The Eleven Best Travel Credit Cards for March 2017

I was overdue for an updated ranking of the best travel credit cards so I got down to it (and it’s so close to March that I’m titling the post that way).

With the online 100k bonus ending for the Chase Sapphire Reserve it has tumbled hard from the top spot.  Another card has risen to the top of the heap.  Its excellent signup bonus is available for a limited time only though so it may not remain king of the hill for long…

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. Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (Personal)

Ranking in previous month: 7

What changed since last update: Signup bonus was temporarily increased to 35,000 Starpoints and you can transfer points back and forth between your SPG account and your Marriott Rewards account.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $910
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.  For a limited time, American Express has bumped up the signup bonus to 35,000 SPG Starpoints.  The signup bonus is usually 25,000 Starpoints so that’s a whopping 40% increase.  This offer expires April 5th, 2017!

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
  • 10,000 bonus Starpoints after you make make an additional $2,000 in purchases within the first 6 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.
  • New: 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 it 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, with slightly different terms.

THG’s Rating: 15 out of 17

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

Ranking in previous month: 3

What changed since last update: Nothing.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: Approximately $630 or up to about $1,260 if you have/earn Companion Pass

Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit CardThe Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card yields you 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.

With Southwest expanding to more and more international destinations including 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 50k 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 50k points are worth about $630 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 (RR) 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 RR 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: 15 out of 17

3. Chase Hyatt

Ranking in previous month: 3

What changed since last update: Nothing.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: Up to $1,200 when redeemed at high-end hotels

Chase Hyatt Stock ImageThis card offers a lucrative signup bonus with a reasonable minimum spend requirement.  The two free nights can provide incredible value alone and they’re relatively easy to redeem.

Great redemption options include the Park Hyatt hotels in Sydney (Australia), Milan (Italy), Paris-Vendome (France), the Grand Hyatt Kauai, the Hyatt Regency Aruba, etc.  We redeemed our four free nights (two for each of us as we both got this card) at the Andaz Maui when the going rate for the same room was $450/night including taxes.  We received about $900 each in value from simply signing up for this card.

See this post on great redemption options for free Hyatt nights for more details.

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.

Hyatt is rebranding their loyalty program from Hyatt Gold Passport to World of Hyatt (and going to silly tier names such as Explorist and Globalist) on 01 March 2017.  It appears that getting the Chase Hyatt Card now means you will get Discoverist status when the program changeover occurs.

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

  • 2 free nights at Hyatt properties, worldwide 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
  • Platinum (soon to be Discoverist) status in the Hyatt Gold Passport 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: 15 out of 17 

4. Chase Sapphire Reserve

Ranking in previous month: 1

What changed since last update: The online signup bonus was cut in half from 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points to 50,000.

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.  Online that’s gone the way of the dodo, replaced by a 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points bonus.  Those points can be redeemed directly for $750 of travel or you can transfer points to travel partners and redeem through those programs.  There is still the opportunity, for a few more days, to get the 100,000 point signup bonus by applying in a Chase branch.  That option will apparently expire on March 12th.

Though the online signup bonus has been halved it 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.  It offsets much of the hefty annual fee and with some easy maneuvering you can actually get that travel credit twice in your first year of card ownership which more than offsets the annual fee for year one.

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 $1,500 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

5. Chase Freedom

Ranking in previous month: 4

What changed since last update: Bonus category changed from 4Q2016 which included warehouse club purchases to gas stations and local commuter transportation for 1Q2017.

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: 15 out of 17

6. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Ranking in previous month: 5

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: 15 out of 17

7. United MileagePlus Explorer Card

Ranking in previous month: 5

What changed since last update: Nothing.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $800

explorer-chipA somewhat common signup offer for the United MileagePlus Explorer card is for 50k bonus miles after spending $2,000 in 3 months.  With a simple trick you may also be able to get a $50 statement credit after first purchase (see my summary post here).  It is a somewhat standard airline card, offering 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United and 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases.  Try entering your info into United’s special page here and you may even find yourself eligible for a 70k mile signup bonus!

Other key features of the card include:

  • Annual fee waived for the first year ($95 thereafter)
  • Free first checked bag
  • Priority boarding
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 2 United Club passes per year
  • Chip-enabled card provides added security
  • Receive 10,000-mile bonus after you reach $25,000 in net purchases 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: 15 out of 17

8. Hilton HHonors by American Express

Ranking in previous month: 8

What changed since last update: American Express is now offering a signup bonus of 75,000 HHonors points with a spending requirement of only $1,000.

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 HHonors 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

9. Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®

Ranking in previous month: 9

What changed since last update: Signup bonus was increased from 40,000 to 50,000 Arrival Miles.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $525 (redemptions must be for $100 or more)

BarclayCard Arrival PlusThis card, like the Citi ThankYou Premier and the Chase Sapphire Preferred is not associated with any particular lodging or air travel company but yet it is very much a traveler’s card.  A Barclaycard Arrival mile is redeemable for 1 cent of travel cost (where 2 Arrival miles are required for every cent of redemption for non-travel costs).  This card, and the associated points, are therefore great for travel costs such as cruises, boutique hotels or lodging, small airlines and more.

Redemptions toward travel must be for purchases of $100 or more, limiting its appeal somewhat.

Here are some key features of the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®:

  •  50,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days (redeemable for $500 of travel statement credit)
  • 2 miles earned per dollar on all purchases made
  • Get 5% miles back every time you redeem for travel statement credits (effectively making the signup bonus worth $525 towards travel)
  • Annual fee waived the first year (then $89 thereafter)

This card is valuable for the signup bonus and use through the first year but my personal opinion is that you should lobby for the annual fee to be waived at renewal time because there are straight cash-back cards that offer about 2% back.  However, this card still carries the impressive signup bonus that those cash-back cards do not.

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17

10. Chase IHG Rewards Club Select

Ranking in previous month: 10

What changed since last update: Nothing.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $530

IHG Rewards Club Select Credit CardThe best publicly-available signup bonus offer for this card gets you 60,000 IHG points and a $50 statement credit after spending $1,000 within 3 months of account opening. 

However, many people, myself included, have had success getting Chase to update their account to an 80k points signup bonus offer after they’ve been approved for the card.  Some folks have even been able to retain the $50 statement credit in addition to the increased points offer. 

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.

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

  • 60,000 points and a $50 statement credit (sometimes increased to 80,000 points with a request to Chase) 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

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17

11. Citi Hilton HHonors Visa

Ranking in previous month: 12

What changed since last update: Nothing.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $375

Citi recently upped the signup bonus for their no-annual-fee Hilton HHonors card to 75,000 points after you after you spend $2,000 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.  With no annual fee and a low minimum spending requirement, this card is a solid choice.

Other key features of the card include:

  • Earn 6 Bonus Points per $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton Portfolio
  • Earn 3 Bonus Points per $1 spent with your card on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations
  • Earn 2 Bonus Points per $1 spent with your card on other purchases
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • Hilton HHonors Bonus Points offer is not available if you have had a Citi® Hilton HHonorsTM Visa Signature® Card account that was opened or closed in the past 24 months

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17


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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!

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2 thoughts on “The Eleven Best Travel Credit Cards for March 2017

  1. If you are already an approved added user of your spouses’s card, can you then apply for your own?
    If you have been added and get the 5,000 pts or so, how soon can you apply for your own for the sign up bonus points?

    1. Yes, even if you are an authorized user on someone else’s card, you can still get that card yourself and get the signup bonus, immediately.

      There is a downside to being added as an authorized user on someone else’s account: It can count against you in Chase’s 5/24 calculation.

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