The Twelve Best Travel Credit Cards – July 2016 Edition

Every day I’m shuffling, every day I’m shuffling.  All right, not every day, but my top travel credit cards list did get shuffled quite a bit in July and includes one new addition.

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 of these rankings in the comments below!

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.

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 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 make $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.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: Approximately $1,050

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, 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

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: 17 out of 17

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

Ranking in previous month: 6

What changed from last month to this month: A 50k point signup bonus offer is available for the Plus card again, via this link.  The Southwest Rapid Rewards program was stable last month and the signup bonus offer remains the same for the Premier card.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: Approximately $630 or up to about $1,330 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 $700 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

THG’s Rating: 15 out of 17

4. Chase Freedom

Ranking in previous month: 10

What changed from last month to this month: Chase announced that the Freedom will earn 5X points on warehouse club purchases for the rest of the year.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $150 or about $315 if you have an Ultimate Rewards card (e.g. Chase Sapphire 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 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.

Chase wants you to get used to using your Freedom card at warehouse clubs so they recently announced that warehouse club purchases will earn 5x points back for the rest of the year!  The usual $1,500 limit per quarter applies for bonus category purchases.

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

THG’s Rating: 15 out of 17

5. United MileagePlus Explorer Card

Ranking in previous month: 11

What changed from last month to this month: 50,000 mile signup bonus is back and appears to be available to public and spend requirement is reduced.  The trick to get additional $50 statement credit is working also.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $800

explorer-chipThe 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.

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

THG’s Rating: 15 out of 17

6. Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (Personal)

Ranking in previous month: 5

What changed from last month to this month: The signup bonus was reduced from limited-time high of 35,000 points back to the standard 25,000 points.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $550
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:

  • 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
  • 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

7. Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®

Ranking in previous month: 4

What changed from last month to this month: Nothing

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $420

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

8. Chase IHG Rewards Club Select

Ranking in previous month: 8

What changed from last month to this month: 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

9. Chase Marriott Rewards Premier

Ranking in previous month: 6

What changed from last month to this month: Nothing.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $475

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:

  • 80,000 Marriott Rewards points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 7,500 additional Marriott Rewards points when you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • $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

10. Citi Hilton HHonors Visa

Ranking in previous month: Not ranked

What changed from last month to this month: Citi raised the signup bonus to 75,000 points!

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $375

Citi has 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

11. American Express Hilton HHonors

Ranking in previous month: 7

What changed from last month to this month: American Express dropped the signup bonus to 50,000 points but they also lowered the spending requirement to $750.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: $250

Hilton HHonors American Express Card ImageAmerican Express is now offering this card with a 50,000 Hilton HHonors points signup bonus after you after you spend $750 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.  It’s 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: 13 out of 17

12. British Airways Visa Signature® Card

Ranking in previous month: 9

What changed from last month to this month: Signup bonus offer was simplified but spending requirement increased.

THG’s Estimate of signup bonus value: Up to $655 but redemption opportunities are a bit limited

British Airways Signature Visa CardThe British Airways Visa Signature® Card is a straightforward airline credit card.  With it you earn 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 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.

To see how you can get great value out of Avios, check out Reader Request: Vic Wants Three Free Roundtrip Hawaii Tickets

  • 50,000 bonus Avios when you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 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: 13 out of 17


Dropped Out This Month: None


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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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