The Best Travel Credit Card Deals!

Updated 19 October 2017!

My approach is to home in on the cards which offer the best value quickly.  That means I put a lot of weight on signup bonuses, as that is where the big payoff is, especially for the average couple planning a honeymoon or a major vacation.  I also focus on personal cards, as opposed to business cards, as most readers aren’t up for applying for business cards.  Finally, I will only include cards with huge annual fees if the perks of the card truly make up for the fee for almost all users (the Sapphire Reserve is one example).

Check out my page on credit score information if you’re looking for more info on the topic.

Let me know what you think of these rankings in the comments below!

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve

Ranking in previous month: 4

What changed since last update: Nothing.

THG’s Estimate of online signup bonus value: $1,050 if transferred to travel partners; $750 when redeemed directly for travel.
Chase Sapphire Reserved Card Image

The Chase Sapphire reserve is a high-end card with incredible features but it’s a card which should be considered by everyone for at least the first year.

For all info you might ever want or need, check out my Ultimate, Definitive Review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve post.

The most attention-grabbing feature of this card when it burst onto the scene last summer was the massive 100,000 point signup bonus.  That’s gone the way of the dodo, replaced by a 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points bonus offer.  Those points can be redeemed directly for $750 of travel or you can transfer points to travel partners and redeem through those programs.

The signup bonus is still very strong and the card comes with other excellent features such as Priority Pass Select membership.  That membership gets you into hundreds of airport lounges free of charge.

Patty and I were able to book flights and hotels using Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase portal recently, without any issues.  This was a boon to us as the flights and hotel we wanted for an upcoming trip were with an airline and hotel brand for which we didn’t have many miles/points.

This card also comes with a $300 annual travel credit and reimbursement of TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee.  I wrote recently about how I used the Global Entry reimbursement feature to get my young son his own Global Entry membership.

If both members of an engaged couple get this card, it would be possible to cover the air travel and lodging for a damn nice honeymoon without resorting to any other approaches!

Here is a list of some of the key features of the the Chase Sapphire Reserve online offer:

  • 50,000 Ultimate Reward points signup bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.  The UR points can be redeemed directly for $750 of travel or transferred to travel partners for potentially even more value.
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • Travel and dining purchases earn 3X points
  • Ultimate Rewards points are be worth 1.5 cents each toward direct travel redemptions through the Ultimate Rewards portal
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee is reimbursed
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $450 annual fee
  • 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)

THG’s Rating: 15 out of 17

2. Chase Ink Preferred

Ranking in previous month: N/A

What changed since last update: N/A

THG’s Estimate of online signup bonus value: $1,680 if transferred to travel partners; $1,000 when redeemed directly for travel.

I don’t often include business cards on my top travel cards list but the signup bonus for the Chase Ink Business Preferred is so strong I couldn’t deny it a spot.  At a whopping 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points, it nearly double the bonus of the two Sapphire cards.  To get those bonus points you’ll have to spend $5,000 in the first three months after account opening.

Though this is a business card, many people can obtain it.  If you do something as simple as sell electronics on eBay or hawk clothes on Tradesy you can legitimately apply.  That sort of selling activity qualifies you as a sole proprietorship and so you simply input your social security number as your tax ID.

The signup bonus for this card is excellent but it’s no slouch as an everyday card for certain types of purchases.  It earns 3X on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services.  That means you can set it as your autopay card for recurring internet, cable and phone bills and earn 3 points for every dollar spent on those.

  • 80,000 Ultimate Reward points signup bonus after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.  The UR points can be redeemed directly for $1,000 of travel or transferred to travel partners for potentially even more value.
  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases –with no limit to the amount you can earn.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee
  • 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)

THG’s Rating: 15 out of 17

3. Chase Sapphire Preferred

Ranking in previous month: 6

What changed since last update: Nothing.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $1,050 if transferred to travel partners; $625 when redeemed directly for travel.

sapphire_preferred_cardLike the Sapphire Reserve and the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card doesn’t earn you points directly with a specific hotel or airline.  The card instead earns you points in Chase’s “currency” of Ultimate Rewards.  These Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed for straight cash back at a 1 point = 1 cent ratio, redeemed to purchase travel at a 1 point = 1.25 cent ratio and for maximum value, transferred to a variety of hotel and airline companies for redemption in their programs.  Because Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.25 cents each for direct travel redemption versus 1.5 cents each with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Preferred card ranks below the Reserve.

Transfer partners include British Airways Executive Club, Korean Air SKYPASS, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®, United MileagePlus®, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Hyatt Gold Passport®, Marriott Rewards®, IHG® Rewards Club and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®.  Patty and I have reaped tremendous value from transferring UR points to Southwest, Hyatt and United.

Here are some key features of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card:

  • 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first 3 months
  • Additional 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Transfer points to participating frequent travel programs at full value
  • Earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants. 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Always get 20% off travel when you redeem for airfare, hotel stays, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate RewardsSM. For example, a $500 flight requires just 40,000 points.
  • No foreign transaction fees when you use your card on purchases made outside the United States.
  • Embedded chip provides enhanced security and wider acceptance when you make purchases at chip-enabled card readers in the US and abroad.
  • Annual fee waived the first year (then $95 thereafter)
  • 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)

If you’re going to apply for this card, consider using a referral link from a fellow reader – you’ll get the same great signup offer and he or she will get some bonus points.

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17

4. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Personal Card and Plus Personal Card

Ranking in previous month: 2

What changed since last update: Signup bonus was lowered from 50,000 Rapid Rewards points to 40,000 points but minimum spending requirement was also lowered (to $1,000).

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: Approximately $560 or up to about $1,120 if you have/earn Companion Pass

Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit CardThe Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card is often offered with a signup bonus of 50,000 points but that usually requires $2,000 in spending.  Though at the moment the offer is a slightly less exciting 40,000 Rapid Rewards points, you can nab those bonus points with a mere $1,000 in spending in the first 3 months after opening your account.

With Southwest expanding to more and more international destinations including Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, Aruba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, etc. the airline deserves more thought by honeymooners.

The Plus version of the card is now available with a similar 40k point online offer.Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus 50,000 50000 50k Point Signup Bonus Offer Credit Card IMage

The signup bonuses for these cards are extremely valuable for two reasons.  One, the 40k points are worth about $560 per my valuation and two, the points count toward the Southwest Companion Pass.

Other key features of the cards include:

  • 6,000/3,000 Rapid Rewards points each year at your card anniversary date for the Premier card and Plus card, respectively
  • $99/$69 annual fee, applied to your first billing statement for the Premier card and Plus card, respectively (those fees are essentially offset by the 6,000/3,000 anniversary points each year)
  • 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)

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17

5. Chase Hyatt

Ranking in previous month: 3

What changed since last update: Signup bonus was changed from the longstanding 2 free nights anywhere to a bonus of 40k World of Hyatt points.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: About $720.

Chase Hyatt Stock ImageThis card was ranked right at or near the top for many months when the signup bonus was two free nights at any Hyatt.  The change to the current signup bonus of 40,000 World of Hyatt points after spending $2,000 in the first three months is a step down in terms of value.  It is still certainly valuable but if you’re the type of person who redeems loyalty points for aspirational properties then the new signup bonus isn’t as good as the old.  However, the new signup bonus may actually be more valuable to many people.  Check out this post I wrote up on that topic.

You may be able to get a signup bonus offer that also includes a $50 statement credit by completing, or partially completing, a Hyatt hotel booking.  Note that receipt of the $50 statement credit may require proof of a recent stay at a Hyatt or an upcoming stay.  You could certainly book a refundable stay and show evidence of that stay if requested by Chase or Hyatt.

This card still has a lower minimum spend requirement ($2,000 in 3 months) than many other travel cards.

Here are the key features of the the Chase Hyatt card:

  • 40,000 World of Hyatt points after you make $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first 3 months after account opening
  • Each year that you renew the card you also get a free night award good for any Category 1-4 hotel, which can easily be worth $250-$300
  • Discoverist status in the World of Hyatt program
  • $75 annual fee (free night at Category 1-4 hotel easily offsets that)
  • No foreign transaction fees, making it suitable for use in foreign locations
  • Chip-style card for greater acceptance worldwide
  • 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

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17 

6. Chase IHG Rewards Club Select

Ranking in previous month: 10

What changed since last update: Publicly available signup bonus was raised to 80,000 IHG Rewards Club points plus a $50 statement credit.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $690

IHG Rewards Club Select Credit CardThe best publicly-available signup bonus offer for this card gets you 80,000 IHG points after spending $1,000 within 3 months of account opening.  The deal is even better though – you’ll also get a $50 statement credit after your first purchase with the card.

In addition to a strong signup bonus, the card has a lower minimum spend requirement ($1,000 in 3 months) than many other travel rewards cards and you get a very valuable free night every year upon renewal.

Here are some key features of the Chase IHG Rewards Club Select card:

  • 80,000 points and a $50 statement credit when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Free night award annually upon payment of annual fee
  • Earn 5 points per $1 spent at IHG hotels
  • Earn 2 points per $1 on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores & restaurants
  • Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees when you use your card for purchases abroad
  • Platinum status
  • $49 annual fee, waived the first year
  • 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 (this card is not subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule)

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17

7. Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (Personal)

Ranking in previous month: 1

What changed since last update: Signup bonus was reduced to the “standard” 25,000 Starpoints (business version of card is available as of writing with 35,000 point bonus).

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $650
Starwood Preferred Guest SPG AMEX American Express Personal CardThe Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards (there is a personal version and a business version) are offered directly by American Express.  Though the signup bonus is not usually as large in magnitude as other signup bonuses, Starwood points are generally more valuable than other points.  The signup bonus currently sits at a relatively standard 25,000 Starpoints.

Patty and I each signed up for this card prior to our honeymoon and were each able to use the bonuses towards two nights in the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, saving us hundreds of dollars!

With Marriott and Starwood merging, the value of Starpoints actually increases a bit.  People with Starpoints now have access to the huge portfolio of hotels in the Marriott family (and vice versa).

Here are some key features of the personal card:

  • 25,000 Starpoints after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months
  • Annual fee is waived the first year (then $95 thereafter)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn up to 5 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating SPG® hotels – that’s 2 Starpoints for which you may be eligible as a Card Member in addition to the 2 or 3 Starpoints for which you may be eligible as an SPG member.
  • Earn 2 Starpoints® for every dollar of eligible purchases on the Card at participating Marriott Rewards® hotels.
  • Earn 1 Starpoint for all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive credit for 5 nights and 2 stays each year toward SPG® Elite status.

Starwood Preferred Guest points are some of the most valuable hotel points around – I value them at about 2.6 cents each and you can often get substantially greater return than that.

Since this card is issued by American Express and not Chase you don’t have to worry about the 5/24 rule.  However, you are not eligible for the welcome bonus if you have or have had this product.  Note that the business version of this card is also currently offered with a 35,000 point bonus, albeit with different bonus terms.

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17

8. Barclay AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

Ranking in previous month: N/A

What changed since last update: Signup bonus was raised for a limited time to 60,000 AAdvantage miles (with extra 500 miles if you enter a simple code)

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: About $726*.

This card makes its way onto my list due to the increased signup bonus (offer ends 30 November 2017) and great minimum spending requirement.  On the downside, be aware that American Airlines AAdvantage miles aren’t the most valuable these days.  I used to value them at 1.5 cents each but given the limited award availability I’ll be changing my valuation of them to 1.2 cents.

The current signup bonus of 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles is awarded after you make your first purchase in the first 90 days and pay the annual fee of $95.  If you enter the code 139705 on the application page you’ll get an extra 500 miles also.

Here are the key features of this card:

  • 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles after making first purchase in first 90 days and paying annual fee
  • $95 annual fee
  • First checked bag free for the primary cardmember and up to 4 companions on eligible bags when traveling on domestic itineraries operated by American Airlines
  • Preferred boarding for the primary cardmember and up to 4 companions on your reservation when traveling on domestic itineraries operated by American Airlines
  • Earn 2X miles for every one dollar you spend on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees, making it suitable for use in foreign locations
  • Chip-style card for greater acceptance worldwide
  • Get 10% of your redeemed miles back (10,000 maximum per calendar year)
  • Get access to Reduced Mileage Awards – details at aa.com/reducedmileageawards

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17 

9. Chase Freedom

Ranking in previous month: 8

What changed since last update: Bonus category changed for 4Q2017 to Walmart and department stores.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $150 or about $315 if you have an Ultimate Rewards card (e.g. Chase Sapphire Reserve/Preferred, Ink Bold)

Chase Freedom Card ImageThe signup bonus for this card comes in at 15,000 points.  Those points can be converted to $150 cash back without any hassle.

Alternatively, if you have another Ultimate Rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred or Chase Ink, you can transfer the 15,000 points from this signup bonus to one of those accounts.  Once you’ve done that you can easily reap 2 cents per point of value by transferring the points on to an airline or hotel loyalty program.  For example, I often convert my Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus miles or Hyatt Gold Passport points and get 2, 3 or even 4 cents per point in value.  With that approach, the signup bonus for this card could easily be worth upwards of $300 to you.

Here’s the kicker for the signup bonus – it only requires $500 in spending, within 3 months of account opening.  Whereas some other cards have hard-to-reach spend requirements, this one is very reasonable.

That written though, this card earns its spot on this list for its other features and its versatility.  The card has rotating quarterly bonus categories that yield 5X cash back.  Again, points earned through the 5X cash back offer can be transferred to a full-fledged Ultimate Rewards account, if you have one, and yield you even more value.  The quarterly bonus categories are not obscure either – they’re usually categories in which many people do a significant portion of their spending.

There is no annual fee for this card so it’s an excellent get-and-keep card.

To summarize all of that, here are the key features of the the Chase Freedom card:

  • 15,000 points (can be immediately converted to $150 cash back) as a signup bonus, when you are approved and spend $500 within 3 months of account opening
  • 2,500 (can be immediately converted to $25 cash back) additional points after you add a friend or family member as an authorized user to your account and make a purchase within this same three-month period
  • No annual fee
  • 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers
  • Excellent quarterly 5X bonus categories when you activate
  • Chip-style card for greater acceptance worldwide
  • 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)

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17

10. Hilton HHonors by American Express

Ranking in previous month: 8

What changed since last update: Nothing.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $375

Hilton HHonors American Express Card ImageAmerican Express is now offering this card with a 75,000 Hilton Honors points signup bonus after you after you spend $1,000 on purchases on your card in your first 3 months of card membership.  Hilton HHonors Card members automatically receive Silver status in the HHonors program.  The card has no annual fee, making it a good keeper card.

This card is an especially good choice for those looking for a low spending requirement for a signup bonus.

Other key features of the card include:

  • Earn 7X Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your card directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio
  • Earn 5X Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your card at:
    • U.S. restaurants
    • U.S. supermarkets
    • U.S. gas stations
  • Earn 3X Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your card
  • 2.7% foreign transaction fee

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17


Dropped out since last ranking: Barclaycard Arrival Plus; Chase United MileagePlus Explorer


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What are your thoughts on my list of the Best Travel Credit Cards?  Did I omit any that you think are worthy of inclusion?  Let me know in the comments section below!

9 thoughts on “The Best Travel Credit Card Deals!

  1. Thanks for the comprehensive post!! I had already taken your advice and gotten the Hyatt card a couple years back, which has served us well, and just now signed up for #2 on your list since we are planning a big trip in the fall 🙂 ….which just happens to be a Mediterranean cruise so I think your website is reading my mind, since I also saw a post on that! I give this website a rating of 17.235 out of 17.236.

  2. Thank you for the feedback, Jen! I hope your experience with the Citi Premier ThankYou card is excellent.

    One reminder: You use ThankYou points to book, as opposed to using them after the fact to pay off a booking via statement credit. So if you anticipate having a lot of non-travel costs in the next few months, you may want to use the card for those non-travel costs first, and then once you’ve earned the signup bonus points, use them to book (some of) your travel.

  3. Hi Michael! Love your site. Just getting my feet wet on the travel hacking thing and this is an awesome resource!

    I had a question: once you get past the sign up bonuses, are any of these cards worth keeping/using? I’m hesitant to keeping my cards once the annual fees kick in. It seems like after I use up the bonus I should probably use my Citi Double Cash card that gets 2%.

    Seems like you’re always working towards the sign up bonus? I’m thinking I should be doing the same so I can take advantage of the points 🙂

    1. Thank you, Vic!

      Yes, there are some cards worth paying an annual fee to renew. Some cards with annual fees are only “worth it” for jetsetters but others are “worth it” even for infrequent travelers. I’m planning a post on this topic soon. I’ll highlight the cards I’ve paid an annual fee to renew and why I felt it was a good deal to do so.

      In general though, the signup bonuses are where the best returns are.

      The Citi Double Cash card is a good card for everyday purchases if you’re not in the midst of pursuing a signup bonus and you’re not planning to do much traveling soon.

  4. Your site is incredible! We are recently retired and want to plan a trip to Italy next year. Are you familiar with USAA Eagle Points Visa? The annual fee is $40, your earn 1 pt per $1 spent on everything, you can purchase $500 airfare with $30K points, and/or cash out point value at anytime. Just trying to figure out if it is worth switching or not. Chase Sapphire may be a better choice? Thank you!

    1. Kswili – Thank you so much for the compliment!

      I am not very familiar with the USAA Eagle Points Visa. That said, it appears from your comment that it is effectively a card that offers 1.67% back but only when redeemed for travel. There’s really no reason to use a card like that, especially because it has an annual fee. You can find straight cash back cards (like Citi Double Cash) that offer 2% back with no annual fee. And because they’re straight cash back you can use the return (cash) any which way you like.

      The strong appeal of some other cards that earn miles or points is that you can often get more than 2% return using them. Let’s look at the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express as an example.

      At first it may not seem like a great deal to you because you earn only one point per dollar spent. However, those points can be very valuable and the card comes with a 25,000 point signup bonus. So right off the bat you’re getting well over $500 in value from the signup bonus.

      The SPG points you earn can be used at Starwood (Sheraton, Westin, Andaz, etc.) properties and often yield 3 or even 4 cents per point for hotel redemptions if you’re flexible on hotel/dates.

      Those points can also be transferred to dozens of airlines. If you find award availability in first class for an air itinerary to Italy you can transfer the SPG points to that airline’s frequent flyer program and redeem for award seats. This is where you’ll get greatest value. And for a long international flight, the difference between coach and business/first class is huge – instead of getting off the plane jetlagged and exhausted you arrive reasonably refreshed and ready to explore.

      Even a one-way international first-class, or business-class fare can be literally five thousand dollars or more. If you can redeem, say, 60,000 miles for a $5,000 flight, you’re getting a return of over 8%!

      This sort of approach is actually extremely appropriate for retirees. That’s because retirees often have great flexibility on travel dates. When you have flexibility on travel dates you can create some amazing itineraries for pennies on the dollar!

      Send me an email at michael@thehoneymoonguy.com, or write back here, with your likely US departure airport and Italian arrival airport (Rome?) and I can offer some more specific advice!

  5. Hey Michael, so happy I stumbled across your blog, as I am in the process of planning our wedding/honeymoon and your tips are going to save us SO much money! I actually just applied (and was approved!) for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Sadly, they’ve reduced the number of bonus points you can earn in the first three months, but it’s still got all the other amazing perks, so I decided to go for it! Quick question though: you mentioned that “with some easy maneuvering you can actually get that [$300] travel credit twice in your first year of card ownership which more than offsets the annual fee for year one.” How did you guys end up getting the credit twice? Thanks again for all your great tips!

    1. Hi Katharine!

      You’re welcome. Thanks for the kind words! Congratulations on your engagement! And congrats on approval for the CSR!
      For an explanation of how to get the annual $300 travel credit twice in your first year of holding the Chase Sapphire Reserve, check out my post detailing how I’ve already received it twice: http://thehoneymoonguy.com/received_2017_chase_sapphire_reserve_credit_already/
      In a nutshell, if you got the card in January 2017 you can get the $300 credit once over the January-November 2017 timeframe and then again after your December 2017 statement closes.

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