As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!
     

The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards, December 2014

This article was written by in Credit. 16 comments.


It’s time to plan your holiday travel. That may mean cashing in the travel rewards you’ve accumulated on credit cards — or it may mean starting to use a travel rewards credit card. Chances are you spend money on some necessities, and when you do, tailoring the rewards you receive to your travel needs could end up financially benefiting you and your family even more than a cash back credit card might. Keep in mind, of course, that increasing your spending just to earn rewards doesn’t make sense, and it would be worse if you had to pay interest on your balances.

When you have controlled spending that you can afford, and you pay your credit card bill in full and on time every month, you can offset your costs of travel by earning rewards. Using the travel rewards credit card that best matches your travel needs for the spending you would be doing anyway could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime. For example, some cards offer free flights and hotels while others can soften the blow of foreign transaction fees.

Listed below are the best travel rewards credit cards available today. If you’ve got a card you think deserves to be on this list, let us know and we’ll add it.

Editor’s choice

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers a bonus after you spend at least $4,000 on the card in the first three months. That reward comes in the form of 40,000 bonus points, which can be redeemed for $500 in travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards. When you book through Chase Ultimate Rewards you can get 20 percent off airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises. Additionally, you can earn double rewards on travel and dining at restaurant purchases. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, $95 thereafter. There are no blackout dates or restrictions of any kind when using your rewards points.

For more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 40,000 bonus points introductory offer, visit my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: 40,000 bonus points review.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.. The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express continues to be one of the best travel reward credit cards you can find. For a limited time, offer expires 6/30/2014, you can earn 10,000 bonus Starpoints® after making your first purchase within one year of card approval and another 20,000 bonus Starpoints can be earned after you spend $5,000 on eligible purchases with your new card in the first six months of Card Membership – combined that would be up to 30,000 bonus Starpoints enough for a weekend getaway at a Category 4 Hotel like the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa or a six night stay at a Category 2 Hotel. Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.

With this card you can earn up to 5 Starpoints for every dollar of eligible purchases charged directly at hotels and resorts participating in the Starwood Preferred Guest program – 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. When redeeming your points you can select from over 1,100 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries and for flights on more than 150 airlines with SPG Flights, with no blackout dates. Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, $65 thereafter. Terms and Restrictions Apply.

PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® CardPenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Card. The PenFed Travel Rewards American Express Card is like no other in terms of rewards, offering consumers 5 points per dollar spent on airfare purchases. At least one reward point per dollar will be earned on all other purchases. If you spend at least $2,500 within the first three months of card ownership, you can earn 20,000 bonus points. The PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Card does not have an annual fee. There is a promotional introductory balance transfer APR of 4.99 percent for 12 months on balance transfers made between November 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014 with a balance transfer fee which will cost a relatively low 3 percent for each transfer. After December 31, 2014, the APR for the unpaid balance and any new balance transfers will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate and the APR is currently at 9.99%. This transaction is subject to credit approval. You must be a PenFed member to submit an application for this credit card, but if you are not associated with the military, the American Red Cross, or any number of qualifying organizations, a one-time $15 or $20 membership donation to the Voices for America’s Troops or the National Military Family Association will do the trick. Keep in mind membership to the credit union does not guarantee you will be approved for one of their credit cards.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. You earn 20,000 bonus miles on your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months of owning your card. You can earn double miles on every purchase, making this card one of the best travel rewards credit cards available today. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has an introductory annual fee of $0 for the first year, $59 thereafter, and Capital One does not charge foreign transaction fees for any of their cards. This means if you spend money on international purchases, you won’t receive the typical 1 percent to 3 percent fee.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

Photo: Kossy@FINEDAYS

Updated December 1, 2014 and originally published March 30, 2012. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

Email Email Print Print
avatar
Points: ♦127,550
Rank: Platinum
About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Steve

Not including the bonus miles, if you spend less than $30k per year the Starwood card is 1.25 points per dollar and is furthermore an American Express. Wouldn’t you be better off with a 1.5% cash back card?

Reply to this comment

avatar Steve

A 1.5% cash back Visa or Mastercard, I mean.

Reply to this comment

avatar Dan

You only get 1 point per dollar spent if you’re ignoring any bonuses. The 1.25 points/dollar only factors in when you transfer 20,000 points to an airline. As for whether or not a cash back card is better, depends on how you value a star point, doesn’t it?

I use my SPG AmEx like a religion, and I get some excellent values from it. My wife and I are staying at a beach property in Thailand that is going for $340/night during Xmas week. We’re paying 2800 points + $45 each night. Taking taxes into account (17% on the cash portion) we’re getting a value of over $0.10/point.

In fact, during this trip, we’re staying at several properties on C&P award rates. Our value/point ranges from a low of $0.039/point to the high that I mentioned above. Given that we’re staying at some of the nicest hotels and resorts in the cities we’ll be visiting, I’d much, much rather take the points.

Reply to this comment

avatar Greg

I’ll just add to this as an Amex Cardholder for 20+ years. Their customer service is second to none, and Starwood’s is even better. You really see it whenever you have a question that’s a bit complex or slightly out of the ordinary – you can explain the problem once and they understand versus the sense I get talking with other company’s CS reps that you can tell are following a script and always need to ask a supervisor. Amex and Starwood really put the customer first.

Reply to this comment

avatar Dan

Flexo, I have the SPG AmEx card and became gold for my $30k in spend last year. I don’t earn points on normal purchases any faster — the only extra points you get are for purchases made at the hotel.

Reply to this comment

avatar Dan

Flexo,

One other thing… you should mention that the SPG program has a Cash & Points option available for redemption as well. Cat 1 C&P awards start at 1200 points + $25. These types of rewards generally give the most bang for the buck. One should note, however, that there are relatively few Cat 1&2 hotels in the USA. More common are the Cat 3&4 hotels, which are 2800pts/$45 and 4000pts/$60 respectively.

Reply to this comment

avatar SavingEverything

Excellent article. But, if you’re talking about The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards, why not consider the other common credit card issuers as Best Travel Rewards Credit cards. IMHO, they include: Citibank-AA Advantage credit cards gives 20,000-35,000miles for applying, but has a $750 spending requirement within 3months approval, and an annual fee of either $60-85. The Chase United Mileage Plus credit card and Chase Continental credit cards (both have $85 annual fees; 1st year waived) gives at least 20,000 miles to 30,000 mileage, depending on card (not including a rare incident in April 2010 when they offered 50,000 for MileagePlus customers). Either way, consumerisms must evaluate on their own what’s worth it to them. But, I’ve found most people do not believe in paying an annual fee for a credit card that does not give them cash back or benefits that are more than the annual fee + 1% cash/points back (which they can get with a no-fee card). YMMV.

Reply to this comment

avatar Dan

IMHO, sign-up bonuses aren’t enough to make a card “great”. I think the real intent of the article is to convey what cards are best for ongoing spending. WRT sign-up bonuses, these cards can be worth getting just for the bonus and dumping. It’s what I’m doing with the Chase United 50k bonus.

Reply to this comment

avatar megscole64

We have the Starwood card and earned quite a few points but actually cashed them out for gift cards. I did want to use them for a trip but it’s not going to happen anytime soon so the gift cards are for us now. I’ll probably cancel it when the fee kicks in again this year.

Reply to this comment

avatar quotation sample

Travel reward credit cards are really very helpful, specially once you are planning you vacations. The above mentioned list of credit cards along with a small description, gives a fair idea about these cards. One can choose the right one for him.

Reply to this comment

avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

Good article. I have a Visa World points card through B of A that I get 1 pt per dollar I spend regardless of what its on. I cash them out every Christmas for gift cards. I’m sick of B of A, though, so I’ll probably cancel the card at the end of this year.

Reply to this comment

avatar Derek

I’ve heard that the Chase Sapphire Preferred card will be lowering the bonus to 40k by April 3rd. Have you heard the same thing? I just got mine in the mail 2 weeks ago and love it! Didn’t know the card was actually ‘metal’ and every time I use it people say something about it.. kinda funny. Anyways, if they are lowering the bonus I’m thinking of signing my wife up so we can both get the 50k bonus

Reply to this comment

avatar Jonathan@Friends and Money

I use a cashback credit card that pays out every January so I’ve got a while to wait yet but It was nice to have £200 taken off my credit card bill last January. I would recommend these cards to anyone who has a good credit history and knows that they can pay off the bill at the end of each month in full. Thanks for a great analysis as ever, You are very good at reviewing the benefits

Reply to this comment

avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

Most of these cards have annual fees after the first year. Not crazy about that. I think I’d rather just have a generic rewards card where you can earn and use points for all purchases.

Reply to this comment

avatar Greg

Flexo,

You need to add “offers” to the title – “The Best Travel Rewards Credit Card Offers, April 2012″. The focus of the article is on signup bonuses and teaser earning rates. This is fine as bonuses are certainly a critical component of choosing a travel rewards card. But when I clicked on the title, I was expecting (and wanted) to see an evaluation of ongoing card performance.

It would be helpful to see basic earn rate (i.e., 1 pt/$), category earn rate (i.e., 2pts/$ for dining, travel), redemption value (i.e., $1/pt) and annual fee for each of these. I could use this to calculate my expected annual profit for the card and add it to any signup/teaser bonuses they offered for that first year.

Also, given your coverage of signup offers, I’m surprised you left out the Capital One Venture Card bonus of up to 100K points (or $1000) that Alec Baldwin has been touting ad nauseam in commercials. To me, the 100K bonus plus the $0.02/pt earn rate, plus earning miles on my flights as well, makes this hands-down the best travel card (for me). I see how others who travel a lot might choose the card from their airline or maybe the Citibank ThankYou Premier (I think this card is worth mentioning, particularly for frequent travelers). And I see Dan’s point – if you’re booking hotels, the SPG card offers outstanding value (not too bad for airlines either).

Reply to this comment

avatar Jeff Crews

Oh yea……I am a huge Chase fan. I have most of my accounts with them. I have been debating on if the annual fees are worth the rewards. I have never applied for a credit card that has fees. Thoughts?

Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment

Connect with Facebook

Note: Use your name or a unique handle, not the name of a website or business. No deep links or business URLs are allowed. Spam, including promotional linking to a company website, will be deleted. By submitting your comment you are agreeing to these terms and conditions.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Previous post:

Next post: