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Inside Buahan, Banyan Tree’s first ever Escape resort in Bali

Nov. 03, 2022
25 min read
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The pandemic changed travel as we knew it in so many ways.

For many professionals, Zoom has replaced the traditional business trip. Some remote workers are blending an element of leisure travel into their daily routine by setting up shop in dreamy destinations for a month or two at a time.

Many travelers who once might have hopped on a last-minute flight to a far-flung corner of the globe on a whim are now more closely examining the impact of their travel choices on the environment and local communities with a fresh, more sensitive perspective.

As travel demand has rebounded around the globe, hotels, in particular, have started noting and catering to some of these new trends.

Case in point: Buahan, the first Escape-branded resort from Banyan Tree, a luxury hotel chain based in Asia.

Banyan Tree Escape hotels aim to provide guests with opportunities to immerse themselves in nature through sustainable design, as well as thoughtful, destination-specific experiences and amenities.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

The brand is one of a handful attempting to capitalize on both the seemingly inexhaustible demand from uber-wealthy travelers for novel luxury experiences and a newfound desire to indulge in so-called “regenerative travel.”

The point of regenerative travel is to enrich both travelers and the places they visit through opportunities to engage meaningfully with their surroundings, as well as to reconnect with themselves.

Buahan has taken this trend to its next iteration — and its next price point as well.

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Though racily dubbed “The Naked Experience,” Buahan isn’t a nudist resort (though it's only open to guests 18 or older). The styling is meant to convey the hotel’s “no walls, no doors” design philosophy.

The vision of Banyan Tree Group’s head of architecture, Dharmali Kusumadi, and Bali-based architect Gede Kresna, the concept is that guests have nothing to separate them from the surrounding Balinese jungle during their stay (don’t worry, there are no monkeys in this part of Bali to spoil your solitude).

It’s not just about open-air villas (of which there are 16) with billowy curtains and alfresco tubs, though.

Buahan imbues a sense of place through everything guests experience, from the locally sourced ingredients for its cocktail and dining programs to the traditional remedies incorporated into the spa treatments and immersive activities such as treks to nearby villages, including the one after which the resort is named.

Although my recent two-night stay there was short, it was enough to capture the singular spirit of this unique resort and experience much of what it has to offer guests. Good thing, too, since the nightly rates start at over $900, so most folks might not have long to spend there.

Here’s what it’s like staying at Buahan, a Banyan Tree Escape, in Bali, and how guests can make the most of their time there.

Booking

How you book a hotel can materially affect the cost and the experience, and that’s certainly true with Buahan.

The resort has three types of bales, or villas, though all measure up at 165 square meters (1,776 square feet) including living space and huge outdoor decks with plunge pools.

Rates start at about $940 per night including taxes for Rainforest Pool Bales, which are located farther from the common areas and down in the valley, so they only feature partial mountain views. There are five of these spread across the property.

Buahan Valley Pool Bales, of which there are just three, start at around $1,040 per night including taxes. They are closer to the restaurant and bar, so they don’t require too much of a hike to get to breakfast or dinner, though there is some foot traffic from guests and staff.

Finally, Riverside Jungle Pool Bales, like the one I reserved since I was booking close in and it was the last available accommodation on my dates, start at $1,080 per night. These are higher up in the valley, but along more secluded paths (mine was at the edge of the property) for more privacy and better views. There are eight available.

Booking direct through Buahan’s site, my Riverside Jungle Pool Bale would have cost $2,667 (including taxes) for two nights with breakfast included, but not dinner.

BANYANTREE.COM

The hotel is not part of American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts (though I suspect it will be since many of the Asia-based guests I met while staying said they were holders of the Platinum Card® from American Express and had heard about it via dedicated email blasts).

However, I could book it through Chase’s travel portal for $2,722 for two nights with breakfast included. Although it was more expensive, this booking earns 5 points per dollar with a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or 10 points per dollar with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

CHASE.COM

Since Banyan Tree is part of Accor, however, I logged into my Accor Live Limitless account and found a member rate of $2,529 for the two nights, including breakfast, saving me over $100 compared to booking directly.

ACCOR.COM

My rate ended up including dinner as well. However, special dishes in the evening, as well as lunch and alcoholic beverages cost extra.

As a Classic (non-elite) Accor Live Limitless member, I earned 25 points per 10 euros ($10) spent that I can redeem later at a rate of 2,000 points for 40 euros ($40) off future stays and related charges.

Location

Buahan, a Banyan Tree Escape, is about an hour’s drive north of the center of Ubud. That puts it about two to three hours from Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS).

I arranged a taxi from a hotel in Ubud to Buahan that cost 350,000 Indonesian rupiahs ($23) and booked a car to the airport from Buahan directly through the resort which cost 750,000 rupiahs ($48).

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

There are less expensive transport options with various taxi companies or the ride-hailing service Grab. However, given the remoteness of the location, booking car services ahead of time at reasonable rates seemed like the best option.

Guests who want to venture into Ubud can book the hotel’s complimentary shuttle to the town center, which leaves at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. daily, though you have to make your own way back to the resort.

Check-in and lobby

The drive north from Ubud to Buahan felt like stepping back in time to the Bali that once was.

As the cafes, yoga studios, juice shops and art galleries became sparser, the road began to wind through sleepy villages, peridot-hued rice paddies and breezy palm plantations.

The farther we got, the windier the road became and the fewer cars we passed. Finally, we turned into Buahan’s minimally marked driveway and, after a quick security check, my driver deposited me at a welcome pavilion.

He was so excited to see the place that he grabbed a waiting mallet and struck the kulkul, or wooden drum, to announce my arrival and helped himself to a glass of cold water from a dispenser. He told me that he had heard of the hotel but had not yet seen it and was excited to escort me there.

An attendant named Joni arrived within a minute and thanked my driver graciously, then invited me to bang the bell for myself. The ceremonies dispensed with, Joni asked me to follow him past the organic gardens and to the reception pavilion.

A dramatic flight of wooden stairs descended to the reception area — a large open-air pavilion with a peaked roof, whose focal point was a mesmerizing wall sculpture.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

The tableau of whorls and vortices is a visual representation of the acoustic landscape of Buahan. To create it, Singapore-based creative studio Sonic made recordings around the area at dawn and then converted the sounds and vibrations into an image via the art of cymatics.

The result is an eye-catching visual representation of the encircling jungle that is repeated as a motif throughout the resort, including in lightweight woven wraps the hotel offers guests as complimentary souvenirs.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

I was invited to continue past the small office to the Botanist Bar to complete the check-in formalities. Along with a cocktail bar, the space contained a long communal table down its center and various vignettes with armchairs and sofas. I chose one overlooking the Open Kitchen restaurant and the pool deck below.

I filled out my contact information and handed over a credit card for incidentals along with my passport, then enjoyed a cup of chilled arak palm spirit with herbaceous pidu juice along with a coconut-dusted truffle made with cacao from the gardens and a freshened up with a damp, scented towel.

It was only 1:30 p.m. and my bale wasn’t ready yet, so I changed into my bathing suit and grabbed a lounger by the pool, where I was the only guest, though others were having lunch at the restaurant.

At 3 p.m. sharp, Joni came to tell me my bale was ready. I was eager to get settled in, so he walked me over to it to explain its features.

The room

The resort cascades down the steep hillsides of a valley to the banks of the Ayung River. Buahan’s 16 bales are laid out along leafy paths and serpentine stairways at irregular intervals, each uniquely positioned for mountain and jungle views along with a dose of seclusion. It’s quite romantic.

My Riverside Jungle Pool Bale, number 15, was at the end of a path around the midpoint of the valley, a vigorous five-minute walk up to the main pool and the Open Kitchen, and a more leisurely five-minute walk down to the spa and yoga bales.

Although I could see from my villa’s outdoor deck up to the reception pavilion, it still felt totally private since no foot traffic passed by my gate.

Although Buahan is a resort with no doors, each villa has a wooden gate where guests can hang a colorful Balinese puppet to indicate they don't want to be disturbed.

Inside the gate, a pathway led to the bale’s wooden outdoor deck, which had two levels.

On the lower one, two lounge chairs stocked each day with fresh towels were set alongside a stone-tiled plunge pool with an infinity edge that melted into the jungle scenery beyond. A shaded daybed anchored the shallow end of the pool and had a tray table with complimentary, all-natural sunscreen and insect repellent.

Side note: I got just a single mosquito bite over the course of nearly three days, but other guests reported being bitten more frequently. The resort plants insect-repelling plants like lemongrass strategically around the property to help keep them at bay.

Up a set of stairs, the other portion of the deck had a table with two chairs looking out to Bali’s famed seven peaks in the distance. It also included a fire pit that room attendants could light upon request in the evening.

It was the ideal spot to watch banks of mist rolling over the treetops in the morning over a cup of coffee or to listen to the sounds of the forest with a nightcap before bed.

The bale itself was a wooden pavilion, its roof supported by thick ironwood columns salvaged from disused boat jetties. Around its edges were bamboo and canvas flaps that housekeeping unfurled at night to keep the bugs out, then inner sets of flowy white curtains to demarcate the villa’s various areas.

The entire space had dark wooden floors with woven mats and a low wooden bench surrounded the living space, further separating the “interior” and the outside.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

The living area featured a single couch with a carved wooden frame, cushioned seating and several pillows you could set up for your ideal lounging position.

On the low wooden coffee table, a welcome note from the manager plus a bowl of fruit and a decanter of the resort’s signature “Baligroni” cocktail awaited me.

Instead of Campari, the concoction got its orangey-red hue from Kintamani orange and dried rosella, which infused a deceptively strong mix of East Indies gin and palm-based arak spirit along with house-made bitters and cardamom.

Behind the couch and its companion standing lamp, the minibar held an electric kettle, pour-over coffee setup, vials of Balinese-grown Arabica coffee and Buahan-made tea blends, such as the Serenity with chamomile, lavender and mint. There were also house-made cookies and taro chips. Housekeeping kept the minibar stocked with several large bottles of purified water, which they replaced whenever they serviced the room.

Beyond the living room, the bed featured a suspended canopy with gauzy, white curtains that could be closed at night for privacy (and to keep out the bugs), fluffy pillows and a sculpted wooden headboard with flip-out reading lights embedded on both sides.

Trying to air condition an open-air bale would be an exercise in futility and wastefulness. Instead, the bales are equipped with cooling systems that fan cold air directly over the bed — and that guests can adjust to their comfort level. There were also overhead fans to circulate the air.

The bed was flanked by small metal nightstands with a standing lamp. I used the same outlet to charge my devices since the only other convenient charging point was at the minibar. One nightstand also held a tablet on which guests could view and book the various amenities the resort offered, such as room service, daytime activities and spa treatments.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

There was a wooden bench at the foot of the bed that held an amenity basket of sorts. It included stationery (presumably to write to your friends back home and engender FOMO), colorful cards featuring Balinese myths and two cotton wraps with the Buahan symbol emblazoned on them that guests could take home as souvenirs.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Next to the bed was an open-concept closet installation with a set of drawers and a rack for hanging clothes, along with ponchos, lanterns, light cotton robes, straw hats and a day bag for guest use.

Anchoring the bathroom section of the bale was a vanity with a large circular mirror with a carved wooden frame and two basin sinks sitting atop the wooden counter. There were two more bottles of purified water available here, along with hand soap and lotion made from plants grown in the resort’s organic garden.

Behind the vanity and separated from the rest of the bale by curving wooden half-walls were a toilet area to one side and a two-person shower with twin overhead showerheads and two handheld ones to the other. The latter was provisioned with shampoo, conditioner and body wash, also created from organic farm ingredients.

The piece de resistance, however, had to be the freestanding hand-beaten copper bathtub out in the main room overlooking the jungle. It was the perfect place to soak after a spa treatment with the aromatic bath salts and bath gel provided.

The bale seemed to exemplify the Buahan spirit — a space that felt both extremely private and yet intimately connected with the surrounding environment.

The grassy scent of the jungle permeated the villa, as did the sounds of birds and insects (and a few critters did make it past those curtains, though nothing poisonous). However, the elegant furniture, hyper-local amenities and the moderate but effective cooling system all combined to create a high-end yet accessible space.

Food and beverage

One of the most interesting aspects of Buahan (to me, at least) is the fact that all the ingredients for the menus come from within a one-hour drive of the resort, and many of them are grown right on the property. What’s more, the menus are 70% plant-based, so while meals are sumptuous and gourmet, they also feel light and healthy.

This concept was developed in partnership with Agency X, a food and beverage consulting group based in Bali whose other projects include the Ubud restaurant Locavore.

The resort’s head chef, Eka Sunarya, is actually a Buahan native with intimate knowledge of Balinese agriculture who has worked at luxury hotels around the world — including various Banyan Tree properties.

He was often on hand during my stay to explain various menu items to guests and answer their questions, as well as to wax proudly about the variety and profusion of local produce he could procure for the culinary program.

Breakfast and dinner are currently included with most nightly rates, which is a good thing since guests would otherwise likely have to trek to Ubud to find a lot of other choices. Meals are served in the Open Kitchen, though guests can arrange to have them brought to their bales as well.

The morning meal includes a buffet of fresh fruit, pastries, cold cuts and cheeses along with a selection of sparingly portioned hot and specialty dishes. I sampled the local hen eggs made to order over seeded toast with mushrooms and chicken sausage, which was hearty and savory.

The more typical nasi liwet rice with braised tempeh, egg and spicy sambal I ordered to start my second day was so good, I ordered an additional portion.

For lunch, I savored chicken skewers with a side of rice balls and a spicy-sweet salad of fresh greens, bean sprouts and carrots that hit the spot after a long hike.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Dinners, however, were the marquee experience.

Each evening, the kitchen staff prepared a new multi-course menu of dishes with seasonal ingredients, though guests could also order a la carte if they preferred.

The regular menu items included a variety of sandwiches and burgers, pasta, fresh fish and various Indonesian dishes. Given the strong focus on food sourcing, though, I stuck to the specialty selections.

The first evening, amuse bouches featured slow-baked jicama with tangy lime-peanut emulsion, crispy dehydrated cabbage leaf with cultured cashew yogurt and various pickled vegetables from nearby farms. The second course was a salad of foraged wild leaves, flowers and sprouts drizzled with miso-chili vinaigrette.

Next came a hearty bagna cauda with braised local beans, smoked duck-egg yolk, tempeh crumble and pickled shallots before a main of tender baby cabbage grilled with miso, mushroom tempeh sambal and preserved kai lan (a local green) stem powder. Carnivores could order a flank steak.

For dessert, the filling roasted rice bubur with pandan gelato and miso caramel was both sweet and complex.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

The second evening, my dinner was comprised of bites of yam fries with earthy banana ketchup, crunchy fried oyster mushrooms with green garlic emulsion and a juicy watermelon tartare with pickled green peppercorns, crispy grains and cultured cashew cheese.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

That was followed by fried banana blossom with pickled shallots and roasted peanuts, barley porridge with grilled sweet corn, a confit chicken leg and then a chocolate ganache with roasted banana gelato for dessert.

The resort’s cocktail program is just as interesting. Drinks creatively blend traditional Balinese herbs and flavors into exciting new combinations.

The Kakap (215,000 rupiahs; about $14) with spiced rum, dry vermouth, house-made chili syrup, coconut water, turmeric and sirih (also known as betel) leaves was somehow both refreshing and warming.

The ruby-red Boni (also 215,000 rupiahs; $14) with house-fermented kombucha made with tart blood berries, Kintamani orange liqueur and vodka from Balinese distillery Kaja was an extraordinarily balanced blend of sweet and sour flavors — sort of like a Balinese cosmopolitan.

Amenities

The resort fields a full calendar of activities, some of which are complimentary and some of which are add-ons, to keep guests busy and engaged (though no one will call you out for simply spending the day by the pool).

After settling into my bale, I ambled downhill to the yoga pavilion for a sunset yin yoga class that ended up being a one-on-one stretching session since no other guests appeared. It was exactly what I needed after taking three very long flights and two long car drives in the previous two days. Early risers can take a sunrise surya yoga class, too.

The next morning, I donned hiking shoes, grabbed a walking stick and joined a group of my fellow guests after breakfast for a three-hour trek through nearby villages and rice paddies.

Our guide stopped along the way to talk about various fruits and plants we saw, tell us about the day-to-day lives of people in the area and, of course, take photos of each of us in the almost-too-green-to-be-real rice paddies.

Though it was slightly strenuous, it was a phenomenal way to get out of the resort and see a little slice of Balinese daily life, especially as we neared the end and serendipitously caught a group of women taking offerings to the village temple.

That afternoon, I joined the “boreh rub” class, where two spa therapists taught guests to make an herbal scrub using various kinds of ginger, clove, turmeric, coconut oil, rice powder and other ingredients. We each received a bowl of paste we could take back to our bale with us and use as an exfoliant and body soak that evening.

On the second (and final) morning of my stay, I joined two other guests on a 20-minute trek down to the Tjampuhan waterfall at the bottom of the property.

If you’ve visited Bali, no doubt you’ve taken a tour or daytrip to see various waterfalls around the island, many of which are crowded with other tourists and, more often than not, social media aspirants patiently lining up to try to get that perfect shot in a string bikini. This could not have been more different.

On our walk down to the river, our guide told us about the area and the traditions of its people before giving us some time to wade in the water and stand under the cascade, which thundered down a volcanic rock face. We had it all to ourselves and it was simply stunning — the perfect experience to end my stay.

Other complimentary activities include a cycling tour of nearby villages, a foraging session with chef Sunarya, restorative firelight yoga during the new and full moon and crafting various healing elixirs and herbal drinks.

Among the paid activities are an “Earthy Heritage” cooking class with Sunarya where guests can prepare a healthy menu of immune-boosting dishes that they then enjoy for 1.5 million rupiahs ($96.50) per person and a pre-dawn hike to Mount Batur for 2.7 million rupiahs ($174) per person.

Those interested in horoscopes can book a “Soul Journey” that includes an astrology reading by a Balinese high priest and a personalized purification and energizing blessing for 2.7 million rupiahs ($174) per person.

The paid activity I was most looking forward to, however, was a treatment at the Toja Spa since Banyan Tree is known for its wellness offerings.

The massage choices included a 60- or 90-minute Asian stretch experience for 1.5 million or 1.9 million rupiahs ($96.50 to $122), respectively; a 90-minute Sleep Essentials relaxation massage for 1.7 million rupiahs ($109); an aromatic boreh body cleansing for 60 minutes and 650,000 rupiahs ($42); a 90-minute sound-healing and chakra-balancing treatment for 1.9 million rupiahs ($96.50); a 60-minute flower kumkuman cleaning scrub with plants like cucumber and peppermint for 650,000 rupiahs ($42); and the 120-minute Buahan Bliss Package, which includes a body exfoliation, a stimulating massage and a warming herb wrap for 2.7 million rupiahs ($174).

In the end, I chose the 90-minute Island Pijat treatment for 1.9 million rupiahs ($122).

My therapist, Yanti (another Buahan local) walked me down from the boreh-mixing class at Botanist Bar to one of the spa bales down near the river. She began by giving me a foot scrub using hotel-grown cacao grounds and local honey, then asked me to smell a selection of essential oils including lemon, lemongrass, ginger, ylang-ylang, rose and patchouli and choose the one that I preferred to be mixed into the coconut oil for my treatment.

The massage, based on traditional Balinese techniques, was a relaxing yet invigorating combination of long, deep-pressure strokes with focused trigger-point movements. I felt terrific when I left.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

It's true you can get wonderful massages very inexpensively in Bali. However, compared to the prices charged at some of the area’s other high-end resorts, I thought the spa menu at Buahan was reasonable, and the experience itself was superb.

Service

Every time I visit Bali, I’m reminded of just how warm, welcoming and caring the people who live there and who work in hospitality are, and my stay at Buahan was no exception.

Every person I interacted with was curious to know more about me, where I came from and how I’d heard about the resort. They also invariably asked if I had any questions either about Buahan itself or about Bali and some of the things I might like to do while visiting.

Any time I sat down to a meal, I was asked to confirm any food allergies or dietary preferences, and I was always offered an escort to or from my bale for dinner since the paths could be dark at night.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

By my second morning, the activities staff, as well as the servers in the bar and restaurant all knew my name and unfailingly asked me how I was enjoying my stay, whether the activities were interesting, or if they could do anything to make my experience better (they couldn’t).

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

In short, I felt taken care of and, since most of the staff were from the surrounding area, if not the village of Buahan itself, it felt like they were inviting me into their home for a short while. If that’s not hospitality, I don’t know what is.

Accessibility

Unfortunately, accessibility is not one of Buahan’s strengths.

There are no designated mobility-, sight- or hearing-accessible villas at the resort.

There is an inclinator (kind of like a funicular) that stops at various levels of the resort so guests can avoid some sets of rough-hewn stone stairs. However, those with limited mobility will likely have issues getting to their villa due to the uneven ground and gravel pathways. Signage was limited, too, though it should be getting more robust soon.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Navigating the public areas, including the Botanist Bar and Open Kitchen, also requires going up and down stairs, and neither the public pool nor the ones in the individual villas have lifts or non-stair entries.

In short, this is probably not the right resort for travelers whose accessibility needs are top of mind.

Checking out

Although the words “naked experience” might indicate that guests should expect a lascivious stay, my visit to Buahan, a Banyan Tree Escape, was more salubrious than salacious.

After a very long journey to get there, it was just the place to jump off the treadmill of day-to-day life and experience a moment of quiet and connection.

ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Whether it was simply sitting in my bale listening to the sounds of the jungle, learning about the foraged herbs flavoring my cocktail from a friendly barman, enjoying a meditative yoga session at dusk, or standing under a roaring waterfall, my time at Buahan was both restorative and reenergizing … even with a few big nighttime bugs fluttering around my bed.

Featured image by ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
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  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023