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If you’re new to this, please read our Comprehensive Guide To Award Travel For Beginners. If you need ideas to help meet minimum spend, click here. Also, please familiarize yourself with Chase’s 5/24 policy before applying for any cards. Unless you have a specific travel goal that requires a specific award currency, I’d focus on opening Chase cards first.
Click here for a list of cards that all beginners should consider (5/24 cards).
I’ve grouped our top credit cards a few different ways in this post:
- Overall top credit card choice
- Top cards for everyday spending
- Best premium travel cards
- Top business credit cards
- Best airline co-branded cards
- Best hotel co-branded cards
Our overall top credit card:
Looking for your first travel rewards credit card? No matter what your travel goals are, Chase Sapphire Preferred should be your very first credit card. The welcome bonus is worth at least $750 in travel, the annual fee is reasonable, and the rewards (Chase Ultimate Rewards) are easy to earn and redeem.
Current offer: Earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
Earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. The annual fee is $95, but the welcome offer alone is worth a lot more than that.
You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to 10 different airline frequent flyer programs or 3 different hotel loyalty programs. You can also redeem the points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards redemption portal. Each point can be redeemed for 1.25 cents. That makes the welcome bonus of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points worth $750!
More top travel credit card offers
The reason Chase cards top most of these sub-lists is because of the 5/24 rule. This post goes into great detail about our top credit card choices for beginners and why Chase cards should be your first cards.
Top cards for everyday spending:
To determine the top cards for everyday spending, we’ve considered earn rates and category bonuses (if any).
Best everyday earn rate: Chase Freedom Unlimited
This card earns 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on all purchases. There are no bonus categories. To compare, the earn rate on our other Ultimate Rewards earning cards is 1 point per dollar on all non-category bonus spending. Another important thing to point out: there is no annual fee on this card!
The problem is, if you (or your spouse/partner) does not have one of the three cards that earns transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards (Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Business Preferred), the points you earn are just cash back. 1.5 points is 1.5 cents. There are other cash back cards with better earn rates. But, when paired with a transferable Ultimate Rewards earning card, these points can be redeemed as transferable Ultimate Rewards points OR they can be redeemed as cash. Click here for more details.
Welcome offer: $150 (or 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $500 in the first 3 months.
Again, I only recommend this card if you also have one of the three cards that earns transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards (Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Business Preferred). Click here for more details.
Best card for ease of redeeming: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
The most valuable credit card rewards are those that are transferable to airline and hotel programs. Prior to 2018, the Capital One Venture card was essentially a cash-back credit card. To redeem the rewards for travel, you simply used your miles as a purchase “eraser”. Since then, Capital One has added airline transfer partners, so Venture now deserves a spot on this list.
This post has a detailed comparison between your earning and redeeming potential on both the Capital One Venture and the Chase Sapphire Preferred. In terms of value, the rewards earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred are probably going to be superior to that of the rewards earned with the Capital One Venture. With that said, some people prefer the simplicity of a cash-back card and this card is a great choice. Plus, if you decide to explore transfer partners, you will have the option.
Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 Venture miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. The annual fee is waived the first year. Click here for more information.
After the first year, the annual fee is $95. You earn 2 miles per dollar on ALL purchases. Until January 2020, you will receive 10 Venture miles per dollar on purchases made at hotels.com/venture. This is a great earn rate! You will also receive up to $100 in reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Precheck. Not bad for a card that has no annual fee the first year!
You can still use miles as a purchase eraser. To do this, you can purchase your flight or hotel stay with your Capital One Venture card. Then you log in to your Capital One account and use your Venture miles to “erase” all or part of the travel purchase. You can redeem at a rate of 1 cent per point. I’ll spare you the math, but redeeming Venture miles this way means you receive 2% cash back for travel.
To get even more value, you can transfer Venture miles to 15 different airline partners. To be clear, the transfer ratio isn’t 1:1, therefore, you don’t actually earn 2 airline miles per dollar. Read this post for more info about your redemption options.
Click here for more information about the Capital One Venture.
Best bonus categories: American Express Gold Card
The American Express Gold Card earns 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines, 4 points per dollar at restaurants and, 4 points per dollar at US grocery stores on up to $25,000 in purchases annually. For restaurants and grocery store spend, this is one of the highest earn rates available. So if you eat out frequently and/or grocery shop frequently, this may be a good card for you.
Welcome Offer: 40,000 American Express Membership Rewards points with the link above. The minimum spending requirement is $2,000 in 3 months.
The annual fee is a little steep, but this card comes with an annual benefit of $100 in airline incidentals (this works the same as the $200 credit on the Amex Platinum Card). Also, you can receive up to $120 annually in dining credit. Terms apply. Click here for more information
3 points per dollar on flights is as good or better than most of our other favorite travel cards, but the categories that really stand out here are 4 points per dollar at restaurants and US supermarkets.
Top premium travel credit cards:
Want to step up your travel experience? Consider a premium card that has the benefit of lounge access as well as other premium benefits. These cards typically have higher annual fees, but if you’re able to utilize the benefits and statement credits that are available, it’s easy to justify paying a higher annual fee.
The Platinum Card from American Express will grant you access to their amazing Centurion lounges (where available). These lounges have complimentary food and drinks, plus some locations even have spa services! You’ll also get lounge access to airport lounges around the world with a Priority Pass membership. Terms apply, learn how to apply here.
Current offer: Earn 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. Those points can be transferred to several different airline and hotel programs.
The annual fee is $550, but there are lots of benefits and credits that may help offset that fee. The current welcome offer of 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points also helps offset that annual fee.
60,000 Membership Rewards points is enough for a roundtrip ticket to Japan if you learn to utilize transfer partners!
Additional benefits and details: Receive up to $200 of reimbursement on airline incidentals per calendar year, receive $200 total in Uber credits annually, receive $100 reimbursement for TSA precheck or Global Entry enrollment, and 100$ total in statement credit for purchases at Saks Fifth avenue annually.
If you’re a frequent flyer, this card has one of the highest earn rates on flight purchases. Earn 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly through airlines or through amextravel.com. Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
For more information about American Express Membership Rewards earning cards, click here.
Runner-up: Chase Sapphire Reserve
This premium card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Although you don’t get Amex Centurion lounge access with this card, you will get a Priority Pass membership. This means you have access to Priority lounges worldwide. Also, the bonus categories on the Chase Sapphire Reserve are a little better than our other favorite premium travel card, the Amex Platinum Card.
Current offer: Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in 3 months.
The annual fee is $450, but, you receive a travel credit of $300 each year. That brings the fee to effectively $150. You cannot have this card if you already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred. But if you’re trying to decide which one to open, it really depends on how much you travel. Here are some of the reasons the fee is higher:
I already mentioned the $300 annual credit and the lounge access. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn Ultimate Rewards quicker if you travel or dine out frequently because you earn 3 points per dollar on spending in those categories. Also, you receive a $100 credit for Global Entry (or $85 for TSA precheck).
The other benefit to this card (as opposed to the Chase Sapphire Preferred) is that your points are worth more when you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. The redemption rate is 1.5 cents per point. So 50,000 Ultimate Rewards are worth $750. Of course, you can also transfer those Ultimate Rewards to Chase’s airline and hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio.
Top business credit cards:
Chase Ink Business Preferred credit card
If you own a business, I highly recommend Chase Ink Business Preferred as your first business credit card. The Chase Ink Business Preferred card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which are easy to earn and redeem. Also, the annual fee is very reasonable.
Current offer: Earn 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 in 3 months.
The annual fee is $95. 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points are worth $1,000 if you book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards redemption portal. To potentially redeem for even more value, you can also transfer the 80,000 points to Chase’s airline and hotel transfer partners.
The earn rate makes it easy to accumulate Chase Ultimate Rewards points on business and travel expenses. You’ll earn 3 points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent each year in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. After you hit $150,000 on these categories, the rate is 1 point per dollar. All other categories are 1 point per dollar.
If you want a premium business card, this is a strong contender. The Business Platinum Card from American Express is especially lucrative for those who regularly make large business purchases.
Current Offer: Up to 100,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. The minimum spending requirement is $10,000 in the first 3 months to earn 50,000 bonus points. Then if you spend another $15,000 in the first 3 months, you’ll earn an additional 50,000 points. The annual fee is $595, but the benefits may be worth it, especially if you make large business purchase or if you spend a lot on flights. Terms apply. Learn how to apply here.
The earn rate is basically the same as the personal Platinum card (5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines and on flights and prepaid hotels at amextravel.com, 1 point per dollar on everything else) but there is one exception. Purchases over $5,000 earn 1.5 points per dollar (you can earn up to 1 million additional points each year). So if you make large business purchases that may not qualify for bonus categories on other business cards, this may be a good card for you.
Also, you will get the $200 airline incidental reimbursement per calendar year, $100 reimbursement for TSA precheck or Global Entry enrollment, and airport lounge access benefits that the personal version of this card has. Note that the Uber credits and Saks credits are not available on the Business Platinum Card. You can also enroll to receive $100 semi-annually for Dell purchases in the US (that’s $200 per year).
Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card
This card was launched in June and the Southwest Companion Pass is the sole reason it makes my list of top business card offers. The welcome bonus of 80,000 Rapid Rewards puts you in a decent position if you’re trying to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. Click here for my post about this card.
Current offer: 70,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. The annual fee is $199.
Notable benefits: 9,000 anniversary points each year, Global Entry or TSA precheck reimbursement ($100 or $85, respectively), Four upgraded boardings per year when available, $8 credit for inflight wifi on Southwest flights, up to 365 times per year
If you fly Southwest often, the benefits may make this card superior to the other Southwest Rapid Rewards business credit card (Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card).
Unless you’re trying to earn a Southwest Companion Pass, I generally suggest opening a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points before opening a Southwest (or any airline) co-branded credit card. The Chase Ink Business Preferred card is less than half the annual fee of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance card. Plus, Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to Southwest. For those reasons, I’d choose the Chase Ink Business Preferred over this card if the Southwest Companion Pass is not your goal.
Top airline co-branded credit cards:
Remember, if you’re a beginner, I highly recommend staying away from non-Chase co-branded credit cards until you’ve opened the Chase 5/24 cards you want. Open a Chase Ultimate Rewards earning card first. Then open Chase co-branded credit cards. Then you can move on to other airline and hotel co-branded credit cards. Chase co-branded cards are at the top of this list because of 5/24, but also because the current welcome offers are valuable.
United Explorer Card
This is a Chase 5/24 card, so if you don’t open it as a beginner, you may miss your chance to get it. The current offer is enough to open this card, and the benefits may make this card worth keeping open, even if you use other cards for everyday spending.
Current offer: Up to 65,000 United Mileage Plus miles. Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 25,000 bonus miles if you spend a total of $10,000 on purchases in the first 6 months.
The annual fee is waived the first year. After the first year, the annual fee is $95. If you use the card to purchase United flights, you will earn 2 miles per dollar, plus you will get your first checked bag for free. That’s a value of up to $120 per roundtrip flight.
Other valuable benefits include up to $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee reimbursement, 2 one-time passes to United Club each anniversary year, and priority boarding benefits. In addition to 2 miles per dollar on United flights, you also have restaurant and hotel bonus categories. Earn 2 miles per dollar on spend at restaurants and hotels. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit card
This is also a Chase 5/24 card. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card was launched in July 2018. There are 3 other personal Southwest co-branded credit cards from Chase, but if you fly Southwest, this would definitely be the top pick of the 3. The welcome offer is the same on all 3 personal cards. Click here for more details about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority credit card.
Current offer: Earn 40,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $1,000 in 3 months.
The annual fee is $149, but if you fly Southwest, the $75 annual credit effectively brings that fee to $74. Another notable benefit is that you get 4 upgraded boarding positions per year with this card.
The earn rate is 2 points per dollar on Southwest and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard
If you’re over 5/24, the current welcome offer on this card is appealing. In addition to 60,000 AAdvantage miles, you’ll receive a one-time companion ticket. Plus there is no minimum spending requirement to receive this welcome offer.
Current offer details: Earn 60,000 AAdvantage miles and a companion certificate (good for 1 guest at $99 plus taxes and fees) after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in the first 90 days.
Other benefits include free first checked bag for the cardholder and up to 4 companions on your reservation, preferred boarding, and an annual $25 credit for inflight internet.
The earn rate is 2 miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card
If you live in a city with Alaska Airlines flights, the annual companion certificate benefit may make this card worth keeping year after year.
Current offer: Earn 40,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles and a one-time companion certificate after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months.
The annual fee is $75. Each anniversary year, you receive a $99 companion certificate. This means if you book an Alaska Airlines flight, you can book your companion for $99. This can save lots of money, especially on pricey routes such as Hawaii.
Earn 3 miles per dollar on Alaska Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar on other purchases. With this card, you get a free checked bah for yourself and up to 6 companions on the same reservation.
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
I’ve ranked this card lower than its Barclay counterpart (but yes, you can have both) because the offer is less and there is a minimum spend requirement. However, this card’s annual fee is waived the first year, so those trying to avoid annual fees may find this offer more appealing. This card also has bonus categories that they Barclay AAdvantage Aviator Red does not have.
Welcome offer: 50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $2,500 n the first 3 months.
The annual fee of $99 is waived for the first year. Like most airline co-branded cards, you’ll get a free checked bag and priority boarding with this card.
The earn rate is 2 points per dollar on AA purchases, 2 points per dollar at restaurants, and 2 points per dollar at gas stations, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
Top hotel co-branded credit cards:
For the same reasons stated in the airline co-branded cards section, Chase is the issuer of my top hotel credit cards. Both are 5/24 cards, so both are cards you will want to open before opening cards from other banks. If you’re already over 5/24 but you want a hotel credit card, I suggest checking out the Hilton co-branded cards from Amex.
World of Hyatt credit card from Chase
World of Hyatt is my top hotel loyalty program, so naturally the co-branded credit card is going to be my top hotel credit card. The welcome bonus of up to 50,000 World of Hyatt points is nice, but the main benefit that makes this card worth keeping year after year is the annual free night certificate. This is good for any Hyatt property that is category 1-4. The annual fee is $95, but there are so many properties for which you can use the annual free night with rates significantly higher than $95.
Current offer: Up to 50,000 Hyatt points. 25,000 if you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, then another 25,000 if you spend an additional $3,000 in the first 6 months (a total of $6,000 in the first 6 months).
The annual fee is $95, but again, the initial bonus offer and then the annual certificate for each anniversary make this card worth opening and keeping.
This card also comes with Discoverist status, which is mid-tier at best, but Discoverist status will get you free premium internet and late checkout. in our experience, Hyatt is also generous with room upgrades, even for lower status!
The earn rate is 4 World of Hyatt points per dollar at Hyatt, 2 points per dollar at restaurants, 2 points per dollar on airfare purchased directly from airlines, 2 points per dollar on local transit, and 2 points per dollar on gym memberships.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card from Chase
Although I don’t value Marriott Bonvoy points as much as Chase Ultimate Rewards points or even World of Hyatt points, this card’s welcome bonus and benefits land the card on this list of top offers
Current offer: 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.
The annual fee is $95. Marriott points aren’t as valuable as Hyatt points, but 75,000 Marriott points can get you at least one free night at some of the most luxurious Marriott properties worldwide. In addition to the nice welcome offer, the card comes with a free night worth up to 35,000 starting at your first anniversary of card membership. (This benefit kicks in at your first anniversary of card membership, not when you open the card).
Though the annual fee is $95, the annual free night can be valuable. Ryan and I used our certificates to book the Tambo del Inka property (a Luxury Collection Resort) in Peru. The rate on our dates was over $400 per night. So even if we get no other benefits out of having this card, think of it like this: we booked a $400 room for $95.
With this card, you earn 6 points per dollar at Marriott properties, and 2 points per dollar on everything else. The earn rate on this card seems high, but remember, Marriott points aren’t as valuable as other points.
This card also comes with Marriott silver status.
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