Top Cards

Top Credit Cards for Free Travel:

The ‘Best Credit Card Offers’ change monthly, so bookmark this page.

The Links for these cards change occasionally, so if a link is broken, simply Google™ the card and click the application page.  The Amount of Points / Sign Up Bonus you get for ALL cards changes every few months, so my advice is not to apply unless the current bonus matches what you see here.  

This is only a partial list, of the cards I personally feel are the best for Most people.  Depending on your goals, others may better fit your needs.  Use our trip planning guide to figure out which is best for you!

Arguably the best card to sign up for at the current time, the Ink Preferred offers a bounty of 80K UR Points, which can be transferred to United and other airlines for at least 3 round trip domestic tickets, OR 1.5+ International Tickets if you want to get fancy.

 

Chase “Ink Business Preferred” – formally Business Plus

80,000 bonus points  – after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening

3 points per $1

Earn 3 points per $1 on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable & phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year.*

Earn unlimited 1 Point Per $1 spent on all other purchases. Points do not expire as long as your account is open.* – You can transfer UR points between other UR Earning Cards, like the Sapphire Reserve and Preferred.  If you have a Chase Freedom card, those ‘cash back’ points can be Transferred to your Chase INK Card ‘UR Pool.’

$95 a year.

If you have an actual small business or work for a company that wouldn’t mind you being PERSONALLY Liable for a card, a Business Credit Card may open up even more opportunities for you.  These tend to have lucrative bonuses, and if you have an EIN you are more likely to get approved.  They DO still ping your credit, and also have higher minimum spend requirements.

  • Like the Chase Sapphire, points are in the ‘Ultimate Rewards’ Portal, which can be transferred to other hotels/airlines
  • 80,000 Points = Round Trip Flight to Europe, Japan, or anywhere in the world.
  • $95 is well worth a $1,400 ticket
  • Points can be transferred to your other Chase UR Cards if necessary

Chase Ink Preferred Application Link


Chase Freedom – The Beginner’s card

Great for those who don’t yet have great credit, or want to improve their odds of getting better Chase cards in the future.  If you are new to churning and nervous about opening up many cards and having to worry about annual fees, start with this one.  Its not a ‘Points’ card, but you get $150 +$25 very easily.  Plus, if you hold on to the points and get a better Chase card listed below later on, you can ‘combine the points’ – IE combine the 50,000 Points from the Sapphire Reserve with your 10,000 from the Freedom Card, and have enough points for a flight to Europe! Chase Freedom® Credit Card

$150 bonus –  after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.  Also Earn a $25 bonus after you add an authorized user for a total of $175 for spending just $500. If you do get this card, keep it open forever, and don’t spend the ‘cash back points’ unless you have to… As they can be combined with the more ‘Advanced’ Ultimate Rewards earning cards that you might obtain later on.


The Chase Sapphire Reserve

Currently 50,000 – not likely to go up to 100K ever again… Making the regular Sapphire card they offer equally attractive if you don’t travel that much. 

Quick run down of the Sapphire RESERVE benefits:

  • Sign-up bonus of 50,000 100,000 Chase Ultimate rewards after $4,000 in spending after 3 months
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit (automatically applied to your account) –  That includes Uber, AirBnB, Tolls, and airline and hotel purchases
  • Lounge Access –A version of Priority Pass Select
  • $100 Global Entry (or TSA PreCheck) Fee Credit
  • Redeem Ultimate Rewards for a 50% bonus (compared to 25% bonus with the Sapphire Preferred) – Great for Excursions or Car Rentals! 
  • 1:1 Point Transfer to Chase Transfer Partners
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees

Downside$450 Annual Fee (Not Waived), $75 for Authorized Users

YES $450 sounds high, but you get $300 in Travel Reimbursement – PLUS the value of points, which will be AT LEAST $1,040 in cash $810/ much more if you redeem for points on a flight in the future.

100,000 Points can get you:

  • 4 Nights an an All Inclusive Hyatt, which includes Drinks/Food in 6 Caribbean locations
  • FOUR Round Trip Tickets to anywhere in the US
  • Various Business Class tickets to Europe
  • A flight from the US to the Philipines, with points leftover
  • A Flight to Anywhere on Planet Earth. (Most Points Tickets on all the transferable airlines max out at 80k)
  • 20 Nights at the Hyatt in Canton, OH.
  • Weeks at a night AirBnB
  • A Year of free Ubers
  • A Trip for Two to Hawaii

…The list goes on and on

If you sign up using This Link – you’ll be supporting a TravelingTricks reader and get the same bonus, plus some good Karma =)


Chase Sapphire Preferred Great for Starting Out in this Hobby

Currently 50,000 +5,000 for adding an Authorized User

This is the younger cousin of the Sapphire RESERVE card, similar benefits but only $95 a year instead of $450.  1st year Annual Fee is Waived! A great starter card if you have OK credit and want to build up your relationship with Chase.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

This is one of the best ones out there because of the versatility of Chase’s UltimateReward Points.   Chase Sapphire Bennies

One of the main benefits is the ease at which you can transfer points to various  ‘Travel Partner Programs’ at a 1:1 ratio.  Perhaps you only have 15,000 United Points left after your honeymoon…. The UR Portal will allow you to Transfer the 10,000 you need for a free flight to Miami with ease!  Need a hotel while you’re there?  Transfer another 10,000 to the Marriott or Hyatt Rewards program and you’re there!


Capital One Venture Rewards

www-venture-visa-sig-flat-9-14[1]Cap1 Bennies Another nice ‘Fill the Gaps’ solution just like the Barclay Card if you don’t know exactly when you can use your points – no planning ahead necessary.  Their rewards program works differently, in that the ‘Travel Expenses‘ are ‘Reimbursed by PointsAfter you make the purchases and see them on your bill… Unlike traditional programs where you choose your benefits before booking.   This card has many cool features:

  • No First Year Fee!  ($430+ worth of Travel Expenses wiped out for Free!) *$59 the next year, OR you can convert it to the QuickSilver card for no fee  and 1.5% back on everything.
  • Can be used to cover AirBnB Stays
  • Covers Trains, Subways, Taxis and other Transportation costs when charged to the card
  • 2x on ALL Purchases – Great choice for an every day card if you have a vacation coming up
  • Not tied to any particular airline or hotel chain
  • Unique Issuer (CapitalOne) – Vary up your Cards when possible, CapitalOne doesnt have a lot of other offerings

 


Barclay Arrival+ – Updated Bonus – 50,000 instead of 40K!

All the same details for the Barclay Arrival+ card apply, but the bonus is higher and you now only get 5% of your points back.

Need to get from Point A to Point Be while at your destination?  There’s a Card for that.

Barclay Details The Barclay Arrival card is a perfect ‘Fill the Gaps’ solution if you plan to take a thrifty vacation.  Their rewards program works differently, in that the ‘Travel Expenses‘ are ‘Reimbursed by PointsAfter you make the purchases and see them on your bill… Unlike traditional programs where you choose your benefits before booking.   This card has many cool features:

  • No Annual Fee!  ($460+ worth of Travel Expenses wiped out for Free!)
  • Can be used to cover AirBnB Stays
  • Covers Trains, Subways, Taxis and other Transportation costs when charged to the card
  • 2x on ALL Purchases – Great choice for an every day card if you have a vacation coming up
  • Not tied to any particular airline or hotel chain
  • Unique Issuer (Barclay) – Vary up your Churning Cards when possible

 


 


Hyatt VisaTwo Free Nights ANYWHERE

Update – This Offer is now 40,000 Points

The Hyatt card change is only bad if you planned on using your 2 Free Nights at a LUXURIOUS 25,000 or 30,000 Point Property, their highest levels.  Those Grand Park Hyatts are usually in busy cities, where everything is expensive and the hotels go for $500-900 a night!  The Plan would be for you and your partner to BOTH get the card at the same time, and ‘stack your nights’ for a 4 day stay at an awesome place like the Park Hyatt Kyoto/Tokyo/Paris/NYC etc.

However, now if you plan to use the card at an ‘average nice Hyatt’ in say Chicago, you actually get more value… Since those are only 12,000 a night.  Loophole Travel wrote about this in greater depth, so read his article as I’m not going to reinvent the wheel….

A great way to round out any vacation is with the Chase Hyatt Card.  Hilton offers a similar offer but the Hyatt card gets you an extra Free Night each year for just $75.  I view Hyatt Hotels favorably because of their mix of of being fairly luxurious, but with a comparatively low redemption cost when paying with points.  This is especially beneficial when transferring points from the Chase UR Portal.

You can Redeem free nights with as few as 5,000 points!  Cleveland Downtown’s Galleria Hyatt is beautiful, and only 8,000 Points for what would cost an average schmo $209!  That’s a great value at 2.6 Cents per Point… Comparatively, an average Hilton will be 40,000 for a similar property.

You also get a bonus 5,000 for adding an Authorized User when you get the card.  So off the bat you would have just around 7-8K plus 2 Free Nights.  I would use the two FREE Nights at the fanciest Hyatt in the city you are visiting, and perhaps use the points for a hotel ‘on the outskirts’ of the city if you explore another less expensive area.


SPG – Starwood Preferred Guest Cards

35K and 30K Personal & Business versions available twice a year – Usual Bonus is 25,000

Since the Merger with Marriott, SPG Points can now be transferred back and forth with Marriott Points at a 1:3 ratio… And SPG points can be shared with your Spouse back and forth.  So its pretty easy to get 100,000+ if you both get the Biz and Personal version of each card… You would also get 7,500 when one spouse ‘Refers‘ the other, giving you another 15,000 points.  These points can be transferred to various airlines – so if you are looking for a Business Class Trip to Japan on say All Nippon Air, you send both your SPG points and Amex MR Points to ANA, and get their 85,000 RT US-Tokyo BIZ CLASS Trip more easily.

The Starwood Preferred Guest Card (SPG)  is an Amex branded card with arguably the best ‘Points per Stay’ values.  its usually a 25K bonus, and twice a year it hits 30,000 points…. Now for a few more days, you can get 35,000 if you spend 3K in 3 months and 2K more by 6 months!

Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months and an extra 10,000 bonus Starpoints after you make an additional $2,000 in purchases within the first 6 months

$0 introductory annual fee – $95 after that… So cancel 11 months from now  =)

You can get 35,000 for the Personal Card, and 35,000 with the Biz version and have a total of 83,000 SPG Points… Enough to fly Business class on ANA Airlines to Japan or the Philippines!

The Business Card spending requirements a little tougher:

Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months and an extra 10,000 bonus Starpoints after you make an additional $3,000 in purchases within the first 6 months. Offer ends 04/05/2017. – Note, the 25K offer is still pretty good, since StarPoints are one of the most valuable currencies out there.

The real value of SPG points lies in their Flexibility.  They can be transferred to many different airline programs, and to Marriott a rate of 1:3.

 


SouthWest RapidRewards

2018 – Update on SouthWest Plus and Premeire Cards both at the High Sign up of 50,000!  –  Business Premiere Card also 60,000 bonus points – usually 50K or less!*

If you plan on traveling within the US, by far the best current offer is the SouthWest Personal Card which gives you 40,000 for a Minimum Spend of just $2,000 plus the $69 sign up fee.  Normally I don’t recommend cards with fees, but in this case the $69 is more than offset by the up to $750* you can get in FREE Travel via their ‘Wanna Get Away‘ Fares.

*Southwest points are unique in that the fares vary and are tied to a dynamic price of a flight, instead of being just ‘25,000 for a domestic round trip’ like with United.  Points are worth roughly 1.6 cents each.

Southwest Personal 69 The card comes in multiple flavors, as you can see from the SouthWest Credit Card comparison breakdown.  This one is the cheapest of the Personal Cards, and this promotion runs approximately 1/3 of the year.

Pro Tips:

  • You CAN Apply for TWO Chase SouthWest Cards at the same time if you’re looking to get the Companion Pass ASAP
  • The $69 more than likely does NOT count towards the $2000 Spend.  This is important to know if you’re an unfortunate soul who has spent $1985 in 90 days, and thought they met the Min Spend because of the $69 fee being included.
  • The Companion Pass is half the reason to get this card.  The Companion Pass = Free “Plus 1” ANY TIME You go ANYWHERE Via SouthWest – and include that given Friend.
  • You Can NOT combine Points from two different accounts into one to get the Companion Pass.  (IE You and the Wife getting the same card will NOT help you in this endeavor.)
  • This card is best ‘applied for’ in late November to early March.  Why? Companion Pass… FREE Travel for the year you Earn it (2015)  plus the ENTIRE Year After! (2016)

American Express Platinum Cards

The Current bonus for the Platinum Business card is 75,000 points.  The benefits among the various Amex Platinum cards are about the same, but the Personal Versions have a $15 a month Free Uber Credit but come with a higher annual fee.  AMEX is notorious for offering ‘tricky to find’ bonuses that you need to find via ‘Incognito Browsing’, Targeted Mailers/Emails, or by calling them and lying talking to a rep.

After meeting spending requirements, this card will get you enough points to travel from Cleveland to London in BUSINESS Class on AsiaMiles (80K), or bring a friend with you in Econ flying with Iberia!  Or Fly from New York to Hanoi Viet Nam on Air Canada for 75K.  Our personal favorite use for Amex Membership Rewards are sending 75-85K to ANA airlines for an Incredible Business Class flight to Japan and the Philippines. There are many possibilities, which you can break down yourself via AwardAce.

 

The American Express Personal Platinum comes with a hefty $550 fee, which sounds like a lot.  However there are $550+ worth of benefits that immediately come with the card, making it well worth it.

 

 

  • $200 worth of Airline Fee Reimbursements in 2018 
    • This can be ‘Incidental Airline Expenses’ like fancy drinks on the plane or Lounge Passes….
    • …OR purchase SouthWest, AA, or United Gift Cards
  • Free TSA PreCheck or Global Entry – They reimburse you for the Fee  ($100)
  • $200 worth of Airline Fee Reimbursements in 2019
    • Do the same trick above for a total of $400 in Gift Cards
  • Centurion Lounge Access
    • Available at a handful of international airport hubs in the US, these locations give you a relaxing time at the airport
    • Free Booze, The Good Stuff
    • Free snacks
    • Free Meals.  Legit, replacement for dinner meals.
    • Better WiFi
    • Comfortable Seating
    • …and sometimes, a shower / massage!
  • Priority Pass Access – 1,000 more lounges, mostly outside of the US though.  However you can use your Priority Pass access to get free drinks/snacks in CLE Airport in 2018!

There are other benefits that come with the card as well.  65,000 Membership Rewards Points can get you a round trip ticket to just about anywhere via Transfer Partners!

AMEX has a slew of different ‘Platinum Cards‘ – including Business Versions.  The  Personal card also comes with $15 a month in Uber Credits now, as well as access to ‘Amex Offers‘ which get you free or discounted stuff from certain vendors.  You can only get the bonus for AMEX cards one a Lifetime, so ONLY apply when they are at their Highest or you really need the points!

 


IHG Rewards Card – These cards have just been replaced. RIP

A perennial favorite of ours is the IHG Rewards Club card, also from Chase.  60,000 Points is the usual sign up bonus… But currently you’ll get a bonus of 60,000 Points to use at any IHG Hotel. (Note: 80K offer comes and goes periodically) 80K Offer I know what you’re thinking, ‘Who the Heck is IHG?’  They are the good folks behind the Holiday Inn, Candlewood, and the luxurious InterContinental among others.  If you’re going to fly for free, why not STAY for Free as well? The Benefits of this Card are numerous:

  • FREE the 1st Year, then only $49
  • 10% Rebate on IHG Rewards Club Point Redemptions
  • For example, if you redeem 30,000 points, you will receive 3,000 back! Up to 100,000 points back each year.
  • ANNUAL FREE NIGHT WORLDWIDE* – Including at InterContinental if you wish to Ball Out!  –  They Got rid of this in the new inferior version of this card.  =(
    • I have to stress, the REAL value of this card lies in getting the FREE NIGHT at a FANCY hotel that you would otherwise not afford.
    • This could be an InterContinental in NYC, Tokyo, Paris, Monterrey Bay, or any place where hotels are in the $300s or more
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Platinum Status – Free WiFi, but more importantly Possible Room/Suite Upgrades

What does 75,000 points get you?  How about 5 Nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Puerto Rico, 15 minutes from the airport and a 5 minute walk to the Conando Beach?  For 50,000 a night you can stay in the classier InetContinental – But avoid that if you’re trying to save money and maximize travel.

IHG Card Requirements:

  • Spend $1000 in 3 Months  (Sometimes $2K)
  • $49 Fee Waived the 1st year – After that, $49 is more than fair for 1 FREE night certificate, which can be redeemed at any IHG property in the world, including the IC Bora Bora & Thalasso Spa
  •  Foresight – ‘Reward Rooms’ Book up fast, so plan 2-6 months ahead for your trip if you plan to utilize Rewards Nights

Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature

I have not personally used the Club Carlson Card, but for comparison purposes here is their offering for an annual fee of $75.  Unlike IHG and Hyatt, they don’t waive the fee the 1st year.  They do balance that out by giving you a ‘Free Last Night‘ however. Depending on where you stay, the $85 fee might be worth it


There are other cards that are worth mentioning, but if the bonuses are not at the ‘peak‘ of what you can hope for for any given card, I tend to not post them here.  Feel free to leave a comment if you see anything worth adding!

9 thoughts on “Top Cards

  1. Well done! I’ll need to look into one of these. It would cool to see a page on top cards that have no annual fees, whether they be good for travel or other rewards.

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