Top 10 Personal Credit Cards for Travel Rewards: May 2018

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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 (like Norway, pictured above, where I traveled last July)
  • To take your family on vacation
  • To visit home for the holidays
  • To earn big rewards for everyday spending

Whatever your reason for coming to MileValue, there is a rewards card that suits your needs.

In fact, there is probably more than one. That’s what makes this miles and points game exciting and playable.

But before you rush to sign up for new cards, remember to take into account that some miles are better than others for getting to specific destinations–not to mention issuing bank rules concerning eligibility if you’ve had rewards cards in the past.

  • If you need help deciding which card is the right one for you, try our Free Credit Card Consultation Service. We’re happy to help guide you in the right direction towards effectively and efficiently collecting the appropriate rewards.
  • Need help redeeming your miles efficiently? Try our Award Booking Service. You send us your goal and current balances, and we do the work making sure your miles are stretched just as far as possible.

Without further ado…below are, in my opinion, the top ten rewards credit cards right now.


1. Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.

Chase Sapphire Reserve holders get a $300 travel credit each cardmember year (not calendar year), as well as a $100 credit to cover the application fee for Global Entry or TSAPre √® every five years, and a free Priority Pass Select membership–which gives you access to over 900 lounges around the world and free unlimited guest access to those lounges for anyone you’re traveling with.

The Sapphire Reserve offers 3x Ultimate Rewards on travel and restaurants. Travel and restaurants are broad categories and include flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, tolls, parking, Uber, taxis, restaurants, bars, fast food, and night clubs.

The $450 annual fee is not waived, but you can see how the benefits more than make up for it.

2. Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a personal card that earns 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, Singapore, British Airways, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, and more.

For the reasons presented in this post, this is one of the first two cards I recommend everyone get.

You also get 5k bonus points for adding an authorized user while applying, so I think of this as a 55k 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.

For the moment there is another sign up offer floating around for the Sapphire Preferred card: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards for spending $4,000 on the card within three months of account opening and paying the first year’s annual fee of $95. Check out New Sapphire Preferred Bonus: 10k Points Higher for a $95 Fee to learn more.

3. Platinum Card from American Express

The Platinum Card from American Express comes with 60,000 Membership Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Membership Rewards transfer to around 20 hotel and airline programs including Delta, All Nippon Airways, Singapore, and British Airways.

The card has a $550 annual fee. But it comes with huge benefits like airline fee reimbursement, airport lounge access, hotel status ,and a 5x category bonus for purchases directly from airlines. For more info on setting up and maximizing the benefits, see Get the Most Out of Your Platinum Card. The annual fee just increased on this card, but it comes with new benefits like $200 in Uber credit annually. Read all about them in Amex Platinum Annual Fee Jumps to $550: Changes Coming March 30.

Before applying for this offer, read 100k Amex Platinum Targeted Offer is Back! to learn how to check if you’re targeted for the 100,000 Membership Reward bonus offer on the Platinum Card (for spending the same amount of $5,000 in three months)

4. Citi ThankYou Premier

The Citi ThankYou Premier Card now offers 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Transfer points to 14 airline loyalty programs for the most outsized value. Points are also redeemable for 1.25 cents each on any airline’s cash tickets (sign-up bonus is worth $625 redeeming this way).

Category bonuses include a stellar 3 ThankYou Points per dollar spent on travel and gas purchases, and 2 ThankYou Points per dollar spent on restaurant and entertainment purchases.

For a card with an annual fee of just $95 (that is waived the first year), that’s a valuable benefits package. You can also use this card abroad or on foreign purchases and no foreign transaction fees are collected.

5. Chase Marriott Premier Plus

This brand-spanking new card is a recent addition to the Marriott portfolio, a result of the SPG/Marriott merger. It comes with a 100,000 point bonus for spending $5,000 on the card within three months of account opening. You’ll get a free night certificate to spend at any property that costs up to 35,000 points, and automatic Silver Elite status as it grants 15 elite credit nights each calendar year (starting in 2019). You’ll earn…

  • 6 Marriott points per dollar spent at Marriott/SPG properties
  • 2 Marriott points per dollar spent on all other purchases

Not stellar earning rates for everyday spend, but the bonus is what really interests me about this card–and not even specifically for spending on Marriotts. While 100k Marriott rewards can book you a decent amount of award nights, I personally don’t dabble much in the hotel rewards playing field. But until August you can transfer 100k Marriott Rewards (105k at least after the spend to get there) SPG, turning them into 35,000 SPG points, which are transferrable to nearly all the popular airline programs–more than any other transferrable point–and you get a 5k bonus for every 20k increment you transfer, so 35k spg points are 40k airline miles.  I value SPG points at 2.5 cents each for this reason.

And come August, SPG and Marriott are merging their loyalty programs, and you will be able to transfer Marriott Rewards straight to airlines without having to move them to SPG first (at the same rate as now).

In short, I look at this card as 40,000 airline miles of almost any type.

6. Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard

For a limited time, the Citi / AAdvantage card comes with 60,000 American Airlines bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within 3 months of opening the account. Benefits include:

  • Free checked bag on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and four companions
  • Preferred Boarding on American Airlines flights (this means after Business/First/elite passengers and before economy)
  • 25% discount on in-flight food and beverage purchases on American Airlines flights
  • New category bonuses! 2 miles per dollar spent at gas stations, restaurants, and on American Airlines purchases
  • $100 discount off an American Airlines flight each year that you spend $20,000 on the card
  • Access to American Airlines’ domestic Reduced Mileage Awards
  • No foreign transaction fees

 

7. The British Airways Visa Signature Card

The British Airways Visa Signature card comes with 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the card. If you spend $10,000 on the card within the first year of card membership, you’ll earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios, for a total of 75,000 Avios. And if you can hit $20k in the first year, you’ll earn an additional 25k bonus for a total of 100,000 Avios. That’s at least (not considering any category bonus) 120,000 Avios for $20,000 in spend.

The card comes with 3 Avios per dollar on British Airways purchases and 1 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 Cuzco and Lima, Peru are two of the sweet spots. You can even find some premium cabin award sweetspots on the Avios chart, however, like this 45k Avios flight I booked myself on Iberia Business Class between Brazil and Spain last year (no fuel surcharges departing Brazil).

The card has a $95 annual fee that is NOT waived.

8. Iberia Plus Card

Chase has released a new card called the Iberia Plus Visa Signature card that comes with 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $3,000 in the first three months on the card. If you spend $10,000 on the card within the first year of card membership, you’ll earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios, for a total of 75,000 Avios. Spend $30,000 in the card within a year and you’ll get a $1,000 discount towards two tickets.  

The card comes with 3 Avios per dollar on Iberia purchases and 1 Avios per dollar on other purchases.

Iberia Avios are similar to British Airways Avios are perfect for short economy flights on partners that do not levy fuel surcharges like these partners. The nice thing about Iberia Avios is that while the award pricing is distance based, it is not segment based. You can fly multiple segments and the award won’t fragment into multiple awards like a British Airways Avios award would–the distance measured for the award price is cumulative. 

Iberia also has an awesome off-peak season chart with cheap prices to fly between the United States and Europe.

The card has a $95 annual fee that is NOT waived.

9. United MileagePlus Explorer Card

The Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card comes with 40,000 United miles after spending $2,000 on the card within three months of opening it. 

The card comes with 2 United miles per dollar spent on United purchases.

You also get a ton of perks United related perks–one highly valuable and non-marketed one being extra MileagePlus award space called “last seat availability”. This basically means cardholders have access to more United award space than non-cardholders. 

You and one travel companion can check your first bag for free to save up to $100 per roundtrip flight. You and anyone on your reservation get Priority Boarding, which means you get to board before the majority of people and have a better chance to get your carry on luggage in the overhead bin. You’ll also get two passes for the United Club per year, and if you’re a MileagePlus Elite, cardholders are eligible for upgrades on domestic award travel.

The card charges no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee the first year. After that, it is $95 annually.

10. Chase Southwest Rapid Reward Visas

If you live and travel often to destinations served by Southwest, the Companion Pass should be on your radar as it is one of the best deals in travel. It allows you to designate a companion who flies for just the taxes on every Southwest flight you fly. That’s $5.60 each way within the United States and a bit more on Southwest’s international flights. You qualify for a Companion Pass by earning 110,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards from credit cards during a calendar year, and you keep it for that calendar year you earned it in as well as the following one

There are are two personal versions and one business card, and all of them come with big sign up bonuses.

  • Personal Plus: 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in three months, $69 annual fee NOT waived for the first year, 3,000 bonus points each year you renew
  • Premier Plus: 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in three months, $99 annual fee NOT waived for the first year, 6,000 bonus points each year you renew
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card: 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in three months, $99 annual fee NOT waived for the first year, 6,000 bonus points each year you renew

Points earned by the bonuses from Southwest cards count towards a Companion Pass, but note that you can’t open both personal cards–Chase will only approve you for one. You can, however, open a personal and a business card. 

I love Southwest because of its two free checked bags, no change or cancellation fees, and efficient boarding process. Southwest Rapid Rewards can be very valuable for domestic redemptions/redemptions to Mexico or the Caribbean if you can book it far enough ahead of time (award prices are based on the cash price of the ticket, unlike most award pricing schemes that are region based).

 


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.

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283 COMMENTS

  1. So they charged the $450 membership fee after the first month; I was thinking itwas after the first year…so, any way around that or getting it waived?

    • No. The Citi Prestige’s annual fee is NOT waived the first year (or any year.) Just max out the Air Travel Credit in 2015 and 2016 and it will be more than offset.

  2. Thanks Scott, for the wonderful inputs on top travel credit cards. I guess it takes time but once you accumulate the miles the holiday is so much sweeter. I am based in India and use a similar credit card called Premier Miles by Citibank and it helps me get hotel stays & flights and its agnostic to any specific hotel/airline so its ideal for someone who loves travel.

  3. Scott: You are the best and I love your blog!
    I have an opportunity to make large transactions on a credit card @ 3.8% charge. Do you think it is worth it?

    • Definitely not to earn 1 mile per dollar. It would be worth it to clear more sign up bonuses on cards whose minimum spending requirement you couldn’t otherwise meet.

  4. Re: credit card charge at 3.8%. I am not Scott – but pretty sure he or anyone else would never value miles at 3.8 cents each to make it worth doing that. I guess the real question is what would you do with those miles (buy airline ticket for example). And what would it cost if you just bought that ticket outright vs what you are paying for that charge. And, I assume you would pay off that charge card and not have to also pay interest on it.

  5. My husband is just about to become silver status on Delta because he has been traveling a lot from his current post in South Africa to Washington, DC via Delta. Though we have had an international life, he is Dutch and has never really focused on miles on any one carrier. Now he thinks he should stick with Delta and get a credit card that helps accumulate more miles on that carrier. Though this South African project will end in March, he thinks he is now stuck with Delta. He can’t use American Express as that is not a good card for the odd countries he has to travel to. He needs a Visa or Master Card. Delta always seems to be connected to American Express. Is there a 1) non-American Express card 2) without foreign exchange fees 3) that is point based and NOT Capital One that does not give enough of a credit line to buy a loaf of bread for someone like him who does not have much of a credit history in the US. Thanks for your help!

  6. Great list, but I can’t understand why the Club Carlson card is in the top 10. It is a decent card, but is it worthy of top 10 status? Perhaps it was before the deval, but not now.

  7. Just took advantage of the 4th night free with Citi Prestige for the first time.

    I timed my stay so the fourth night was the most expensive night!

    Awesome benefit!

  8. Hi Scott,
    Is there a reason that you start Citi Prestige details with a bold red ‘For a limited time’? Any indications that this card or it’s great sign-up bonus could away in near future?
    I am still contemplating signing up for this card by end of this month or next, but had to decide between a 60K targeted Citi AA Platinum or the Prestige card due to their spend requirements along with other card spends.

    Thank you for your inputs, always helpful.

    • No indication when, but Citi is specifically marketing it as a “limited time” offer. Hopefully the offer continues.

  9. Does anyone know of any other cards similar to the Barclay Arrival that provide rebates on travel purchases by using points? I know Capitol One is another, but any others? Thanks, Lisa

  10. I am sorry bother you all. but I would like to ask for advice which travel card should I get if I want to travel in first or business to Philippines or Dubai, from/to USA

    I have been using the United mileage exploded and AA Citibank cards but both have davaluated

    What should I do?

    Hope you can help me

    • To Dubai, I’d collect 90k Alaska miles each way for Emirates First Class. Get the Alaska personal and business cards and the SPG personal and business cards. To Philippines, I’d go with 80k United miles each way in Business. Get the United personal and business, Sapphire Preferred, and Ink Plus.

  11. I just came back from 8 nights in Belize and used Citi Prestige Concierge to book our two hotels. We did 4 nights at each property, so I could get Citi Prestige to pay for the 4th night at both hotels (one in the jungle and the other on the beach.) When I got my April bill the hotel charges were listed, but there was no credit. I called Customer Service and was told it will take up to 8 weeks for the credit to be applied, so I have to pay my full bill this month and wait for the adjustment. Just FYI.

  12. Hi Scott, truly enjoy your posts. Do you have an updated version of an old post you had about ways to meet the minimum spending for these cars?

    Could you please post the link? Thanks!

  13. Scot: First, thanks for all the great information and recommendations. I currently have the Delta Amex gold card. If I apply and am approved for the Delta Amex Platinum card, will I be able to combine the miles from both accounts so I can apply them for a Delta flight award?

  14. Scot: You and all your readers should be aware that Amex/MB grossly underestimated the interest in this card offer and, as such, are way, way behind in fulfillment after one gets approved. I have been waiting for than 2.5 weeks for my card to arrive and there still is no definitive date that Amex can give for delivery. First, Amex said there was problems with UPS not delivering the cards in a timely fashion. Then, the Amex said that they were having problems printing/making the cards to meet the demand. If the delay continues, I will miss my opportunity to meet the $$ requirement for the point bonus I have one shot only with a large bill coming due. Really, really frustrating!

  15. If I have gotten an Amex Platinum card in the past, am I still able to get the 50k points bonus for the Mercedes platinum card?

  16. Any thoughts on when the Chase 5/24 resets? On 10/21 I will be 4/24, but is there any data to say I should wait until 11/1 to apply for the Sapphire Reserve? I have a large expense in November that will cover the minimum spend but I need to give time for the card to arrive.

    • I would wait until you are definitely back down to 4/24 on October 21, and then ask Chase to expedite the card.

  17. Can the Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred be downgraded / changed to a non fee card, such as the Chase Freedom, after 1 year?

  18. Is it too late in the year to get the Chase Sapphire Reserve? When does the December statement post? If I don’t have any upcoming travel in the works, how can I spend the $300 quickly enough to get the travel credit? Does the United app trick work like for Amex?

    • Don’t get it this month. If you get it now, your first statement closes in 2017, so you don’t get a 2016 credit. Get it starting next month when you’ll have 11 months for first $300 and one month for second $300 before second annual fee.

  19. I have an offer from Chase website for the 100K Sapphire Preferred. I have excellent credit score but am worried about the 5/24 bug. I have a Sapphire Reserve for which I got a bonus. Is considered a dif card for the 24 rule? I would not get id until Jan2017 so I could get the two $300 element twice, and because need to buy an airline ticket in Jan for a family member.

  20. Scott, have you heard of Barclaycard (in this case, it is specific to a Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit card) asking for additional information in order to process the credit card request? I received a letter asking for copies of my drivers license, SS card and utility bill. I’m wondering if credit card companies are starting to do this as a hassle to repeat customers of their cards.

    • I can’t speak for Scott, but for me personally, no I have not heard of this practice before. I do know that out of the major banks, Barclays tends to be the most inquiry sensitive.

  21. When I log into my United Mileage Plus account the current offer increases from 50,000 miles to 70,000 miles. I can’t take advantage of this offer because I received the bonus on that card too recently, however others who have an existing Mileage Plus account should sign in before applying for the card to see if they’ve been targeted.

  22. My wife logged into her United account and saw the award amount offer reduced to 50,000, from 70,000. She applied; was told a decision could not be made immediately, etc.; and then, within three business days, received a rejection letter. Very frustrating.

    • Bizarre — so her offer went DOWN when she logged in?! Sounds like she can’t get it anyway because of 5/24, though for others I guess they should check and compare the offers both before and after logging in!

  23. […] From the extreme travel accident insurance that can compensate you for serious injury between $500,000 and a $1,000,000, to the simple but appreciated luggage delay reimbursement that covers $100 a day in clothes and toiletries, the Sapphire Reserve, Preferred, and Ink Business Preferred offer excellent, comprehensive travel protection coverage. You can read about the rest of their benefits in our Top 10 Travel Credit Cards List. […]

  24. Sapphire Preferred

    “For the reasons presented in this post, this is one of the first two cards I recommend everyone get.”

    What is the other card you recommend in the “first Two” ?

  25. I closed my Prestige account more than a year ago, but given the current sign-up bonus and with a big payment pending in the next two months, is there any intelligence out there that Citi will approve me again for this card or does Citi tend to make you wait longer before approving your again?

    • Hari
      Of course wait 4 the 75K or LARGER points . But I’ll save another $300 when I book the 4th nite FREE in 6 weeks for my May trip ..

      Cheap is Good !

      CHEERs

  26. You can actually get 30K SPG points with a public offer through this link on AmEx’s website: https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/card/starwood-preferred-guest/ (if it doesn’t work at first, try your browser in incognito mode). However, if you apply by linking through Starwood’s website (or by phone), you only get 25K points. Unfortunately for me I only realized this 2 days after I applied — called AmEx to see if they’d honor it and had no luck whatsoever. I was quickly reminded why I never get AmEx cards….

  27. Scott, I enjoy your, and Sarah’s, posts very much. I have most all of these cards, but somehow I think your list should have the Barclay Arrival Card. When I have to be somewhere to catch a flight and do not want to use points, paying for the hotel on the Arrival card, and then having 120 days to earn the points at 2x is a petty good deal in the whole travel scheme.

    • Hi Bryon, glad to hear you’re enjoying the content. I too agree the Arrival Plus is a great card. And as far travel-rewards specific cards go, it does provide a good return. However, for everyday spending, I wouldn’t necessarily make it my default choice. You could be using the Citi Double Cash Card for 2% back on everything, not just travel, and you wouldn’t have to deal with waiting to accrue $100 worth of Arrival points to redeem (which is a stipulation of the Arrival Plus). The Arrival Plus is 100% worth getting for the sign up bonus (I’ve personally collected the bonus on it twice), it’s just not on the list right now because it doesn’t have a historically high bonus at the moment. Not to mention the Citi Double Cash card has no annual fee and the Arrival Plus has an $89 annual fee after the first year, if we’re talking about holding it longterm.

  28. “Qualify for a business card? The Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card…
    The rest of the card’s benefits look similar to those of the personal card.”

    This is not entirely true. The business version of this card gives you access to Starwood chain hotel club lounges, which has saved me and my guests a ton of $ (free breakfast, evening heavy hors d’œuvres, bottled water, etc.).

  29. I’m a subscriber, and I was going to ask a question after reading my email. But when I get to your page, I find comments from three years ago, some with outdated info. What gives?

    Oh, and my question is can you apply for the Sapphire Preferred if you have the Reserve? I know you can’t go the other way (Preferred to Reserve). The way I read Chase’s terms, if you have any Sapphire card, you cannot apply for another one. Whaddya think?

  30. In regards to the Barclay card, the 24 month restriction for applying for the card seems to have disappeared. I am unsure whether this means that Barclay is adopting the Amex policy of one application per card per lifetime? Also, the reports are that if you have the old Aviator card open, you will be declined for the World Elite???

  31. I am disappointed to not have seen any answers to Gary’s questions regarding the Barclay Aviator card. I would LOVE to have some updated information. We are a family of 5, 3 of us were approved for the World Elite while holding the older Aviator card. Did have to do a recon call each time (June, Sept, Oct). 4th family member was turned down in Dec during the recon call. Agent claimed that they are now considered the same product even though they don’t have identical benefits. 5th member canceled his card in Dec and would like to re-apply, but only if he can get the bonus. Would really love to know what is actual policy.
    Thanks!

  32. is the Citibank Prestige not worth ? doesn’t appear on your top 10. i guess $ 250 maxed out 2 times , global entry would more than cover that expense of annual fee.

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