Top Ten Credit Cards for Travel, August 2014

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All links have been removed because this list is outdated. Click here for the current list of top credit cards for travel.

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.

Want Bed Head at 35k Feet? There's a Card for That
Want Bed Head at 35k Feet? There’s a Card for That

Since the start of last year, I’ve been to 26 countries, travel that would have been completely impossible without miles and points earned from credit cards. This has been my life thanks to miles:

  • 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
Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 2.14.12 AM
2013 Flights

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.

  • How can you earn rewards for the trips of your dreams?
  • What are the best credit card offers for August 2014?

1. United MileagePlus Explorer Card

The United MileagePlus Explorer Card is offering 50k bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months.

You also get 5k bonus miles for adding an authorized user while applying, so I think of this as a 55k bonus mile 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 card has no annual fee the first year, then $95.

The card comes with classic benefits of airline cards like a free checked bag and priority boarding. More interestingly, cardholders get access to extra economy award space set aside for elites.

United miles are awesome for booking economy awards and awards in United BusinessFirst, but partner Business and First Class awards are practically out of reach on United’s inflated partner award chart.

Full details: United Card Publicly Offering Up to 55,000 Bonus Miles

2 and 3. Ink Plus and Ink Bold

The Inks are business cards that offer 50,000 Ultimate Rewards sign up bonuses after spending $5k in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, 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.

I 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 on a recent trip.

4. US Airways Premier World MasterCard

The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® is now offering 40,000 bonus miles after first purchase. US Airways miles are the most valuable miles right now because of how cheap business class awards are on the US Airways award chart.

Here are all the places you can go with just the sign up bonus on this card!

The other big perks are a 5,000 mile discount on awards booked entirely on US Airways metal and 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 during the merger, which is a fair conversion.

This card will disappear in early 2015 when US Airways’ and American Airlines’ loyalty programs combine.

Application Link: The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®

5. Citi ThankYou Premier Rewards Card

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards 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.

Citi just announced that ThankYou points transfer to seven airlines and one hotel.

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.

I also love this card’s big category bonuses liek 3x on entertainment and dining.

The card has no annual fee the first year, then $125.

Application Link: Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card

I just got my Citi ThankYou Premier Rewards card in February, and I have not had a chance to use the rewards yet.

6. 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.

I have used my Arrival miles on a recent trip to book a motel and domestic flights like a $150 trip from Raleigh to Tampa that would have been a poor value with traditional miles.

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®

7. 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.

8. 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

9. 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.

Landing Page: Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz

10. 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 not waived.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Curious what you think of the Citi Prestige card. They have added Priority Pass and transferable points and I’m thinking of dropping the Amex Plat next year to get the Citi instead. Thoughts?

    • AMEX Plat has far better transfer partners and AMEX Plat has better lounge access if you value Delta lounge access or Centurion Lounge access. It really depends on what you’re looking for.

      • Hi Scott,

        Just discovered your site recently and really like its analysis vis a vis the (numerous) other points/miles blogs out there. Hope you don’t mind if I hijack this reply to ask about Citi ThankYou Prestige vs Premier though. I’m in agreement with you in response to Umesh’s question above about Prestige vs Platinum, but I’m curious how you would plan/play Prestige vs Premier, especially if you have a grandfathered Forward (5X on restaurants/entertainment) and want to capitalize on the new TYP transfer partners like I do.

        On the one hand, the lower and waived fee plus more bonus points (though delayed a year) of the Premier make it a safe default choice, but I think all the fringe benefits coming to the Prestige after 10/18 could mitigate the $450 fee enough to make them comparable. Not to mention the Prestige’s 3X categories (airfaire/hotels/travel) complement my the Forward, where the Premier’s 3X would just overlap (dining/entertainment).

        I’ve mulled them both over but it always seems like a wash to me, perhaps there’s something I’m missing that could tip the balance one way or another? I’d appreciate any insights you have!

        • I don’t have anything profound to say. Just calculate the benefits of holding each and subtract the annual fee.

  2. The United card looks great… What’s the data point in terms of applying for a Chase biz card (say the Ink) and regular Chase card (say the United card) in the same day? Any issues with that?

      • I applied for the United & Ink Plus today – business card went to “further consideration.” When I called the phone rep the further consideration was because there were two requests for credit the same day. Ultimately the revenue for my business ($150) was insufficient to qualify for the Ink Plus. Bummer

        • Yes, I think they are now only approving Inks for people who say they expect to spend $1,000+ per month on the card, but I don’t know for sure.

          I think applying for two Chase cards on the same day will make the second app go into pending mode. You did the right thing by calling in. Many people are approved for two on the same day that way.

          • Thanks Scott – since I couldn’t get the Ink Plus, I applied for the Citi Thank You Premier later the same day. Instead of a pending message, I was outright declined! My credit score is high (750+), the only thing I can think of is that in the last week I cancelled my personal Citi American card (they didn’t offer me anything to keep it either). Any thoughts?

  3. 2 quick questions

    1. how come you only have 1 hotel card on there? I know you like the club carlson (2 nights 1 free), especially outside usa in europe and asia. Or SPG (cuz I love them)

    2.Traveling so much, when do you get time to gamble? LOL just kidding, but I would like to play poker against you.. for points!!! LOL

  4. It seems your ranking is flawed… do you even consider the redemption rate on these cards? It seems you are just looking at sign up bonuses. I can redeem my Chase Sapphire Preferred for as much as 2.2 cents a point if I do it correctly.

    • Yes, redemption rate is considered among many other things. Congratulations on the high value redemptions of your Ultimate Rewards.

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