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I’ve been following credit cards very closely over the past five years and I can say without a doubt that travel rewards credit cards have exploded in popularity and we’ve seen more and more competitors enter the market than ever before. But that also means it’s now harder than ever to choose the right credit card because there are simply too many options.
So I’ve narrowed down the choices to some of my favorite credit cards below and provided some insight into why those are some of my favorite based on things like welcome offers, bonus categories, travel credits, and other special perks.
My #1 travel rewards credit card
If you don’t have the time to go through this entire article and read up on all of your many options, my #1 travel rewards credit card for beginners is the Chase Sapphire Preferred and it’s because of the following features:
- Welcome bonus of 60,000 points worth over $700 (one of the best sign-up bonuses available)
- Ability to transfer points to solid transfer partners (like United and Southwest)
- Low annual fee of $95
- 2X on dining and a very broad travel category
- Great upgrade potential in the future
- Click here to read more about this card!
A word on methodology
This list is based on what travel credit cards I would recommend to most people with a good credit score and with taking the Chase 5/24 rule into major consideration.
5/24 is a rule that prevents you from being approved for certain Chase cards if you’ve opened up five or more accounts in the previous 24 months. If you have fewer than five cards opened in the past 24 months, then you’re “under 5/25” but if you’ve opened five or more accounts then you’re “over 5/24.”
The result of the 5/24 rule means that you typically want to pursue cards affected by 5/24 first while you are still eligible for them. This list has a handful of Chase cards which are affected by 5/24 that you’ll want to consider first.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred comes with a solid sign-up bonus of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months. For the longest time this offer was stuck at 50,000 so the fact that it is now at 60,000 is a big deal. After several years, this card is still one of the top travel credit cards available to the public, since it earns 2X on a broad travel category and 2X on dining and also offers primary rental car insurance.
For many people paying $450 for the Sapphire Reserve is just asking too much, regardless of the potential return in value, and so the Sapphire Preferred is often the more practical option. If you’re averse to high annual fees but want a solid travel credit card, this card might be perfect for you with only a $95 annual fee.
The Chase Ink Business Preferred is a business card so it won’t report to your personal credit report. This means that it won’t affect your 5/24 status and that’s a major reason why you would want to pursue it first. The Chase Ink Preferred has a high sign-up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. The card also earns 3X per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on all of the following categories:
- Travel, including airfare, hotels, rental cars, train tickets and taxis
- Shipping purchases
- Advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines
- Internet, cable and phone services
With its high sign-up bonus of 80,000 points and solid bonus categories, this is the #1 business card offered by Chase and one of the best ways to quickly accumulate Ultimate Rewards that you can transfer out to valuable transfer partners like United, Southwest, Avios, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, and more.
The Chase Ink Cash also won’t report to your personal credit report so again this is one of the first cards you’d want to consider if you were under 5/24. The Ink Cash comes with a great sign-up bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after you spend $3,000 in the first three months along with a 0% APR period.
That’s worth at least $500 which is very competitive for a no annual fee credit card but the card also has some fantastic bonus categories. The Chase Ink Cash earns 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases each account anniversary year at:
- Phone services
- Office supply stores
And it also earns 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases each year at:
- Gas stations
You can’t transfer your Ultimate Rewards directly to travel partners with the Ink Cash, though. However, if you have a premium card like the Chase Ink Preferred or a Sapphire card, you can still transfer them to partners. Thus, the Ink Cash is a great partner card to other Chase cards.
If you want to explore more of the top business cards which can keep you below 5/24 since they don’t report to your personal credit report then check out this article (most of those cards won’t report to your personal credit report).
I’ll now focus the rest of the article on the personal travel cards.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the ultimate travel credit cards. It’s got a great sign-up bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months but it also has some other valuable perks. Two of the strongest benefits include a $300 travel credit along with the ability to earn 3X on dining and travel. The card also comes with Priority Pass and the ability to redeem points at 1.5 cents per point through Chase Travel Portal.
It also offers some of the best travel and purchase protections offered by any credit card. You might be turned off by the $450 annual fee, but with its $300 travel credit you can knock down that fee to $150. And it’s really easy to earn more than $150 of rewards with the bonus spending.
But what really makes this card stand out are the bonus categories which are:
- 3X on airfare
- 4X points at Restaurants
- 4X points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in spend per calendar year)
The card also comes with a $120 dining credit, which offers a $10 monthly credit that can be used at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and Shake Shack (read more about that credit here). With the addition of a $100 airline credit, it’s very easy knock down the effective annual fee to just $30.
I plan on putting all of my US dining and supermarket spend on this card for the foreseeable future and am very excited about the prospect of earning more rewards.
The Platinum Card comes with a welcome bonus of 60,000 miles after spending $5,000 within the first 3 months (75K offer in Google Incognito and there are even methods to get 100K offers). This card is loaded with benefits which include:
- Priority Pass access for you and two guests
- Centurion lounges access for you and two guests
- Delta SkyClub access when flying with Delta
- Hilton Honors Gold elite status
- Marriott Gold elite status
- $200 annual Uber credit
- $200 annual airline credit
- 5X on airfare and 5X on hotels booked through the Amex Travel portal
- TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry $100 credit
If you’re able to utilize the $200 annual travel credit and the $200 in Uber credits, you’re looking at an effective annual fee of $150, which is fantastic considering the benefits listed above.
American Express has arguably better transfer partners than Chase. With American Express, you can transfer Membership Rewards to airlines like ANA, Aeroplan, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, British Airways/Iberia, Flying Blue, Delta, JetBlue, Etihad, Emirates, and several others. These partners give you maximum flexibility across several alliances and partnerships making it much easier to find good rewards to use your points on.
I personally would also hold off on the Platinum Card unless I was able to pick up a 100K offer. In that case, I’d be willing to burn a 5/24 slot for the Platinum.
The new American Express Green Card comes with 30,000 Membership Rewards when you spend $2,000 in the first three months (higher Incognito offers may be available). Also, you can get $100 in statement credits toward any purchases made with Away (luggage) in your first three months (Offer ends 1/15/2020).
It also earns 3X on travel and 3X on dining. Up to this point, there has been no American Express product that offers a good multiplier of bonus points on general travel costs. Now, just like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can earn triple the points on general travel with the American Express Green Card.
Earning triple the points on dining is also very nice. Personally, I will stick to using my American Express Gold Card to earn 4X on dining. But if you don’t want to get the Gold card (with its $250 dollars annual fee) this is a pretty good option.
The American Express Green Card will also offer you $100 per year in statement credits for CLEAR (the regular price for CLEAR is $179 a year) and $100 in annual credits for LoungeBuddy. These help offset the $150 annual fee.
The World of Hyatt card is one of the best hotel credit cards available since it comes with a great sign-up bonus, great bonus category earning, and the opportunity for free nights. It’s also one of the best hotel cards for climbing your way up the elite status tiers for Hyatt.
Here’s what the sign-up bonus looks like:
- Earn 25,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- Plus, earn an additional 25,000 Bonus Points after you spend $6,000 total on purchases within the first 6 months of account opening.
And here’s what the bonus earning looks like:
- 4X spent with your card at Hyatt hotels, including participating restaurants and spas
- 2X on local transit and commuting, including taxis, mass transit, tolls and ride-share services
- 2X at restaurants, cafes and coffee shops
- 2X on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline
- 2X spent on fitness club and gym memberships
The card also comes with the ability to earn free nights and to climb up the elite status tiers of Hyatt.
- Free nights:
- Receive one free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort every year after your cardmember anniversary
- Earn an extra free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort if you spend $15,000 during your cardmember anniversary year
- Elite status:
- Comes with Hyatt Discoverist status
- Receive 5 qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every year
- Earn 2 additional qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every time you spend $5,000 on your card
If you value the Hyatt program and you put a lot of spend on your card then this could be a great way to obtain and hold on to Hyatt elite status for only $95 a year.
The Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card comes with a 50,000 point bonus after spending $3,000 (worth $500) within the first 3 months and has a tiered bonus earning structure. It only has a $95 annual fee but comes with a $100 credit for airline incidentals, (baggage fees, in-flight drinks, etc. but excludes airfare) and a $100 Global Entry credit
The card offers you maximum flexibility when redeeming your points since they effectively act as a credit that can be used on any purchase, starting at $25. Factoring in the purchases needed to meet the minimum spend requirement, you’ll be left with $560 worth of statement credit with this card. Having the flexibility to use your miles on any purchase makes it a lot easier to purchase airfare and hotels and put your itinerary together.
I’m not crazy about the cash back earnings on this card (1.5% back on all purchases and 2% on travel and dining), but it’s still a great way to cover $500+ worth of travel expenses with its sign-up bonus. Also, the travel credits are issued by calendar year, so it’s easy to come out ahead even with the $95 annual fee that is not waived.
10. Hilton Honors Aspire Card
If you are interested in staying at Hilton properties then the Amex Hilton Aspire should be on your radar for several reasons. This card offers a welcome bonus of 150,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. It also has some great bonus categories of:
- 14X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
- 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants
- 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on other purchases
The Aspire also comes with a number of credits that help offset the $450 annual fee:
- $250 airline incidental fee statement credit
- $250 Hilton resort statement credit
- $100 on property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts when booking the exclusive Aspire Card package
You’ll also earn complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status and one weekend night at any hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio (upon opening account and on account anniversary). For someone looking for meaningful hotel benefits, it’s harder to find a better hotel credit card than the Hilton Aspire.
11. (Bonus) US Bank Altitude Reserve
The US Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card comes with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points (worth $750 in travel) after spending $4,500 within the first 90 days. It also has one of the highest travel credits of $325 making it easy to offset the $400 annual fee.
This is a great card for those who utilize mobile wallets because it earns 3X on eligible mobile wallet purchases, which can be a significant advantage for some. The card also earns 3X on travel booked directly with airlines, hotels, taxis, trains, etc. (but no OTAs).
Finally, the card also comes with the following benefits:
- Priority Pass (with only 4 entries)
- 12 complimentary GoGo passes each membership year
- TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry $100 credit
- $400 annual fee
The biggest drawback of this card for many will be getting approved. You need to have been an existing US Bank customer for at least 5 days (e.g., hold a checking account or similar) to be eligible. Also, US Bank is notoriously strict when it comes to approving applicants with many inquiries on their credit report so a lot of folks might be facing a rejection.
Still, you can net $675 in travel from the sign-up bonus + travel credit after you factor in the annual fee and that’s one of the most generous bonuses available right now.
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H-Town based Attorney turned credit card rewards expert. Founder of UponArriving.com.