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Travel rewards credit card users tend to fall into three types. One group refuses to pay any annual card fees, others are willing to pay more than $400 a year for a top-of-the-line card with all the perks and benefits that come with it and in the middle are those looking for mid-range cards that offer strong value at a reasonable price.
The credit card industry knows this, and has been intensifying its competition at price points just below $100 per year, with $95 and $99 emerging as magic numbers — with some even waiving that fee during the first year. We’ll take a look at just how much you can get for that magic price, broken down by categories.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for earning Ultimate Rewards on travel and dining
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for Hotels.com
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Best for business spending
- Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: Best for American Airlines flyers
- Citi Premier Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Best for Marriott stays
- United Explorer Card: Best for United flights
- Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express: Best for US supermarkets and for frequent spenders
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card: Best for Southwest Airlines flyers working toward status
- Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature Card: Best for Wyndham stays
Annual Fee: $95
Why it’s worth it: You could argue that this is the card that really ignited the sub-$100 market segment when it started offering 2 points per dollar spent on dining and travel. Chase Sapphire Preferred consistently makes any list of top travel rewards cards, which is no surprise given that you can get great value out of Chase Ultimate Rewards points by transferring to any of nine airline programs, and three hotel programs. This card gives you 25% more value for the points you earn when you redeem them for travel in the Ultimate Rewards portal. There are no foreign transaction fees.
Current bonus: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on the card in the first three months.
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $95
Why it’s worth it: This card offers double miles on all purchases, and each mile is worth 1 cent as statement credits toward past and current travel expenses. The Venture Rewards Card has no foreign transaction fees. Also keep in mind that you’ll earn 10x miles on Hotels.com bookings when you book through Hotels.com/Venture and pay with your Venture card — effectively getting you a 10% return on spending, before you factor in the one free night for every 10 paid nights you book through Hotels.com. And it’s one of the Venture cards that allow you to transfer the miles you earn to 14 airline partners.
Current bonus: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on the card within the first three months.
Annual Fee: $95
Why it’s worth it: This small-business card offers you 3x Ultimate Rewards points on up to $150,000 spent each account anniversary year in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Like the Sapphire Preferred, you can transfer rewards to nine frequent flyer and three hotel programs and receive 25% more value when redeeming your points for travel in the Ultimate Rewards portal. This card comes with plenty of travel insurance and purchase protections, including a cell phone protection plan. There’s no foreign transaction fees.
Current bonus: 80,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $99
Why it’s worth it: This card instantly offers you many of the perks of elite status on American Airlines. You get preferred boarding and a free checked bag for yourself and up to four companions on the same itinerary. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, dining and gas stations. The card gets you access to reduced mileage awards, a 25% discount on inflight purchases and an annual $125 flight discount after spending $20,000 or more on the during your card membership year and renewing your card. You will pay a foreign transaction fee.
Current bonus: Earn 50,000 American AAdvantage miles after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months of account opening.
Annual Fee: $95
Why it’s worth it: Citi’s mid-range travel rewards card offers 3x points on travel (including gas, airfare, hotels, car rental agencies, public transportation, tolls, parking and more). It uses a very expansive criteria for awarding these bonuses. You also earn 2x rewards for dining and entertainment purchases, and you can transfer ThankYou points to 15 airlines, plus the Sears Shop Your Way rewards program. Your points are worth 25% more when you redeem then for airfare at thankyou.com. If you don’t have enough points to cover all of your airfare, use a combination of points and your Citi Premier card. As with many of its competitors, there are no foreign transaction fees.
Current bonus: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 with the card within the first three months of account opening.
Annual Fee: $95
Why it’s worth it: This card comes automatic Silver elite status, 15 elite-qualifying nights each year and a free night certificate on each account anniversary that’s valid at any Marriott property costing 35,000 points or less. You’ll earn 6 Marriott points per dollar spent at participating Marriott properties, and 2 points spent everywhere else. Marriott points are easy to redeem for both hotel awards and transfers to airline partners. Plus, when you redeem four free nights at a Marriott property, you get a fifth night free.
Current bonus: 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $95
Why it’s worth it: This airline card’s biggest accomplishment is making flying without elite status somewhat tolerable. You get priority boarding privileges, two one-time United Club passes per year and a free checked bag for you and one traveling companion (but only when you use your card to buy your ticket). Better yet, an exclusive benefit allows you to use your miles to book an award on any unsold seat, albeit at the standard award level. In addition, cardholders receive greater access to economy class award space, which can be a huge plus.
The card offers 2x miles on dining and hotels (in addition to the standard 2x on United purchases), a Global Entry/TSA application fee credit of up to $100 and 25% off inflight purchases. You won’t pay foreign transaction fees. And it comes with travel protections including trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, baggage delay insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and auto rental collision damage waiver.
Current bonus: 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express
Annual Fee: $95
Why it’s worth it: Earn 3x Membership Rewards points at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 spent annually; then 1x), 2x points at US gas stations and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Those bonus categories are already respectable; however, if you make at least 30 transactions during your monthly billing cycle, you get a 50% points bonus, which allows you to earn 4.5x, 3x and 1.5x, respectively. Membership Rewards points can be transferred to 18 different airline programs and three hotel programs. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, and sadly Amex still imposes a 2.7% foreign transaction fee for this card. However, the card does come with travel accident insurance, car rental loss and damage insurance and roadside assistance. (The information for the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit 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.)
Current welcome offer: 15,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $1,000 in your first three months.
Annual Fee: $149, but with an annual $75 credit, it drops to $74.
Why it’s worth it: The Priority card helps you earn status by giving you 1,500 TPQs for every $10,000 you spend on your card (up to $100,000 per year). it comes with the $75 annual travel credit, 7,500 anniversary points, as well as 2 points per dollar on Southwest purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else. You also get 4 upgraded boardings a year, and you don’t pay foreign transaction fees.
Current bonus: 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months your account is open.
Wyndham Rewards Visa Signature Card
Annual Fee: $75
Why it’s worth it: Wyndham might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of travel rewards, but hear me out. This card offers 5x points at all Wyndham properties, 2x points for gas, utility and grocery purchases and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. When it comes time to redeem your points, all properties are 7,500, 15,000 or 30,000 points per night.
Sure, the Wyndham portfolio includes many budget hotels and motels, but you can also redeem your points at luxury hotels and thousands of units in the Wyndham Vacation Rentals collection in major cities, including Wyndham Bali Hai Villas, the all-inclusive Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach and a 2-bedroom condo at Orlando’s Caribe Cove Resort. This card offers you Platinum status in the Wyndham Rewards program and 6,000 bonus points each year on your account anniversary. There’s no foreign transaction fees.
Current bonus: 15,000 bonus points after your first purchase; earn another 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.
Related Travel and Rewards Card Categories:
- Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards of 2019
- The Best Airline Credit Cards of 2019
- The Best Hotel Credit Cards of 2019
- The 7 Best Starter Travel Credit Cards of 2019
- Top Credit Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fees in 2019
- Cash Back vs. Points and Miles Credit Cards: The Pros and Cons of Each
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