The Top 10 Travel Credit Cards for May 2017

[Offers contained in this article may no longer be available]

Below is my list of what I consider to be 10 of the best travel credit card offers as of May 2017. I don’t employ a purely scientific approach for these rankings but instead I weigh a number of factors, such as the value of sign-up bonus, benefits, limited time nature of the offers, flexibility of using points, ease of obtaining the bonus, and potential for maximum value. In the end, these rankings are highly subjective but should serve as good guiding posts to help you shop around for some of the hottest travel credit cards.

Updated: May 6, 2017

Note: I’ve decided not to include business credit cards for these rankings.

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve

  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months
  • Annual fee: $450 (not waived first year)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve lost its ridiculously high 100,000 point intro sign-up bonus in March 2017 but 50,000 Ultimate Rewards is still around $1,050 worth of value. But this card has much more going for it than its signup bonus, with bonus categories of 3X on dining and travel, which can add up in a hurry. The card also comes with Priority Pass membership allowing for unlimited guests flying with you and the ability to redeem Ultimate Rewards at 1.5 cents per point through the Chase travel portal.

You might be turned off by the $450 annual fee, but with its $300 travel credit offered per calendar year and easy bonus category earning potential, this card can easily turn you a profit in credit card earnings. Keep in mind, this card is subject to 5/24. 

2. The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • 60,000 miles after spending $5,000 within the first 3 months (75K offer in Google Incognito and there are even methods to get 100K offers)
  • Annual fee: $550 (waived first year)

The changes to The Platinum Card® from American Express in March changed the value proposition of this card. It’s got a higher sign-up bonus, better lounge access (for some), and now comes with $200 in Uber credits and a sleek new metal design. If you’re able to utilize the $200 annual travel credit and the $200 in Uber credits, you’re looking at an effective annual fee of $150, which is fantastic considering the following benefits:

If you were able to catch the 75,000 Incognito offer and value Membership Rewards at 2 cents per point, you’re looking at $1,400 in value from the sign-up bonus alone. Even with the 60,000 bonus, you’re still looking at $1,200 worth of travel.

Of course if you don’t regularly use Uber and/or looked forward to getting access to your family of four into Centurion lounges this new Platinum Card® from American Express may not appeal to you so much.

3. The Chase Sapphire Preferred

  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months (plus 5,000 Ultimate Rewards after adding an authorized user)
  • Annual fee: $95 (waived first year)

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is still one of the best cards available to the public and at 2.1 cents per point, its sign-up bonus and authorized user bonus can bring in $1,155 worth of value. It earns 2X on a broad travel category and 2X on dining and also offers primary rental car insurance. Depending on your level of spend on these categories, the Sapphire Reserve might be a better option but you can read this article to find out if that’s the case.

While not as impressive as the Sapphire Reserve, its annual fee is waived the first year and after that it’s only $95. For many people paying $450 for the Reserve is just asking too much, regardless of the potential return in value, and so the Sapphire Preferred is often the more practical option.

4. US Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card

  • 50,000 points (worth $750 in travel) after spending $4,500
  • $400 annual fee

This is a brand new premium credit card that just launched in May 2017 and there are a couple of things that make this card instantly attractive. For one, you can earn 3X on travel booked directly with airlines, hotels, taxis, trains, etc. (but no OTAs). But more importantly, you can earn 3X on eligible mobile wallet purchases through Apple Pay,® Android Pay,™ Samsung Pay and Microsoft Wallet. This opens up some big earning potential (and will likely not last very long, in my opinion).

The card also comes with one of the highest travel credits at $325. Unfortunately, this travel credit will be issued per cardmember year, so you won’t be able to double dip after the turn of the calendar year.

The biggest drawback of this card will be getting approved for many. You need to have been an existing US Bank customer for at least 35 days (e.g., hold a checking account or similar) to be eligible. Also, US Bank is notoriously strict when it comes to approving applicants with many inquiries on their credit report so a lot of folks might be facing a rejection.

Still, you can net $675 in travel from the sign-up bonus + travel credit after you factor in the annual fee and that’s one of the most generous bonuses available right now.

5. United MileagePlus Explorer

  • 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months
  • 70,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months [Targeted]
  • Annual fee: $95 (waived first year)

Chase keeps messing with us and extending the deadline for this bonus but I’m not complaining. The United MileagePlus Explorer card is offering a 50,000 mile bonus along with targeted offers for 70,000 miles. Some of these targeted offers also come with a $50 statement credit. The 70,000 miles offer with a $50 statement credit is one of the top offers for any co-branded airline credit card I’ve ever seen. Thus, if I were targeted and under 5/24, I would pick this card up in a heartbeat.

6. Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite MasterCard®

  • 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months
  • Annual fee: $95 (waived first year)

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite MasterCard® is now offering a bonus for 60,000 miles with the annual fee waived. Although you could easily be matched to this bonus in the past, it’s fantastic to see the 60,000 offer publicly available. This card comes with a lot of perks that are similar to elite status, such as a free first checked bag on domestic itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation and preferred boarding. You also receive 25% in savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases.

One great perk about this card is that you”re given a 10% rebate on AA mile redemptions up to 10,000 miles annually. So with this 60,000 mile bonus, you’re actually provided with an additional 6,000 miles.

7. Marriott Rewards Card

  • 100,000 Marriott points after $5,000 spend; 7,500 points when you add an authorized user
  • $85 annual fee (not waived)
  • Free anniversary night at category 1-5
  • Automatic Silver status

This offer for the Marriott Rewards card first came around as a targeted offer but is now offered to the public. At .08 cents per point, this total sign-up bonus is estimated at around $860 of value. Plus, you get the free anniversary night at category 1 through 5 hotels, which can add another couple of hundred of bucks in value each year (although you have to pay the annual fee).

100,000 Marriott points can definitely get you a couple of nights at some high quality properties. But I like the fact that you can transfer these Marriott points to SPG for nearly 33,000 SPG points, which can be transferred to nearly 30 different airlines as approximately 38,000 miles (due to the 25% SPG transfer bonus).

And while the card earns bonus category points on restaurants, car rentals, and airlines, it’s probably best to put your spend on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express to earn more Marriott points.

It’s important to note that while the personal version of this card is subject to 5/24, the business version of this card is not.

8. Hilton HHonors™ Surpass® Card from American Express

  • 100,000 Honors points after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months
  • Annual fee $75 (not waived)
  • Free weekend night award after your first anniversary of Card Membership.
  • Automatic Hilton Honors Gold status.

This card is offering its best ever sign-up bonus and it now comes with a free night after your first anniversary. That free night can be used for almost any Hilton property including those at the top, meaning that it could hold value near $1,000! So if you combined that free night with your 100,000 Hilton points from the sign-up bonus for maximum value, you could be looking at close to $2,000 in value. 

I think this card is perfect for couples looking to plan a trip around two years in advance and hoping to stay at top Hilton properties.

9. Chase Hyatt Card

  • 2 free nights at any Hyatt worldwide of any category when you spend $2,000 or more during the first 3 months
  • Get 5,000 bonus points after you add an authorized user to your account and make a purchase with your card during the first 3 months from account opening
  • Plus, 1 free night every year after your cardmember anniversary at any Category 1-4 property
  • $75 annual fee (not waived)

What makes this card so valuable is that it offers you two free nights at Hyatt properties of any category and they can be used on any night of the week. So unlike the Citi® Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, you’re not limited to only weekend plans and it makes it much easier to utilize this benefit. Like the Ritz-Carlton, standard rooms at the top categories like the Park Hyatt can sometimes go for close $1,000 a night, so there’s potential to gain a ton in value from this card.

The card offers the new “Discoverist” elite status which leaves a bit to be desired but the free anniversary night can easily cover the annual fee so this card can definitely be a keeper. Also, this is one of the few Chase cards not subject to the 5/24 Rule and for that alone, it’s a more appealing card.

10. Barclaycard Aviator Red 

  • Earn 40,000 AAdvantage miles after your first purchase
  • Annual fee $95 (not waived)

This card also comes with perks very similar to the Citi Platinum Select including:

  • First checked bag free for the primary cardmember and up to 4 companions on eligible bags when traveling on domestic itineraries operated by American Airlines.
  • Group 1 boarding for the primary cardmember on domestic flights operated by American
  • 25% inflight savings on food, beverages, and headsets on American Airlines-operated flights
  • 10% of your redeemed miles back on redemptions (up to 10,000 miles per calendar year)
  • No foreign transaction fees

Sign-up bonuses don’t get much easier than these, as all it takes is making a single purchase to earn your bonus! It’s essentially like paying $95 for 40,000 AAdvantage miles, which is a deal I’d go for just about any day. And if you want to compound your earnings, you can also go got the 60,000 miles sign-up bonus from the Citi Platinum Select Card.

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