Top 10 Travel Credit Cards for September 2017

Below is my list of what I consider to be 10 of the top travel credit card offers as of September 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. Click here for some of the best cash back cards.

Updated: September 3, 2017 

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve

Highlights: 

  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months
  • $300 travel credit (“travel” very broadly defined)
  • 3X on dining and travel
  • Priority Pass with unlimited guests
  • Redeem points at 1.5 cents per point through Chase Travel Portal
  • TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry $100 credit
  • Primary rental car insurance
  • 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 you can knock down that fee to $150. The annual travel credit will now be issued on a cardmember anniversary basis for new applicants, so keep in mind that when applying. Chase also has some excellent travel partners that you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards to including: Southwest, Singapore Airlines, British Airways, United, Korean Air, Flying Blue, and Virgin Atlantic.

You can fly in Singapore Suites by transferring your Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to Singapore Airlines.

2. The Platinum Card® from American Express

Highlights: 

The changes to The Platinum Card® from American Express in March greatly 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 benefits listed above.

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.

American Express has arguably better transfer partners than Chase. With American Express, you can transfer Membership Rewards to airlines like ANA, Aeroplan, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, British Airways/Iberia, Flying Blue, Delta, JetBlue, Etihad, Emirates, and several others. These partners give you maximum flexibility across several alliances and partnerships making it much easier to find good rewards to use your points on.

  • Click here to find out more about this card and apply. 
Use your Platinum Card to get into Centurion Lounges.

3. Citi Prestige® Card

Highlights: 

  • 75,000 sign-up bonus after $7,500 worth of spend
  • 3X on hotels and airfare and 2X on dining and entertainment
  • $250 airline credit (which can be used for broad expenses, such as airline tickets)
  • Priority Pass Select airport lounge access for you and up to two guests for free
  • Complimentary night at any hotel of your choice after a minimum 4-consecutive-night booking (now bookable with points at 1 cent per point)
  • $100 statement credit for Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check
  • Rental car benefits like express check-in, free upgrades, and discounts with status
  • Add authorized users for $50 each
  • Concierge service
  • Annual fee: $450 (not waived first year)

The Prestige just underwent some big changes. Although it lost some key benefits, such as Admiral’s Club access, its sign-up bonus was increased to 75,000, which is worth at least $937 worth of travel but can be even more when used on transfer partners. Although I prefer Chase or Amex’s partners over Citi’s, they still have some quality partners with Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Flying Blue, Eitihad, JetBlue, Singapore, and Virgin Atlantic among others.

The Citi Prestige also has two main perks that help it stand out. It’s got a $250 airline credit that can be used on just about any airline-related expense, making the annual fee an effective $200 for many. It also allows you to receive a 4th night free when booking hotels (you can use this perk as many times as you please). The 4th night free benefit has the potential to be extremely valuable and could easily bring you hundreds of dollars in value with minimal use.

Use the Citi Prestige’s 4th night fee benefit at resorts to cash in on on value.

4. The Chase Sapphire Preferred

Highlights:

  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months (plus 5,000 Ultimate Rewards after adding an authorized user)
  • 2X on dining and travel
  • Redeem points at 1.25 cents per point through Chase Travel Portal
  • Primary rental car insurance
  • 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. If you’re averse to high annual fees, this card might be perfect for you.

Feel better about rental cars with primary rental car insurance offered by cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

5. Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

Highlights:

  • 50,000 sign-up bonus after $4,000 in spend
  • 3X on travel including gas
  • 2X on dining and entertainment
  • Redeem points at 1.25 cents per point through Citi Travel Portal
  • Annual fee: $95 (waived first year)

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card might be the better option for many people considering earning Citi ThankYou Points but not interested in paying the high annual fee of the Citi Prestige. The Premier comes with arguably the best bonus earning rates of any major travel card with 3X on all travel purchases which includes gas and 2X on dining and entertainment.

The Premier’s spend requirement is also only $4,000 compared to the Prestige’s $7,500. If you’re planning on applying for the Citi Prestige or the Citi Premier be sure to read up on Citi’s application rules since you’ll be limited to one Citi ThankYou bonus per 24 months.

6. US Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card

Highlights: 

  • 50,000 points (worth $750 in travel) after spending $4,500
  • $325 travel credit
  • 3X on eligible mobile wallet purchases
  • 3X on travel booked directly with airlines, hotels, taxis, trains, etc. (but no OTAs)
  • Priority Pass (with only 4 entries)
  • 12 complimentary GoGo passes each membership year
  • TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry $100 credit
  • $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.

7. Barclaycard Aviator Red

Highlights:

  • Earn 60,000 AAdvantage miles after your first purchase.
  • Annual fee $95 (not waived)
  • 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 60,000 AAdvantage miles, which is a deal I’d go for just about any day. The previous offer for this card was 40,000 so the extra 10,000 miles for no additional spend is a great perk.

If you want to compound your earnings, you can also go got the 60,000 miles sign-up bonus from the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite MasterCard® and come up with over 110,000 AA miles after you hit your minimum spends on just two cards.

Use AAdvantage miles to fly on the Etihad First Class Apartment.

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.
  • 12X on Hilton purchases
  • 6X at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets, and at U.S. gas stations.
  • 3X for all other eligible purchases on your Card
  • 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. Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite MasterCard®

Highlights: 

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

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite MasterCard® is now offering a bonus for 50,000 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 50,000 mile bonus, you’re actually provided with an additional 5,000 miles.

10. Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard®

Update: Offer now at 40,000 miles. 

Highlights:

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

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard® offers you maximum flexibility when redeeming your “miles” since they effectively act as a travel credit that can be used on any purchase that codes as travel. Factoring in the purchases needed to meet the minimum spend requirement, you’ll be left with $560 worth of travel credit with this card. Having the flexibility to use your miles on any travel purchase makes it a lot easier to purchase airfare and hotels and put your itinerary together.

While I would normally recommend applying for the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card card since it has lower redemption minimums, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard® has the extra $100 in travel attached to its sign-up bonus right now so I’d have to give it the nod.

Singapore A380 Business Class
I’ve used the Barclaycard Arrival Plus to help cover expensive fuel surcharges on premium awards.

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