I receive compensation for many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, Capital One and other banks are advertising partners of this site. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).
Stephanie Rosenbloom offers my framework for valuing a credit card offer in the New York Times. The article is “Finding the Right Credit Card, No Matter How Much You Travel” —
Your Points, Perks and Bonuses Strategy There are three main attributes to seek out in a travel-rewards card, according to Gary Leff, a co-founder of Milepoint.com, a website for frequent fliers, and the writer behind the miles-and-points blog View From the Wing.
The Sign-Up Bonus Sometimes it’s worth getting a card for the sign-up bonus, which can be thousands of miles or points. You may not even want to keep the card past the first year, Mr. Leff said. Some of the best bonuses are targeted offers — a good reason to check your snail mail. For instance, earlier this year, some travelers were offered 100,000 rewards points as a sign-up bonus for the American Express Platinum Card after spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership.
The Perks Airline credit cards aren’t always the best way to earn miles, but they are often worth having for the perks alone, such as priority boarding, free checked bags and airport lounge access. So explore a card’s benefits and, if they’re worth paying the fee, sign up— just don’t make many purchases on the card.
The Points The most valuable points are those that can be transferred to a variety of airline mileage programs, Mr. Leff said. So look for cards that allow you to do that while also earning points quickly.
The best cards, he said, combine elements of all of the above.
The recommended cards:
- Someone who isn’t looking for the perks that improve the travel experience, and isn’t going to be using their miles for premium cabin international award tickets, is likely best off with a cash back card or a travel rebate card — something that lets you avoid dealing with award space, and even earn miles on your travels.
Citi Double Cash Card combines the best rate of return most people can get on a cash back card – 1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay your bill – with worldwide acceptance. And it’s a no fee card. This is my pick for best all-around cash back card.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard gets you an even better rate of return (2.2%) when you redeem points for airline tickets or other travel. You pick your flights or hotels and related travel and use the points to simply cover the charges to your card.
If you do want points, though — and that’s the best strategy for generating international business and first class travel — the best all-around card remains Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
It gives you a strong signup bonus (40,000 points after $4000 spend within 3 months plus 5000 more points if you add a no fee authorized user to the account and make a purchase during that time). It earns fast with double points on travel and dining. And it has some of the most valuable points, transferring to a variety of airline and hotel programs.
Sapphire Preferred partners with United (for Star Alliance), Korean (a Delta partner and also the airline with the best first class availability between the US and Asia and that charges among the least miles for South America and for Europe), British Airways (American partner, and gets you cheap short distance awards starting at just 4500 points each way), and Singapore (great business and first class availability), among others.
The card generating the most excitement right now is probably Citi Prestige — with its $250 airfare credit than works on tickets and not just fees, American lounge access and Priority Pass Select lounge access that includes free visits and guests, and even free golf.
I still see the American Express Platinum as the single best card for benefits. American Express points are also among the most valuable, but I don’t see the Platinum card as one you get to put spending on (because it doesn’t have big bonuses for spending, so it doesn’t earn that fast). You get it for the benefits.
There’s American Express Centurion lounge access, Delta lounge access when flying them same day, and Priority Pass Select lounge access.
You get Starwood Gold status and National Car Rental Executive status (pick your own car from the ‘Executive Aisle’). You get the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit. There’s a $200 airline fee credit. There’s also unlimited Boingo wireless internet access.
I think that someone who is a regular traveler, but not someone who flies enough to earn elite status, should consider getting the co-brand credit card of the airline they fly the most in order to leverage the card’s perks like priority boarding (avoid having to gate check your bag) and waived checked baggage fees. Like American Express Platinum that doesn’t mean it makes any sense to actually put spending on that card, however.