All links have been removed because this list is outdated. Click here for the current list of top credit cards for travel.
Whether you’re looking for free luxury hotel stays, first class flights, free flights home, or big rewards on gas or groceries, there are some fantastic credit card bonuses out there.
I’ve listed the top ten credit cards for travel of 2014.
1. Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World MasterCard
With recent devaluations to the United and Delta award charts, American Airlines miles are the most valuable miles for now.
American Airlines miles are the undisputed best miles for ultra-luxury redemptions, and the miles are valuable for trips to Asia, South America, Europe, and Australia.
Citi offers the American Airlines MasterCard with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3k in the first three months.
Beyond the sign up bonus, the other huge benefit that cardholders get is a 10% rebate on all American Airlines award redemptions up to 100k miles redeemed/10k miles 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’ll get 6,750 miles rebated to your account.
The card also comes with a free checked bag and priority boarding on American Airlines flights.
There is no annual fee the first year, then $95
Application Link: Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World MasterCard
Tip: You can also get the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, which comes with another 50k bonus miles after spending $3k in the first three months.
2. Ink Plus and Ink Bold
The Inks are business cards with 50,000 Ultimate Rewards sign up bonuses after spending $5k in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Amtrak, and more.
The Inks earn 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 Inks have no annual fee the first 12 months, $95 thereafter.
The Ink Bold is exactly the same as the Ink Plus except the Plus is a credit card and the Bold is a charge card. That means the Bold must be paid off in full each month, while you can run a balance on the Plus. Because of this difference, I have gotten both for the same business.
3. 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 other big bonus is a 7% annual points dividend each January on all the points earned in the previous calendar year.
The Sapphire Preferred has no annual fee the first year, then $95 thereafter.
4. American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card
The American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card is a personal card that offers 25k bonus Membership Rewards after spending $2k in the first three months.
Tip: Some people are offered a 50k offer through the CARDMATCH targeted offer tool as of 11/25/13. Check out this post for more info on that offer.
The Premier Rewards Gold card is AMEX’s best personal card for earning Membership Rewards. Beyond the big sign up bonus:
- Get 25,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership.
- Earn Fast: 3X points for flights booked with airlines, 2X points at US gas stations and US supermarkets, 1X points on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
- You can transfer points to over 20 frequent traveler programs or use points for gift cards at popular stores.
- Use your Card for retail, dining, travel or groceries, then go online and use points towards your eligible charges.
- As an added bonus, you can get 15,000 points after you spend $30,000 in purchases on the Card in one year.
- $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $175.
- Terms and Restrictions Apply.
Membership Rewards themselves are very valuable and flexible since they transfer to airlines in all three global alliances, plus unaffiliated airlines like Frontier and Hawaiian.
The card has no annual fee the first year, then $175.
Application Link: American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card
5. Four Southwest Cards
There are four Southwest cards that are currently offering 50k bonus Rapid Rewards after spending $2k in the first three months. Here’s an article explaining the four cards, and how to use them to get a Southwest Companion Pass.
6. Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5k in the first six months. Starpoints are the most valuable and the most flexible points in the world. I laid out their many uses in my Starwood Preferred Guest Primer.
- The miles transfer at a 20k-Starpoints-to-25k-miles ratio to American Airlines, US Airways, Delta, British Airways, and about 20 more airlines.
- Free hotel nights start at 2k points.
- Nights & Flights packages allow you to redeem Starpoints for five free hotel nights plus 50k miles with the airline of your choice.
- Cash & Points stays let you stretch your Starpoints over more redemptions.
Because of the value and flexibilities, the Starwood card is one of the three cards I recommend to big spenders.
The card has no annual fee the first year, then $65.
Application Link: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Tip: You can get the personal card described above and the business version at the same time for another 25k bonus Starpoints after spending $5k in the first six months.
8. Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is another great card for families that travel in economy without much flexibility, 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 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
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.
In other words, the 40,000 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 earns 2 miles per dollar, which is 2.22 cents back toward travel, on all purchases.
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 Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
9. 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 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 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
10. 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 comes with 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.
Mercedes-Benz Financial Services page: Click Here