Photo: Flickr / konishiroku_
1. Starwood American Express: This is one of the best points-earning cards out there, especially because Starpoints can be so valuable thanks to great redemption options including Cash & Points at the over 1,000 Starwood properties all over the world.Members can also transfer your points into miles on over 30 different airlines at 1:1 ratio, including Aeroplan, American, Alaska, ANA, American, Asia Miles, British Airways, Delta, Flying Blue, Emirates, Hawaiian, Singapore, US Airways and Virgin Atlantic, along with a 25% bonus for very 20,000 points you transfer, essentially a 25% bonus if you plan your transfers correctly.
Just having this card gets you 2 stays’/5 nights’ credit towards elite status, and you earn at least 2 points per dollar on spend at Starwood. The $65 annual fee is waived the first year, though there are foreign transaction fees. Current sign-up bonus is 25,000 points.
2. British Airways Visa: In addition to the current bonus of 100,000 Avios (50,000 with first purchase, 25,000 after you spend $10,000 within a year of account opening and 25,000 more when you spend an additional $10,000 within a year of account opening), this card has several other features that make it a great one for travellers including: no foreign transaction fees, SmartChip technology making it easier to make purchases abroad, super valuable companion tickets with $30,000 in spend and the fact that you earn 1.25 Avios per dollar spent rather than just 1 (and 2.5 on British Airways purchases).
Major downside? Big fees on most award tickets to Europe and Australia, though huge value can be had through other redemptions.
3. Chase Sapphire Preferred: The current sign-up bonus is down to 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points, this still has to be one of my all-time favourite credit cards for a few reasons: the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, there are no foreign transaction fees, you earn 2x points on dining and travel (which includes all kinds of various expenses), a 7% annual dividend on all the points you earn including the sign-up bonus, and a growing roster of transfer partners including United (Star Alliance), British Airways (Oneworld), Korean Air (SkyTeam), Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Priority Club (Intercontinental, Holiday Inn) and Amtrak.
4. American Express Premier Rewards Gold: In my opinion this is the best Amex card. It gives 3 points per dollar on airfare (4x if booked through Amex travel), 2 on gas and groceries and 1 on everything else. There are foreign transaction fees, so I never use it abroad or for purchases from foreign companies. You also get 15,000 bonus points for spending $30,000 per calendar year. I like my Amex points because Amex runs transfer bonuses, like the current 50% to British Airways.
5. Capital One Venture: While the 100,000-point sign-up bonus is gone for now and it’s down to a paltry 10,000 points, this is still a very solid card for consumers who don’t care about redeeming for premium rewards, but prefer the flexibility to book any flight, hotel or cruise anytime (and still earn elite status on those bookings), or to use the 2 points per dollar spent to take a small chunk out of their statement payments (it’s essentially 2% back when you redeem for travel). The card’s $59 annual fee is waived for the first year, and there are no foreign transaction fees.
6. United MileagePlus Explorer: Though the public offer for this card is just 40,000 MileagePlus miles, people have reporting up to 65,000 point sign-up bonuses when you log-in to your united.com account. In addition to the bonus miles, which I value highly, this card comes with perks for United flyers who might not have elite status, such as a free checked bag for the cardholder and one companion, priority check-in, screening and boarding, 2 passes to the United VIP Club every year of cardmembership, and 2 miles per $1 spent on United.
7. Chase Hyatt Visa: This one gives new cardmembers 2 free nights in any Hyatt property in the world, including those luxury Park Hyatts I love, just for signing up and making a purchase, no minimum spend required. In addition, Platinum members of Gold Passport who get this card get 2 suite upgrade certificates which can be used on paid stays and Diamond members get their two free nights in a suite. Every year thereafter, cardmembers get a free night in a Category 1-4 hotel, which makes up for the $75 annual fee. It also doesn’t carry foreign transaction fees and has SmartChip technology, making it a good choice for spending money abroad.
8. American Express Mercedes-Benz Platinum: 50,000 points after spending $1,000 within the first three months. 50,000 Membership Rewards points alone are worth over $1,000 to me, which makes the $475 annual fee palatable, and this card comes with the same perks as the Platinum Amex, such as $200 a year in airline rebates (including gift cards), free Global Entry/Nexus, Starwood Gold status, car rental benefits and elite status and a bunch of other benefits. Plus, you get access to American, Delta, US Airways and Priority Pass Select lounges. It also has Mercedes benefits such as a $1,000 credit toward the future purchase or lease of a Mercedes-Benz, up to 2,000 excess miles waived at the end of a lease, $100 toward MB merchandise, and 5x points on Mercedes-Benz purchases.
9. Citi ThankYou Premier: 50,000 point bonus after spending $2,500 within 3 months–no annual fee for the first year. While these points cannot be transferred to hotels or airlines, they can be used to book airfare at 1.33 cents a point, so getting this card will mean you can get $665 in airfare. The great thing about tickets booked with ThankYou points is that they accrue miles and elite status. $665 for a single credit inquiry? Not too shabby!
10. Bank of America Alaska Visa: Though the sign-up bonus is just 25,000 Mileage Plan miles, you can actually churn (get the bonus multiple times) this card fairly easily, racking up those miles again and again to use on Alaska’s vast slate of partners including both American and Delta. Members earn 3 miles per dollar spent on Alaska, and an annual Companion ticket and the potential for some very lucrative miles bonuses on purchased fares. It does carry a $75 annual fee.