The Two Best Travel Rewards Credit Card Bonuses of 2011

While cash back credit cards are making a strong comeback in 2011, the tempting travel rewards credit card bonuses never really went away. We just stopped noticing how good they were. Here are my two personal favourites as of early February:

American Express JetBlue Card — If you like JetBlue Airways, as I do, you may find this one irresistible. You earn 10,000 bonus TrueBlue points after your first purchase using the card. In general, one-way flights start at around 5,000 TrueBlue points, so this lucrative bonus is enough for a free round-trip domestic flight on JetBlue, in most cases.

The card also has an attractive, ultra-modern design that I feel is in keeping with JetBlue’s corporate image. There are no blackout dates and your accrued points do not expire, so long as you fly JetBlue or use the card from time to time (using the card or flying with them extends your points’ life by another full year).

Where’s the catch? As you know, the only things truly “free” in this world are your parents’ unconditional love — and possibly your first legal drink, depending on the bartender’s mood. This card carries an annual fee of $40, but I still feel the value of a round-trip flight on JetBlue far outweighs a measly $40 drop in the bucket. (Airline rewards credit cards frequently have annual fees, to prevent free loaders from applying… They don’t want someone to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks, take the free flight, and then never use the card again. The fee helps defray this risk, as at least they are making a bit off you upfront. That’s my understanding, at least.)

To apply for this one, go to JetBlue’s TrueBlue web site.

Southwest Airlines VISA Signature Card (see my full review here) — I love VISA Signature credit cards, first of all, due to the added travel and purchase protections you automatically receive. The only card in my wallet as I write this that is NOT a VISA Signature is my American Express Blue Cash card… which I may have to get rid of soon. It was impressive back in its day, but now that seemingly every broke college kid has one, you have to pull out a Chase Sapphire Preferred or cool looking business debit card to get any props at a business lunch these days.

The Southwest Airlines credit card offers a free flight after your first purchase on the card, and carries a $59 annual fee. Reasonable, in my opinion, especially considering it’s a Signature card and not a standard VISA.

Not sure how much longer the free flight bonus will be available, as I’ve read that Southwest plans to restructure their Rapid Rewards program in early March.

If you love Southwest, this card is a must-have. I’m personally more of a JetBlue guy, but there are certain routes that JetBlue doesn’t do, so I fly Southwest from time to time as well.

Disclosures: I used to review credit cards for a living. Also, my web site has a financial relationship with Chase — we participate in their affiliate program. No financial relationship or position on Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Visa Inc, American Express or any other company mentioned in this story at time of publication.

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