All links have been removed because this list is outdated.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, flights home to see family over the holidays, or big rewards on gas or groceries, there are some fantastic credit card bonuses out there.
I’m writing this post from home in Hawaii having arrived yesterday from a six-week world tour that would have been completely impossible without miles and points earned from credit cards.
I saw Angkor Wat, continued my love affair with the Balkans, saw old classmates spread around the world, had some home cooking from Mom, and followed my favorite basketball team for six games across seven countries.
My trip took advantage of American Airlines miles, Starpoints, Ultimate Rewards, Lufthansa miles, and Arrival miles, all of which I got from credit cards.
How can you earn rewards for the trip of your dreams? What are the best credit card offers for April 2014?
1. Citi Executive / AAdvantage World Elite 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. On my current trip, I spent 67,500 American Airlines miles for a First Class redemption from New York City to Singapore with 23 hours in Macau along the way.
Citi offers the American Airlines Executive Card with 100,000 bonus miles after spending $10k in the first three months.
Beyond the sign up bonus, the other huge benefit that cardholders get is free lounge access in Admirals Clubs.
Beyond the huge minimum spending requirement, the other big drawback is a $450 annual fee. In the first year, this is partially offset by $200 in statement credits on your first $200 in purchases on the card.
More Info: Citi Executive / AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard
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.
I used Ultimate Rewards (transferred to Hyatt points) to book the Grand Hyatt Macau and Ultimate Rewards (transferred to United miles) to book my Slovenia to North Carolina flights.
3. Barclaycard Arrival Plus
The Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® is a 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. 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 this 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 earns 2 miles per dollar, which is 2.28 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 PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®
4. 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 (other than the sign up bonus) earned in the previous calendar year.
The Sapphire Preferred has no annual fee the first year, then $95 thereafter.
5. 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 flexibility, the Starwood card is one of the three cards I recommend for big spenders.
The card has no annual fee the first year, then $65.
Terms and restrictions apply.
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.
I recently transferred 20k Starpoints to US Airways miles to book a dream trip to the World Cup for June 2014.
6. Citi ThankYou Premier Rewards Card
For people who want domestic or economy flights, traditional airline miles are often a poor value. For those flights, cards that earn flexible points that can be redeemed for any flight with no blackouts are often the better deal. The Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card earns those super flexible points.
- Earn up to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points. Bonus points are redeemable for up to $500 in gift cards, up to $625 for airfare or other great rewards
- Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember
- Earn 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment
- Earn 2 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for airfare and hotels
- Earn 1 ThankYou Point per $1 spent on other purchases
- Points do not expire and earn unlimited Thank You Points
- Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology
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.
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 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. Frontier World MasterCard
The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard® comes with 40,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in the first 90 days.
The 40,000 bonus miles are enough for two roundtrips anywhere in the US that Frontier flies, including Alaska.
Frontier has a great route network in the continental US, Alaska, Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean. Award prices are dirt cheap at 10k miles each way in the US, including to Alaska, and 15k each way internationally.
I recommend getting the card now because I have never seen a higher sign up bonus on it.
The card has a $69 annual fee.
Application Link: The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard®
9. Blue Cash Preferred
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers 100 Reward Dollars, redeemable for a $100 statement credit, after you make $1,000 in purchases with your new Card in the first three months.
The card offers an unbeatable 6% cash back in the form of statement credits on your first $6,000 annually at grocery stores (then 1% back). And it offers 3% back at US gas stations and select US department stores.
Plus, get one year of Amazon Prime after you sign up for a new membership with your Card and meet the spending requirement in the same time period. I wrote more about this benefit here.
- Get 100 Reward Dollars, redeemable for a $100 statement credit, after you make $1,000 in purchases with your new Card in the first three months.
- Plus, get one year of Amazon Prime after you sign up for a new membership with your Card and meet the spending requirement in the same time period.
- As an Amazon Prime member, you get unlimited FREE Two-Day Shipping on millions of items.
- Earn Cash Back: 6% US supermarkets up to $6,000 per year in purchases, 3% US gas stations & select US dept stores, 1% other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
- Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
- 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, then a variable rate, currently 12.99% to 21.99%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.
- Terms and Restrictions Apply.
The card has a $75 annual fee.
Application Link:Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
10. 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.
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.
I used Membership Rewards to book myself a flight in Singapore Suites on this trip.
The card has no annual fee the first year, then $175.
Application Link: American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card