The Best 5 Credit Cards for a New York-Based Traveler

Jun 27, 2016

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There are plenty of great rewards-earning credit cards to choose from, but depending on where you live and which airlines best serve your hub airport, some of them are better choices than others. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen takes a look at the top options for travelers flying out of New York City.

There are many ways to decide which travel rewards credit cards to carry in your wallet. You may want to take advantage of an increased bonus or could want to simply utilize a card’s lucrative bonus categories. Another key aspect of this decision involves geography, as certain cards may be more appealing to residents of one city than another. Today I’ll kick off a new series that examines this very thing, beginning with the city that never sleeps.

To answer the question of which cards are best for New York-based travelers in today’s post (as well as future posts for other major cities), I’ll be following a straightforward format that looks at the following characteristics of a given card:

  • Welcome bonus
  • Earning rates
  • Other benefits
  • Annual fee

I’ll then detail out why that particular card would appeal to New Yorkers. Finally, I’ll note another one or two similar options any highlight the key difference(s) you’d notice.

Before getting into the analysis, a few disclaimers. For starters, this list is aimed mainly at leisure travelers who are interested in maximizing their rewards on credit cards. If you regularly travel for business and earn elite status, the calculus may change significantly, as you have additional ways to earn points and miles, and some of the benefits I tout below may be included. Fierce loyalty to a single airline may also lead you away from cards offered by a competitor, though I would strongly encourage you to diversify in the event of a mass-scale devaluation (like we saw with American recently).

In addition, this list represents just one way of looking at the situation and is geared mainly at free flights. You may simply want a card that offers solid everyday value for other rewards (like the Citi Double Cash Card for cash back or the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card for free hotel stays). As always, feel free to adjust the list based on your own situations.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, which cards are best for a New York-based award traveler? In no particular order:

1. JetBlue Plus Card

Sign-up bonus: 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
Earning rates: 6x points on JetBlue purchases; 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores; 1x points on all other purchases
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; 10% of your points back every time you redeem; 5,000 bonus points on your account anniversary; 50% savings on in-flight purchases; enjoy TrueBlue Mosaic benefits after spending $50,000 in a year
Annual fee: $99

Analysis: JetBlue may have lost the bidding war for Virgin America, but it’s still a force to be reckoned with in New York. The carrier’s main hub is at JFK Airport, with nonstop flights to 68 destinations at time of writing (you’ll also find JetBlue at both LaGuardia and Newark, with flights primarily to Florida). The carrier’s well-regarded Mint class is being added to several new routes over the next couple of years, and the in-flight experience includes free snacks and drinks along with free Wi-Fi.

The card’s sign-up bonus may not be mind-blowing ($300-$420 based on TPG’s most recent valuations) but can still unlock some great redemptions, and the other benefits make the card a compelling value proposition to keep in your wallet for the long term. The 10% rebate on award flights is uncapped, and the 5,000-point anniversary bonus nearly covers the $99 annual fee. The 50% discount on in-flight purchases is also significantly higher than other airline co-branded cards, and with no foreign transaction fees, you can use the card all over the world.

Other option(s): JetBlue Card (lower sign-up bonus and fewer perks but no annual fee)

2. Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Delta's squeezing more seats on its regional jets.
You may not be able to snag Comfort+ seats, but the Gold Delta Amex at least makes it easier to grab overhead space with priority boarding.

Current bonus: 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first three months.
Earning rates: 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases; 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; Priority (Zone 1) boarding; free checked bag; discounted Sky Club access; in-flight savings
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

Analysis: Delta is another airline with a significant presence in the New York market, but unlike JetBlue, the carrier focuses on both major New York City airports. At the time of writing, Delta and its codeshare partners provide nonstop service to 66 destinations from LaGuardia and 105 destinations from JFK, giving New Yorkers direct access to a huge worldwide network of flights. While the SkyMiles program has undergone some significant devaluations over the last few years, there are still some great redemptions out there.

The Gold Delta Amex recently topped Jason Steele’s post on the Best 8 Cards for Flying Delta, and for good reason. The limited-time elevated welcome bonus (available through July 6) of 50,000 points is worth $600, based on TPG’s valuations, but the other benefits can help New York-based travelers in the long term. The waived check bag fee applies to the primary cardholder and up to eight companions, saving $50 per person on a round-trip flight. Zone 1 boarding can make the difference between getting overhead space and having to gate check your bag (though hopefully Delta’s new overhead bins will prevent this problem in the future). You can also get into the Sky Club for just $29, with two lounges in both LaGuardia and JFK. Finally, if you spend $25,000 on the card in a calendar year, you’ll be exempt from Delta’s revenue-based requirement for elite status, a great perk for those who fly enough but don’t spend enough for elite status.

Other option(s): Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express (bonus MQMs but with a $195 annual fee), Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express (Sky Club access and MQMs but with a $450 annual fee)

3. United MileagePlus Explorer Card

United Newark Featured
United’s Newark hub may be in New Jersey, but its proximity to NYC and expansive route network make the Explorer Card a terrific choice.

Current bonus: 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open, plus 5,000 bonus miles when you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months (though you may be targeted for a higher offer)
Earning rates: 2 miles per dollar spent on United tickets; 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases
Other benefits: Free checked bag; priority boarding; 2 United Club passes each year; no foreign transaction fees
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

Analysis: One of United’s main hubs is at Newark International Airport, arguably easier to access from many New York locations (excluding Long Island). The carrier is making significant investments in the airport given the extensive route network it offers, not only across the US but to Europe, South America, Asia, the Middle East and India. Even though the MileagePlus program was gutted back in 2014, there are still some great uses of United miles.

If Newark is a conceivable airport for you, the Explorer Card is a great option. It offers many of the same benefits as the Gold Delta Amex, including waived foreign transaction fees, priority boarding and a free checked bag (though you’ll need to purchase your ticket with the card to gain access to this benefit). The two annual United Club passes can come in handy during a lengthy delay, and Newark gives you three different lounge locations from which to choose. However, I would argue that the most useful benefit of the card is the additional award inventory that cardholders can access, expanding your ability to use your MileagePlus miles for future flights.

Other option(s): United MileagePlus Club Card (United Club access and additional perks but a $450 annual fee)

4. The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Amex Platinum includes access to Centurion Lounges in New York-LaGuardia, Las Vegas (pictured) and several other large cities.

Current bonus: 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months (be sure to check the Card Match Tool and alternate browsers to see if you get a targeted offer of 75,000 or 100,000 points)
Earning rates: 1 point per dollar spent
Other benefits: $200 airline fee credit; airport lounge access; no foreign transaction fees; Global Entry fee credit; automatic SPG and Hilton Gold status
Annual fee: $550

Analysis: If you’re looking for value-added benefits as a New York-based traveler, the Amex Platinum could be a great option. For starters, you’ll enjoy lounge access to Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs and Priority Pass lounges, though the latter two don’t include guest privileges. Here’s what that covers at each of the three major NY airports:

  • LaGuardia: Centurion Lounge, Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, two Sky Clubs
  • JFK: KAL Business Class Lounge, Air France Lounge, Airspace Lounge, Wingtips Lounge, two Sky Clubs
  • Newark: Art & Lounge, Sky Club

You can also transfer the Membership Rewards points you earn on the card to one of 17 airline partners to then redeem your points. Every one offers nonstop flights out of one (or more) of the three NYC airports, and two of them (JetBlue and Delta) use New York as a major hub. Given the vast array of international carriers in the market, you can hopefully put the $100 Global Entry credit to good use, and it should also be easy to get the $200 fee credit each year.

Other option(s): Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express (3x points on airfare but few added travel perks)

5. Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

The SPG Amex card is a great option for free flights given the program's 35 airline transfer partners.
The SPG Amex card is a great option for free flights given the program’s 35 airline transfer partners.

Current bonus: 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months
Earning rates: 2 points per dollar spent at SPG hotels; 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; 2 stays and 5 nights toward SPG elite status every year; free in-room premium internet; Boingo Wi-Fi
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

Analysis: The final card on the list may seem a bit strange, as the SPG Amex is really geared more toward free hotel stays. However, the card does offer a compelling value proposition for award travelers interested in free flights thanks to its 35 airline transfer partners (Virgin America was the most recent addition). While you can get some terrific value from using Starpoints for hotel stays at properties like the W Hong Kong and the St. Regis Bal Harbour, transferring points to airlines can be quite lucrative, especially when you factor in the 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer.

One particularly interesting option is JAL, as SPG is the only transferable point currency to partner with the carrier’s Mileage Bank program. JAL uses a distance-based award chart and is not only part of Oneworld; it also partners with Emirates (and hasn’t devalued first-class redemptions like Alaska, another SPG transfer partner). As a result, you could transfer your Starpoints to JAL’s Mileage Bank program and redeem for the following flights:

  • Round-trip business-class flights from New York-JFK to Milan (63,000 miles, or 53,000 Starpoints)
  • Round-trip first-class flights from New York-JFK to Dubai with an optional stopover in Milan (135,000 miles, or 110,000 Starpoints)

There are many other compelling transfer partners, and other perks like unlimited Wi-Fi hotspot access through Boingo only add to the value you can get from the card.

Other option(s)Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

Bottom Line

As you can see, there are many different credit cards that provide New York-based travelers with great options to plan for their next trip. Of course, this list isn’t anywhere near comprehensive, as different products may appeal to different individuals based on your own unique situation. However, I hope this analysis has given you a framework to apply as you think about which card will give you the best bang for your buck.

For the NYC-based TPG readers out there, what’s your favorite credit card for award travel?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.