The Twelve Best Travel Credit Cards – March 2016

Check out the updated version of my Best Travel Credit Cards here!


I’m back, this time with our furry boy Jadon, for the March 2016 edition of my travel credit card rankings!  There was major movement this month with two new entries, a departure and a lot more shuffling.

The rankings are heavily tied to the signup bonus offers of the card as that is where the big payoff is, especially for the average couple planning a honeymoon or a major vacation.

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

Let me know what you think in the comments!

1. Chase Hyatt

Ranking in previous month: 1

What changed from last month to this month: Nothing.  The Hyatt Gold Passport program was stable and the signup bonus offer remains very lucrative.

Chase Hyatt Stock ImageThis card offers a lucrative signup bonus with a very reasonable minimum spend requirement.

The signup bonus for this card has traditionally been two nights in any Hyatt worldwide.  However, you may be able to get an 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.

The two free nights can provide incredible value alone though. Great redemption options include the Park Hyatt hotels in Sydney (Australia), Milan (Italy), Paris-Vendome (France), the Grand Hyatt Kauai, the Hyatt Regency Aruba and of course our choice: the Andaz Maui.  We redeemed our four free nights (two for each of us as we both got this card) there 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.

In addition to the free night awards, the card has a lower minimum spend requirement ($1,000 in 3 months) than many other travel cards.

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

  • 2 free nights at Hyatt properties worldwide, after you spend $1,000 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 status in the Hyatt Gold Passport program, which includes a 15% point bonus on eligible spend, complimentary in-room Internet, 72-hour room guarantee, expedited check-in and a preferred reservation line
  • Annual fee is waived the first year (then $75 thereafter, though the free 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: 17 out of 17

2. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Ranking in previous month: 2

What changed from last month to this month: Nothing.  The signup bonus remains at an elevated 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points and the Ultimate Rewards program was stable.

sapphire_preferred_cardLike 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.

Transfer partners include British Airways Executive Club, Korean Air SKYPASS, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®, United MileagePlus®, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Amtrak Guest Rewards®, 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
  • 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

THG’s Rating: 17 out of 17



3. Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (Personal)

Ranking in previous month: 9

What changed from last month to this month: The signup bonus was upped from the standard 25,000 SPG points to 35,000.
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.  Patty and I each signed up for this card and between the two of us we were able to use the bonuses towards two nights in the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, saving us about $1,040!

With Marriott and Starwood merging, the future of the two loyalty programs is unknown.  However, it appears that the Starwood Preferred Guest program will remain generally stable for at least a few months.

Here are some key features of the card:

  • 35,000 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
  • Get 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. Get 1 Starpoint for all other 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 2.5 cents each and you can often get substantially greater return than that.  So although the signup bonus for this card may not seem incredible at first glance, it is indeed a very valuable offer.

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17

4. Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

Ranking in previous month: 2

What changed from last month to this month: The signup bonus offer was reduced from 50,000 ThankYou points to 40,000 ThankYou points.

Citi ThankYou PremierThe Citi ThankYou® Premier Card was recently relaunched and is now a great card with a good signup offer.

This card comes with a reduced, but still enticing, signup bonus of 40,000 ThankYou points.  Those points can be redeemed for $500 of airfare, hotels, cruises and car rentals through the ThankYou® Travel Center.  Alternatively, you can transfer the points to 11 different airline frequent flyer programs (including Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Etihad, Flying Blue by Air France and KLM) or Hilton.

I applied for, and received, the card late last year.  Check out my post on getting the card and redeeming ThankYou points to get a $651 flight for free.

The fact that you can use the points both as pseudo-cash or transfer them is great.  The value you can get from airline miles is often tremendous but that is somewhat offset by the possibility that you won’t be able to get two reward seats on the same flight in some cases.  If you’re planning your honeymoon or vacation and you have ThankYou points you can consider both approaches and simply select the more appealing one.

The annual fee of $95 is waived for this card for the first year.

The spend requirement to receive the signup bonus of 40,000 ThankYou points is a fairly-standard-these-days $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

Here are some other key features of the Citi ThankYou® Premier card:

  • 3X ThankYou Points on travel including gas
  • 2X ThankYou Points on dining out and entertainment
  • 1X ThankYou Points on other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases
  • Chip technology included for improved acceptance while traveling

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17

5. Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®

Ranking in previous month: 8

What changed from last month to this month: I confirmed through personal experience that you can churn the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, meaning you can get the signup bonus more than once.  With Chase reportedly broadening their implementation of the 5/24 rule, cards that are churnable become more valuable.

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, theme parks, boutique hotels or lodging, small airlines, ground travel costs (e.g. cabs, Uber) and more.

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

  •  40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days (redeemable for $400 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 $420 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

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

Ranking in previous month: 5

What changed from last month to this month: Nothing.  The Southwest Rapid Rewards program was stable last month and the signup bonus offer remains the same for the Premier card.

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 can be obtained with a similar 50k point referral offer.

As we near the end of a calendar year and beginning of a new one, the cards become even more appealing as they can be parlayed into a 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

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17

7. Chase Marriott Rewards Premier

Ranking in previous month: N/A

What changed from last month to this month: Chase upped the signup bonus on the card.

Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card 160x101The Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card is a relatively standard hotel credit card, of course tied to the Marriott hotel brand.  Marriott points aren’t the most valuable but with a large enough signup bonus the card can be attractive.  For a limited time, Chase has upped the signup bonus to 80,000 Marriott Rewards points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

With Marriott and Starwood merging, the future of the two loyalty programs is unknown.  However, it appears that the individual loyalty programs will remain generally stable for at least a few months.

Here are some key features of the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card:

  • $85 annual fee (NOT waived the first year)
  • Receive 1 Free Night Stay (Category 1–5) every year after your account anniversary
  • Earn 5 points for every $1 spent at Marriott
  • No foreign transaction fees

THG’s Rating: 14 out of 17

8. British Airways Visa Signature® Card

Ranking in previous month: 6

What changed from last month to this month: Nothing.

British Airways Signature Visa CardThe British Airways Visa Signature® Card is a straightforward airline credit card.  With it you earn 2.5 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1.25 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases.  The strong value of the card is that the signup bonus is decent and that there are certain ways (short- to medium-distance economy flights on partner airlines such as American Airlines) to obtain great value from the Avios program.

Patty and I recently saw the value of this program element firsthand as I booked a domestic flight for my mom for only 7,500 Avios and Patty booked a roundtrip flight to Europe for only 40k Avios.  That same flight would have cost 60k United MileagePlus miles.

Here are some key features of the British Airways Visa Signature® Card:

  • 50,000 bonus Avios when you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of account opening
  • Plus earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios when you spend $10,000 on purchases or 50,000 bonus Avios when you spend a total of $20,000 on purchases within your first year.
  • Earn 2.5 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1.25 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees when you use your card on purchases made outside the United States.
  • Annual fee is $95
  • 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

9. Chase IHG Rewards Club Select

Ranking in previous month: 5

What changed from last month to this month: Nothing.

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 (usually 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: 13 out of 17

10. Chase Freedom

Ranking in previous month: 10

What changed from last month to this month: Nothing.

Chase Freedom Card ImageThe signup bonus for this card now comes in at 15,000 Ultimate Rewards 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 Preferred or Chase Ink, you can transfer the 15,000 Ultimate Rewards 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.

It gets better though.  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.

It gets even better.  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 Ultimate Rewards 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 Ultimate Rewards 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

THG’s Rating: 13 out of 17

11. United MileagePlus Explorer Card

Ranking in previous month: 10

What changed from last month to this month: Nothing.

explorer-chipThe “standard” signup offer for the United MileagePlus Explorer card is for 30k bonus miles after spending $3,000 in 3 months.  With a simple trick you can also 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.

Other key features of the card include:

  • Free first checked bag
  • Priority boarding
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 2 United ClubSM passes per year
  • NewChip-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

THG’s Rating: 13 out of 17

12. American Express Hilton HHonors

Ranking in previous month: N/A

What changed from last month to this month: American Express raised the signup bonus.

Hilton HHonors American Express Card ImageAmerican Express has upped the signup bonus for their Hilton HHonors card to 70,000 points 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.  With no annual fee and a low minimum spending requirement, this card makes the list.

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 Car

Dropped Out This Month: Citi American Airlines AAdvantage – Signup bonus dropped from 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles to 30,000.


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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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