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The Most Notable Credit Card Launches of 2018

Dec. 19, 2018
6 min read
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2018 has been (another) incredible year to be a points enthusiast. While award chart devaluations and other restrictions have forced us to get a little more creative with our long-term strategy, one thing hasn't changed: credit card issuers are still fighting tooth and nail to earn more of your business, and if you're able to get approved for the top cards, there are hundreds of thousands of points on the table for you to collect.

Some of the biggest credit cards news of 2018 has been refreshes of existing cards, including both the American Express® Gold Card and the American Express Business® Gold Card, the Business Platinum Card® from American Express, and many more. But from January on, 2018 has also been full of new card launches. Today we'll take a look back at some of the most notable card launches of the year.

Amex Hilton Aspire (and Ascend)

In January, Amex became the sole issuer of Hilton cobranded credit cards after years of splitting the portfolio with Citi. This let to the mid-tier Hilton Surpass card being rebranded as the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, as well as the launch of the first premium Hilton card, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. You can check out this guide to compare the cards and see which is better for you, but the short story is that the Hilton Aspire is one of the most compelling premium credit cards we've ever seen — it even won Best New Credit Card at the TPG Awards.

While the Aspire card carries a relatively standard premium annual fee of $450 a year (See Rates & Fees), it also offers hundreds of dollars of annual statement credits, including up to a $250 airline incidental credit, up to a $250 Hilton property credit and up to a $100 property credit on qualifying stays of two nights or more at Conrad and Waldorf Astoria properties. That's right, your $450 annual fee earns you $600 in annual statement credits. This card pays for itself, before you even begin to consider the current welcome bonus (150,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months), complimentary top-tier Diamond status, a free weekend night certificate when you open your card and another each year you review. If you frequently find yourself staying at Hilton hotels, this card is a no-brainer for you.

 Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card

One of the cards I find myself using the most often is the Chase Freedom Unlimited, a no-annual fee card that earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back (1.5x points) on purchases. For everyday spending (i.e., not a travel or dining bonus category), it's one of the best options. Earlier this year Chase graced us with a small-business version of the Freedom Unlimited: the Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card. This no annual fee card also earns a fixed 1.5% cash back (1.5x points) on all purchases, and it comes with a generous welcome bonus of $500 after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

The catch, with both of these cards (and the popular Chase Freedom, which is no longer available to new applicants) is that they are technically cash-back cards. That "cash back" is awarded in the form of points that are worth a fixed 1 cent each, but if you also hold any of Chase's paid core cards (such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card) you can move your points to that card and turn them into transferable Ultimate Rewards points. Since TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, that multi-card combo doubles your return and turns your 1.5x earning rate into a 3% return on spending.

IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card

The launch of the Chase IHG Premier Card was notable, but for all the wrong reasons. The old IHG card it replaced had offered one of the most valuable credit card perks: a free night at any IHG property in the world for just a $49 annual fee. Unfortunately, the new card charges a higher annual fee of $89 and caps its anniversary free night at properties costing 40,000 points or less. There are still some valuable ways to use this free night, but this new card lacks the allure that drew Marriott and Hilton elites to the old IHG card.

If you are loyal to IHG, you might find value in the Premier Card, which currently offers a sign-up bonus of 80,000 IHG points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, plus an additional 40,000 bonus points after spending a total of $5,000 on purchases within 6 months of account opening, complimentary IHG Platinum status and 10x points on IHG purchases.

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Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card

As if the Marriott/SPG merger wasn't confusing enough, the only new card to launch under the combined Marriott loyalty program bears the old SPG name and branding. The SPG Luxury Amex continued Amex's dive into the world of premium credit cards, and was a great option for Marriott loyalists who were disappointed to see the Ritz-Carlton Credit Card close to new applicants.

The card launched with a 100,000-point welcome bonus, but it's currently offering 75,000 Marriott points after you spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. Chase and Amex collaborated to share data and limit eligibility for this new bonus, so make sure to read this post and see if you're eligible before you apply. If you're approved, you'll earn complimentary Marriott Gold status and the ability to earn Platinum status by spending $75,000 in a calendar year. You'll also enjoy an anniversary free night worth up to 50,000 points, which includes some high-end Ritz Carlton and St. Regis hotels that sell for $500+ a night in peak season. While this premium credit card carries a $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees), the up to $300 Marriott credit (valid on room rate as well as incidental charges) makes it much more reasonable.

Bottom Line

While the difference between a new card launching and an existing card getting updated might feel like a technicality, it actually has important implications for your application strategy. Issuers like Amex only let you earn a welcome bonus once in your lifetime per card, so a new product means a chance at a new bonus. 2018 was stacked full of revamps, refreshes and new product launches, and we have high hopes that 2019 will see just as many new cards and welcome bonuses for us to earn.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the SPG Luxury Card, please click here.