are a huge selling point in my book because you can get up to 10 additional cards at no further cost. So, you can basically get 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.

8. Hyatt Visa

The Hyatt Visa’s membership anniversary free night can be used at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo in Costa Rica where room rates can be more than $500 per night.

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 recently 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:

9. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve

 Put all those Hilton free night certificates to use at a property like the Hilton Moorea in Tahiti.
Put all those Hilton free night certificates to use at a property like the Hilton Moorea in Tahiti.

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 and no foreign transaction fees. 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: This card is back on the list now that the bonus offers on the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express (100,000 points) and Hilton HHonors Card from American Express (75,000 points) have ended. Its sign-up bonus of two free nights can be worth as much as 190,000 points if you redeem them at top-tier properties like the Conrad Maldives, and just for a slightly higher spending requirement. This card also confers automatic Gold status and the ability to earn Diamond status through spending. 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:

10. Chase Freedom Unlimited

Chase introduced its new Unlimited version of the Freedom card back in March.
Chase introduced its new Unlimited version of the Freedom card back in March.

Current Bonus: Earn a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening, plus $25 when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months.

Benefits: Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase, or 1.5x points on every purchase if you pair the card with an Ultimate Rewards-earning card like the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus. 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months.

Annual Fee: None

Reasons to get it: The ability to get 1.5 cents back for every dollar spent is nothing to sneeze at, but other cash-back cards like the Citi Double Cash get you a better return — 1% cash back per dollar spent, and then offers another 1% cash back as you pay down your balance. What really makes this card worthy of a slot in your wallet is the fact that you can redeem your cash back as Ultimate Rewards points, which get you a better return than 1.5 cents per dollar spent since I them at 2.1 cents apiece. That means 1.5% cash back becomes 1.5x points on all purchases — a return of 3.15%! That makes this card a great choice for spending on purchases that otherwise wouldn’t get you a bonus with other cards.

For more information, check out these posts:

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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  • 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 a 'Best Credit Card' for Travel Rewards by MONEY Magazine
  • 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 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