The Top 3 Travel Cards With Low Minimum Spending Requirements

There’s been a bit of a trend for minimum spending requirements to rise, putting some lucrative signup bonuses out of reach for some folks.  That isn’t a universal truth though – there are quite a few appealing signup bonuses available with reasonable spending requirements.

In this post I’ll detail the top three such deals and pull all the pertinent info together into a comprehensive table (skip to the end to check it out)!

As always, check out my page on credit score information if you’re looking for more info on the topic.


Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Personal Card and Plus Personal Card

First on my list is a pair of cards which have a bit of a signup bonus twist.  A recent change has brought the signup bonus within reach of most consumers.

With the signup bonus from the Southwest Plus or Premier card you may be able to score yourself a flight to Hawaii to watch some beautiful sunsets like this one I snapped at Waimea Bay! Photo © The Honeymoon Guy

Current Bonus Offer and Minimum Spend Requirement: Chase has revised the offer for both Southwest Rapid Rewards personal cards.  The new bonus comes in at 40,000 points with the minimum spend requirement drops to only $1,000.  That’s a very enticing bonus-to-spend ratio!  

The cards have traditionally been offered with 50,000 point signup bonuses but those bonus deals required $2,000 in spending.  That’s not an outrageous spend requirement but it can be a bit more than some people want to take on.

Bonus Value: The 40,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points are worth about $560 in my estimation and of course if you have Companion Pass the value essentially doubles, to $1,120!

Annual Fee: You will have to pay the annual fee ($69 for the Plus card and $99 for the Premier card) shortly after opening the account as it is not waived for the first year.

Return on Initial Spending: For the Plus card, if we subtract out the $69 from the $560 estimated bonus value, we get to a net value of $491.  Dividing that by the $1,000 minimum spending requirement, yields a return on initial spend of 49%!  The math is similar for the Premier card, calculating out to 46%!

For the sake of comparison…the common offer for these cards in the past of 50,000 points with a $2,000 spending requirement only yields 32% and 30% for the Plus and Premier cards, respectively.

Other Key Notes: The bonus points you earn with the Southwest cards count towards Companion Pass, one of the best perks in the travel industry.  The points will of course also be good towards redemption to all Southwest destinations, and in 2018 or 2019 that will include Hawaii!

This product is available to you if you do not have this card and have not received a new cardmember bonus for this card in the past 24 months (also subject to 5/24 rule)

Link to Chase’s secure application page for Southwest Rapid Rewards Personal Plus card

Link to Chase’s secure application page for Southwest Rapid Rewards Personal Premier card


Hilton Honors by American Express

The only American Express card on this list is a hotel card and it’s one that is simple yet valuable.

Current Bonus Offer and Minimum Spend Requirement: As of writing, the Hilton Honors American Express card checks in with a signup bonus offer of 75,000 Honors points.  Earning that bonus requires a very reasonable $1,000 in purchases on your card in your first 3 months of card membership.

Bonus Value: In my estimation, 75,000 Hilton Honors points are worth about $375.  However, there are times you can really pull off some great deals on Hilton hotels using Honors points.  For a recent redemption at a Hampton Inn during a major event Patty and I were able to get an excellent 2.7 cents/point in value.  Another key point: Hilton properties are just about everywhere so finding a hotel at which to redeem points is usually easy regardless of destination.

Annual Fee: Zip. Nada. Zilch.  There’s no annual fee for this card.

Return on Initial Spending: Dividing the estimated value of $375 by the $1,000 minimum spending requirement, yields a return on initial spend of 38%!

Other Key Notes: American Express cards offer some incredible savings via their “AMEX Offers and Benefits” programs.  You simply log on to the AMEX site or app and scroll through available offers, adding the ones you want to your account.  An example: Spend $75 at Pier 1 and get $15 back!

Also, Hilton Honors cardmembers automatically receive Silver status in the Honors program.  You do get hit with a foreign transaction fee when using this card so it’s not one you should use for those types of purchases.

On the plus side, you can rack up bonus points at Hilton properties, restaurants, gas stations and more.

Link to American Express’ secure application page for the Hilton Honors card


 Chase Freedom

The aforementioned two cards are tied to specific loyalty programs – Southwest’s Rapid Rewards and Hilton’s Honors programs.  The third card I’m highlighting here is not associated with a specific airline or hotel brand; it’s a card which earns cash back on its own, or when paired with an Ultimate Rewards card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, earns valuable Ultimate Rewards points itself.

We transferred Ultimate Rewards points we earned with our Chase Freedom to my Sapphire Reserve and redeemed them for a charming stay at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. Photo © The Honeymoon Guy

Current Bonus Offer and Minimum Spend Requirement: As of writing, the Chase Freedom card checks in with a signup bonus offer of $150 cash back after spending a mere $500 in purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Bonus Value: If you don’t have an Ultimate Rewards card, then the value of the Chase Freedom signup bonus is obvious – it’s $150.

However, if you have, for example, a Chase Sapphire Reserve, the points that would net you $150 in cash back can instead be used as Ultimate Rewards (UR) points, transferred to the Reserve card and used like all other UR points.  That means that if you have the Reserve card the Freedom’s signup bonus turns into 15,000 UR points which can be redeemed for $225 in direct travel redemptions through the Chase portal.  Through the Reserve card, or any other UR card, you can also transfer the UR points to travel partners for even more value.  In my last valuation I pegged Ultimate Rewards points as worth 2.1 cents each.  That means the signup bonus for the Chase Freedom for folks with an Ultimate Rewards card is worth about $315.  So put simply, the signup bonus is worth between $150 and about $315, depending on your situation.

Annual Fee: Goose-egg!  There’s no annual fee for this card.

Return on Initial Spending: Dividing the estimated value of $150-$315 by the $500 minimum spending requirement, yields a return on initial spend of 30% to 63%!  That’s hard to beat!!

Other Key Notes: The Chase Freedom earns 5X back in quarterly bonus categories.  The categories are usually very worthwhile, often including gas and restaurants.  In my opinion, everyone who holds credit cards should have a Chase Freedom.

This product is available to you if you do not have this card and have not received a new cardmember bonus for this card in the past 24 months (also subject to 5/24 rule)

Link to Chase’s secure application page for the Freedom card


Signup Bonus Summary for the Top 3 Travel Cards With Low Spending Requirements

Card Signup Bonus Bonus Value Spending Requirement Net Return on Initial Spending
Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus / Premier 40k Rapid Rewards Points $560 $1k 49% for Plus and 46% for Premier (or 98% and 92% respectively if you have the Companion Pass)
Hilton Honors American Express 75k Honors Points $375 $1k 38%
Chase Freedom $150 cash back (15k Ultimate Rewards points if you hold a UR card) $150-$315 $500 30% to 63%


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What are your thoughts on my list of the top travel cards with low minimum spending requirements?  Did I omit any that you think are worthy of inclusion?  Let me know in the comments section below!

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One thought on “The Top 3 Travel Cards With Low Minimum Spending Requirements

  1. Thanks for sharing the rating. I also love to check occasionally ratings from NerdWallet and Effectify.
    Additionally, they share some tips how to travel cheaply, save more accruing points & miles etc.

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