The best  travel credit cards of January 2018 based on signup bonuses and category spend bonuses are listed here–these are public offers, available to U.S. residents. Credit card offers such as these, category spend bonuses and some modest mile purchases are How We Earned Nearly 1 Million Miles and Points in 2017 Without Flying. With this post, I'll go into some detail as to why we rank these credit card offers the way we do, and separate them into the best ones for signup bonuses and the best ones for everyday spend. We do receive referral credit for some of the cards listed, but not all of them. I'll also aim to keep this blog post up to date to track changing offers and spend bonuses. Overwhelmed?http://travelsort.com/blog/beginners-guide-to-miles-points Check out our Beginner's Guide to Miles and Points.

Note that there are sometimes targeted offers that are better than public offers, such as a 150K AMEX Business Platinum offer, so make sure to check your email and even junk mail regularly.

Also note that the value of miles and points varies enormously depending on how you plan to use them.  Someone redeeming for U.S. domestic flights that are normally inexpensive will typically get much less face value out of the same number of miles or points than someone redeeming for an international first class award ticket, which could have a retail value of $20,000 or more. If you only fly inexpensive domestic flights you may be best off with a cash back card.

The other part of the equation is redeeming miles and points for first and business class. If you don't have time or need help, consider using our Award Booking Service, which is just $75 per person if you book at least $5000 in hotels or cruises with us for your travel itinerary.

Best Travel Credit Cards for Sign-Up Bonuses

In ranking these, I've taken into account not only the bonus, but the spend to get that bonus. I apply the highest value use, so be sure to read my notes to decide if you would value the card as highly.

1. 50K Chase Sapphire Reserve

  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points signup bonus after spending $4000
  • Earn 3X Ultimate Rewards points on travel purchases
  • Earn 3X Ultimate Rewards points on dining
  • $300 Travel Statement Credit per year automatically applied for travel purchases charged to your card
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Fee Credit if charged to your card
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Why #1: The Chase Sapphire Reserve is now my most used card in terms of dollar value of purchases, thanks to earning 3X on all travel and dining. If you travel, this should be your go-to card for virtually all purchases, and in my view it's the best card to have if you opt to have just one travel rewards credit card. Yes, it has a high $450 annual fee, but effectively it's a $150 per year card because of the $300 travel statement credit each year (December to December billing cycle). This reimburses you for $300 per year of all kinds of travel–airfare, hotel spend, taxis, car rentals, etc.

Heck, even if you're not positive you're going to keep the card for the long term (although personally I will) you can make about $850 off the card in the first year. Get a $300 travel statement credit plus the 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points as a signup bonus (worth $1000 at a valuation of 2 cents per point. That gives you $1000 + $300 – $450 = $850.

Since you earn 3X on all travel and dining, anyone who spends $2500 or more per year on some combination of travel and dining will easily earn back the annual fee on an annual basis, at least if you value Chase Ultimate Rewards points at ~2 cents per point. That's because your $2500 in spend will earn you 7500 Ultimate Rewards points, and at a valuation of 2 cents per point, that's $150. And this is in addition to the trip interruption, cancellation, delay, Chase Sapphire Reserve Priority Pass Select lounge access and other card benefits.

 

2. Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card – 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points (limited time offer; usually 50K bonus)

  • 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in 3 months from account opening
  • Credit card (may carry a balance, although don't be tempted to!)
  • 3X points per dollar on the first $150,000 in combined purchases each anniversary year on travel, shipping purchases, Intternet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites.
  • 1:1 point transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer and Korean Air (best use of points), Hyatt, United Airlines, Southwest, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, InterContinental, Priority Club, Amtrak
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee of $95 is NOT waived the first year, unless you apply in a Chase branch

Why #2: The Ink Bold and Ink Plus have been eliminated for new applications, so now the only Ultimate Rewards linked Ink card is the Ink Business Preferred, which launched November 14, 2016. It has an 80K sign up bonus, 3X bonus categories, and the $95 annual fee is NOT waived the first year for this offer unless you apply in a Chase branch. Note that this card is subject to Chase 5/24, so you'll most likely not be approved for it unless you have opened 4 or fewer new credit cards within the past 24 months.

Points may be transferred 1:1 to Singapore KrisFlyer,Korean Air SkyPass, United MileagePlus, British Airways, Korean Air Skypass, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Intercontinental/Priority Club, Amtrak.

Thanks in part to the points from the Ink Bold (no longer available), I recently experienced Lufthansa's New First Class. Ultimate Rewards points are great for transferring to United to redeem for awards on Lufthansa, ANA, Asiana, Thai and other Star Alliance partners.

Another thing I love about business cards is that unlike personal cards, credit utilization is not reported to credit agencies. So as long as you're paying it off in full by the due date, no need to zealously pay off high spend right after it occurs.

 

3. Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa – Up to 55,000 points 

  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4000 spend in the first 3 months
  • 5000 Ultimate Rewards points after adding an authorized user within the first 3 months
  • 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer, Korean Air, United, Hyatt, Southwest, Marriott, InterContinental, Priority Club, Amtrak
  • Direct access to expert service advisors anytime
  • Annual fee waived first year, then $95

Why #3: The 50K + 5K for total of 55,000 points is an improved offer, since the prior offer was 40,000 points (45K points including the 5000 bonus for adding an authorized user). My favorite transfer option for Ultimate Rewards points are Singapore KrisFlyer and Korean Air Skypass. Previously, United miles were the best value transfer partner for Ultimate Rewards points, but that changed as of 2/1/14 due to the massive United Award Chart Devaluation. Note also that you are likely to be turned down for a new Chase Sapphire Preferred if you've opened 5 or more new credit cards within the past 24 months; see Chase 5/24 rule.

Points may be transferred 1:1 to Singapore KrisFlyer, United MileagePlus, British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott, Intercontinental/Priority Club, Amtrak. United and Hyatt are the two highest value uses for points transfers.

Note that the 7% annual points dividend has been eliminated for those who got this card July 20, 2014 or later for this card. Those who already had the card will continue to receive the points dividend for 2015 spend, but that will be the last year; no 7% points dividend for 2016 spend.

 

4. 60K Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select

Note that you shouldn't apply for more than one Citi card of any kind on the same day–wait at least a week between Citi applications, if you're hoping to be approved for both. Also note that AAdvantage miles are worth less, after the 2016 AAdvantage Award Chart Devaluation.

  • Earn 60K AAdvantage miles after $3000 in spend within the first 3 months of account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 2 AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and on purchases at telecommunications merchants, gas stations and car rental agencies
  • $95 annual fee is waived the first year
  • First checked bag free on domestic American Airlines flights
  • Note that you are not eligible for the bonus miles if you have had this same card opened or closed in the past 24 months.

Why #4: Even after the major AAdvantage award chart devaluation, AAdvantage miles still have their uses. For example, you can fly JAL Sky Suite Business Class between the U.S. and Japan for 60,000 miles each way, JAL Business Class from Tokyo to Sydney for 40,000 miles each way, or JAL First Class Tokyo to Sydney for 60,000 miles each way. If you need more miles more quickly than you can earn them via credit card signup bonuses, you may want to top up your account by buying AAdvantage miles.

 

5. 60K Citi AAdvantage Business Card

  • Earn 60K AAdvantage miles after $3000 in spend within the first 3 months of account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 2 AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and on purchases at telecommunications merchants, gas stations and car rental agencies
  • $95 annual fee is waived the first year
  • First checked bag free on domestic American Airlines flights
  • Note that you are not eligible for the bonus miles if you have had this same card opened or closed in the past 24 months.

Why #5: See the above for the AAdvantage Platinum Select; I rank the business card offer just below the personal card, since sometimes business card applications that aren't instantly approved are subject to greater scrutiny.

 

6. 75K AMEX Business Platinum Also 150K AMEX Business Platinum by Calling In (Targeted)

  • 75,000 Membership Rewards points signup bonus after spending $20,000 within your first 3 months of card membership (50,000 points after spending $10,000 and another 25,000 points after spending an additional $10,000)
  • Receive $200 in statement credits for airline incidental fees such as for checked luggage after selecting a qualifying airline
  • Earn 35% extra Membership Rewards points for all first class and business class tickets booked with Pay with Points, as well as economy tickets for the same airline selected for the airline incidental credit. This used to be a 50% points rebate, but was changed 6/1/17. See AMEX Business Platinum Cuts 50% Points Rebate
  • Earn 1.5X Membership Rewards points per dollar for each single transaction of $5000 or more. For example, spend $6000 and earn 9000 Membership Rewards points.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $450 annual fee is NOT waived the first year
  • Offer not available if you have or have had the AMEX Business Platinum card

Why #6: This offer was previously 100,000 bonus Membership Rewards points until January 25, 2017, with a $15,000 minimum spend. 75,000 bonus points for higher $20,000 minimum spend is significantly worse, which caused this to fall significantly in the rankings. Be on the lookout for targeted 100K or even the targeted 150K AMEX Business Platinum offers that sometimes come via snail mail.

 

7. 50K Lufthansa Miles & More

  • 20K bonus Miles & more miles after making a first purchase and paying the annual fee
  • 30K additional bonus miles after spending $5000 on the card within the first 90 days of card membership
  • 2X miles per $1 for tickets purchased directly with Lufthansa and partner airlines such as Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and SWISS
  • $89 annual fee is NOT waived the first year
Why #7: The usual offer for this card is 35,000 miles, although with lower spend. The high $5000 spend pushes this card down the list, but Lufthansa miles are valuable for being able to reserve Lufthansa First Class and Swiss Business Class awards in advance. Do note that there is still limited award seat availability, as well as high taxes and fees, especially on awards from the U.S. to Europe, but Lufthansa First Class is a treat and one of the best ways to fly to Europe using miles, if you're able to snag an award for your dates. The best way to add to your Miles & More balance if you don't fly paid seats on Lufthansa and partner airlines is to transfer Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints in increments of 20,000 points, as that will get you 5000 bonus miles per 20K miles transferred.

 

8. British Airways Visa: 50,000 to 75,000 Avios 

  • 50,000 bonus Avios after $3000 spend within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Additional 25,000 bonus Avios (so total 75K Avios) after spending $10,000 total on purchases within the first year
  • 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Smart Chip Technology
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Travel Together companion ticket valid for 2 years after $30,000 spend within a calendar year
  • $95 annual fee is NOT waived for this offer

Why #8: A couple reasons I don't rank this card higher, even though you can earn 100K Avios as a signup bonus and the card is not subject to Chase 5/24, are that $20K spend is required to earn those 100K and I find Avios much less valuable than they used to be, due to the various award chart devaluations over the past few years. For example, see the New British Airways Avios Devaluation which really made first class and business class awards a terrible value, especially for peak travel dates on British Airways and on partners, since all partner awards are at the peak travel rate. British Airways First Class from the West Coast to London has increased from 150,000 Avios roundtrip to 170,000-200,000 roundtrip for non-peak and peak dates, respectively. Also note the $95 annual fee is NOT waived the first year.

Additionally, even if your goal happens to be short flights on American Airlines within the U.S., AA has sharply reduced their saver award space (which is the space open to partners such as British Airways) so Avios are less useful for those awards.

Make sure to take the increased award rates into account when deciding whether or not to apply for the card, and if you're considering getting the card for the 2 for 1 companion voucher, see How to Maximize the British Airways Companion Ticket on Award Travel.

Avios in my view are good to have for miles and points diversification, since they can offer the best deal for short direct flights in the U.S., Asia, Australia, and even in Europe, to a lesser extent (due to all the low fares from easyjet, Ryanair etc.)

 

9. Mercedes-Benz Platinum AMEX – 60,000 Membership Rewards points 

  • 60,000 Membership Rewards points after $3000 spend within the first 3 months
  • Points may be transfered to Aeroplan, ANA, British Airways, Delta, Singapore and others; there are sometimes transfer bonuses for transfer partners such as British Airways
  • $200 airline fee credit (some have managed to get this twice, because it's in a calendar year)
  • 5X points per $1 on eligible Mercedes-Benz purchases, 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • $550 annual fee is NOT waived the first year

Why #9: This 60K offer for $5000 spend is an ok deal (although not as good as the recent 75K offer), since usually the offer is just 50,000 bonus Membership Rewards points. But keep in mind the annual fee on this card, as with the personal AMEX Platinum, is now a hefty $550, which is not waived the first year. Membership Rewards points are great for transferring to Singapore KrisFlyer, and Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Citi ThankYou points also transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer, making it easy to top up your account in order to redeem for Singapore Suites, Singapore First Class or Singapore Business Class.

There is of course the steep annual fee of $475 ($25 higher than the usual AMEX Platinum annual fee of $450) though I do have some tips for Maximizing the AMEX Platinum Airline Fee Credit. You also get a $100 fee credit for Global Entry; see AMEX Platinum Global Entry Benefit Tips. I still don't value the Fine Hotels and Resorts Program, as a luxury travel advisor, since my clients receive equivalent or better perks booking Virtuoso, Four Seasons Preferred Partner with me (for example, Four Seasons Preferred Partner upgrades are prioritized ahead of AMEX FHR–see Why Switch to Four Seasons Preferred Partner from an AMEX FHR Booking). For more details, see Become a Client.

There are also no category bonuses, except for 5X for Mercedes-Benz purchases, unlike the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold Card. If you value the benefits more than I do though, you could find the card to be worthwhile. Note that the current offer for the regular AMEX Platinum (not Mercedes-Benz) is now 25,000 points, although some report receiving a targeted offer for 50,000 points. That card comes with a $450 fee. Note that it no longer is possible to receive the signup bonus for both the AMEX Platinum card and the Mercedes-Benz Platinum card at the same time, they are now considered the same product. See AMEX Stingier: Rules for Signup Bonuses & FAQ

 

10. 50K United MileagePlus Business Card

  • Earn 50,000 Bonus MileagePlus miles after you spend $3000 on the card within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 2X MileagePlus miles per $1 spent on tickets bought from United Airlines, spend at office supply stores, restaurants, and gas stations
  • Earn 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases
  • Free first checked bag
  • Priority boarding
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 2 United Club passes each year
  • $0 annual fee the first year, thereafter $95 per year

Why #10: Other Chase cards linked to Ultimate Rewards should be higher priority, since Ultimate Rewards can transfer 1:1 to United MileagePlus miles (as well as the flexibility of transferring to other frequent flyer programs), and the Chase cards above come with higher signup bonuses. I've also demoted this card in the ranking due to the massive United award chart devaluation that took effect February 1, 2014, and given the MileagePlus award increased change fees and stopover rule changes that went into effect October 6, 2016. Note that you are unlikely to be approved for this card if you've opened 5 or more credit cards in the last 24 months; see Chase 5/24 rule.

11. 45K Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Visa

  • 35,000 Asia Miles after spending $2500 or more in the first 90 days of opening your account
  • Earn an additional 10,000 Asia Miles after purchasing and flying with Cathay a roundtrip or 2 one way flights by June 20, 2018
  • 2X Asia Miles per dollar spent on eligible Cathay Pacific travel and in-flight spend
  • 1.5X Asia Miles per dollar spent on dining
  • 1.5X Asia Miles per dollar spent on purchases outside the U.S.
  • 1 Asia Mile per dollar for purchases in the U.S.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee is NOT waived the first year
  • Offer expires October 31, 2017

Why #11: See my review of the offer: 50K Cathay Pacific Visa Bonus Offer Review

Best Travel Credit Cards for Everyday Spend
Everyone of course is a bit different when it comes to what they spend most on. To put my list in context, I tend to have quite a few small purchases on an everyday basis–some groceries, a short cab ride, perhaps a sandwich, some postage, etc. Then there are less frequent, larger purchases, such as a $50 subway card, restaurant meal, hotel stay, biweekly grocery shopping, Amazon orders and the like. With that in mind, here are the travel credit cards I use most, and what I use them for:
1. Whichever Card You're Working on Minimum Spend For
The absolute best card for everyday spend is the one you're working on meeting minimum spend for. If my husband or I aren't working on minimum spend for at least one card, we know it's time to apply for a new credit card. Assuming you're applying for bonuses worth at least 40,000 miles or points, a card that you're working on meeting minimum spend for is your best choice for everyday spend until you earn the bonus. At that point, evaluate whether there are still bonus categories that make it worth it to use the card for.

 

2. 50K Chase Sapphire Reserve Visa 

  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4000 spend in the first 3 months
  • 3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer, Korean Air, Air France/KLM, British Airways, United, Hyatt, Southwest, Marriott, InterContinental, Priority Club
  • Direct access to expert service advisors anytime
Why #2:  Virtually all my travel and dining spend goes on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, so it's become one of my most used credit cards (see Which Travel Credit Cards I'm Using Most and Why), together with my Chase Freedom, Ink Plus, and AMEX Blue for Business. Note also that you are likely to be turned down for a new Chase Sapphire Preferred if you've opened 5 or more new credit cards within the past 24 months; see Chase 5/24 rule.
Ultimate Rewards Points may be transferred 1:1 to United MileagePlus, British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott, Intercontinental/Priority Club, Amtrak and now, Singapore KrisFlyer.

 

  • 15,000 points signup bonus after spending $500 in 3 months
  • 2500 points after adding an authorized and making your first purchase within 3 months of account opening
  • If you travel, get this card for points, not cash back. Note that you'll need the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus to transfer points out to Ultimate Rewards partners such as United and Hyatt
  • 5X points on up to $1,500 spent each quarter.
  • No annual fee
Why #3: The signup bonus is usually 10,000 points, with occasional limited time 20,000 signup offers, but the main reason to get this card is for the rotating 5X categories. Note that for travel, I recommend using this to earn points, NOT cash back. To transfer points out to Ultimate Rewards airline and hotel partners such as Singapore KrisFlyer, United and Hyatt, you must have a card linked to Ultimate Rewards, such as the Sapphire PreferredInk Bold (note the Ink Bold is no longer available to new applicants) or Ink Plus. Note that you are likely to be turned down for a new Chase Freedom if you've opened 5 or more new credit cards within the past 24 months; see Chase 5/24 rule.
Ever since Chase eliminated the old Chase Exclusives program (see Goodbye Old Chase Exclusives Even for Grandfathered Members), meaning that there is no longer any per transaction bonus, I only use my Chase Freedom for the quarterly 5X bonuses.
 

4. AMEX Blue Business Plus – 2X Membership Rewards Points on Everything 

  • 2X Membership Rewards points on all purchases on the first $50,000 per year (1 point per dollar thereafter)
  • No annual fee
  • 1:1 point transfer to Membership Rewards partners such as Singapore KrisFlyer, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Delta SkyMiles, Emirates Skywards, etc.
Why #4: It's great to be able to earn 2X Membership Rewards points on all spend, regardless of category, at least at any company that accepts AMEX. This card is superior to the prior AMEX Blue for Business card, which earned points that could not transfer out to airline frequent flyer programs unless you also had an AMEX card that earned full fledged Membership Rewards points, such as the AMEX Platinum, AMEX Premier Rewards Gold, AMEX EveryDay card, etc. With the AMEX Blue Business Plus card, you don't need any other AMEX card to be able to transfer points to frequent flyer programs, which is the single most valuable use of AMEX Membership Rewards points if you redeem for international first class and business class awards.
 
5. American Express Starwood Preferred Guest-25,000 Bonus
  • 5x Starpoints per dollar spent at Starwood Hotels if you are a Gold or Platinum SPG member; otherwise, 4 Starpoints per dollar spent
  • Currently offered with a 25,000 SPG points bonus: 10,000 SPG points after first purchase, and 15,000 SPG points after spending $5000 on the card within the first 6 months
  • Starwood Gold Preferred Guest Status after $30,000 spend in a calendar year
  • No foreign transaction fees
Why #5: For non-airline, non-dining, non-travel, non-grocery, non-telecom and non-office supply store spend, if I'm not working on minimum spend I put it on the SPG AMEX, in addition to of course all Starwood spend eligible for Starpoints. Note though, that the cash portion of Cash & Points stays is NOT eligible for Starpoints, so it goes on my Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold–see comments to Do SPG Cash & Points Award Stays Earn Elite Status?
6. American Express Premier Rewards Gold
  • 3x Membership Rewards points for airfare
  • 2x Membership Rewards points for groceries and gas 
  • $175 annual fee waived the first year
Why #6: I used to use this card most regularly for non-Whole Foods grocery spend (note that the Ink Plus will earn you 5X on all Whole Foods spend, if you first buy Whole Foods gift cards at an office supply store), which occurred every few days or so since I live in NYC and will even buy some of my lunches and snacks at a grocery store. I don't have much airfare spend (mostly I redeem for award tickets) but any U.S. airfare spend does go on this card as well, since it gets 3x vs. the 2x of the Sapphire Preferred. I value Membership Rewards points primarily for their instant transfer to British Airways, especially when there's a transfer bonus.
But what I really want to save AMEX Membership Rewards points for now are for Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer redemptions, including Singapore Suites. Although now that Chase Ultimate Rewards points also transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer, I have since gotten rid of this card, due to the high annual fee.
Which cards do you have for the bonus, and which do you value most for everyday spend?

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