The Best 5 Credit Cards for a Los Angeles-Based Traveler

Jul 14, 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 Los Angeles.

If you’re like me, you probably put a lot of thought into which travel rewards credit cards would make strong additions to your wallet. Some provide valuable welcome bonuses, while others give you lucrative bonus categories for different types of purchases. Where you live can also play a critical role in this decision, and today I’ll continue my series that identifies the best cards for residents of certain cities. After starting with New YorkAtlanta and other hubs, I’ll now focus on the West Coast and the City of Angels: Los Angeles.

Which card is best for a Los Angeles-based traveler?

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

  • Bonus
  • Earning rates
  • Other benefits
  • Annual fee

I’ll then detail out why that particular card would appeal to Angelenos. 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 recently saw with American).

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 Los Angeles-based award traveler? In no particular order:

1. Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Sign-up bonus: 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening
Earning rates: 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases, at gas stations and restaurants; 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; reduced mileage awards; first checked bag free; 25% off in-flight purchases
Annual fee: $99 (waived for the first year)

Analysis: Los Angeles may not be a huge global hub for American (like Chicago-O’Hare or Dallas-Fort Worth), but it’s still a critical city for the carrier. At the time of writing, American offers nonstop flights to 70 destinations in the US and around the world, including newly announced flights to Hong Kong as well as service to London, Shanghai, Sydney and Auckland. While the AAdvantage program did undergo a significant devaluation in March, there are still some terrific redemptions available.

In addition, the AAdvantage Platinum Mastercard will help make your American travel experience a bit less stressful (and less costly). You and four companions on the same reservation can check a bag for free on all AA flights, saving up to $50 per person on a round-trip domestic flight. You’ll also enjoy preferred boarding, 25% off in-flight purchases. Finally, if you head outside the US, the card doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees.

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.   

Other option(s): Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard (includes Admirals Club membership but carries a $450 annual fee)

2. United MileagePlus Explorer Card

united @ ord
United is another carrier with a large domestic and international presence at LAX, making the Explorer Card another terrific option.

Sign-up 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
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; 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $25,000 each calendar year
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

Analysis: Another carrier with a large presence at Los Angeles is United, offering nonstop service to 53 destinations across the US and abroad. The carrier is also in the middle of a multi-year renovation project at Terminal 7, scheduled for completion in 2017. While this won’t necessarily expand United’s service out of LAX, it will make the travel and transfer process a bit more pleasant. Just remember that United went through its own devaluation back in February 2014, so your miles won’t go nearly as far as they used to, especially on partner flights.

The card also provides Los Angeles-based travelers with a number of key benefits when traveling on United. You and one travel companion on the same reservation will enjoy a free checked bad on all United flights, though you must pay for the ticket with your card to utilize this perk. You’ll also enjoy priority boarding, and if you’re also an elite member, the card will enable you to be upgraded on award tickets. However, one of the most valuable perks is the additional award inventory it opens up, which can save the day if your desired flight only has standard inventory or if you find partner award inventory and need a connecting United flight to make it work.

Other option(s): United MileagePlus Club Card (includes United Club access but carries a $450 annual fee)

3. Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

The Gold Delta Amex is a great option, even if you only fly Delta every one in a while.

Current bonus: 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases on your new card within your first three months, plus a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in the first three months
Earning rates: 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases; 1 mile per dollar everywhere else
Other benefits: No foreign transaction fees; first checked bag free; priority boarding; 20% off in-flight purchases; option to Pay with Miles; discounted SkyClub access
Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

Analysis: Delta is the third legacy carrier with a large route network from Los Angeles, with nonstop flights to 66 destinations around the world (not including codeshares with partners like KLM and Virgin Atlantic). This includes service to Asia, Australia, Europe and Central America, plus numerous cities across the US.

This is why the Gold Delta Amex can be a great card for the Los Angeles-based traveler, since it offers a variety of perks to make your Delta travel a bit easier. For starters, you and up to 8 travel companions on the same reservation can check a bag for free on all Delta flights, saving each passenger up to $50 for round-trip itineraries within the US. You (and the same 8 companions) can also board in Zone 1 to ensure access to overhead space, and if you pay for any food or drinks in-flight with your card, you’ll get 20% back. This card also unlocks Pay with Miles, allowing you to redeem miles to pay for Delta flights, and you can also pay just $29 to access the SkyClub when traveling on any airline.

Other option(s): Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express (same benefits plus Amex OPEN Savings benefits)

4. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Earning rates: 2x points on travel and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide
Other benefits: $0 in foreign transaction fees; primary car rental insurance
Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95

Analysis: If you don’t want to commit to a single airline as a Los Angeles resident, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a fantastic option. Ultimate Rewards points are among the most valuable out there, due in large part to the valuable transfer partners. At least three of them have widespread appeal to Los Angeles-based travelers: United (given the carrier’s large presence), British Airways (given the carrier’s distance-based award chart and the fact that you’d need just 7,500 Avios for one-way AA flights up to 1,151 miles) and Southwest (given that the carrier offers nonstop service to 27 destinations out of LAX). That’s also to say nothing of the valuable hotel partners as well; my personal favorite is Hyatt Gold Passport.

In addition to these lucrative transfer partners, the Sapphire Preferred offers one of the best all-around value propositions of any card out there. The travel bonus category is quite expansive and includes things like Uber and parking, and I’ve even earned double points on purchases at bars that don’t serve any food whatsoever. The primary car rental insurance provides great peace of mind by skirting those high deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses if your rental car is stolen or damaged. Just keep in mind the application restrictions that Chase has started imposing on Ultimate Rewards-earning cards when planning out your applications.

Other option(s): Ink Plus Business Card (higher sign-up bonus and 5x bonus categories, but the 2x category only applies to gas stations and hotel accommodations)

5. Citi Prestige Card

Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after $3,000 in purchases within three months of account opening
Earning rates: 3x points on air travel and hotels; 2x points on dining and entertainment; 1x points everywhere else
Other benefits: $250 annual air travel credit; three rounds of golf; fourth night free on paid hotel stays; no foreign transaction fees
Annual fee: $450

Analysis: Another terrific option that provides flexibility for Los Angeles travelers is the Citi Prestige. The ThankYou Rewards program added several transfer partners back in 2014 and has continued to expand, most recently adding Qantas, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America. These carriers offer many great redemption options (especially Virgin America, with a hub at LAX), but you can also redeem your ThankYou points to pay for American flights (at a rate of 1.6 cents apiece) or for flights on any other airline (~1.33 cents apiece). This is a great way to decrease or eliminate out-of-pocket expenses.

Of course, the benefits of the card go well beyond the sign-up bonus and point redemption opportunities. For starters, I love the Admirals Club access, and it also includes guests traveling on the same itinerary. Unfortunately, though, Citi just announced that this benefit will end next year, so if you don’t already have this card, make sure to factor that into your considerations. The Citi Prestige also comes with Priority Pass membership, so you and your guests/family members can still gain entrance into other lounges at LAX (four to be exact, including the Virgin America Loft in Terminal 3 and the Alaska Airlines Boardroom in Terminal 6). In addition, the $250 annual credit will automatically post when you complete a qualifying transaction, and the card also includes a $100 credit for Global Entry, three free rounds of golf at certain courses each year and the fourth night free on paid hotel stays.

Other option(s): The Platinum Card® from American Express (same annual fee with access to Centurion Lounges but lower bonus and no free guest privileges at Delta Sky Clubs and Priority Pass lounges)

Bottom Line

You hopefully utilize a number of factors to decide whether it’s worth it to open a new credit card, and if you want to redeem your points or miles for free flights, geography can play a key role in this decision-making process as well. As always, be sure to evaluate your own spending habits and desired redemptions, but hopefully this post has given you some guidance for choosing the best credit card option(s) if you currently live in Los Angeles.

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

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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.