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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card
Every month, I put together this handy list of the top 10 current travel rewards credit card offers. This month’s list is going to look a little different, though. While you’ll still find all the relevant information you need about these cards and why I think they’re the best ones currently available, I’m going to give you a little personal context into exactly how I’ve maximized their points and benefits.
For instance, it’s one thing to say that the 100,000-point sign-up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the best credit card offers in recent years. But I think it helps put it in much clearer context to share how I was able to use the points from that one sign-up bonus to book a flight in Korean Air first class from Bali to New York, scoring an award ticket worth over $7,200! Any questions why that card is top of my rankings again this month?
Though this list has the best offers of the moment, 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.
Before you get ready to apply, check out these posts for more information on credit scores, applications processes and more. Contrary to what you might think, it might actually help rather than hurt your score in the long term to open new cards.
- How Credit Card Applications Affect Your Credit Score
- 5 Things To Understand About Credit Before Applying For Cards
- Debunking Credit Card Myths: Does Applying For A Card Permanently Impact My Credit Score
Now, without further ado, here’s this month’s list of the best travel credit cards.
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. The Enhanced Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN
3. Chase Sapphire Preferred
4. Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
5. Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature
6. Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
7. Citi Prestige
8. The Platinum Card from American Express
9. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express
10. Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
Here’s a quick look at each card’s sign-up bonus, specific benefits, and the ways I’ve been able to maximize each.
Current Bonus: 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Standout 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
Why it’s worth it: Since it launched a few months ago, the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card has quickly become one of the most popular travel rewards cards on the market. That’s thanks to its phenomenal benefits package, that 3x earning rate and the high sign-up bonus. However, there’s no telling how long Chase will keep that bonus up at the 100,000-point level, so if you’ve been holding off on applying, I wouldn’t wait too long in case it goes down without notice.
There are tons of high-value ways to put those 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points to use. Personally, I recently redeemed my Chase Sapphire Reserve sign-up bonus points for a one-way first-class award on Korean Air from Bali to New York via Seoul that would have cost me $7,200 otherwise. Not bad for a single sign-up bonus! Not only that, but even factoring in the $450 annual fee and the $4,000 minimum spending requirement, I’m still getting a 162% return on my spending!
Current Bonus: Earn up to 100,000 Membership Rewards points; 50,000 points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on the card and earn an extra 50,000 points after spending an additional $10,000 within your first three months of cardmembership. Offer ends 1/25/2017.
Benefits: Earn 2 points per dollar on eligible purchases when you book through American Express Travel. Earn 1.5 points per dollar on purchases of $5,000 or more (up to 1 million additional points per year) and 1 point per dollar on other purchases. $200 annual airline rebate. Access to Delta Sky Clubs, Priority Pass lounges and Centurion Lounge locations. Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application rebate. Transfer Membership Rewards to 20 airline and hotel partners.
Annual fee: $450
Why it’s worth it: In addition to the limited-time sign-up bonus of 100,000 points, Amex recently made huge improvements to Business Platinum Card, including the fact that it now earns you 1.5x points on all purchases of $5,000 or more, and cardholders receive a 50% points rebate when redeeming points for air travel with the same carrier they select for their annual airline fee credit, or when they book business- or first-class airfare through Amex Travel. That equates to 2 cents per point in value on those redemptions. In other words, that 100,000-point bonus alone can be worth $2,000 with very little effort. Amex is also offering 2 points per dollar on small-business purchases through the end of the year, which means even more ways to rack up those points.
As an example, I regularly book round-trip first-class tickets from Miami to New York for around $600. With this new benefit, I’ll need just 30,000 points to do so…and I’ll still earn elite-qualifying and award miles on these redemptions since I’m essentially just using Amex points to “purchase” a ticket. Not only that, but I also regularly frequent the increasing number of fantastic Centurion Lounges Amex continues to open and use the card’s Priority Pass membership to access lounges across the globe.
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.
Standout Benefits: Earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. Waived foreign transaction fees, primary auto rental insurance, trip cancellation coverage and gives cardholders the ability to transfer points to 11 travel partners, including British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, Southwest and United among others.
Annual Fee: $0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $95.
Why it’s worth it: You might be surprised to see this card so high up on my list given the top ranking of the Chase Sapphire Reserve. However, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee or your credit score might not be strong enough to qualify for the Reserve. The Sapphire Preferred still has a strong earning rate of 2 points per dollar at restaurants and on a range of travel purchases, and you can transfer your points to the Ultimate Rewards program’s 11 great travel partners or redeem Ultimate Rewards points directly for airfare at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece. All of those are great reasons in and of themselves, but even more so considering the annual fee is waived the first year, making this a great starter card for travelers.
Current Bonus: 50,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of cardmembership.
Standout Benefits: Earn 3 points per dollar on a category of your choice from a list of five options: airfare purchased directly from airlines, US purchases for advertising in select media, US purchases at gas stations, US purchases for shipping, US computer hardware, software and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers. Earn 2 points per dollar on the four remaining categories and 1 point per dollar on other purchases. The 3x and 2x apply to the first $100,000 in purchases in each of the five categories per year, then you earn 1 point per dollar thereafter. The card waives foreign transaction fees.
Annual fee: $0 the first year, then $175 thereafter.
Why it’s worth it: Though the Business Gold Rewards card doesn’t have the benefits package of the more premium Business Platinum Card, it also doesn’t have that card’s $450 annual fee. In fact, the annual fee is waived the first year, so getting it is like a risk-free test drive of the card’s benefits. This current sign-up bonus is about 10,000 points higher than the usual one on this card and might not be around much longer, so it’s worth applying for it while it’s available. But beyond that, I consider this among the best cards for small businesses thanks to that 3x category of choice and the range of 2x spending categories as well. I get about 300,000 extra Membership Rewards points a year thanks to earning 3 points per dollar on advertising. I could then turn around and transfer 70,000 Amex points to Aeroplan and redeem those for a $7,900 Lufthansa first-class ticket. Four times over! Or, because I also have the Business Platinum Card, I could redeem Amex points directly through Amex Travel for a JetBlue Mint transcontinental business-class ticket starting at about 29,950 points ($599) one-way. That’s 10 tickets just based on my advertising spend. The options are endless, and there are phenomenal values to be had.
5. Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature
Current Bonus: 75,000 Hilton HHonors points when you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
Benefits: Earn 6 HHonors bonus points for each dollar spent at any participating hotel within the Hilton Portfolio. Earn 3 HHonors bonus points for each dollar spent on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations. Earn 2 HHonors bonus points for each dollar spent on all other purchases. Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Silver status as long as you are a cardmember.
Annual Fee: None.
Why it’s worth it: This card is one of several solid options for Hilton guests, and it offers some outstanding benefits considering it does not charge an annual fee. The complimentary HHonors Silver status is a nice perk that I value at about $65, with the main benefit being a fifth night free on award redemptions. This card also lets you upgrade to HHonors Gold status when you spend $20,000 on the card in a calendar year or complete four eligible stays within the first 90 days of account opening. However, the biggest draw is probably the 75,000-point sign-up bonus, which Citi launched in June. That can get you anything from a free night at a top-tier luxury property like the Conrad Hong Kong (where award nights start at 70,000 points in August), or which you can stretch for several nights or stays at lower-level Hilton properties where award nights require as few as 5,000 points.
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.
Standout 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
Why it’s worth it: Where to begin? The sign-up bonus alone is really generous and can equate to thousands of dollars in value if you redeem those free nights at a high-price Tier 3 or 4 property like the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel where TPG Editorial Director James Cury recently stayed and where room rates usually start well above $500 per night. So the sign-up bonus alone could be worth nearly $2,000. Not only that, but there are high-value perks like the Global Entry reimbursement, Priority Pass membership and all those benefits like upgrades and Club Level access that can add tremendous value if you regularly stay at Ritz-Carltons.
Current Bonus: 40,000 ThankYou points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Standout 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. 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 (until July 23, 2017). Citi ThankYou Rewards now has 14 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
Why it’s worth it: Some of this card’s selling points are those bonus-earning categories, the $250 air travel credit, which is even good on airfare, and its lounge access, which includes not only Priority Pass lounges, but also American Airlines Admirals Club lounges until July (for existing cardholders). However, this card’s major standout feature is that 4th Night Free benefit. If you can put it to use regularly, it can save you literally thousands of dollars per year. For instance, I’m using it for an upcoming stay at the Park Hyatt Maldives. By getting four nights in a premium Park Water Sunset Villa for the price of three, I’m saving nearly $1,800. Just on a single hotel stay! However, I use this benefit all the time and all over the world, so that $450 annual fee is more than worth it in my book.
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.
Standout Benefits: This card offers no shortage of valuable benefits, including a $200 annual airline rebate, access to Delta, Priority Pass and 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. Amex recently added a 5x bonus category for airfare purchased directly from airlines or through Amex Travel.
Annual Fee: $450
Why it’s worth it: Amex appears to be feeling the heat from competitors like Chase and Citi lately, and it’s responding by adding some great new benefits to its cards including this one’s unprecedented new 5x airfare spending bonus. That’s this card’s single greatest asset now, by my estimation. While the sign-up bonus is a bit lower than on some comparable cards, the Platinum Card’s other perks like Global Entry fee reimbursement, Hilton HHonors Gold and Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status (and thus Marriott Rewards Gold status now), Fine Hotels & Resorts perks, and access to the Centurion Lounges all make this card a keeper for me. Not only that, but you can also get three additional cards for $175, and each one of those cardholders gets their own Global Entry fee reimbursement and lounge access, which equates to huge savings.
Current Bonus: Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months with the personal card or $5,000 with the business card.
Standout 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 offers OPEN program perks 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.
Why they’re worth it: With the Marriott takeover of Starwood proceeding pretty quickly, there’s no telling how much longer these cards will be around and available for new applications, so you might not want to wait too long to apply. Apart from all the ways you can put Starpoints to use for hotel stays and airline transfers to over 30 partners — including recent addition Virgin America — you can now also transfer points from Starwood to Marriott Rewards at a 3:1 ratio, opening up even more redemption options. The sign-up bonus for one of these cards alone would be worth 75,000 Marriott points, but if you already have a stash of Starwood points, you could also transfer them to Marriott and redeem for a combination of a hotel stay and airline miles at some very favorable rates with Marriott’s Night + Air packages.
Current Bonus: For a limited time earn 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more in the first 90 days – that’s enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit!
Standout Benefits: Earn 2 miles per dollar on all purchases and get 5% of your miles back when you redeem for travel statement credits. There are no foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $89, waived the first year.
Why it’s worth it: This card is back on my list for a couple reasons. First, the sign-up bonus is back up to 50,000 miles from the 40,000 where it sat for quite a while. While these miles are only worth about 1.05 cents apiece when redeemed for travel, that 2x earning provides a good rate of return. These fixed-value miles can be quite useful for unusual redemptions where other points and miles might not be applicable, say for a foreign train ticket, renting a campsite or wiping away carrier-imposed surcharges on airline award tickets or upgrades. I recently did just that and used 70,000 Arrival miles to “wipe” the $700 charge I paid when using Avios to upgrade a British Airways flight from London to Austin to first class.
Which of these travel rewards cards do you plan to add to your wallet this month?
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|