Top 10 Personal Credit Cards for Travel Rewards: January 2019


There are a lot of reasons to collect miles and points.

  • For free First Class flights and luxury hotel stays
  • 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.

Below are, in my opinion, the top ten consumer rewards credit cards right now. For the top business credit card offers–an easy way to collect even more miles that you’re probably missing out on–check out Top 10 Business Credit Cards for Travel Rewards.

1. Chase 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, Singapore, British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue, 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 four years, and a free Priority Pass Select membership–which gives you access to over 1,200 lounges around the world and guest access for two people 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. Chase 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, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue, Hyatt, and more.

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. It is a great card, arguably the best, for those just dipping their toe in the travel credit cards rewards pond: The points are versatile, category bonuses solid, and the annual fee isn’t significant.

3. Citi ThankYou Premier Card

The Citi ThankYou Premier Card has a much higher than normal 60,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. That’s the highest bonus this card has ever offered. Transfer points to 15 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 $750 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.

4. The 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 recently increased on this card, but it comes with new benefits like $200 in Uber credit annually to make up for it. Read all about them in Amex Platinum Annual Fee Jumps to $550.

Before applying for this offer, read 100k Amex Platinum Targeted Offer is Back! to learn about the massive targeted bonus through the CardMatch Tool. 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).

5. The American Express Gold Card

American Express rebranded their Premier Rewards Gold Card to call it the American Express Gold Card, and gave it a shiny new lineup of benefits to boot. The public offer is 35,000 Membership Reward points for spending $2,000 on the card within three months of opening it, but there is a common referral offer of 50,000 Membership Rewards for spending $3,000 within three months.

It’s the category bonuses that really make this card shine, however.

  • 4 Membership Rewards per dollar spent at U.S. Restaurants and supermarkets, good on the first $25,000 in purchases per year
  • 3 Membership Rewards per dollar spent directly booking with an airline or on

Other benefits include $10 a month of credit at at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House; $100 credit every calendar year with one airline of your choice, and no foreign transaction fees.

This $295 a year card is made of metal.

6. Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard

The Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard offers 60,000 American Airlines for putting just one purchase on the card and paying one $95 annual fee! That means you’d effectively be paying $95 (or .15 cents a mile) and a hard credit pull for 60,000 American Airlines miles.

Other benefits include two American Airlines miles for every dollar spent on American Airlines purchases, free checked bag, discount on inflight purchases, 10% rebate on all American Airlines miles redeemed per year (capped at 10k returned each year), access to American Airlines Reduced Mileage Awards, and no foreign transaction fees.

Note that this AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard is a separate product from the AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard, also issued by Barclaycard, which is what most of you who used to have the U.S. Airways card were converted to back in early 2015. So if you have the AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard, you should still be eligible for this card.

7. Barclaycard Arrival Plus

For a limited time, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus comes with 70,000 bonus Arrival miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. The card earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases. You can redeem the miles to offset any travel expense greater than $100 inside your Barclaycard account within 120 days of the purchase.

Arrival miles are great covering cheap cash flights that aren’t worth spending miles on, as well as any other travel expense like taxes and fees on award tickets, hotels, airbnb, car rentals, cruises, and more. You also get a 5% rebate on all redemptions.

After meeting the minimum spending requirement on the card, you’ll have at least 80,000 Arrival miles, which you could redeem to offset an $800 charge. And when you redeem the miles, you get the 5% rebate back instantly, so redeeming 80,000 would offer 4,000 miles back, worth another $40. It’s great for travel as it has no foreign transaction fees, actually has a chip and pin function (very useful for automatic payment terminals), and is a Mastercard, which means you will probably pay less in currency conversion fees.

The link to apply for this card has been moved to the top of the website, under the drop-down menu Top Credit Cards. 

8. Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa Cards

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 during a calendar year, and you keep it for that calendar year you earned it in as well as the following one. Usually that is accomplished by opening a couple cards and sometimes spendign a little extra to push your balance over the tipping point. Note that you can’t open both personal cards–Chase will only approve you for one. But you can open a personal and a business card. 

For the next couple weeks, however, it’s MUCH easier to earn a Companion Pass. Until February 11, 2019, Southwest has got an awesome offer for opening just one of their consumer credit cards: Open any one of the three, spend $3k within three months, and not only will you get 30k bonus Rapid Rewards but also a Companion Pass for the remainder of 2019. This is more of a ‘Companion Pass Lite” as it only lasts throug the end of the year and not the following, but depending on how much you plan to fly Southwest this year, that could still be worth thousands of dollars.

There are are three consumer Southwest cards.

Chase Southwest Consumer Credit CardsSign-up BonusAnniversary BonusAnnual Fee
Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card30,000 points and a Companion Pass valid through 12/31/19 for spending $4,000 in three months3,000 points$69
Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card30,000 points and a Companion Pass valid through 12/31/19 for spending $4,000 in three months6,000 points$99
Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card30,000 points and a Companion Pass valid through 12/31/19 for spending $4,000 in three months7,500 points$149

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).

9. 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 100,000 bonus Avios up for grabs!

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.

Chase also has an Iberia Plus Card which earns Iberia Avios, which are similar but not exactly the same as British Airways Avios. The card has a very similar benefits package to the BA Avios card, including a tiered sign up bonus of up to 100k Avios for spending $20k in the first year.

The nice thing about Iberia Avios is that while the award pricing is distance-based, it is not segment based (when at least one segment is flown on a partner). 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.

You can transfer freely between British Airways and Iberia Avios accounts as long as you follow the caveats outlined in this post.

The Iberia Plus Card also has a $95 annual fee that is NOT waived.

10. The World of Hyatt Credit Card

The World of Hyatt Credit Card comes with…

  • 25,000 Hyatt points for spending $3,000 within three months of opening the card
  • An additional 25,000 Hyatt points for spending a total of $6,000 within three months of opening the card (for a total of 50k bonus points)

Category one and two Hyatts are just 5k and 8k a night respectively, so those bonus points could get you 12 nights in a Category 1 Hyatts or seven nights in Category 2 Hyatts. You’ll earn 9 points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels (4 per dollar from the card, and 5 base points per dollar for being a World of Hyatt member), and 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants, on airlines tickets purchased directly from the airlines, on local transit and commuting and on fitness club and gym memberships.

While the card has a $95 annual fee, it’s likely worth keeping open long-term as you’ll get a free night at any Category 1 – 4 Hyatt after your cardmember anniversary each year, as well as five qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every year. Spending $15k on the card a year earns you an extra free night at a Category 1 – 4 Hyatt.

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 opened 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.

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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  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 !


  26. You can actually get 30K SPG points with a public offer through this link on AmEx’s website: (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.

  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.

  33. Sarah
    Off thread but who cares I want to Thank You again on ur post u did on ur over-nite Ferry trip u did last year . I booked mine on www, ..I went from Toulon ,France to Corsica I boarded @ 8am left by 9am and was there 8 hrs later ..Perfect car ferry trip like a 3.5* carnival cruise (pool) BUT BUT 4* French food . I paid like $70 for the trip with TWO very good meals .They have 2 floors of cabins but loads of places u can camp out like the cafe with a window if u get there early . Next time I will do an over-nite to save the hotel room cost but no hassles here super safe for woman or anyone . Great staff and u can bring anything on board good but not so good as to Anything .. Loved it (dogs do too) will hit any port this ferry line goes to as in On time ,Cheap,Clean ,Safe and PROFESSIONAL ..



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