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There are a lot of reasons to collect miles and points.
- For free luxury hotel stays and first class flights
- To travel to more countries than you could otherwise afford
- To take your family on vacation
- To visit home for the holidays
- To earn big rewards for everyday spending
Whatever your reason for being here, there is a rewards card or cards that suit your needs.
In the last few years, I’ve been to dozens of countries, travel that would have been completely impossible without miles and points earned from credit cards. This has been my life thanks to miles:
- Trekking four days in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile
- Biking 25km around Bogota as part of the original Ciclovia
- Hiking the Great Wall of China with my brother
- Straddling the border between North and South Korea
- Watching dragons dance at the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong
- Eating more steak than anyone should in Brazil and Argentina
- Cliff jumping in Dubrovnik, Croatia
- Leading an “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!” cheer in Rod Laver Arena during the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia
- Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef
- Eating Thai-hot Thai curry in Thailand at Thai prices
- Biking in the Lake District of Patagonia in Bariloche, Argentina
- Spending three days at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
- Seeing Angkor Wat near Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Getting some home cooking from my mom who lives 5,000 miles away
If you don’t have the money to take your dream trips, the good news is that you don’t need much money. By maximizing the sign up bonuses on rewards cards, anyone with good credit can take a dream trip anywhere in the world.
1. Citi American Airlines Personal and Business Cards (100,000 Bonus Miles Total)
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® (personal card) comes with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.
The other huge benefit is that cardholders get a 10% rebate on all American Airlines award redemptions up to 100k redeemed/10k rebated per year. Example: You book Cathay Pacific First Class from San Francisco to Hong Kong for 67.5k miles. In a few weeks, you get 6,750 miles rebated to your account.
The card also comes with a free checked bag, priority boarding, 25% off onboard food purchases, 2 miles per dollar on AA flights, and one mile per dollar on everything else.
There is no annual fee the first year, then $95.
Right now American Airlines has the best award chart in the world, and it has committed to keeping the same award chart next year even though Delta and United have brutally devalued their charts this year and last.
Application Link: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
The business version of the AAdvantage card offers the same sign up bonus (50k miles after $3k/3 months) and no annual fee the first year, followed by $95. Plus the business card offers 2x mile category bonuses on popular business categories. Full MileValue review on the business card.
You can hold both cards at the same time.
Application Link: CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®
I recently used American Airlines miles to fly between the United States and Colombia. I’m writing a multi-part series on how to redeem American Airlines miles. Here are the first 10 posts.
2. US Airways Premier World MasterCard
The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® is now offering 50,000 bonus miles after first purchase for a limited time! US Airways miles are the most valuable miles right now because of how cheap business class awards are on the US Airways award chart.
The other big perks are a free checked bag for you and four companions on paid US Airways flights purchased with the cards.
The card earns 1 US Airways mile per dollar on all purchases and 2 miles per dollar on US Airways purchases.
There is an $89 annual fee.
US Airways has an incredible award chart to use the miles now, or they will be converted to American Airlines miles in the second quarter of 2015, which is a fair conversion.
This card will disappear in the second quarter of 2015 when US Airways’ and American Airlines’ loyalty programs combine. Any miles you have will be safe and converted to American Airlines miles. Don’t miss out on getting this card and its bonus before the merger is complete.
If you get the American Airlines and US Airways cards right now, the miles will be combined early next year, and you’ll have at least 103,000 American Airlines miles.
3. Ink Plus
The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Amtrak, and more.
The Ink Plus earns 5x points on internet, phone, and cell phone bills; 5x points on purchases at office supply stores; 2x points on hotels and gas; and 1x points on everything else.
The annual fee is $95, though it is waived for the first year.
I recently used Ultimate Rewards (transferred to Hyatt points) to book the Grand Hyatt Macau and Ultimate Rewards (transferred to United miles) to book Slovenia-to-North Carolina in Lufthansa First Class.
4. Citi ThankYou Premier Card
The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offers 20,000 bonus points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening and an additional 30,000 bonus points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember. That’s 50,000 bonus ThankYou points total.
My favorite transfer partner is Singapore Airlines. For 50,000 Singapore miles, you can book a roundtrip award to South America with two free one ways to Hawaii, all on United flights.
My second favorite partner is Flying Blue. Flying Blue miles can book Promo Awards that cost only 12,500 miles each way to Europe or Israel. You can also use Flying Blue miles to book one way awards on Delta like 15,000 miles to Hawaii, Central America, or the Caribbean.
I also love this card’s big 3x category bonuses. Take a look at the current category bonuses and the (neutral-to-positive) changes that are coming April 19.
The card has no annual fee the first year. In April, the annual fee drops to $95 for this card, so by the time you pay your first annual fee for this card in 12 months, it will only be $95.
Application Link: Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card
5. Arrival Plus
The Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® is a great card for families that travel in economy, since Arrival miles can be used to book any flight on any airline with no blackouts. Miles can also be redeemed for any hotel or other travel expense.
This card comes with 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days and earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases.
Miles are worth 1.14 cents each, so spending $3,000 on the card in the first 90 days earns more than $500 in free flights or other travel expenses.
With this card you can book any flight on any airline at any time, or any hotel, or rental car, then redeem your miles for a statement credit equal to the cost. Here’s how.
The 40,000 bonus miles could be used on any $400 flight without the need to find award space. You would even earn miles for flying the flight, since the airline will see it as a cash ticket!
Plus you get a 10% rebate after every redemption for travel, so after redeeming the 40,000 miles for $400 in travel, you get 4,000 miles back, worth $40 more dollars.
This card fills the gaps in a miles strategy because the rewards are perfect for cheap domestic flights or hotels that otherwise would be bad redemptions with traditional airline miles and hotel points.
There is no annual fee the first year, $89 thereafter.
Application Link: Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®
I recently used my Arrival miles to book myself a free Airbnb stay and to pay the taxes on an award booked with traditional miles.
6. Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a personal card that earns 40k Ultimate Rewards after spending $3k in 3 months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Amtrak, and more.
You also get 5k bonus points for adding an authorized user while applying, so I think of this as a 45k bonus point card. (Adding an authorized user does not prevent that person from getting the card at the same time or in the future as a primary account holder and getting the full sign up bonus.)
The Sapphire Preferred earns 2x points on dining and travel. Dining includes bars, restaurants, and fast food. Travel includes airfare, hotels, taxis, rental cars, tolls, parking, and much more.
The Sapphire Preferred has no annual fee the first year, then $95 thereafter.
7. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card
The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card is the best card for giving you free luxury hotel nights. The card comes with two free weekend nights at Hiltons worldwide after spending $2,500 in the first four months. The free nights are best spent at top-tier Hiltons and Conrads that can go for $500 or more per night.
This card is perfect to get aspirational stays at top tier properties like the Conrad Koh Samui that goes for 95,000 Hilton points per night and costs more than $1k per night.
The card also comes with Hilton Gold Status, so you can enjoy free internet and breakfast on those free stays.
The card earns 10x points on Hilton stays, 5x on airlines and car rentals, and 3x on all other purchases.
There card has no foreign transaction fee. The annual fee is $95.
Application Link: Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
8. Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz
The Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz comes with 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
The card has a $475 annual fee in the first year. But it comes with huge benefits like airline fee reimbursement, airport lounge access, and hotel status.
For more info on setting up and maximizing the benefits, see Get the Most Out of Your Platinum Card.
9. British Airways Card
The British Airways Visa Signature card comes with 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $2,000 in the first three months on the card.
The card comes with 2.5 Avios per dollar on British Airways purchases and 1.25 Avios per dollar on other purchases.
British Airways Avios are perfect for short, direct, economy flights on British Airways partners that do not levy fuel surcharges like these partners.
For instance, the west coast to Hawaii on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines flights for 12,500 Avios or only 4,500 Avios between New York and a dozen destinations are two of many sweet spots.
The card has a $95 annual fee that is waived for the first 12 months.
Application Link: British Airways Visa Signature Card
10. Citi Prestige Card
The Citi Prestige® Card comes with 30,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open, $250 in airfare or airline fee credits per calendar year, access to the American Airlines Admirals Clubs and Priority Pass lounges, 3x points per dollar on air travel and hotels, and a $450 annual fee.
The Citi Prestige® Card is premium card that is designed to give travelers huge benefits to offset the big annual fee. For the first 12 months of holding the card, you are guaranteed to get more than $450 from the card if you maximize the $250 worth of statement credits to offset airline tickets or fees each calendar year, a $100 statement credit to offset Global Entry, and Priority Pass and American Airlines lounge access.
Beyond the 30,000 point sign up bonus, the Citi Prestige® Card earns:
- Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
- Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
ThankYou Points transfer to nine airlines and one hotel. Or you can use the points for 1.33 cents off any flight on any airline with no blackouts or 1.6 cents off American Airlines and US Airways flights.
Click these links for a full explanation of the card’s benefits and for a comparison to the American Express Platinum Card.
Application Link: Citi Prestige® Card