What’s the Best New Card of 2018?

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This year has been has been a wild ride of new card launches, many of them are compelling and some are disappointing. And several cards have re-launched or revamped their benefits.

It’s an incredibly competitive market for rewards credit cards. It used to be that most of the money went to the banks, travel partners are getting more but now consumers are too. An arms race for premium rewards cards to capture the attention of consumers started last year, but has only accelerated — products that have been a year in the making have finally launched.

So it’s an embarrassment of riches. Cards that used to be appealing and strong aren’t anymore — even though they’ve remained the same — because even better products have come along. With so many new options it can be tough to sort through what’s the ‘new’ best.

Chase Has Launched New Hotel Cards

Hyatt

The new card this year I’m most excited about is The World Of Hyatt Credit Card. I’m already using it.

Hyatt has been my top hotel chain for several years. I didn’t love how they made elite status harder to earn, though I did qualify for top tier status again last year. This card makes getting status much easier. And they’re awarding more points, and more free nights, along the way.

The initial offer is to earn up to 60,000 Bonus Points – 40,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus an additional 20,000 Bonus Points after you spend a total of $6,000 on purchases within the first 6 months of account opening.

You’ll receive 1 free night every year after your cardmember anniversary at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort and earn an extra free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort if you spend $15,000 during your cardmember anniversary year.

The card lets you get automatic World of Hyatt Discoverist status for as long as your account is open and 5 qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every year and also earn 2 qualifying night credits towards your next tier status every time you spend $5,000 on your card.

$15,000 spend on the card gets you two free nights each year plus 11 elite night credits. When you hit 30 nights with Hyatt you get another category 1-4 free night. When you hit 60 nights you get a category 1-7 free night. And each 10 elite nights beyond 60 earns a choice of 10,000 bonus points or a confirmed suite upgrade.

Marriott

With Marriott’s new program there Chase gets exclusivity over the primary personal co-brand card. The Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card has an initial bonus to earn 2 Free Night Awards (each valued up to 35,000 points) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. In addition cardmembers receive 1 Free Night Award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after account anniversary..


Starwood’s Al Maha Desert Resort – Base Room is a Standalone Villa With Private Pool

IHG Rewards Club

Chase revamped their entire hotel portfolio this year and the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is super attractive. It has an initial bonus offer of 80,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

The card comes with Platinum status, a free night after each account anniversary year, and a free reward night on points stays of 4 or more nights. (That’s better than the ‘5th night free’ from Starwood and from Hilton, and amounts to a 25% discount on four night award stays.)


Intercontinental Singapore

American Express Offers New Hilton Cards, Too

American Express bested Citi for the whole Hilton portfolio. There’s now only one issuer of Hilton Honors cards. And they’ve really invested in the products, improving points earn and free night earning and going farther to provide status benefits as well.

The Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express is great for even the casual Hilton guest. It has an initial bonus of 100,000 Hilton Honors points after $2,000 in eligible purchases with the product in your first 3 months of cardmembership.

The card comes with Gold status in the program. Each year you spend $15,000 on the card you’ll earn a weekend night reward, and $40,000 in a calendar year earns Hilton Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year. So there’s incentive to use the card.

Ongoing earn is 12 Hilton points per dollar on purchases directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio; 6 per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations; and 3 per dollar for all other eligible purchases.

The premium Hilton American Express card was the very first to offer Priority Pass for airport lounge access. It didn’t used to include any free visits. This new card comes with Priority Pass Select including 10 visits each year — not bad for a $95 annual fee card.

The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card is offering 125,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases in the first 3 months on this card.

Overall the card is quite similar to the personal Ascend product. The card earns 12X at hotels & resorts in the Hilton portfolio, 6X on select business and travel purchases, and 3X everywhere else.

You’ll get complimentary Hilton Gold status just for having the card. $15,000 spend in purchases in a calendar year earns a weekend night reward as well, and another weekend night after you spend an additional $45,000 in purchases on your Card in the same calendar year.

The card comes with Priority Pass Select including 10 visits each year also.

300,000 Avios on Offer Thanks to Two New Cards

The British Airways Visa Signature® Card was the very first card to have a 100,000 point signup bonus nearly a decade ago. They’re back with the top line number, though too many people probably signed up and dumped the card rather than adopting it for spending so now there’s a higher spending requirement to earn all those points.

    Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. Earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $10,000 total on purchases within your first year of account opening for a total of 75,000 bonus Avios. Earn a further 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening for a total of 100,000 bonus Avios.

And what’s new this year is that there are now similar offers for the Aer Lingus and Iberia versions of this card. That’s a total of 300,000 Avios on offer from 3 cards.

American Express: A New Best Card for Spending?

American Express® Gold Card is the new ‘it’ card. You’re going to want it because it earns 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar at US restaurants and on up to $25,000 per year at US supermarkets as well as 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

It has an annual fee of $250 along with a $100 airline fee credit and a $120 annual dining credit which gives enrolled cardmembers up to $10 per month in statement credits for using the card at:participating Shake Shack locations, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Grubhub/Seamless.

Get the card right away and there is still time to use the airline travel credit before the end of 2018 – and again in 2019 all in your first annual fee year.

With American, Delta, and Southwest you can likely use the credit for gift cards and then buy airfare something I and other readers have had success with even though it’s not how things are supposed to work.

Capital One Plays the Miles Game

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is hardly a new card, though new benefits were added this year.

What’s game changing is that starting next month their points will transfer to airline frequent flyer miles.

Initially they’ve launched with 12 airline partners:

  • Star Alliance: Aeroplan, Avianca, EVA Air
  • SkyTeam: Aeromexico, Alitalia, Air France KLM Flying Blue
  • oneworld: Cathay Pacific, Finanir, Qantas, Qatar Airways
  • Non-alliance: Etihad, Hainan Airlines

Points transfer to these partners at 2-to-1.5 meaning that Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card because a card that either earns a 2% rebate towards travel or earns miles in your choice of the above frequent flyer programs at 1.5 miles per dollar spent.

Notably transfers aren’t limited to Venture, Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business also lets you transfer to airline miles and there’s a limited-time initial bonus offer of up to 200,000 miles: 50,000 miles after $5,000 spend in the first 3 months and 150,000 more miles when you spend $50,000 in the first 6 months from opening your account. This card has a $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that.

A Credit Union Travel Card That Pays You

It’s not just the big banks that are richly rewarding customers. PenFed came out with a no annual fee winner in the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card.

Despite no annual fee there’s a $100 a year travel credit and Global Entry or TSA PreCheck reimbursement (albeit every 5 years rather than 4).

A New Best Small Business Card

Chase introduced the Chase Ink Business Unlimited(SM) Credit Card in May and it’s deceptively simple. In fact it’s at least arguably now the best business card out there even though it’s a no annual fee card.

There’s a 50,000 point initial bonus (after $3000 spend within 3 months of cardmembership) and the card earns 1.5 points per dolar on spend. It’s that simple and straightforward.

If you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, move these points over to Sapphire Preferred and from there to airline miles or hotel points.

  • Airlines: United, Singapore, Korean, British Airways, Air France KLM, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Iberia, Aer Lingus
  • Hotels: Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, IHG

On its own it’s a good card but not the best, in conjunction with Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or other Chase transferable points cards it’s powerful indeed.

A Card Where Spending Earns Elite Qualifying Miles One-to-One

I’m not ever going to be a Frontier Airlines customer, at least until they add internet to their planes. But they really went outside the box developing new elite levels and offer elite qualifying miles one-to-one for spending.

Their 100,000 mile tier makes all ticket purchases refundable, in addition to waiving a bunch of fees and bundling things like premium seats.


Copyright: zhukovsky / 123RF Stock Photo

A New Premium Southwest Card

Chase’s new Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card has increased its initial bonus offer to let you earn 60,000 Rapid Rewards points: 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months — and an additional 20,000 points after spending a total of $12,000 in the first 12 months.

That’s a great deal, and it’s more than halfway towards a Southwest Airlines companion pass. But they’ve created real value for customers who fly Southwest. I like the line from Southwest’s chief marketing officer about the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, it has the 3 Ps… “more perks, more points, and more priority.”

It’s a $149 annual fee card that gives you a $75 Southwest travel credit and 7500 additional points at cardmember anniversary — each of which give you value worth at least half the fee.

Then you get 4 upgraded boardings per year – A1-15 boarding, which you purchase at the gate and get statement credit back for and 20% back on Southwest inflight purchases like inflight cocktails and internet.

And spending contributes towards elite status: 1500 tier qualifying points for each $10,000 in purchases (up to $100,000 in purchases annually or 15,000 tier qualifying points).

Updates to the American and United Co-Brands

Airline cards used to rule the roost. But with so much new competition they have to aggressively improve in order to remain under consideration. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® added 2 points per dollar at restaurants and gas stations and an annual $100 American Airlines flight discount after $20,000 spend within a year provided after card renewal.

I don’t think that fundamentally changes the value proposition of the card — which is that it has a fantastic initial bonus offer, and that it’s a good card to have and keep for travel benefits on American Airlines if you’re not an elite member of AAdvantage. But spending on the card, unless you specifically want AAdvantage miles, isn’t as rewarding as many competitors.

Meanwhile the UnitedSM Explorer Card just added a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit and 25% back on United inflight purchases.

Chase is offering 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus earn an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open. That’s the biggest public offer I’ve ever seen for the card. Your spending will earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.

What’s great about this $0 the first year then $95 annual fee card is the travel benefits when flying United. You get first bag for free (a savings of up to $100 per roundtrip) when you use your card to purchase your ticket. You get priority boarding (avoid having to gate check your carry on, and indeed on a Basic Economy fare you can still bring on a full-sized carry on bag).

You’ll get 2 one-time United Club passes each year for your account anniversary as well.

Cardmembers get access to last seat availability on extra miles awards as well as extra saver award availability that general members don’t have. Elites with the card can receive complimentary domestic upgrades on award tickets.

Still, another good card to get and keep for the benefits but not one worth using for ongoing spend.

So Which is Best?

Of all the new cards I like The World Of Hyatt Credit Card best, at least it’s the one that I’m spending the most on, because I enjoy Hyatts and they’ve made it possible to status earn easily — while making the spend towards that status much more rewarding.

Regardless of which hotel chain you favor you have new options this year worth considering.

I think the most creative card is the Frontier product, though I won’t get the card since I’m not going to fly the card. If I lived in Denver or Orlando I might think differently.

And in the no annual fee space — which really requires creativity in order to offer a rewarding product — the new PenFed card is surprisingly good and on the business side the nod has to go to the Chase Ink Business Unlimited(SM) Credit Card.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.

Comments

  1. Good summary of a wide and potentially confusing array of credit card choices, Gary. A few questions and nits to pick:

    1. Any reason you left out the Amex Hilton Aspire card?
    2. If you ever have time (and haven’t done this already, if I’ve forgotten about it), I’d be very interested in your comparison of the two new, big-multiple-points spending options: the Amex Gold 4X versus the Citi Prestige 5X.
    3. For this and any future discussions of Chase cards, it would be good to always note whether they fall under the 5/24 cloud. Hyatt indeed sounds great, for instance, and thanks for previously noting that apparently it is now 5/24. But it would be helpful to always mention whether 5/24 applies for Chase cards.

  2. @Steve he left off the Aspire bc he gets no $$$ if you apply and are approved; there is no doubt its the top new card.

  3. Gary, why did you leave off the obvious #1 card, the Hilton Aspire? Doesn’t say much about your credibility….

  4. @jessamyn of course he has no credibility. If Barclays offered him a huge affiliate payout on a cruise card we’d be getting 10 articles over a weekend saying why it’s the best card out there.

    @Gary better to have diamond status and be at the top of the upgrade que than to have gold. You must put no value on the free night certificate for doing virtually nothing; the $250 resort credit and the $250 airline credit…. yeah terrible card

  5. @Kevin I do not believe it is a terrible card, I just don’t get the love for it. The Hilton Honors program does not promise suite upgrades to Diamonds.

  6. @Gary,

    Why do you think the immediate reaction to your post is the replies chiding you for omitting the Aspire card?

    I prefer Hyatts as well (and am globalist). I carry and use the new WOH card. Yet my reaction even before reading the comments was essentially, how can Gary possibly include all the Hilton cards but the runaway best of the bunch?

    On the merits, the value proposition for the Aspire card *crushes* the other Hilton cards if you pay for Hilton stays even a couple of times a year. The free night, $250 Hilton credit (which is posting even at non-resorts), and the $250 airline credit offset the annual fee and then some. You get these benefits before spending a single dollar. And that’s not even considering the value of the Diamond status the Aspire confers.

    And it does indeed have significant value. Aside from better shots at upgrades and a better breakfast benefit, it offers better points accumulation. Even now, you can get triple point on stays if Diamond, but just double at other levels. At that’s on top of better earning on the Hilton charges themselves.

    It looks to us like you are placing your desire for commissions above the interests of your readers when those interests conflict. That not only reduces your credibility, but erodes your brand as a “thought leader in travel.”

    FWIW, Dave

  7. Have a hard time understanding how Hyatt is the best card here. I have the old version of hyatt,but it seems like your article is written about what the best card for YOU is and not what the best card for readers at large is. The new amex gold card is the clear winner for most people with a decent signup offer and excellent opportunities to earn on ongoing spend, $100 airline credit, $120 dining credit, 20% off all restaurant spend in the first three months up to $100 (at least this was part of my offer not sure they still offer it). I don’t have the Hilton Aspire card (have a lower level hilton card from before), but to me the Aspire card looks like a better offer than the hyatt card.

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