Credit Cards

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Top mileage and points cards:

These cards earn actual miles and/or points that can be converted directly into real airline/hotel points. The sky is the limit as to the value of these points as they are what you make of them. When used for last-minute coach travel, or for travel to far-flung places, or especially for travel in business or first class that most people could never otherwise afford, they can literally be worth their weight in gold. I’ve had redemptions where my miles have been worth over 50 cents each (and there are cards that give as many as 10 real miles per dollar), compare that to your average 1% or even 2% back card!

The values listed below are just my personal values that I use to decide whether it’s worth using miles for a ticket.

1. Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Signup Bonus: Starpoints bonus: earn up to 25K bonus points — 10K with your first purchase and another 15K when you spend $5K within the first 6 months of Cardmembership.

About the currency: Starpoints are the most versatile and valuable of point currencies. Points can transfer into dozens of airlines (Oneworld’s American, British Airways and LAN, Skyteam’s Delta and Flying Blue, Star Alliance’s Air Canada and USAirways, and unaligned carriers like Emirates) with no fees at favorable ratios like 20K to 25K or even 20K to 50K. Points can also be used for hotels worldwide for incredible values with awards like unrestricted nights, 5th night free, cash and points, nights and flights, etc. Starpoints can be transferred to anyone else who lives at your address.

Benefits:

-Double points for spending in Starwood hotels.

-Starwood Gold elite status (for bonus points on paid and award stays/free wifi, room upgrades, and 4pm late checkout) for spending $30K in a year.

-2 Stay and 5 Night Elite status credit per year and 3rd paid night free at Sheratons.

-Includes great American Express benefits like Return Protection, Online Dispute Resolution, Warranty Protection, etc. American Express also offers numerous promotions throughout the year like cash back shopping at small businesses, online stores, etc.

Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65.

A great card because: Starpoints are just so valuable and versatile which make this a perfect card for general spending where other cards don’t give bonus points and American Express purchase protections are so incredibly valuable and useful that all big-ticket purchases should definitely be made on them.

Cons: Foreign exchange fees, American Express isn’t accepted everywhere, lack of more bonus point categories.


-Starpoints® bonus: earn up to 25,000 bonus points: 10,000 after your first purchase and another 15,000 after you spend $5,000 within the first 6 months of Cardmembership. That’s enough for a weekend getaway to a Category 4 Hotel.
-Earn up to 5 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating SPG hotels and resorts – that’s 2 Starpoints for using the Card in addition to the Starpoints you earn as an SPG member. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases.
-Free Hotel Nights: redeem Starpoints at over 1,100 hotels in nearly 100 countries worldwide – with no blackout dates. Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
-Free Flights: redeem Starpoints on over 350 airlines with SPG Flights – with no blackout dates
-No limits on the number of Starpoints you can earn
-$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65
-Terms and Restrictions apply.

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2. Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa Signature

Signup Bonus: 40K (which becomes 42,800 with the 7% dividend) bonus Ultimate Rewards points for spending $3,000 within 3 months.
Plus get an additional 5,000 points for adding an additional user and making a single purchase within 3 months.

About the currency: Ultimate Rewards points transfer instantly with no fees into United miles, what I consider to be the most valuable airline currency today and into Hyatt points, a very valuable hotel currency. That also transfer into other airlines and hotels like British Airways and Southwest among others. Ultimate Rewards can also be freely transferred to other people.

Value: When using Ultimate Rewards points I aim for a redemption value of about 1.9 cents per point, making the signup bonus worth about $855 and spending on the card is worth between 2.033% and 6.099% back after the 7% annual dividend.

Benefits:

-Every February you get a 7% bonus on all points earned the previous year, including on top of the signup bonus and on all spending. You will earn 1.07 points per dollar spent, 2.14 points per dollar spent on restaurants, airfare, hotels, car rentals, charges in airports, travel agencies, caterers, timeshares, trains, buses, taxis/limos, ferries, bridges, tolls, and parking, and 3.21 points per dollar if booking travel via the Chase booking tool.

-Primary car rental insurance everywhere outside of the US, even in Israel!

-There is no foreign exchange fee.

-Having this card allows you to transfer points earned from cards like Chase Freedom, Ink Classic, and Ink Cash to airlines/hotels.

Sapphire Preferred also offers protections including very generous travel protections when the trip is charged to your card:
-Trip cancellation insurance ($5,000 per individual trip or $10,000 per family trip).
-Lost luggage protection ($3,000 per person)
-Trip delay protection ($500 per person for trips delayed by 12+ hours or that require an overnight stay)
-Baggage delay protection (If delayed 6+ hours: $100 per day per person up to 5 days)
-Travel accident insurance
-Price protection ($500 per item that drops in price within 90 days of purchase)
-Return protection ($500 per item for 90 days)
-Purchase protection ($500 per item damaged or stolen for 120 days)
-Extended warranty protection ($10,000 per item for an extra year on original warranties of 3 years or less)

Annual fee: No fee first year and then $95.

A great card because: The strong signup bonus and bonus points categories that earn valuable Ultimate Rewards points. This is the perfect card for use when outside the United States due to no foreign exchange fees. Plus this is an awesome looking heavy metal card that is sure to get noticed and a live customer service rep really does answer the phone immediately when you call the number on the back of your card.

Cons: 7% points dividend means that both Starwood and Chase Freedom with Checking beat this card for general purchases.

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3. Chase Ink Plus Business Card and Chase Ink Bold Business Card

Signup Bonus: 50K bonus Ultimate Rewards points for spending $5,000.

About the currency: Ultimate Rewards points transfer instantly with no fees into United miles, what I consider to be the most valuable airline currency today and into Hyatt points, a very valuable hotel currency. That also transfer into other airlines and hotels like British Airways and Southwest among others. Ultimate Rewards can also be freely transferred to other people.

Value: When using Ultimate Rewards points I aim for a redemption value of about 1.9 cents per point, making the 50K signup bonus worth about $950 and spending on the card is worth between 1.9% and 9.5% back.

Benefits:

-Earn 5 points for each $1 spent on wireless/telecom, cable and satellite television and radio services, office supply stores, and wholesale distributors of office supplies for up to $50,000 of spending in bonus categories.

-Earn 2 points for each $1 spent at gas stations, hotels and motels, and travel agencies for up to $50,000 of spending in bonus categories.

-There is no foreign exchange fee.

-Having this card allows you to transfer points earned from cards like Freedom, Ink Classic, and Ink Cash to airlines/hotels.

Annual fee: No fee first year and then $95.

A great card because: The strong signup bonus and bonus point categories that earn valuable Ultimate Rewards points. This is the perfect card for use when outside the United States due to no foreign exchange fees.

Cons: Lack of bonus points for general spending.

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4. Chase British Airways Visa Signature

Signup Bonus: 50K British Airways Avios for spending $2,000 in 3 months.

About the currency: You can use Avios for short-haul flights starting at just 4,500 Avios. Plus BA doesn’t charge any last minute expedite/close-in fees, doesn’t collect massive fuel surcharges for flights on AA within the Western Hemisphere or on Aer Lingus, Alaska, Air Berlin, LAN worldwide, and only charges $2.50-$10 (just the 9/11 fees) to cancel a domestic award.

Value: When using Avios I aim for a redemption value of about 1.3 cents per point, making the 50K signup bonus worth about $650 and spending on the card is worth between 1.625% and 3.25% back.

Benefits:

-Earn 1.25 Avios per dollar spent everywhere and 2.5 Avios per dollar on BA flights.

-Spend $30K in a year and get a BA companion certificate good on award tickets worldwide on BA flights.

-There is no foreign exchange fee.

Read more info on BA in this post.

Annual fee: $95.

A great card because: The 50K signup bonus and 1.25 Avios per dollar spent everywhere.

Cons: Lack of bonus points beyond the base 1.25.

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5. The Platinum Card® from American Express

Signup Bonus: 40,000 points for spending $3,000 in 3 months.

About the currency: Membership Rewards points can transfer instantly into several airline and hotel programs and there are frequently bonus offers for transfers.

Benefits:
-$200 per calendar year airline credit, good for spending on airlines.
-Platinum card and Priority Pass and Regus Lounge access. The Platinum card lounge access lasts for a full 4 years.
-Global Entry/TSA PreCheck membership.
-Automatic Starwood Gold elite status for bonus points on paid and award stays/free wifi, room upgrades, and 4pm late checkout.
-Car rental elite status and special benefits like 4 hour return grace at Hertz with free #1 Gold, free reward days at Avis and elite status with National.
-No Foreign exchange fee.
-This is one of the only cards that will refund you if you lose any item that you purchased (up to $10,000) within 90 days in additional to many other enhanced American Express benefits.

Annual Fee: $450.

A great card because: Incredible benefits just for having the card. No foreign exchange fees.
Cons: High annual fee (though the card can be downgraded to a free card and you’ll get a full or pro-rates refund), American Express isn’t accepted everywhere, and lacking bonus categories.

-Earn 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
-With the Platinum Card, you can receive up to $200 a year in statement credits for airline incidental fees like checked bags fees, flight-change fees, and snacks. To receive the statement credit, you need to enroll and select a qualifying airline.
-There are no foreign transaction fees with purchases made on your Platinum Card.
-Platinum Card Concierge is your personal resource to help secure a last minute restaurant reservation, or shop for a hard-to-find gift.
-Terms & restrictions apply.
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6. Chase Freedom Visa

Signup Bonus: 10,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points for spending $500 within 3 months plus 2,500 bonus points for adding a free additional user and making a purchase within the first 3 months.

About the currency: Ultimate Rewards. Points can be cashed out at a rate of 10,000 points=$100 cash back but if you (or someone you know) has a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold card you can transfer points earned on this card to airlines/hotels where they will be worth more.

Value: When using Ultimate Rewards points I aim for a redemption value of about 1.9 cents per point, making the 10K signup bonus worth about $190 and spending on the card is worth varying amounts depending on if you have a Chase checking account and the size of the transaction, but a range of 2.09%-10% back with Chase checking.

Benefits:

-There are quarterly promotions for categories that give 5 points per transaction on spending up to $1,500 per quarter.

-If you have a Chase Checking account then you will get a 10% point dividend on top of all points earned during the previous calendar year. That means you’ll effectively earn 1.1 points per dollar on every purchase and 5.5 points per dollar in rotating categories.

The 5 point categories for 2014 are as follows (click here to activate them on your account):

Q1: Gas stations, Movie theaters, Starbucks (Activate starting 12/15)
Q2: Restaurants and Lowe’s (Activate starting 03/15)
Q3: Gas stations and Kohl’s (Activate starting 06/15)
Q4: Amazon.com, Zappos.com, and Department stores (Activate starting 09/15)

-Keeps Ultimate Rewards points from cards like Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold alive if you decide to cancel those cards to avoid paying an annual fee.

-0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers.

Annual fee: No annual fee.

A great card because: The 5 point rotating categories are lucrative and the 10% bonus makes it even sweeter. No annual fee is the cherry on top.

Cons: Foreign exchange fees, small signup bonus, and the need to have a Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, or Ink Plus to transfer points to airlines/hotels.

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7. United MileagePlus Explorer card.

Signup Bonus: 30K bonus United miles for spending $1,000.
Add a free additional user and get another 5,000 miles.

About the currency: United miles are very valuable as they can be used for travel on the dozens of Star Alliance carriers with no fuel surcharges.

Value: When using United miles points I aim for a redemption value of about 1.8 cents per point, making the 30K signup bonus worth about $540 and spending on the card is worth between 1.8%-3.6% or as high as 2.52%-4.32% if you can spend 25K in a calendar year.

Benefits:
-Double miles for spending on United.
-10K annual threshold bonus (40% more miles) for spending 25K in a calendar year.
-No foreign exchange fee.
-Free checked luggage and priority boarding on United.
-Primary rental car insurance (almost all other cards only provide secondary coverage to your own personal car insurance)
-Miles won’t expire if you are a cardholder
-In-flight food, drink, and TV discounts
-Expanded saver award availability
-Last seat EasyPass award availability
-2 annual lounge passes
-Upgrades for elite cardholders on award tickets

Annual fee: No fee first year and then $95.

A great card because: Annual threshold bonus plus lots of benefits like free luggage and free primary CDW.

Cons: Lack of bonus points for general spending for those who spend less than $25K in a calendar year.

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8. American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card

Signup Bonus: Earn 25K Membership Rewards points when you spend $2,000 during your first three months of Card membership; earn 15K points when you spend $30,000 within one calendar year. Points are earned only on eligible purchases

About the currency: Membership Rewards points can transfer instantly into several airline and hotel programs and there are frequently bonus offers for transfers. Points can be transferred into anyone’s airline/hotel account.

Benefits: Earn triple points for flights booked with airlines, double points on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, double points at U.S. stand-alone supermarkets, and single points on other purchases.

Annual Fee: Introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $175.

A great card because: Great bonus point categories and a nice signup bonus.

Cons: High annual fee after the first year (though the card can be downgraded to a free card), Foreign exchange fees, American Express isn’t accepted everywhere.

-Get 25,000 Membership Rewards(r) points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership.
-Earn Fast: 3X points for flights booked with airlines, 2X points at US gas stations and US supermarkets, 1X points on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
-You can transfer points to over 20 frequent traveler programs or use points for gift cards at popular stores.
-Use your Card for retail, dining, travel or groceries, then go online and use points towards your eligible charges.
-As an added bonus, you can get 15,000 points after you spend $30,000 in purchases on the Card in one year.
-$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $175.
-Terms and Restrictions Apply.

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9. Chase Ink Cash Business Card

Signup Bonus: 20K bonus Ultimate Rewards points for spending $3,000 within 3 months.

About the currency: Ultimate Rewards. Points can be cashed out at a rate of 10,000 points=$100 cash back but if you (or someone you know) has a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold card you can transfer points earned on this card to airlines/hotels where they will be worth more.

Value: When using Ultimate Rewards points I aim for a redemption value of about 1.9 cents per point, making the 20K signup bonus worth about $380 and spending on the card is worth between 1.9% and 9.5% back.

Benefits:

-Earn 5 points for each $1 spent on wireless/telecom, cable and satellite television and radio services, office supply stores, and wholesale distributors of office supplies for up to $25,000 of spending in bonus categories.

-Ink Cash earns 2 points for each $1 spent at gas stations, restaurants, and caterers for up to $25,000 of spending in bonus categories.

-Keeps Ultimate Rewards points from cards like Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold alive if you decide to cancel those cards to avoid paying an annual fee.

-1 Year of 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers.

Annual fee: None.

A great card because: Great bonus point categories with no annual fee.  No interest on purchases for a year.

Cons: Foreign exchange fees and the need to have a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold to transfer points to airlines/hotels.

 

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10. Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Signup Bonus: 30K bonus Delta miles for spending $1,000 in 3 months.  Plus get a $50 statement credit when you make a Delta purchase within 3 months.

About the currency: Delta miles can be difficult to be used at times, although you can use them on Skyteam partners without fuel surcharges from the USA.

Value: When using Delta miles points I aim for a redemption value of about 1.3 cents per point, making the 30K signup bonus worth about $390 and spending on the card is worth between 1.3%-2.6%.

Benefits:

-Double miles for spending on Delta.

-Free checked luggage and priority boarding on Delta

-An annual $99 companion certificate.

-20% off In-flight food, drink, headphone, TV, and movie discounts

Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.

A great card because: A decent signup bonus, with a nice annual $99 companion cert, and free luggage with priority boarding.

Cons: Foreign exchange fees and spending on everything besides Delta flights are beat by the Starwood card where you will earn 1 Starpoint per dollar (which can transfer into 1.25 Delta miles if you so desire)


-Earn 30K bonus miles after you make $1K in purchases on your new Card within your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
-Earn As You Spend: Get 2X miles on Delta purchases and 1X miles for all other eligible dollars spent.
-Check your first bag free on every Delta flight – that’s a savings of up to $200 per round trip for a family of four.
-Premium Travel Perks: Settle in sooner with Priority Boarding.
-$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
-Terms and Restrictions Apply.

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Other mileage/points cards:

-Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard
44,000 bonus points, read more here.

-Barclays USAirways

-Chase Sapphire Visa (non-preferred) No annual fee. 10K points for spending $500 in 3 months plus 2,500 bonus points for adding a free additional user and making a purchase within the first 3 months.
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Non-Mileage Cards:

-Chase Slate®, No annual fee. Introductory offer: 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months and no balance transfer fees for 60 days.

Blue Sky from American Express®
•Welcome Bonus: earn 7,500 points when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months of Cardmembership – redeemable for a $100 statement credit.
•Flexible Ways to Earn: earn 1X points for virtually every dollar you spend.
•Unlimited Travel Choices: redeem for travel rewards with no blackout dates or travel restrictions with any airline, any car rental, and any hotel —anytime.
•Flexible Bill Payments: pay your bill all at once or over time.
•No annual membership fee and 0% intro APR on purchases for the first 15 months, after that, your APR will be a variable rate, currently 17.24%- 22.24%.
•Terms and restrictions apply

-Discover it® (18 months), No annual fee. 5% cash back in rotating categories. 6 months 0% APR.

-Discover it® for Students, No annual fee. $20 cash back bonus. 5% cash back in rotating categories.

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Canadian non-mileage cards:

-MBNA Best Western No annual fee. Receive 20,000 bonus Best Western Rewards points for spending $1. Earn 1.5 Best Western Rewards points for every $1 spent. Receive a one tier elite status upgrade within the Best Western Rewards program when you spend $6,000 on your card within one year.

-MBNA Platinum, No annual fee. 0% APR for 10 months.

-MBNA Sony No annual fee. Get 2,000 Sony Points for spending $1.

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