Best Travel Credit Cards

I know it seems plain silly, but between my wife and I, we have applied for and received the bonuses on 34 credit cards in the past three years. We’ve used more than 900,000 points and we’re sitting on more than 1,600,000 in various programs.  In the meantime, my credit score has actually gone up!

The primary factors in your credit score are on-time payments and existing balances. I keep track of my score without affecting my credit by using CreditSesame.com.  I never miss a payment and always the balance in full.  I only use one card at a time and easily manage and monitor all accounts with www.mint.com.

This is the easy way to free travel – something you need to get started on as soon as you feel comfortable.

You can read more about How Mile and Point Programs Work and Doesn’t it Hurt My Credit?

This page will highlight some of the free travel credit cards that are presently being offered. You can also see what cards are available this Travel Rewards Credit Cards page.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard®
Bonus Miles:40,000
Use:Cash Back
Annual Fee:$89 annual fee
waived for the first year
Minimum Spend:$3000
Time:90 days
Link:Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard®
Best For:Car Rentals, Bed and Breakfasts, Allegiant Airlines, Ryanair, etc.
Featured:
Notes:
Chase Ink Plus
Bonus Miles:60,000
Use:Ultimate Rewards
Annual Fee:$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95
Minimum Spend:$5,000
Time:3 Months
Link:Ink Plus® Business Card
Best For:Business Spending
Featured:Posts about Ultimate Rewards
Notes:5:1 on office supplies
Club Carlson Premier Visa
Bonus Miles:50,000 + 35,000
Use:Flexible
Annual Fee:$75
Minimum Spend:$2,500
Time:90 days
Link:Club Carlson Premier Visa
Best For:
Featured:Club Carlson Visa with 85k Gold Points
Notes:5:1 on all purchases
Bonus Miles:50,000
Use:Ultimate Rewards
Annual Fee:$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95
Minimum Spend:$4,000
Time:3 Months
Link: Best For:Flexible Rewards
Featured:Posts about Chase Sapphire
Notes:
Chase Marriot Rewards
Bonus Miles:80,000 + 1 Night
Use:Hotel
Annual Fee:$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $85
Minimum Spend:$3,000
Time:3 Months
Link:Marriott Rewards® Credit Card
Best For:Hotels Everywhere
Featured:Posts about Marriott
Notes:
Chase British Airways
Bonus Miles:50,000 / 75,000 / 100,000
Use:Airline
Annual Fee:$95 (Waived the first year)
Minimum Spend:$2,000 / $10,000 /$20,000
Time:3 Months / 1 Year / 1 Year
Link:British Airways Visa Signature® Card
Best For:Short flights, routes served by LAN in Latin America
Featured: Posts about British Airways
Notes:Don't try to use for Europe
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Plus Card
Bonus Miles:50,000
Use:Airline
Annual Fee:$99 (Not waived the first year)
Minimum Spend:$2,000
Time:3 Months
Link:Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Plus Card
Best For:Multi destination flights
Featured:Posts about using Southwest Rapid Rewards
Notes:Use with "Wanna Get Away" fares
Get in October so that points in January.
Chase Hyatt
Bonus Miles:2 Nights
Use:Hotel
Annual Fee:$75, Waived the first year
Minimum Spend:$1,000
Time:3 Months
Link:Hyatt Credit Card
Best For:Very Nice Hotels
Featured:
Notes:
Chase United Explorer
Bonus Miles:30,000 Miles
Use:Airline
Annual Fee:$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95
Minimum Spend:$1,000
Time:3 Months
Link:Chase United Explorer
Best For:
Featured:Posts about United
Notes:Plus a $50 statement credit
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American
Express
Bonus Miles:30,000 Miles
Use:Airline
Annual Fee:$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95
Minimum Spend:$1000
Time:3 Months
Link:Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Best For:Delta Hubs
Featured:Posts about Delta
Notes:
American Express® Premier Rewards Gold
Card
Annual Fee:$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $175
Best For:Transfer bonuses
Bonus Miles:25,000+
Featured:
Link:American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card
Minimum Spend:$2,000
Notes:
Time:3 Months
Use:Flexible
IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card
Bonus Miles:60,000
Use:Hotel
Annual Fee:$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $49
Minimum Spend:$1,000
Time:3 Months
Link:IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card
Best For:Point Breaks
Featured:Posts about Priority Club
Notes:Free night every year!
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from
American Express
Bonus Miles:25,000
Use:Hotel/Flexible
Annual Fee:$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65
Minimum Spend:$3,000
Time:3 Months
Link:Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Best For:Europe Hotels, Flexible Transfers
Featured:Posts about Starwood
Notes:
Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®
Bonus Miles:50,000
Use:American Airlines AAdvantage Miles
Annual Fee:$95, waived for first 12 months*
Minimum Spend:$3,000
Time:3 Months
Link:Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®
Best For:N South America and Europe off-peak
Featured:Posts about AAdvantage
Notes:
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard®
Bonus Miles:40,000
Use:Cash Back
Annual Fee:$89 annual fee
waived for the first year
Minimum Spend:$3000
Time:90 days
Link:Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard®
Best For:Car Rentals, Bed and Breakfasts, Allegiant Airlines, Ryanair, etc.
Featured:
Notes:
CitiBusiness®/ AAdvantage® World MasterCard®
Bonus Miles:50,000
Use:Airline
Annual Fee:$95, waived for first 12 months*
Minimum Spend:$1,000
Time:3 Months
Link:CitiBusiness®/ AAdvantage® World MasterCard®
Best For:N South America and Europe off-peak
Featured:Posts about AAdvantage
Notes:Companion Certificate
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card
Bonus Miles:40,000
Use:Hotel
Annual Fee:No Annual Fee
Minimum Spend:$1,000
Time:4 Months
Link:Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card
Best For:
Featured:
Notes:
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card
Bonus Miles:25,000
Use:Airline
Annual Fee:$75
Minimum Spend:None
Time:N/A
Link:Alaska Airlines Card
Best For:Alaska
Featured:
Notes:$110 Annual Coach Companion Ticket- Great for Hawaii or Mexico
Frontier Airlines World MasterCard®
Bonus Miles:40,000
Use:Airline
Annual Fee:$69 NOT wavied
Minimum Spend:$500
Time:90 Days
Link:The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard®
Best For:Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, or Mexico
Featured: How to get to Costa Rica on this card
How to get to the Dominican Republic with this card
Notes:
U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Visa Signature® card
Bonus Miles:20,000
Use:Bank Points
Annual Fee:$49, waived the first year
Minimum Spend:$3500
Time:5 Months
Link: US Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Visa Signature® Card
Best For:$350-$399 flights
Featured:
Notes:
Capital One Venture
Bonus Miles:40,000
Use:Cash Back
Annual Fee:$0 intro for the first year; $59 after that
Minimum Spend:$3000
Time:3 Months
Link:Capitol One Venture
Best For:Car Rentals, Bed and Breakfasts, Allegiant Airlines, Ryanair, etc.
Featured:
Notes:

We hope you’ve enjoyed this summary of the free travel credit cards that are available at the moment.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment below.  We’ll respond right away!

 

59 Responses to Best Travel Credit Cards

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  12. Judd says:

    Hey man, did the chase marriot card just change? I swear my wife just applied for the card a few days ago and it was 70,000.

    Thanks

  13. bradleyjai says:

    Judd- We changed it because when we go to apply for the card from that link, it redirects to a 50k offer. Did you get the 70k offer? I’m not sure why it redirects and I’m interested to know if it’s allowing it for some, but not for others.

    Thanks,

    Brad

  14. judd says:

    so check this out, when I call to activate the Marriott card I asked them about the 50,000 and why it says 70000. The customer rep told me that you have to login To your Marriott rewards account and then apply for the card to get 70000 and assumed I was already A member which I am NOT. I did not tell him this and without even asking he added the 20,000 on. Booyah!

    • bradleyjai says:

      Nicely done, brother! I love hearing stories like this. The reality is that these programs are designed to create loyalty and loyalty is created through excellent service.

  15. Jaime says:

    Hi you guys,

    Thanks for all you post, I have followed for a while now and got quite a few benefits from these cards so thank you! My husband and I are using the 20K AA off peak miles to go to England/Ireland/Scotland here shortly and I wondered if you know which credit cards have the least amount of fees/cheapest route/etc. to use for international purchases. I have several of the cards you have listed promoted in the past, just need to find the best one to use overseas. Thanks so much!

    • Sheldon says:

      Jaime- Thanks for Worldwanderlusting with us.

      When traveling abroad you’ll want to be sure that you use a card that doesn’t charge for foreign transaction fees. Those pesky fees usually run from 3-5% and really can add up over time. What cards do you have in your wallet so we can see if they have foreign transaction fees or not. A few that don’t are:

      Barclaycard Arrival
      Sapphire Preferred
      Priority Club Visa

      My strategy is always to spend whatever I can with my credit card, but when I need local currency I usually pull it from an ATM. This does charge a fee from most banks, but I am always concerned with either losing money, or getting robbed with tons of cash on my person (even though this hasn’t ever happened).

      So stoked for your trip. We would love to have you do a guest post when you return!

  16. Jaime says:

    Hi Sheldon, thanks for your reply.

    I have the Carlson, Southwest, Starwood, Marriott, AA Citi, and a few other generic ones I’ve had for years. Thanks for the strategy, I will definitely do that if nothing else. Thanks!

  17. Judd says:

    Sheldon, Brad, and other wanderlusters, why and how do you convince your friends of these incredible deals? I mean the proof is in the travel right? I recently fulfilled a small dream of mine traveling to Missouri to attend my first NFL game all free except for game tickets. Still I am having trouble showing my friends and family how easy it is. Any thoughts?

    • Sheldon says:

      Judd,

      Hahah. Dude, we’ve struggled with this since the beginning. Somehow people just don’t get it. With time you’ll get some people who will finally “convert,” and they’ll act like you haven’t made an effort to change their expensive ways. Just keep on it. Your testimonial is the most powerful story.

      We would love for you to write a guest post for us about your trip and everything. Any interest?

      So glad you’ve been living up to your lifelong dreams. We are so happy that you’re out there living life to the fullest. What a blast!

    • Judd-

      Thanks for giving it your best shot to convince your friends. I tell you, the reality is that for most things in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is somehow the one exception.

      If we knew what actually converted people, our blog would really be cooking. It does great, but it’s hard to make that connection.

      One thing I will say is that hearing someone like you tell the story certainly helps. We really appreciate your guest post and we’ll get it up soon.

      Also, if we’re ever in your area, we could do a “seminar.”

      Best,
      Brad

  18. Steve says:

    When you are carrying multiple cards with fees, what is your approach? Are you canceling after you get the rewards and prior to the next year’s annual fee or requesting they waive it? Or do you just deal with hundreds of dollars in fees knowing you are saving thousands in airfare/hotel/misc?

  19. Steve says:

    What is the strategy for annual fees when you carry numerous cards? Do you cancel after the rewards are received or ask for the fee to be waived? Ultimately there is diminishing returns since you can’t use all the cards for additional miles.

  20. Steve- It is in your credit’s best interest to keep the cards as long as possible, but it’s in your wallet’s best interest not to pay the annual fees every year. I always call when the annual fee is coming up and request that they waive it, and if they won’t, I weigh the benefits of keeping it and decide individually. When I recently called on three cards, I was given waivers on 2/3. Thanks for wanderlusting with us!

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  22. Judd says:

    Delta Skymiles peepes beware!!!!

    Just went through an insane ordeal with Delta and the 60k miles my wife and I share with different accounts. We finally booked a quick trip from Idaho Falls to Denver. Had to return on different flights but hey we can do that because its free. I did call delta about trying to get us on the same flights but they would not do it. I then asked the rep specificaly if there was a penalty to cancel the flight for any reason. I was told that as long as we cancelled within 72 hours there was no penalty.
    A couple Of days later my wife was told by the doc that it was not recommended to fly at 36 weeks pregnant. So I started canceling everything online. When I began the process of canceling delta, I had a spot where they ask you for a credit card to refund taxes and fees ($10) in big letters. I hit cancel flight then the confirmation came up in nice small letter in the middle of the page I then read something that sent me through the roof. $150 fee to redeposit miles. What? oh and just so what you might be thinking this was more than a week before the flight. I couldnt believe it. I just paid $150 for 25k miles and canceling my wife’s flight would tack on another $150. I was sick. So I immediately contacted Delta which sure enough in the middle of a huge snow storm I was told more than a 3 hour wait. I did the call back option and 16 hours later at 2am I get the call. I spoke to a nice rep who went through the hoops and has got me the cancellation with no fee for the wife but mine was going to take a few more steps since I had already canceled.

    Moral of the story….If your going to use skymiles, you must cancel within 24 hours of BOOKING to avoid any fees. The 72hours is for any CHANGES….

    Sheesh

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  24. Gens says:

    Hi guys, Just an FYI – I wanted to to give you the referral when I signed up, but your link for the CHASE INK PLUS card doesn’t work. Maybe take a look.

  25. Judd says:

    Hey fellas. My wife and I are trying to plan a Europe trip during Spud Harvest (babysitters lol). Problem is spud harvest is before those wonderful dates of October to get the 20k point flights from AA Advantage. We have 100k but it looks like we need 120k to make it work. Will ultimate rewards from Chase get me those extra miles? Are they pretty easy to transfer? Sorry if you already posted something like this before but I did not find it. Thanks!

    • Sheldon says:

      Judd- Sounds like an incredible trip. I’m so jealous! Do you have any SPG? That is going to be the best transfer. When you send over 20,000 SPG to AA, they will move the 20k, and give you a bonus of 5k, so 25k will move over. Also, don’t rely on it, but at some point you’ll be able to combine your AA and US Airways Dividend miles. Unfortunately Ultimate Rewards don’t transfer.

      • Judd says:

        Sheldon, thanks for the reply. I have 30k in SPG Points(well, my wife does). SPG only lets you transfer points to AA miles with the same name (full name). The bad thing I ran into is it’s not free to transfer miles between AA accounts. In fact, it’s crazy expensive. So I did some thinking because I cannot wait to book this trip haha. It’s free to transfer miles from SPG to AA, and SPG to SPG. So I am going to try and transfer my Wife’s SPG’s to my SPG’s and then to our AA’s haha. This is totally a game. I’ll let you know how it goes.
        Judd

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  27. Jaime says:

    I was on SW yesterday (thanks to you guys, free flights woo hoo!!) and noticed in the magazine holder in front of my seat they have the promo for the 50,000 points Chase SW card, said good thru Sept of this year. Well, can’t find it on the website but thought I’d mention it, maybe it’s coming back??

    Also, I was watching nightline about a week ago, they had a segment about a “Travel Hacker” as they called him, doing exactly what you guys promote here. Might be an interesting blog post if you could possibly get the clip to explain to viewers who don’t quite understand the process. I’ve read your posts for a couple years now and there’s a little bit of a learning curve so I see why it’s so easy to get confused.

    Thanks for all you guys do!!

  28. Judd says:

    Hey Men, just wanted to let you guys know I was looking for a new hotel card.When I clicked on your link for the Chase Priority Club Select Visa, I actually ended up getting the IHG Master Card from Chase that is now offering 60k. Was wondering if anyone has had any experience with this rewards program? I did some research and they offer their “last minute deals” which means a hotel booking less than 45 days out for as low as 5k a night. Just wanted to throw it out there too if it’s a card worth listing on your site.
    Peace

    Judd

    • Sheldon says:

      @Judd- I need to update the link. They used to have one that offered 80k points. They do have a Points Breaks option which is the 5000 per night, but it is rather restrictive and the booking times are tight. More than likely you’ll spend 15-20k per night on most hotels. The card is great because the annual fee is only $49 and comes with a free night in a hotel. I am probably going to keep this card for a while.

  29. Eric says:

    Hey all! I am a total newbie to this and looking for some advice! I recently signed up for the marriot card and working on earning my 70k points. I am wondering what card you would recommend for me to go after next?

    • Sheldon says:

      @Eric- Great choice on the Marriott 70k card. You’ll love that card. Make sure you use the free night certificate that comes with the card within the first 6 months of getting the card.

      It really depends on where you want to go and what you want to see in the world. Where would you like to go? Are you looking for hotels more or airlines?

  30. Eric says:

    Well we (my wife & 2 kids) hope to get some place warm when the Idaho weather dips below 0. So with that said we do need to work on our airline points. Luckily for me, I already have several Marriott points from work, so I hope to take advantage of those during this trip!

    • Sheldon says:

      @Eric- Sounds like you have some points burning a hole in your pocket. Nice work! If you’re looking to head somewhere warm with the US, I’d recommend the Southwest Airlines card (make sure you get 50k), but if you plan on going to the caribbean you’ll want some American Airlines miles. You could get the Frontier card for Costa Rica/Dominican Republic.

      Thanks for wanderlusting with us!

  31. Judd says:

    FYI Sheldon, a simple email goes the distance 🙂

    “Dear Bryan Aeschbacher,

    Thank you for contacting Chase about the enrollment on
    your IHG® Rewards Club Select credit card account.

    The enrollment bonus you enrolled with allows you to earn
    60,000 points after the first $1,000 in spending within
    the first 3 months the account is open. After qualifying
    spending threshold is met, please allow six to eight weeks
    for the 60,000 enrollment bonus points.

    As a gesture of our commitment to you, once your $1,000
    spend threshold is met within 3 months time frame
    requested, we will honor the offer and issue an additional
    20,000 enrollment points to the account to match the
    difference between the offer you applied with and the new
    80,000 offer. Simply call the number noted on the back of
    your credit card and we will be happy to process your
    request and add additional points at that time.”

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  34. Shay says:

    I wanted to comment on the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier & Plus cards. I just made some calls and found out that these two cards are two separate products and you can apply for both of them and get 50k bonus miles for spending $2k in 3 months for each card. The plus does have a $69 annual fee not waived and Premier has $99 fee but still well worth it for 100k miles for southwest. Have your spouse apply for both and you have 200k miles between the both of you. Also, I think that getting both of these cards would get you close to the 110k miles you need for the companion pass for a year that I think was mentioned in a blog post awhile ago? Also I think that you can re-up every 24 months from last time you were a member. So I applied for the Plus card and my wife currently has the premier card. I was able to get 3 round trip flights(with my 50k points) for me, wife and daughter from Boise, ID to Houston for our last cruise in November 2014. Now that southwest has teamed up with Air Trans they fly to Mexico, Carribian and some other great destinations you can use all these points on. Our next application will be for my wife and I to get the other cards we don’t currently have and get another $100k miles. Seems to be a never ending fountain of miles. I love it. 🙂

    • Sheldon says:

      That’s freaking awesome!!! You seemed to have forgotten about the business cards too. If you each pick up the Business cards it’ll give you an additional 50k each per two years. Thanks for sharing your insight and enthusiasm. This hobby freaking rocks, right?

  35. Bobby says:

    Hey guys, I’m pretty new to this concept but have jumped on board. I just booked free airline tickets for myself and girlfriend to aruba and central america for a 49 day vacation that I’m very excited about. Best part is I didn’t have to pay for a single flight!!! My question for you is what card do you recommend for traveling to south east asia? I was thinking about going from NY to Thailand and using that as my base for 2 and 3 day adventures to surrounding areas. Any help would be amazing, looking forward to hearing back!
    -Bobby

    • Sheldon says:

      Bobby- That is freaking AWESOME! You’re making me jealous with your upcoming trip.

      Check out milez.biz to show how many miles it will take you to go from one place to the next. You could use a combo of United and the Sapphire Preferred. That should give you enough miles for one person to make a round trip.

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  37. Karen says:

    I am new to this and so I am looking for some help to get started. My family is planning a trip to Costa Rica this upcoming June. We want to stay for six to seven weeks. What I need help with is finding affordable flights. I have a family of seven and cannot afford to pay $600 for all of our flights. I saw your great post about flying on Frontier to Costa Rica however it looks like they no longer fly there. What is the best credit cards for me to apply for to get down there cheaper? Thanks in advance for your help.

  38. Kevin says:

    Awesome blog, guys… I appreciate all the info and am excited to get started with this!

    A few quick questions…

    1) For a “newbie” like me, what are the top 3 or 4 cards you’d recommend? (We’re just looking to do some free travel within the USA to start out… flights, hotels, that kind of thing.)

    2) Would you recommend doubling up (one for me, one for my wife) on each card (at the same time)? Or would you “stagger” them (I get a particular card today, my wife gets the same card a year from now)?

    3) Is there a “rule of thumb” for comparing the bonus points/miles from one card to the next? Or is it a completely different structure/program for each & every card? Is there an easy way to compare 50,000 “miles” with card A to 50,000 “points” with card B? Do most of the cards basically just equate 10,000 miles/points to $100, Or does each card have its own unique system for redeeming miles/points?

    4) I’ve read that multiple credit inquiries of the same TYPE that occur within a certain time period (maybe 1-2 weeks, as I recall?) will only count as a SINGLE inquiry (and therefore only ding your credit 1 time). You know if there’s any truth to this? Any benefit to going gang-busters and applying for a whole bunch of different cards all at once (keeping in mind, of course, that I’ll need to make sure I can hit the minimum spend requirements within the 90-day time frames)?

    Thanks again!

    ~ Kevin

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