Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

Top 10 Travel Rewards Credit Card Offers for September 2016

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

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 consistent bonus opportunities, like those available with the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express

However, the rankings do change as new offers come out and benefits packages shift. The big news this past month was the launch of Chase’s new premium travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which had points and miles enthusiasts buzzing thanks to a 100,000-point sign-up bonus and fantastic benefits such as an annual $300 travel credit, phenomenal bonus spending categories of travel and dining, and more

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.

Credit Factors to Consider

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 Reserve
2. Chase Sapphire Preferred
3. Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
4. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card
5. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express
6. Citi Prestige
7. Platinum Card from American Express
8. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve

9. The Hyatt Credit Card
10. JetBlue Plus Card

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 Reserve

chase sapphire reserve mta subway featured

Current Bonus: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.

Benefits: Earn 3 points on travel and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar everywhere else. $300 annual travel credit. Priority Pass Select lounge access. Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit. No foreign transaction fees. Primary auto rental insurance. Trip cancellation coverage. Redeem points through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal for 1.5 cents apiece.

Annual fee: $450

Reasons to get it: The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card has been hotly anticipated by many award travelers for weeks, and now that it has appeared on the market, it does not disappoint!

As expected, the card has a high annual fee of $450 in line with those of other premium travel rewards cards, but it offers some amazing perks that can make it well worth that amount. The sign-up bonus is worth an outstanding $2,100 based on my latest valuations, and the 3x points you’ll earn on travel and dining equal a return of 6.3% compared to 4.2% for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. And while the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal isn’t usually the best way to use your rewards, you can get significantly more value from your points when you do redeem them that way (1.5 cents per point vs. 1.25 cents per point with the Chase Sapphire Preferred).

That’s not even mentioning the very generous $300 annual travel credit, which applies to a huge range of travel purchases, from airfare to parking fees. This effectively brings the annual fee down to $150, and you also get a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. While several other cards offer lounge access through Priority Pass Select, this perk is still nice to have — especially if you don’t have lounge access through another card. Overall, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is an extremely lucrative travel rewards card, and I can’t wait to use it to earn valuable points for all my travel and dining purchases.

For more detailed information on this phenomenal new card, check out our recent posts on it:

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 stills earns a high spot on this list thanks to its sign-up bonus, 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. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. 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 at restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide, no foreign transaction fees, primary auto rental insurance, trip cancellation coverage and the ability to transfer points to 11 travel partners, including British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, Southwest, United and, as of May, Air France/KLM Flying Blue.

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

Reasons to get it: While Chase Sapphire Preferred isn’t quite as compelling as it once was, following the launch of Chase Sapphire Reserve, it’s still a fantastic choice if you aren’t sure you want to take on the Reserve card’s $450 annual fee. The Sapphire Preferred allows you to earn 2 points per dollar at restaurants and on a range of travel purchases, with no limit. You can transfer your points to the Ultimate Rewards program’s 11 great travel partners. Not only that, but you can also redeem Ultimate Rewards points directly for airfare at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece, giving you more flexibility.

You can now transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Flying Blue as well.
You can now transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Air France/KLM Flying Blue as well.

Chase has been restricting some new credit card applications depending on how many cards you have (generally, Chase might turn you down if you’ve applied for more than five credit cards within a 24-month period), so when it comes to this issuer’s cards, you might want to apply for this one first (or at least after the Sapphire Reserve). Check out this post on 5 reasons to get the Sapphire Preferred now, and these 5 things to do when you get the Chase Sapphire Preferred to help you maximize this card’s outstanding benefits.

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

3. Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card

Use your free nights at a property like the luxurious Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on Maui. Image courtesy of Ritz-Carlton.
Use your free nights at a property like the luxurious Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on Maui. Image courtesy of Ritz-Carlton.

Current Bonus: Three complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton Hotel after spending $5,000 in the first three months your account is open.

Benefits: Earn 5 points per dollar at Ritz-Carlton and Marriott properties; 2 points per dollar on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline and at car rental agencies and restaurants; and 1 point per dollar on everything else. $300 annual travel credit. Complimentary $100 credit for qualifying dining, spa or other hotel recreational activities on paid stays of two nights or longer. Complimentary Priority Pass Select membership. Automatic Gold elite status during your first account year. Upgrade to the Ritz-Carlton Club level three times per year on paid stays of up to seven nights. $100 Global Entry application fee credit.

Annual fee: $450

Reasons to get it: Thanks to a new sign-up bonus and some additional perks, the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card is a stronger premium travel rewards card than ever. Now, instead of two free nights at any Tier 1-4 property, you’ll get three complimentary nights — still at Tier 1-4 hotels, but remember, Ritz-Carlton only had five categories, so that’s most of the portfolio. The new offer does require meeting a higher minimum spending requirement ($5,000 vs. $4,000), but if you can maximize the three free nights at expensive hotels it can be well worth it. In addition to a better sign-up bonus, the card now offers a Global Entry application fee reimbursement that is separate from the $300 annual travel credit, and you also get Priority Pass Select lounge membership, which can come in handy if you don’t have lounge access through another card. The annual fee did increase from $395 to $450, but if you can maximum the additional free night and new benefits, it could be well worth it.

For more information on Ritz-Carlton, see these posts:

4. Southwest 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: This card gets the top airline co-branded credit card slot because of its solid return on spending. Rapid Rewards points are worth about 1.5 cents apiece, so the sign-up bonus alone is worth at least $750. However, these points can be doubly lucrative if you leverage this offer to earn the Southwest Companion Pass by accruing 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year. The Companion Pass is a two-for-one benefit that allows you to bring a companion along on any flight and just pay the taxes on his/her ticket, including tickets you book with points. Given Southwest’s fantastic domestic route network and the airline’s rapidly expanding international destinations list, the Companion Pass can mean tremendous savings and travel potential. Its final selling point: This card offers the ability to earn elite credit based on spending.

For more information on Southwest and the card, see these posts:

5. 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 these cards' sign-up bonuses to stay at properties across the globe, like the W Paris Opera. Image courtesy of Starwood.
Use the Starpoints you earn from these cards’ sign-up bonuses to stay at properties across the globe, like the W Paris Opera. Image courtesy of Starwood.

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. American Express added new benefits to both cards last year, 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: As Marriott prepares its takeover of Starwood, there’s a lot of uncertainty about how the two chains will merge their loyalty programs. So it might be worth applying for these cards while they still exist in their current form. That’s especially true if you can put the points to use before that takeover actually happens since we’re still not sure what is going to become of the SPG program.

Apart from the phenomenal benefits these cards offer, 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, as well as interesting non-travel redemption opportunities like tickets to the US Open. When you transfer 20,000 points at a time to airline partners, you can also earn a 5,000-point bonus, making this card a great option if you need to top up your various airline accounts. These cards also regularly offer referral bonuses, so if you get them and have friends who are interested in applying, you might be able to rake in even more points.

 Starpoints can make for fantastic redemptions at world-class hotels like the new St. Regis Maldives. Image courtesy of SPG.
Starpoints can make for fantastic redemptions at world-class hotels like the new St. Regis Maldives. Image courtesy of SPG.

If you already have the personal card and you own a small business (or are self-employed), the business version might be a good option, as long as you haven’t had it 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:

6. Citi Prestige Card

Citi Prestige Featured
The Citi Prestige is much lower on the list this month due to the loss of key benefits.

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

Benefits: Earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar on air travel and hotel purchases, 2 points per dollar on dining and entertainment and 1 point per dollar on everything else. 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) until July 23, 2017, and Priority Pass Select lounge access. 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 (again, just until July 23, 2017). Citi ThankYou Rewards now has 13 transfer partners, including Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Etihad Guest, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and Hilton HHonors, among others.

Annual Fee: $450

Reasons to get it: Unfortunately, Citi announced a slew of negative changes to the card in July. These include the eventual loss of Admirals Club access and lower redemption rates for airline tickets that will go into effect July 23, 2017. Citi also lowered its sign-up bonus to 40,000 points and raised the spending requirement to $4,000, a double blow. Not only that, but there are nuanced changes to the 4th Night Free benefit including the fact that it will now be calculated based on the average nightly rate, not just the fourth night of a stay, and taxes will no longer be included. The annual three rounds of golf benefit is also being eliminated.

With all those changes, plus the introduction of the new Chase Sapphire Reserve with its 100,000-point bonus and similar benefits, you might wonder why the card still makes my list, but there are several major reasons. Namely, the $250 annual air travel credit, the Global Entry fee waiver, the fact that lounge access will continue in its current form for another year or so, that extremely valuable 4th Night Free benefit and the bonus earning categories, not to mention those 13 travel transfer partners. All in all, this is still a really strong credit card, but you have to weigh the now-reduced benefits against that $450 annual fee.

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

7. Platinum Card from American Express

 Great benefits, including a growing list of Centurion Lounge locations like the one in Houston, keep the Amex Platinum on my list of top cards
Great benefits, including a growing list of Centurion Lounge locations like the new one in Houston, keep the Amex Platinum on my list of top cards

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 last saw in May.

Benefits: This card offers no shortage of valuable benefits, including a $200 annual airline rebate, access to Delta and Priority Pass lounges (plus the Amex Centurion Lounges) and a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application rebate. You can also transfer the Membership Rewards points you earn with this card to 20 airline and hotel partners.

Annual Fee: $450

Reasons to get it: While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several perks that make it worthwhile, depending on your travel needs and patterns. Its most valuable benefits include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status. You also get access to booking hotels through the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credits. Another great benefit is Centurion Lounge access; these clubs provide a great place to sip a cocktail, relax and even enjoy a pre-flight meal. Amex has been actively expanding its lounge network, including the recently opened Houston location as well as recent additions in Miami and Seattle. An LAX location might be coming soon as well.

For more information, check out these posts:

8. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve

Put all those Hilton free night certificates to use at a property like the Conrad New York.
Put all those Hilton free night certificates to use at a property like the Conrad New York.

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. 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 offer on the Citi Hilton Visa Signature card has 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. This card also confers automatic Gold status and the ability to earn Diamond status through spending. Elite status seems like less of a benefit since Hilton announced it would be offering status matches through March 2017, so even with new stay requirements, there might be a glut of new elites, but it’s still worth something. 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 on where you redeem it.

For more information, check out these posts:

9. The Hyatt Credit Card

 Use your Hyatt free nights to stay at a property like the Park Hyatt Maldives. Image courtesy of Hyatt.
Use your Hyatt free nights to stay at a property like the Park Hyatt Maldives. Image courtesy of Hyatt.

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. 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.

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. 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. 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 has a few key benefits that make it a great choice. First, the 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. So the sign-up bonus alone can be worth thousands of dollars. Then there are the ongoing benefits like automatic elite status, trip protection, waived foreign transaction fees, strong earning potential with broad bonus categories and the annual free night at a Category 1-4 hotel, which alone more than makes up for the $75 annual fee. Plus, now through October 31, 2016, Hyatt is offering cardholders a 10% points rebate on award and Points + Cash redemptions, stretching those Gold Passport points even further.

The Hyatt Card's anniversary nights can be used at the Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rice where room rates are more than $500 this week,e
The Hyatt Card’s anniversary nights can be used at Category 1-4 properties like the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo in Costa Rica.

For more information, check out these posts:

10. JetBlue Plus Card

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JetBlue’s new Plus Card offers compelling bonuses as the airline ups its competition against Alaska and Virgin America.

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 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 launched a new set of JetBlue cards earlier this year, and though this top-tier one comes with a $99 annual fee, the sign-up bonus alone is worth about $420 in my estimation. Then there’s the earning potential. If you use this card to purchase JetBlue tickets online, you’ll be earning at least 12 TrueBlue points per dollar you spend on eligible airfare, equivalent to about a 16% return on spending on ticket purchases according to my same valuations. The 10% points redemption refund and in-flight savings are also big perks. 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.

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠

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  • New! Earn 100K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,500 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases such as airfare and hotels charged to your card
  • 3X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, no foreign transaction fees
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,500 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 900+ airport lounges worldwide with complimentary Priority Pass™ Select membership
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre√®
  • 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 $450 0% Excellent Credit