Credit cards seem straightforward enough. You see something you want to purchase, you charge it. When the bill arrives later, you pay it. But not all plastic is created equal, especially if you’re a frequent traveler. For these restless souls, earning points often rises to the level of obsession, and the credit card companies know it. That’s why more choices abound than ever before.
In this increasingly competitive landscape, they’re fighting for your business with the promise of perks — everything from sign-up bonuses to airplane lounge access; from free plane tickets to complimentary Uber rides. Select smartly, based upon your own needs and spending habits, and you’ll reap the best rewards. Here’s a look at what’s out there.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
How It Works: Highly coveted amongst frequent fliers, this sturdy metallic card earns you 3x Ultimate Reward points on every dollar you spend for travel and dining, worldwide. For most globetrotters, these account for virtually all expenses. Everything else (including gas purchases) yields 1x per dollar. Redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, and every point you’ve collected is worth 1.5 cents on flights, rental cars, and hotels. For example, if you have 50,000 points — or $500 dollars — it’s immediately worth $750 when booking travel through the site.
Who It's Best For: International fliers who aren’t attached to any one particular airline partnership.
Annual Fee: $450, but you can earn a credit of up to $300 on travel expenses per year (the credit is instantly applied as you spend it on everything from airplane tickets to Uber rides), which brings your total fee down to $150.
Best Perks: A 50,000-point sign-up bonus after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months equates to $750 worth of Ultimate Rewards. You’ll also score annual membership to Priority Pass, which gives you access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. And, if you want TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry, the card credits you $100 towards your application or renewal fee.
Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express
How It Works: While this card doesn’t earn as quickly as some of the non-airline-affiliated options (you only receive 2x points for ever dollar spent on Delta, and 1x for all else), you’ll get free access to Delta lounges whenever and wherever you travel. You also are gifted an annual round-trip companion certificate that can be used domestically in any cabin of service. Spend $30,000 in one year and you’ll earn 15,000 bonus miles as well as 15,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles to boost your status with the airline.
Who It’s Best For: If you’re a Delta loyalist, this is the best option for one important reason: upgrades. Let's say you’re a Platinum Medallion flier competing against other Platinums for only one available first class seat — you have the Reserve, and they don’t. Ultimately, you’ll be the one sitting up front when the plane takes off.
Annual Fee: $450
Best Perks: In addition to the companion certificate and lounge access, you’ll also get a free checked bag for you and up to 8 travel buddies. If you’re someone with Delta Medallion status, however, you’ll be most excited about the potential for more upgrades.
Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
How It Works: A favorite option amongst American Airlines and OneWorld travelers, this card nets you 2x miles on every dollar spent at restaurants, gas stations, and AA flights. Spend $3,000 within three months of signing up and you’ll also receive 60,000 AAdvantage bonus miles, which could be enough for a roundtrip economy ticket to Europe.
Who It’s Best For: This is the obvious choice for American Airlines fliers who tend to spend heavily at restaurants and gas station. (Make sure you fall into this category in order to net the full value of the card.) If you typically put more than $20,000 a year on your credit card, the Platinum Select World Elite will earn you a $125 discount on a future flight, too, though, you won’t get complimentary lounge access. However, if you feel like as though that’s an overrated perk, this card makes for a sensible, low-cost option.
Annual Fee: $99, waived in the first year.
Best Perks: Preferred boarding, free checked luggage on AA flights, 25% off all food and beverages purchased in-flight, and no foreign transaction fees — all for less than $100 a year.
Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card
How It Works: Sign up for this card, spend just $2,000 within 3 months, and you’ll receive a whopping 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points. An entry level room in certain markets can be booked for as little as 10,000 points, which means the bonus alone could equate to almost two weeks' worth of free hotel stays. You’ll earn 6x the points on every dollar spent at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations within the U.S. After you spend $15,000 in a calendar year, you’ll get a Weekend Night Reward from Hilton Honors. Put $40,000 on the card and you’ll secure Diamond status through the end of the following year. This comes with its own set of perks, including complimentary breakfasts and late checkouts when available.
Who It’s Best For: If you’re more domestic road warrior than international frequent flier and you value a decent hotel stay over a comfortable seat in the sky, this is the card for you. Your loyalty is rewarded with a sizable point payout to be used at the more than 570 properties across the globe.
Annual Fee: $95
Best Perks: Massive 12x multiplier on each dollar spent at any hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio.