Best Travel and Airline Miles Credit Cards – September 2014

Hyatt Regency Maui

I’ve already listed the best cash back rewards credit cards, but another popular area is travel rewards credit cards. These are often sponsored by airlines and hotel chains, but not always. While travel rewards won’t be as flexible as cash, the potential value can be much greater. I’ve been able to stay at historic hotels and fly all around the world with these kinds of cards, something I probably would never do otherwise.

Here are what I see as the top travel and airline miles credit cards available on the market today. For each card, I’ll try to provide real-life examples on how what you can use the miles or points to redeem for rewards.

Chase Sapphire PreferredChase Sapphire Preferred® - The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers new cardholders 40,000 bonus points after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. This is quite a good deal, as 40,000 points can be redeemed for $500 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards™. Earn 5,000 additional bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening.

The card features 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants as well as travel expenses, and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. No foreign transaction fees when using the card abroad. No annual fee the first year, $95 after that.

Citi ThankYou(SM) Preferred Card $200 in Gift Cards The Citi ThankYou Preferred Card is their higher tier card with a focus on travel rewards. You earn 1 ThankYou point for every dollar you spend on purchases. The sign-up promotion is 20,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $1,500 in purchases within 3 months of account opening. That’s worth $200 in gift cards.

But with this card, you will get a 33% bonus when you redeem for airfare through the ThankYou Travel Center (not overpriced flights, the prices are equivalent to Expedia). So the same 30,000 points can be redeemed for $399 in airfare. In addition, you actually earn points for the miles you fly when you purchase a ticket with your Citi ThankYou Premier Card. No foreign transaction fees on purchases. More details here.

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit CardMarriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card - The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card is another card that is great at racking up free nights at hotels. You can get:

  • Earn 50,000 Points after spending $1,000 in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Receive 1 Free Night Stay after account approval in category 1-4 locations, thats up to 7 free nights
  • Receive 1 additional free night stay at a Category 1-5 location every year after your account anniversary date!
  • Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, thereafter $85
  • For every $1 spent, earn 5 points at 3,800 Marriott locations, 2 points on airline ticket purchases directly with airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants and 1 point everywhere else
  • Achieve Elite Status faster with Annual Credit & Everyday Purchases – 15 Elite Credits after account approval and every year after your account anniversary
  • Unlimited Point Accumulation
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees and global Chip and Signature technology

Marriott properties include Renaissance Hotels, Courtyard, Residence Inn, and Fairfield Inn & Suites. You can also earn 5 points per dollar at 3,600 Marriott locations, 2 points on airline ticket purchases directly with airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants and 1 point elsewhere.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American ExpressStarwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express -The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card is a very flexible travel rewards card, I’ve had one for years. Starpoints can be used towards hotel stays (Sheraton, Westin, W, and more), converted to various airline miles (20,000 points = 25,000 miles), or converted to things like gift cards. The best value is for hotel stays or converting to airline miles to reach an award that you want. I have stayed at the Westin Madrid in Spain for 10,000 points instead of paying over $300 a night.

New cardholders will get 10,000 Starpoints after first purchase, and an additional 15,000 when you spend $5,000 in 6 months. 25,000 points is enough for a weekend getaway to a category 4 hotel, or 25,000 frequent flier miles. You earn 1 Starpoint per dollar spent, No annual fee the first year, then $65 after that.