A List of Credit Card Airline Transfer Partners

flying

It’s time for yet another list, this time focused on credit cards that permit transfers to airline frequent flyer accounts.

Put simply, these cards allow you to convert your credit card points to airline miles and then book flights, all without flying prior to booking an award flight.

However, you do need to join the frequent flyer program beforehand in order to transfer your points.

Typically, you gather frequent flyer miles by flying throughout the year (or years), but it often takes a lot of flights to earn enough miles to actually make a redemption.

However, credit card companies have made it a lot easier to redeem award flights by offering 1:1 point transfers (or even higher than 1:1).  This, coupled with their massive sign-up bonuses, makes a business class or first class award ticket a reality for most.

What’s nice about these cards is the fact that you don’t have to use your points for miles, but you have the option.  Compare that to airline co-branded cards where you’re often stuck with one airline (or its partners).

Now that we’ve explained some of the background, let’s see which credit cards actually offer this valuable benefit.

American Express Cards That Offer Airline Transfers

Card Issuer Card Name Annual Fee
American Express EveryDay Card $0
American Express EveryDay Preferred Card $95
American Express Green Card $95
American Express Gold Card $175
American Express Premier Rewards Gold $195
American Express Platinum $550

There are a variety of credit cards from American Express that allow points transfers to airlines, including some that don’t even charge an annual fee such as the EveryDay Card. Of course, you might be better off going for a card that offers a higher sign-up bonus and waives the annual fee the first year.

American Express Airline Transfer Partners

AeroMexico British Airways Hawaiian Airlines Virgin Atlantic
Air Canada Delta Iberia
Alitalia El Al Israel Airlines JetBlue
All Nippon Airways Emirates Singapore (KrisFlyer)
Asia Miles Etihad Virgin America

The downside to Amex airline transfers is the fee of $0.0006 per point for conversions into a U.S. frequent flyer program (maximum fee of $99).  You can get around this by converting to foreign airlines instead, some of which may have domestic partners.

Starwood Preferred Guest Airline Partners

This Amex-issued card (and its business version) are in a category of their own because they have a ton of transfer partners.  And by a ton, we mean 35 at last count.

Air Berlin Asiana Airlines GOL Qatar Airways
Air Canada British Airways Hainan Airlines Saudi Arabian
Air China Cathay Pacific Hawaiian Airlines Singapore (KrisFlyer)
Air France China Southern Iberia Southwest
Air New Zealand China Eastern Japan Airlines Sri Lankan
Alaska Air Delta Jet Airways Thai Airways
Alitalia El Al Israel Airlines KLM United
All Nippon Airways Emirates LATAM Virgin Atlantic
American Airlines Etihad Lufthansa

While there is a $95 annual fee, it’s waived the first year.  And you get a 5,000-mile bonus for each 20,000 miles you transfer to airline partners.

The downside is that the sign-up bonus on these cards is usually fairly limited, though a 35,000-point bonus is currently available through April.

The $5,000 minimum spend plus the 35,000 Starpoints equates to 50,000 airline miles if you take advantage of said transfer bonus.

Chase Credit Cards That Offer Airline Transfers

Card Issuer Card Name Annual Fee
Chase Ink Bold $95
Chase Ink Plus $95
Chase Ink Preferred $95
Chase Sapphire Preferred $95
Chase Sapphire Reserve $450

There are only three Chase credit cards currently available for new sign-ups that allow transfers to airline partners.  That includes Chase Ink Preferred, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and Chase Sapphire Reserve.  The rest are legacy offerings that will likely be phased out over time.

Note that the Ultimate Rewards you earn via Chase Ink Cash or Chase Freedom/Freedom Unlimited can be moved to one of the cards above and then onto airline transfer partners.  This is one way to acquire more points, despite the lack of a direct transfer option.

Chase Airline Transfer Partners

Air France KLM Singapore (KrisFlyer) United
British Airways Korean Air Southwest Virgin Atlantic

As you can see, Chase doesn’t have a ton of airline transfer partners, but you can take advantage of alliances.  For example, you can use United miles to book flights on Aer Lingus or transfer Ultimate Rewards to British Airways, then onto Iberia and book American Airlines flights.  There are many possibilities so don’t be discouraged!

Citi Credit Cards That Offer Airline Transfers

Card Issuer Card Name Annual Fee
Citi Chairman $500
Citi ThankYou Premier $95
Citi Prestige $450

Like Chase, Citi only has a few credit cards that allow points transfers, but it’s better than nothing.  Prior to a few years ago this wasn’t an option at all…your cheapest option is the Citi ThankYou Premier and it’s $95 annual fee, waived during year one.

Citi Airline Transfer Partners

Air France Garuda Indonesia Qantas Turkish Airlines
Asia Miles JetBlue Qatar Airways Virgin America
Etihad KLM Singapore (KrisFlyer) Virgin Atlantic
Eva Air Malaysia Airlines Thai Airways

So, there you have it.  The three card issuers above offer a variety of ways to gather a lot of frequent flyer miles in no time at all, even if you’ve never flown before.

However, there are some pitfalls involved with airline points transfers, including lags in transfer time and system glitches that incorrectly display seat availability.

Before you attempt to book an award ticket with credit card points, do your homework to determine the best airline transfer partners and their associated rules.

After all, point transfers are a one-way deal, so once you’ve converted them there’s no going back!

(photo: W&J)

Credit Cards That Waive the Annual Fee the First Year

wave

A very common trick/tactic (whatever you want to call it) in the credit card churning world is to open a card that waives the annual fee the first year and then cancel it before the annual fee is eventually charged.

In short, you get the perks of said credit card for 365 days (maybe a little less) without having to pay the typical annual fee.

Usually these cards offer something special, seeing that they charge you a membership fee to jam the thing in your wallet, so it can be a worthwhile strategy to maximize your point-earning or your cash back. Or your free hotel stays.

Of course, you may not want to anger the credit card gods, aka the card issuers, by doing this all the time, or simply opening and closing cards right after you get the sign-up bonus or whatever else they’re offering.

Credit card issuers aren’t stupid – if they see you exploiting their rewards program they might tell you to take a hike, for good. If you stick around, they may also try to lure you back in with anniversary bonuses, like a free hotel stay every year, or X amount of bonus points if you spend Y in one year.

Credit Cards That Waive the Annual Fee the First Year

Card Issuer Card Name Annual Fee Notes
Amex Morgan Stanley Platinum $450 Must maintain Reserved client status
Amex Ameriprise Platinum $450 Must be Ameriprise client
Amex Premier Rewards Gold $195
Amex Starwood Preferred Guest $95
Amex Starwood Biz $95
Amex Gold Delta SkyMiles $95
Amex Green $95
Amex Gold $160
Amex Biz Gold $175
Amex Plum $250
Amex Gold Delta SkyMiles Biz $95
Amex Green Biz $95
Bank of America Spirit Airlines MC $59
Barclaycard Arrival Plus $89 Churnable
Capital One Venture Rewards $59
Capital One Spark Cash Biz $59
Capital One Spark Miles Biz $59
Chase Ink Preferred $95 Might be waived in-branch
Chase Sapphire Preferred $95 Great bonus
Chase IHG Rewards $49 Maybe keep for free anniversary night
Chase United Mileage Plus Club $450 Targeted offer
Chase United Explorer Biz $95
Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select $95
Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Biz $95
Citi AAdvantage Gold $50
Citi ThankYou Premier $95
PNC Bank Premier Traveler Visa $85
Santander Bank Bravo Credit Card $49 Have to apply in branch
TD Bank Aeroplan Visa $95
TD Bank First Class Visa $89
US Bank FlexPerks Travel Visa $49
US Bank FlexPerks Business Edge Travel $55
US Bank AeroMexico Visa Signature $80
US Bank AeroMexico Visa $45
US Bank AeroMexico Visa Secured $25
US Bank LANPASS Visa $45
US Bank LANPASS Visa Secured $25
Wells Fargo Propel 365 Amex $45
Wells Fargo Propel World Amex $175 Have to apply in branch

 

*No matter what card you apply for, whether listed above or not, you should always do a quick web search to determine if there’s a special offer where the annual fee is waived. Sometimes card issuers will waive the annual fee for a limited time, so it doesn’t hurt to double-check before you apply. However, if the deal is better with the fee, it might just make sense to pay it…

Are Credit Cards with Annual Fees Worth It?

In a nutshell, heck yes! You just have to be mindful about how you’re going to recoup that fee. If you have no use for the points or the perks offered by the card, you’re throwing away money.

But if you can clearly benefit from the card, despite the annual fee, it can be a great move.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card has a $450 annual fee, steep by any measure. But, they offer a $300 travel credit each year, which covers anything from airline tickets to hotels to Uber. If you use any of those things, you’ve already knocked the annual fee down to a  much more reasonable $150.

Factor in the opening bonus (it was 100k, now 50k) and you’ll get at least another $1,000 or $500 in year one, assuming you meet the minimum spending requirement to unlock that sign-up bonus.

If we look at just year one, you’d come up at least $350 ahead, or $850 ahead if you got the 100k bonus. This is assuming you maximize the $300 travel credit, which isn’t hard to do given how flexible it is.

In reality, you can get a lot more value out of the card if you don’t just cash in your points for well, cash. If you transfer the points to airline partners, you could get thousands of dollars in value out of those points.

The same goes for other premium cards such as Amex Platinum, which incidentally just raised their annual fee to a staggering $550. But again, once you factor in annual credits, sign-up bonuses, free lounge access, and more, you start to see the value of paying the annual fee.

This isn’t to say that you have to keep the card year after year and continue to pay the annual fee. It might just make sense for a year, after which point you can cancel the card to avoid another annual fee. That’s for you to decide, but paying an annual fee, at least in year one, can be quite rewarding.

How to Get Your Annual Fee Waived

Even if the credit card issuer doesn’t waive the annual fee, there are ways to get it waived on a case-by-case basis simply by asking.

Just give them a call and tell them to transfer you to the retention department, kind of like what you have to do with your cable TV provider every other month.

Then give them a reason why you want the fee waived, such as:

  • I plan to cancel the card
  • I don’t use the card
  • The fee is just too expensive for me
  • I’ve always paid on time and use the card a lot
  • Ahh come on!
  • I’m active duty military

If those all fail, you can also inquire about downgrading the card to an annual fee-free counterpart, assuming you want to keep that line of credit open (for the sake of your credit score and credit history).

Pro tip: If you’re military, you might be able to get the annual fee waived. It doesn’t hurt to phone up your card issuer and ask, especially if the annual fee is pricey!

(photo: Nan Palermo)

A List of Credit Cards That Offer Free Hotel Stays

lux hotel

People open credit cards for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s for 0% APR or to stockpile airline miles, other times it’s simply to get a cash rebate on purchases. Another great benefit is to get free hotel stays.

There are a handful of co-branded hotel credit cards that offer free nights at hotels, handy if you’ve already got the airline miles (and the airline tickets), but need some place to stay. And don’t want to pay for it.

Let’s take a look at the many hotel credit cards you can apply for to determine which offers the best value, based on sign-up bonus, annual fee, and so forth.

In general, hotel credit cards are mostly good for the sign-up bonus, aka the free nights. Beyond that, there are probably better ways to earn points via general purpose rewards credit cards, which can then be transferred to hotel loyalty programs.

However, some do offer an anniversary night for free, which is a compelling reason to keep the card in your wallet year after year, assuming you’ve got somewhere to go.

Also note that some of these cards allow you to earn free hotel stays while avoiding an annual fee, at least for the first year. And the minimum spending requirements are also quite manageable.

If you’re savvy, you might be able to score free hotel stays everywhere you go, even if you take a trip for a week or longer. Combine free nights offers from multiple cards (and with your travel partner) to maximize these benefits.

For example, if you apply for 2-3 of these cards and your spouse does too, you could wind up with nearly two weeks of free nights all over the world!

Pro tip: Use hotel points for lower-tier hotel redemptions in developing countries and other sweet spots, and free night certificates at the most expensive hotels worldwide to maximize your value.

Hotel Credit Card Comparison

Card Issuer Card Name Free Nights Min Spend Hotel Chain Annual Fee
Amex Starwood Preferred Guest 35k points (varies by category, 1-10+ free nights) $3k in 3 months, addt. $2k in first 6 months Aloft, Le Meridien, St. Regis, Westin, W Hotel, Sheraton, Marriott $95 ($0 the first year)
Amex SPG Biz 35k points (varies by category, 1-10+ free nights) $5k in 3 months, addt. $3k in first 6 months Aloft, Le Meridien, St. Regis, Westin, W Hotel, Sheraton, Marriott $95 ($0 the first year)
Amex Hilton HHonors Card 50k points (1-10 free nights) $750 in 3 months Hilton, Conrad, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton, Waldorf Astoria, etc. $0
Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass 75k points (1-15 free nights) $3k in 3 months Hilton, Conrad, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton, Waldorf Astoria, etc. $75
Barclaycard Choice Privileges Visa 32k points (up to 4 free nights) $1k in 90 days Comfort Inn & Suites, Clarion, Econolodge, Rodeway Inn $0
Barclaycard Wyndham Rewards Visa with No Annual Fee 15k points (1 free night) First purchase Days Inn, Howard Johnson, Knights Inn, Ramada, Super 8, Wyndham, etc. $0
Barclaycard Wyndham Rewards Visa with Annual Fee 30k points (2 free nights), 6k points on anniversary each year First purchase, addt. 15k after $1k in 90 days Days Inn, Howard Johnson, Knights Inn, Ramada, Super 8, Wyndham, etc. $75
Chase Hyatt Credit Card 2 free nights for $2k spend, 1 free night each anniversary $2k in 3 months Hyatt, Park Hyatt, Andaz, Grand Hyatt, etc. $75 (sometimes waived 1st year)
Chase IHG Rewards Club Select 60k points (1-12 free nights), 1 free anniversary night $1k in 3 months Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, etc. $49 ($0 first year)
Chase Marriott Rewards Premier 80k points worth 2-10 nights, 1 free night each anniversary $3k in 3 months Marriott, JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance, etc. $85
Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Biz 80k points worth 2-10 nights, 1 free night each anniversary $3k in 3 months Marriott, JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance, etc. $99
Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards 2 comp nights in Tier 1-4 (sometimes 3 free nights!) $4k in 3 months Ritz-Carlton $450 ($300 travel credit)
Citi HHonors Visa Signature 75k points (1-15 free nights) $2k in 3 months Hilton brands worldwide $0
Citi HHonors Reserve 2 free weekend nights, free anniversary night when you spend $10k $2,500 in 4 months Hilton brands worldwide $95
First Bankcard Best Western Rewards MasterCard 16k points (one night) First purchase Best Western, GLō, Vīb $0
First Bankcard Best Western Rewards Premier MasterCard 50k points (up to 4 free nights) $1k first 3 billing cycles Best Western, GLō, Vīb $59 ($0 first year)
US Bank Club Carlson Rewards Visa 30k points (up to 3 free nights) $1k in 90 days Country Inns & Suites, Radisson, Quorvus Collection $0
US Bank Club Carlson Rewards Visa Signature 60k points (up to 6 free nights) 50k after first purchase, 10k when spend $1,500 in 90 days Country Inns & Suites, Radisson, Quorvus Collection $50
US Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature 85k points (up to 9 free nights) 50k after first purchase, 35k when spend $2,500 in 90 days Country Inns & Suites, Radisson, Quorvus Collection $75
US Bank Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa 85k points (up to 9 free nights) 50k after first purchase, 35k when spend $2,500 in 90 days Country Inns & Suites, Radisson, Quorvus Collection $60

American Express

The Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) personal and business cards are easily the most popular hotel credit cards out there, and definitely the most popular hotel card offerings from American Express. The reason being that Starpoints can be used for hotel stays in Starwood brands and Marriott brands or transferred to tons of frequent flyer programs. You also get a 5k bonus for every 20k Starpoints you transfer to airlines, making them a very valuable currency. If you use the points for hotel stays, you can get 10+ nights if you stay in low category hotels. Conversely, the top-tier hotels can sap your entire points balance.

The HHonors cards are a lot less exciting, but still offer free hotel stays thanks to their healthy sign-up bonuses. It’s just that the point bonuses may limit you to staying in lower-tier properties. Still, redemptions start at 5,000 points…

Chase

The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase is a great hotel rewards card in that you get two free nights at any Hyatt hotel or resort worldwide for simply spending $2k in three months. That’s pretty easy and you can redeem at places like the Park Hyatt in Paris, where rooms often run $800+ per night. In other words, nearly $2,000 in value here. You also get a free night in a category 1-4 room each anniversary year.

There’s also the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card that comes with 80,000 bonus points when you spend $3k in the first three months. That’ll get you 2 free nights in category 8 resorts, such as the Wailea Beach Resort in Maui, or 5 nights in a category 4. There are some decent cat 4 hotels such as JW Marriott in Kuala Lumpur or the one in Mexico City. Note that you get a 5th night free when booking 4 award nights in a row.

Chase also has a Ritz-Carlton card that gives you two free nights in a category 1-4 property, including popular destinations like NYC, Maui, DC, San Francisco, and Barcelona. The downside is the $450 annual fee, offset by a $300 annual travel credit. This card also provides complimentary airport lounge access.

Lastly, there’s the IHG card, which comes with a free anniversary night that can be used anywhere in the world with no category limits, including the InterContinental Bora Bora & Thalasso Spa and the InterContinental London Park Lane. Not too shabby!

Citi

The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card offers two free weekend nights at Hilton properties worldwide, including some spectacular ones in Tahiti, the Maldives, and Thailand, to name a few. What’s nice about this offer is you can get a ton of value out of the free nights as opposed to just earning X amount of points, similar to the Chase Hyatt card.

Meanwhile, the fee-free Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature only affords you 75k points, which limits where you can stay for free. For example, the top tier costs 95,000 points, so you can get 190k points out of the Reserve card versus just 75k in this one.

Everything Else

There are also hotel credit cards for budget brands like Best Western and Club Carlson (Radisson), or the Wyndham Rewards Visa from Barclaycard that offer lots of free nights. These can come in handy for business travel, family travel, and so on. Not luxurious by any means, but free nonetheless. And some even offer no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees!

Keep in mind that there are other credit cards, such as the Virgin Atlantic Card, Citi Prestige, Citi ThankYou Premier, Amex Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and many others that allow point transfers to hotels as well. Or the Barclaycard Arrival for independent hotels. So there are roundabout ways to rack up free hotel stays without an explicit hotel rewards credit card. And sometimes it’s a much better deal!

(photo: Roderick Eime)

Amex Platinum Card Will Soon Cost $550, Offset by $200 Uber Credit

money

Some big changes are taking place with the American Express Platinum card, perhaps most importantly an annual fee increase to $550 and a new annual $200 Uber credit.

First the foremost, the $450 annual fee we’ve all come to know and love is being increased by $100 from $450 to $550. This makes it $100 more expensive than rival Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers similar features.

Amex Platinum Changes Take Place March 30th

The new annual fee will be imposed on new card applicants as of March 30th, with existing card members paying the increased rate on their next annual renewal rate that falls on or after September 1st, 2017.

This applies to the following Amex Platinum cards:

• The Platinum Card from American Express
• The Platinum Card from American Express for Ameriprise
• The Platinum Card from American Express for Charles Schwab
• The Platinum Card from American Express for Goldman Sachs
• The Platinum Card from American Express for Mercedes-Benz
• The Platinum Card from American Express for Morgan Stanley

For the record, the Mercedes version currently charges $475, so it’s unclear if that annual fee is going to be bumped up to $575 or $550.

Also notice that the Amex Biz Platinum isn’t listed here…so it should remain at $450 per year.

Clearly this a blow to those accustomed to paying the $450 annual fee, but there is a silver lining, assuming you didn’t #DeleteUber.

$200 Annual Uber Credit with New Amex Platinum

While the steep annual fee isn’t good news, the $100 increase can more than be offset by the new $200 annual Uber credit tied to the card.

Yep, Platinum cardholders will soon get $200 each year to apply toward Uber rides within the United States, broken down on a monthly basis (which is somewhat annoying).

Put simply, American Express will add $15 in Uber credit to your account each month and $35 in December, for some reason, to round it out at an even $200 over a 12-month period.

In other words, you can take a couple short rides around town each month for free, or potentially use the credit to get some free or discounted UberEATS meals, assuming the purchase qualifies.

The caveat is that you have to add your Amex Platinum as a payment method in the Uber app, though it’s unclear if you actually have to use it for payment.

You also get automatic Uber VIP status, which typically requires a combination of 10 rides and/or UberEATS meals a month to kick in.

With Uber VIP status, you get the highest-rated drivers and the best cars, apparently, along with advance access to Uber promos. In short, you might get a better car and driver.

In any case, if you’re an active user of Uber, your Amex Platinum just got $100 cheaper, and is effectively $350 per year. If you don’t use Uber, you might as well start, or consider ditching the card if $550 isn’t returning the necessary value each year.

Free Gold Cards and 5X on Hotels

Aside from the Uber credit, American Express is also offering Gold Cards free of charge for authorized users. These used to cost $45 for up to five additional cards. Still kind of random to let others have a different card than what the primary cardholder has, but we digress.

The new iteration of Amex Platinum will also offer 5X on hotel purchases made via amextravel.com, which flanks the newish benefit of 5X on airfare booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.

The question is whether the price on the Amex site makes sense to forego possible discounts and promo codes…you’ll have to see case-by-case.

Amex also notes that you’ll get access to its “expanding Global Lounge Collection,” which includes two new Centurion Lounge locations in Hong Kong and Philadelphia that will open later this year. In total, you get access to about 1,000 lounges in 120 countries worldwide.

There’s also a new Global Dining Collection, a better mobile app, and they say cardholders will get access to more global events, if that’s your thing.

Oh, and did we mention that the card is going to be metal…how novel. You can get the metal version by requesting it on March 30th, or simply wait 60 days prior to your current lousy old plastic card’s expiration date.

How to Get Your $550 Back from Amex Platinum

At this point, you might be wondering how you’re going to get your $550 back from this damn card. That’s not cheap by any stretch.

Well, let’s break it down to see if we can make this card close to free, or at least reasonable.

First, you kind of need to use Uber. What sucks about this new feature is how specific it is. It would have been way better if it was for general ride sharing, or local ground transportation, etc.

Instead, you’re confined to Uber, a company not everyone is in love with at the moment. In short, it means Lyft won’t get you anywhere.

You still get your $200 annual airline fee credit, which can be used for incidentals, but is often used for airline gift cards (assuming it works).

Those two features certainly knock down the $550 fee, but still leave you paying a bit of money each year unless you take advantage of the more obscure benefits.

What’s very clear is that this is American Express’s answer to the widely popular Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Let’s see how the two stack up.

Amex Platinum vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve

Card name Amex Platinum Chase Sapphire
Annual fee $550 $450
Travel credit $200 airline incidentals $300 ALL travel (including Uber, Lyft) and hotels
Uber credit $200 n/a
Global Entry credit $100 or $85 for TSA Pre $100 for either
Lounge access Many programs including proprietary Amex lounges Priority Pass Select
Foreign transaction fees None, but Amex not accepted everywhere None and it’s a Visa
Bonus categories 5X on Amex hotels and airfare booked directly or via Amex 3X on ALL travel and at ALL restaurants worldwide
Authorized user $175 for up to 3 additional cards $75 per card
Redemption options Only good for airline transfers Good for airline transfers and cash value
Card material Metal Metal
 

Net annual cost

$150 $150

If we ignore all the random perks and authorized user stuff, both cards have a net cost of $150. The big difference, and this is very important, is that the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a lot more flexibility when it comes to getting that $450 annual fee back.

For example, you can use Uber, Lyft, book hotels from any website, book airfare from any website, and generally do all types of stuff to get the $300 travel credit.

With Amex Platinum, you have to designate one airline and use it for incidentals (or gift cards), and you’re stuck with Uber and only Uber for your Uber credit.

The only real upside to Amex Platinum is that the lounge collection is much better and you can earn 5X on air and hotels, but only via select channels.

Seeing that Visa is much more widely accepted worldwide, the CSR is probably the winner here, especially if you travel worldwide and want to avoid foreign transaction fees.

Of course, both offer great sign-up bonuses and can be well utilized for a year or so before canceling to avoid the subsequent annual fee.

However, keeping the CSR year after year is pretty compelling because it’s so easy to get the $300 in credits each year.

(photo: Raido)

Credit Cards That Offer Free Airport Lounge Access

airline lounge

The latest in our series of “list” posts has to do with airports. And more specifically, airport lounges, which provide a calm oasis away from the chaos of the airport.

It’s been said that once you go airport lounge, you never go back…if you’ve ever been in one, you know why.

Okay, maybe they’re just semi-private rooms with free booze and Wi-Fi, so they’re not quite life changing, but they can make traveling just that little bit easier, and save you money on overpriced airport food and drink.

Granted going gaga over finger sandwiches and a free beer or glass of wine might seem a little silly.

The good news is many premium credit cards offer free airport lounge access to their cardholders in exchange for a typically pricey annual fee. Whether that’s really “free” is a question for another day. But if they waive the annual fee the first year, then yes, it’s free…at least for 365 days.

Let’s take a look at the credit cards that afford free airport lounge access.

For the record, even if you don’t get lounge access via your credit card, you can often get it if/when flying in business class or better on most airlines in their affiliated lounges for free. Be sure to check individual carrier rules so you know where you stand prior to your trip.

Get Free Airport Lounge Access with These Credit Cards (or Discounted Fees)

Card Issuer Card Name Lounge Program Annual Fee
Amex Platinum

Platinum Biz

Mercedes Platinum

Ameriprise Platinum

Schwab Platinum

Delta Sky Club

Intl Amex lounges

Airspace

Centurion Lounge

Priority Pass Select

$450 ($475 for the Mercedes version)
Amex Centurion (Black) Same as above $2,500
Amex Delta Reserve Delta Sky Club $450
Amex Platinum Delta *Reduced Delta Sky Club $195
Amex Gold Delta *Reduced Delta Sky Club $95
Amex HHonors Surpass *Priority Pass Select – visits cost $27 $75
Barclaycard Gold Card Priority Pass Select $995
Barclaycard Black Card Priority Pass Select $495
Chase Sapphire Reserve Priority Pass Select $450
Chase Ritz Carlton Priority Pass Select $450
Chase United Club United Club lounges and participating Star Alliance affiliated lounges $450
Chase United MileagePlus *2 United Club passes annually $95
Citi AA Executive Admirals Club access $450
Citi Prestige Priority Pass Select $450
City National Crystal Infinite Priority Pass Select $400
Diners Club Premier Diners Club Lounges $95
Diners Club Elite Diners Club Lounges $300
Merrill Lynch Accolades Amex Lounge Club $295
Merrill Lynch Plus Visa Signature *Delta Sky Club $0
PenFed Premium Travel Rewards Amex *Lounge Club – first two visits free $0
U.S. Bank Executive Platinum $1200 toward travel annually including airport lounges ?

American Express

Perhaps the leader in the airport lounge space, American Express offers its members access to a variety of airport lounges for free. With their Platinum Card (several varieties such as Ameriprise, Mercedes, Schwab, etc.), you get access to their own Centurion lounge network and their International American Express lounges. You simply need to present your Platinum Card and a same-day boarding pass to enter.

Additionally, you can access Delta Sky Club if/when flying Delta the same day, or an Airspace Lounge even if you’re not flying (but booze ain’t free). For Priority Pass Select, you have to enroll first and present your Priority Pass Select Card and same-day boarding pass to enter a lounge in their network.

If you have the Delta Reserve card from American Express you get complimentary Delta Sky Club access. If you have the Platinum or Gold Delta you receive discounted Sky Club access ($29 per person), which can be used for same-day ticketed air travel on any airline. Just note that payment must be made with a Gold or Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card in person. It’s normally $59 per visit.

There’s also the Hilton HHonors Surpass card from Amex, which provides free Priority Pass Select Membership (normally $99 per year), but still charges $27 per visit. So free membership, but not free visits. It’s better than nothing, right?

It may also be possible to buy day passes (à la carte access) to certain airport lounges with the Amex Premier Rewards Gold card and get reimbursed via the annual $100 airline fee credit.

Barclaycard

You can get free airport lounge access via the metal cards from Barclaycard, but the annual fees are kind of outrageous. Starting at $495 and lacking the other perks you’d normally want at that price point.

Chase

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers complimentary airport lounge access via Priority Pass Select, and like Amex, you have to sign up for it after you receive your credit card.

They won’t tell you to do it, you’ve got to be proactive and sign up. And then you need to present the PP card upon entering one of their 900 airport lounges. The Priority Pass network of lounges is pretty vast and the lounges are generally good quality.

You can also snag free lounge access via the Ritz-Carlton card, though the $300 annual travel credit on CSR makes it the more attractive choice.

You can also get the United Club card from Chase to access United Club lounges and participating Star Alliance affiliated lounges. It’s pretty pricey though at $450 and often doesn’t have a very good sign-up bonus.

Citi

The Citi Prestige card also comes with Priority Pass Select membership, and up until June 20th, 2017, it has access to the American Airlines Admirals Club if you’re flying American or US Airways. Decent card with a decent sign-up bonus.

If you do want Admirals Club access for free, you can go with the Citi AA Executive World Elite MasterCard. It has a nice little 50k sign-up bonus to sweeten the deal.

Diners Club

The two Diners Club consumer credit cards provide free lounge access to over 700 airport lounges worldwide in the Diners Club Lounges network. Many tend to overlap those found in the Priority Pass network.

Merrill Lynch

The Merrill + Visa Signature card has a weird perk in that you can gain a complimentary one-year Delta Sky Club Executive Membership if you spend $50,000 or more per year with the card. The alternative is a $200 travel credit if you spend that much, your choice.

A more straightforward airport lounge benefit comes via the Merrill Accolades card, which offers complimentary Lounge Club membership. Well, kind of, your first 10 visits per year are free…

U.S. Bank

There’s a lesser known credit card out there – the U.S. Bank Executive Platinum Card, which has a strange travel-related benefit. It offers a $1,200 annual credit for travel costs, such as baggage fees, in-flight internet, airline lounge access, etc. We just don’t know the annual fee on this sucker. It’s also only apparently available to senior corporate executives…

Know of another credit card that offers complimentary airport lounge access? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

(photo: hojusaram)

A Long List of Credit Cards That Don’t Charge Foreign Transaction Fees

Europe

Credit cards offer a number of perks to their cardholders, from mega sign-up bonuses to 0% APR to free lounge access to annual travel credits. Additionally, some don’t charge foreign transaction fees.

Let’s focus on that last benefit so you can quickly determine which credit card to use while traveling abroad to avoid any unwelcome fees on your many non-cash purchases.

Credit card issuers generally charge 3% of the transaction if/when traveling outside the USA, meaning $30 per $1,000 in spending. With so many cards waiving these fees, you might as well carry the right card the next time you leave America.

Below we have grouped credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees by issuer – we also note whether they charge an annual fee or not. This is helpful if you want a card for the long-haul, one that you don’t have to pay for to keep in your wallet year after year.

Credit Cards with No Foreign Transaction Fees

Issuer Card Name Annual Fee Where Accepted
Amex Platinum $450 Hit or miss
Amex Biz Platinum $450 Hit or miss
Amex Centurion $2,500 Hit or miss
Amex Gold $160 Hit or miss
Amex Biz Gold $175 Hit or miss
Amex Premier Gold $195 Hit or miss
Amex SPG $95 Hit or miss
Amex SPG Biz $95 Hit or miss
Amex Gold Delta $95 Hit or miss
Amex Gold Delta Biz $95 Hit or miss
Amex Platinum Delta $195 Hit or miss
Amex Plat Delta Biz $195 Hit or miss
Amex Delta Reserve $450 Hit or miss
Amex Plum Card $250 Hit or miss
BofA AAA Member Rewards $0 Anywhere Visa
BofA Alaska Signature $75 Anywhere Visa
BofA Alaska Biz $75 Anywhere Visa
BofA Travel Rewards $0 Anywhere Visa
BofA Travel Rewards Biz $0 Anywhere Visa
BofA Merrill + Visa $0 Anywhere Visa
BofA Merrill Biz $0 Anywhere Visa
BofA Virgin Atlantic $90 Anywhere MC
BankUnited Bonus Rewards Plus $50 Anywhere Visa
BankUnited Travel Rewards Amex $95 Hit or miss
Barclaycard Arrival Plus $89 Anywhere MC
Barclaycard Arrival Regular $0 Anywhere MC
Barclaycard AA Aviator Red $95 Anywhere MC
Barclaycard Ring $0 Anywhere MC
Barclaycard Carnival $0 Anywhere MC
Barclaycard Hawaiian $89 Anywhere MC
Barclaycard Holland America $0 Anywhere Visa
Barclaycard JetBlue $0 Anywhere MC
Barclaycard Lufthansa $89 Anywhere MC
Barclaycard Priceline Rewards $0 Anywhere Visa
Barclaycard Princess Cruises $0 Anywhere Visa
Barclaycard Wyndham Rewards $0 Anywhere Visa
Barclaycard Gold Card $995 Anywhere MC
Barclaycard Black Card $495 Anywhere MC
Barclaycard Titanium Card $195 Anywhere MC
BBVA Select Card $125 Anywhere Visa
BMO Harris Premium Rewards MC $79 Anywhere MC
Capital One ALL CARDS Various Anywhere MC/Visa
Chase British Airways $95 Anywhere Visa
Chase Fairmont $95 Anywhere Visa
Chase IHG $49 Anywhere MC
Chase Sapphire Preferred $95 Anywhere Visa
Chase Sapphire Reserve $450 Anywhere Visa
Chase Hyatt $75 Anywhere Visa
Chase Ink Plus $95 Anywhere Visa
Chase Ink Preferred $95 Anywhere Visa
Chase United MileagePlus $95 Anywhere Visa
Chase United Club $450 Anywhere Visa
Chase Marriott $85 Anywhere Visa
Chase Marriott Biz $99 Anywhere Visa
Chase Ritz Carlton $450 Anywhere Visa
Chase Amazon Rewards $0 Anywhere Visa
Chase Amazon Prime $0 Anywhere Visa
Chase Southwest Prem Biz $99 Anywhere Visa
Chase United Explorer Biz $95 Anywhere Visa
Citi AA Plat Select $95 Anywhere MC
Citi AA Exec $450 Anywhere MC
Citi AA Biz $95 Anywhere MC
Citi ThankYou Prem $95 Anywhere MC
Citi Prestige $450 Anywhere MC
Citi Expedia Voyager $95 Anywhere MC
Citi HHonors Reserve $95 Anywhere Visa
Citizens Bank Cash Back Plus World MC $0 Anywhere MC
City National Crystal Infinite $400 Anywhere Visa
Comerica Visa Bonus Rewards Plus $50 Anywhere Visa
Comerica Travel Rewards Amex $95 Hit or miss
Discover ALL CARDS $0 Anywhere Discover/Diners Club
Fifth Third Bank Trio Card $0 Anywhere MC
HSBC Premier World MC $0 Anywhere MC
HSBC Advance MC $0 Anywhere MC
HSBC Platinum MC Rewards $0 Anywhere MC
HSBC Platinum MC $0 Anywhere MC
Huntington Voice Card $0 Anywhere MC
M&T Bank Visa Signature $0 Anywhere Visa
PenFed ALL CARDS $0 Anywhere VISA/Amex
SunTrust Cash Rewards $0 Anywhere MC/Amex
TD Bank TD Cash $0 Anywhere VISA
TD Bank TD First Class $89 Anywhere VISA
USAA ALL CARDS Mostly $0 Anywhere VISA/Amex
US Bank FlexPerks Gold Amex $85 Hit or miss
US Bank FlexPerks Travel $49 Anywhere Visa
US Bank SkyPass Visa Signature $80 Anywhere Visa
Wells Fargo Propel 365 Amex $45 Hit or miss
Wells Fargo Propel World Amex $175 Hit or miss

*Credit cards issued by Visa and MasterCard enjoy the best acceptance, whereas those issued by American Express and Discover may not be accepted by as many foreign merchants (or even domestic ones!), hence why we wrote “hit or miss” for Amex cards. Discover seems to be the worst for acceptance outside the U.S.

acceptance chart

Also watch out for merchants that allow you to pay for things in U.S. dollars while traveling abroad. You can get hit with a costly foreign currency conversion fee, which is separate from foreign transaction fees!

American Express

While many American Express cards do not charge foreign transaction fees, none offer this perk while charging no annual fee. So you’ll pay for the privilege no matter what. Well, unless the first year’s annual fee is waived

Additionally, many retailers outside the United States (and inside the U.S. for that matter) don’t actually accept American Express. Think the smaller restaurants, hotels, etc., those that aren’t high-end or big-name world brands.

If your Amex doesn’t waive the foreign transaction fees, expect to pay 2.7% of the transaction, which is slightly lower than the industry standard 3%.

Keep in mind that there are a variety of Amex Platinum cards other than those listed such as ones issued by Ameriprise, Charles Schwab, Mercedes Benz, Morgan Stanley, etc. that waive the fees.

Bank of America

Bank of America offers a couple credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees. And there are two Merrill Lynch cards that don’t charge the fees either. Also, their Business Preferred World MasterCard charge card only charges 2% as opposed to the typical 3%.

Barclaycard

Barclaycard has a good variety of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees, including their popular Arrival Plus card. Additionally, they have quite a few cards that don’t charge forex or annual fees, so you can keep the card long term. All are Visa or MasterCard too.

Capital One

Perhaps the trailblazer of this credit card perk was Capital One, which doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees on any of its credit cards. Even better is that their cards are either Visa or MasterCard, which tend to enjoy the best acceptance rate of any credit card worldwide. They also have many no annual fee options such as Quicksilver, VentureOne Rewards, and their Platinum Card.

Chase

Many Chase credit cards waive the foreign transaction fees, but they often come with annual fees. The two exceptions are the Amazon credit cards from Chase, which both don’t charge annual fees or foreign transaction fees.

Citi

Citi has a handful of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees, but none of them carry no annual fee. So you’ll be paying for the privilege unless the fee is waived during year one. The good news is they’re Visa and MasterCard issued cards.

Discover

The great thing about Discover is they don’t charge foreign transaction fees. The bad news is they aren’t accepted everywhere, notably France, and certainly not as widely as Visa and MasterCard. However, things do seem to be getting better in terms of acceptance rate globally. If you see a Discover or Diners Club International logo, the merchant should take the card.

HSBC

This multinational bank rightly waives foreign transaction fees on many of their credit cards, and you can get a $0 annual fee on many of them as well. Just note that some of the cards require a banking relationship to waive the annual fee.

PenFed

This credit union doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees on its credit cards, which come in both Visa and American Express varieties. The Visa ones are likely preferred for international travel to ensure acceptance.

USAA

The United Services Automobile Association (USAA) removed foreign transaction fees from all of its credit cards. But they offer both Visa and American Express cards, the latter of which might not accepted by merchants in all foreign countries you visit.

(photo: Charles Clegg)

New $500 Chase Ink Cash Bonus, 100k Ink Preferred Bonus When You Apply In-Branch

500

Apparently 50,000 bonus points is no longer a big deal, so Chase is giving it away on their lowest-tier business card. Well, they will be come March 12th, according to a post from DoC.

They have the scoop via a screenshot (picture or it didn’t happen), which details an increased sign-up bonus of $500 on Chase Ink Cash when you spend $3,000 in the first three months from the card’s open date.

The flyer (or digital flyer) even points out that it’s a $300 increase from the typical sign-up bonus of $200. That’s ostensibly the selling point Chase employees will share with customers who walk in the door.

We recently compiled a list of the largest sign-up bonuses ever offered, and it appears as if we’ll need to make a change just a day after creating that darn thing.

It should be noted that the sign-up bonus on Chase Ink Cash has been as high as $300 in the past for the same spending requirement, so it’s actually only $200 above its all-time high.

Still, this is a great offer if you’re unwilling to go for the Chase Ink Preferred and its 80k or 100k sign-up bonus.

100k Sign-Up Bonus for Chase Ink Preferred (90.5k Effective Rate)

Speaking of, the newish Chase Ink Preferred card will see its opening bonus rise as well, from the current 80,000 UR points to 100,000 UR points when you apply in-branch, assuming you are targeted and qualify.

The caveat, which the flyer also highlights, is that the $95 annual fee will no longer be waived.

Effectively, this means the 100k offer is only really a 90,500 offer when compared to the 80k offer with no annual fee the first year, depending on how you value the points.

Why Would You Apply for Chase Ink Cash Instead of Chase Ink Preferred?

If you’re wondering why someone would apply for the Chase Ink Cash if they could get double the sign-up  bonus on the Chase Ink Preferred, it might have to do with the bonus categories.

Well, that’s assuming the person actually thought it through, which we’re sure not everyone does. But if you did take the time to think it through, it would likely have to do with the bonus categories.

You see, the Chase Ink Cash offers 5% back up to $25k annually in a variety of categories, including office supply (hello gift cards!), cell phone, landline (people have those?), internet, and cable TV.

It also earns 2% back up to $25k annually at gas stations and restaurants.

Meanwhile, Chase Ink Preferred only earns 3X, but in a ton of categories and up to $150,000 in annual purchases combined.

Those categories include:

– Travel (air, train, taxi, uber, lyft, hotel, car rental, etc.)
– Shipping
– Internet, cable, phone
– Advertising via social media and search engines

So for the savvy point-hoarder, it could make sense to go after the fee-free Chase Ink Cash card and get 5X in those other categories, and then transfer the points to a different Chase card that has full Ultimate Rewards flexibility, including point transfers to frequent flyer programs.

The minimum spending requirement is also $2,000 less on the Chase Ink Cash card…

Can You Get Ink Preferred If You Have Ink Plus?

Now you might be curious if you can get these other Chase Ink cards if you already have a different Chase Ink card. For example, can you get Ink Preferred if you already have Ink Plus?

Or, can you get Ink Cash if you already have Ink Plus? The answer should be “yes” as long as you otherwise qualify for a new Chase credit card.

In other words, if you aren’t barred by their 5/24 rule or simply ineligible based on creditworthiness, it shouldn’t be an issue getting a second or third Chase Ink card because it’s a different product.

And as we pointed out, there are practical reasons to apply for one or more the cards. You may need to explain that to the rep by the way, so keep that in mind.

Another reason (excuse) to get multiple Chase Ink cards is if you have multiple businesses. For example, if you run three different websites, you might be able to get a card for each separate business, within reason.

Which Chase Ink Card Should I Get?

Assuming you already have Chase Ink Plus, which comes with the 5X categories on up to $50k in combined spending per year, you’re probably better off going with the Chase Ink Preferred.

While the Chase Ink Cash card now has a solid $500 sign-up bonus, you can get double that via the Chase Ink Preferred.

And you already get the 5X categories via Chase Ink Plus. If you open a Chase Ink Preferred to flank it, you’ll have quite the point-earning combo on your hands.

It’ll look like this:

  • 5X at office supply stores, on internet, cable TV, cell phone, and landlines
  • 3X on travel, hotels, shipping, online advertising
  • 2X at gas stations and hotels
  • 1X elsewhere

With those two Ink cards in tow, you can basically drop the Chase Sapphire Reserve before the hefty $450 annual fee is due and only miss out on the 3X restaurant category.

Yep, Chase Ink Plus and Chase Ink Preferred pack a mean punch together. You’ll also have a ton of Ultimate Rewards simply from the sign-up bonuses, so even if you don’t use them that much, you should still have quite the points haul.

The only caveat is if the Chase Ink Cash $500 bonus is a one-time deal. If it’s here today and never returns, you could argue going for it and saving the Chase Ink Preferred for another time, assuming it will always be 100k or near that.

But that’s a risk – the Chase Sapphire Reserve 100k bonus was already cut in half, so the same could happen to Chase Ink Preferred.

(photo: Peter Linke)

The Highest Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses Ever Offered

highest

It’s no secret people like lists. We also like lists. And so we decided to make a big old list of the very best (largest, highest) credit card sign-up bonuses to ever be offered.

That means you’ll see some bonuses that are no longer available, or only available to certain individuals because they’re targeted.

However, our aim in creating this list, which will be maintained over time, is to help you understand the deal in context. Is it something you shouldn’t pass up? Has it been better? Is it likely to improve in the future?

While nothing is ever definite in the credit card game, we at least have something to go on…it might also help you get matched for a particular bonus, assuming the card issuer is feeling particularly warm and fuzzy that day.

It’ll also make shopping for a credit card easier because you can quickly reference the best deal ever and then seek it out to ensure you don’t pass up a better offer. For the record, this is easy to do because credit card issuers often present varying offers to different people, or through different channels. And usually shove the inferior ones down your throat.

So knowing what’s the best out there means you can search for it, ideally find it, or if not, demand it from your card issuer (or wait for it to come back again).

Anyway, enough rambling, let’s talk about the best damn credit card sign-up bonuses in history.

For reference, best is the highest it’s ever been, good is something you probably shouldn’t pass up because it likely won’t get much better (or it’s a targeted offer you’ll never receive), and average is just the no frills, standard bonus you can pretty much always get.

Highest Ever Sign-Up Bonuses by Card Issuer

Card Issuer Card Name Best Bonus Good Bonus Avg. Bonus
Amex Biz Platinum 250k points 100k points 50k points
Amex Platinum 150k points 100k points 50k points
Amex Premier Gold 75k points 50k points 25k points
Amex Biz Gold 75k points 50k points 50k points
Amex Gold 25k points 25k points 0 points
Amex Green 25k points 25k points 0 points
Amex SPG/SPG Biz 35k points 30k points 25k points
Amex EveryDay Card 35k points 25k points 10k points
Amex EveryDay Pref 50k points 30k points 15k points
Amex Blue Cash Every $500 $250 $100
Amex Blue Cash Pref $250 $250 $150
Amex Delta Platinum 70k miles 60k miles 35k miles
Amex Delta Gold 70k miles 50k miles 30k miles
Bank of America Cash Rewards $200 $200 $100
Bank of America Cash Biz MC $500 $200 $200
Bank of America Travel Rewards 20k points 20k points 10k points
Barclaycard Arrival Plus 50k miles 40k miles 40k miles
Barclaycard CashForward $200 $200 $100
Barclaycard Hawaiian 50k miles 50k miles 35k miles
Capital One Quicksilver $200 $100 $100
Capital One Venture 100k miles 50k miles 40k miles
Chase Ink Cash $500 $300 $200
Chase Ink Preferred 100k points 80k points 80k points
Chase Sapphire Pref 70k points 60k points 50k points
Chase Sapphire Rez 100k points 100k points 50k points
Chase Freedom $300 $200 $150
Chase Freedom Unl $300 $300 $150
Chase Southwest Plus 50k points 50k points 25k points
Chase Southwest Prem 50k points 50k points 25k points
Chase Southwest Biz 70k points 60k points 50k points
Chase Marriott Biz 100k points 80k points 70k points
Chase Marriott 100k points 80k points 50k points
Chase United Biz 70k points 50k points 30k points
Chase United Club 75k points AF waived AF waived
Chase British Airways 100k Avios 50k Avios 50k Avios
Citi AA Exec 100k AA points 50k AA points 50k AA points
Citi AA Plat Biz 50k AA points 50k AA points 30k AA points
Citi AA Plat 50k AA points 50k AA points 30k AA points
Citi AA Gold 50k AA points 50k AA points 25k AA points
Citi Prestige 100k TYP 60k TYP 40k TYP
Citi ThankYou Prem 60k TYP 50k TYP 30k TYP
Citi ThankYou Pref 40k TYP 30k TYP 15k TYP
City National Crystal Infinite 100k points 70k points 50k points
Discover it Card $150 $100 $100
Discover it Chrome $100 $50 $50
Discover it Miles 2X miles 1st year 2X miles 1st year 2X miles 1st year
Merrill Lynch Plus Visa 50k points 50k points 50k points
Wells Fargo Propel World 40k points 40k points 40k points
Wells Fargo Propel 365 20k points 20k points 20k points

*Keep in mind that the highest ever offer doesn’t mean it’s the best offer. There are varying spending requirements for the points/miles/cash back shown. You should also consider the annual fees, which may or may not be waived during year one, along with any statement credits offered.

American Express

Amex Business Platinum (250,000 Membership Rewards points) – the caveat with this offer is that you only receive 50,000 MR points after spending $5,000 in the first six months, but an additional 20k points each time you spend $5,000 or more in a single transaction, up to 10x. There’s also a 150k offer that requires $20k in total spending, which is more straightforward.

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Amex Platinum (150,000 Membership Rewards points) – Some folks have received a sign-up bonus of 10X on all spending the first year up to 150k points on the personal version of Amex Platinum. That translates to $15k spending for 150k points, which is pretty good. The highest public offer we’ve seen was a 100k sign-up bonus for spending just $3k, which apparently only lasted several hours…you may also be targeted if you’re lucky!

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Amex Green Card (25,000 Membership Rewards points) – This is the weakest of the Amex cards, but often it’s offered with no sign-up bonus. So getting 25k for spending $1k ain’t bad.

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Amex Premier Rewards Gold (75,000 Membership Rewards points) – This targeted offer apparently only required $1,000 in spending during the first three months, which is pretty phenomenal. And the $175 annual fee was waived!

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Amex Business Gold (75,000 Membership Rewards points) – The spending requirement was as low as $5,000 in the first three months, but also as high as $10,000. And the annual fee was waived. Not a bad deal.

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Amex Gold/Green (25,000 Membership Rewards points) – The best we’ve seen on both these cards is 25,000 MR points, which isn’t much, but also doesn’t require much spending (typically $1,000) and the annual fee is often waived. Additionally, Amex often offers zero sign-up bonus…

Amex Starwood Preferred Guest (35,000 Starpoints) – This is the current and highest ever SPG offer that requires just $3,000 in spending (or $5k for the business version), up from the more typical 25k offer.

Amex EveryDay Preferred (50,000 Membership Rewards points) – There’s a targeted offer of 50k points for spending just $2k in three months, which is pretty fantastic. A typical good offer is 30k, with 15k being the basic public offer.

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Amex EveryDay Card (35,000 Membership Rewards points) – A targeted offer went as high as 35k MR points for an easy $1k in spend. The best public offer is/was 25k for spending $2k in three months, with a 15k offer sometimes available above the typical 10k offer.

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Amex Blue Cash Everyday ($500) – The $500 offer was supposedly the highest bonus ever extended to customers, and required $3,000 in purchases in 3 months. There is currently a $300 sign-up bonus, but it’s misleading because it’s just up to that amount based on spending in the restaurant category at 10% back. The typical sign-up offer is just $100, though $250 has been offered as well.

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Amex Blue Cash Preferred ($250) – The highest offer was $250 for spending just $1k in 3 months, which is strangely lower than the fee-free version of this card, so take that other one with a grain of salt. The typical offer is just $150 for spending $1k.

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Amex Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card (70,000 SkyMiles) – The highest offer was 70k SkyMiles for spending just $2k in 3 months, which is double the 35k public offer currently available. Sometimes there’s also a 60k offer, so keep your eyes peeled.

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Amex Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card (70,000 SkyMiles) – The best offer was apparently 70k SkyMiles and a $100 statement credit for spending (probably) a mere $2k in 3 months. The standard deal is 30k SkyMiles for $1k in spend, but 50k + a $50 statement credit and 60k deals pop up now and again, and may be accessed via dummy bookings on Delta.com.

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Bank of America

BankAmericard Cash Rewards Credit Card ($200) – The best offer was $200 after spending just $500 in the first 90 days, double the typical $100 sign-up bonus.

Bank of America Cash Rewards for Business MasterCard ($500) – The highest offer is/was $500 in cash for spending a quite high $5,000 in the first 60 days, more than double the standard $200 statement credit sign-up bonus for just $500 in spending.

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BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card (20,000 points) – The highest offer is 20,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days, double the typical 10,000-point sign-up bonus.

Barclaycard

Barclaycard Arrival Plus (50,000 miles) – You can still get your hands on this best-ever offer of 50k points after spending $3,000 in 3 months. Use the points to offset $500 in travel purchases…instead of the typical 40k offer.

Barclaycard CashForward World MasterCard ($200) – There is a targeted $200 offer after spending $500 in 3 months. This is double the public $100 offer for the same spending.

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Barclaycard Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard (50,000 Hawaiian miles) – There is a 50k mile offer available after spending $1,000 in 90 days that you can get by flying Hawaiian or by doing a dummy booking on their website. This is 15k more than the 35k public offer for the same spending.

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Capital One

Capital One Quicksilver ($200) – The best offer to date is $200 for spending $1,000, but it’s targeted. The typical offer is $100 for spending $500 in the first three months.

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Capital One Venture Rewards (100,000 miles) – There was an odd sign-up bonus back in 2012 where they agreed to double what you spent on a competing travel credit card the previous year. The best normal sign-up bonus was 50k, and is now 40k for spending $3k in 3 months.

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Chase

Chase Ink Cash ($500 or 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points) – This is available March 12th, 2017 and is the highest bonus ever offered on the card. You get $500 or 50k UR points once you spend $3,000 in 3 months, up from the standard $200 or $300 typically offered.

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Chase Ink Preferred (100,000 Ultimate Rewards points) – This is a rumored, yet-to-be-released highest sign-up bonus ever. It’s currently publicly available at 80k after spending $5k in 3 months. Apparently this will be targeted.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred (70,000 Ultimate Rewards points) – An in-branch offer that required $4,000 in spend during first three months for 70k UR points was the highest ever offered on this card. And no annual fee the first year to boot!

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Chase Sapphire Reserve (100,000 Ultimate Rewards points) – This was the original offer tied to the card, which Chase has since slashed in half to 50k unless you apply in-branch by early March 2017. The spending requirement has always been $4,000 in the first three months with a $450 annual fee.

Chase Freedom ($300) – The highest bonus ever was $300, or 30k UR points, for spending just $500 in 3 months. That’s double the typical $150 bonus.

Southwest Plus Credit Card (50,000 points) – The best and consistently available offer on this card is 50k points for $2k spend in 3 months. A much lower 25k offer is sometimes the best available, meaning you should probably wait to apply if that’s the case.

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Southwest Premier Business (70,000 points) – The best ever offer was 70k points for $3k spend in 3 months, but that was extremely targeted. A slightly lower 60k offer is better than the usual 50k offer that floats around.

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Southwest Premier Personal (50,000 points) – The personal version topped out at 50k points for $2k spend in 3 months to the best of our knowledge, but can be as low as 10k with a $200 statement credit. Or simply 25k.

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United MileagePlus Club (75,000 United miles) – The highest ever offer for this rather expensive card is/was 75k for $3k in spending. It’s targeted and you can see if you’re eligible by logging into your United account and/or getting a mailer. The usual sign-up bonus is simply a waived $450 annual fee.

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United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card (70,000 United miles) – The highest ever offer for this business card (and non-biz version) is/was 70,000 United MileagePlus miles for spending $3k in 3 months. You might be able to get it if you log-in to your United.com account and check for offers. Typically it’s just 50k, or as low as 30k at its worst.

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Marriott Rewards Premier Business (100,000 Marriott Rewards points) – The highest ever offer was 100,000 Marriott Rewards points for spending $5k in three months. It’s typically half that, though there is an 80k offer out there as well.

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Marriott Rewards Credit Card (100,000 Marriott Rewards points) – The highest ever offer is/was 100,000 Marriott Rewards points for spending $5k in three months. It’s typically between 50k and 80k. Don’t fall for the 150k offer that requires a massive $30k in spending.

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British Airways Visa Signature Card (100,000 Avios) – The best offer ever was 100,000 Avios for spending we believe just $3k in three months. They later offered the same bonus for $20k in spending. The typical deal is 50k Avios for $3k in spend.

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Citi

Citi ThankYou Premier (60,000 ThankYou Points) – The highest offer was 60k TYP for $3,500 in spending in 3 months, but has since been halved to 30k. Boo.

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Citi ThankYou Preferred (40,000 ThankYou Points) – The highest offer ever was 40k TYP for $6,000 in spending in the 12 months, but you’re more likely to see the 15k-point offer for $1k spend in 3 months.

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Citi Prestige (100,000 ThankYou Points) – The highest offer ever was 100k TYP, which was targeted, but has since been downgraded to just 40k. But be on the lookout for an improved offer, as 60k has also been offered in the past.

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Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard (100,000 AA miles) – The highest sign-up bonus on this card was 100,000 AA miles for spending $10k in three months. A more typical offer is 50k miles for spending $5,000 over the same period. Just watch out for the $450 annual fee…

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CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCard (50,000 AA miles) – The best sign-up bonus on this card is/was 50,000 AA miles for spending $3k in three months. The average offer is 30k miles for spending the same amount over the same period.

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Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard (50,000 AA miles) – This card also has/had a best-ever sign-up bonus of 50,000 AA miles for spending $3k in three months. The average offer is 30k miles for spending the same amount over the same period. The sweetest offer came with 2 Admirals Club Passes to boot!

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Citi / AAdvantage Gold World Elite MasterCard (50,000 AA miles) – This perhaps lesser-known Citi AA card has/had a targeted sign-up bonus of 50,000 AA miles for spending $3k in three months for 40k miles and another 10k miles if/when you spent/spend a total of $5k in first 12 months . The average offer is 25k miles for spending a very reasonable $750 in 3 months.

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City National

City National Crystal Infinite (100,000 points) – This in-branch offer, which has since been halved, was available in 2015 and required just $5,000 in spending during the first 90 days. Those points could be redeemed for $1,000 gift card too…

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Discover

Discover it ($150) – Best offer ever was $150 cash back for spending $750 in first 3 months. Today, you’re looking at $100 at best. At one point, there was a rather bogus deal that required $1,500 in monthly spending for five months to snag $200…awful.

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Discover it Chrome ($100 Amazon gift card) – This limited time offer in 2014 provided a $100 Amazon gift card simply for making a purchase within three months. Today, it’s $50 via referral.

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Discover it Miles (Double miles first year) – There is no-sign up per se, but they do give you an effective cash back rate of 3% the first year.

Merrill Lynch

Merrill + Visa Signature Credit Card (50,000 Merrill Points) – This card affords 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in 90 days, which is the current and highest offer.

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Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo Propel 365 Amex (20,000 points) – The highest bonus on this card is/was 20,000 points for spending $3,000 in the first three months.

Wells Fargo Propel World Amex (40,000 points) – The highest ever bonus is/was 40k points for spending $3k in 3 months, but it is now only available via branch. Not sure if it’s coming back to the internet…

(photo: Susanne Nilsson)

Some Useful Things You Can Do with Unused Marriott Rewards Points

Marriott

If you’re like us, at some point you took advantage of one of those Chase Marriott credit cards to snag a boatload of bonus points in a hurry.

But after redeeming most of them for a nice, relaxing hotel stay somewhere, you might be wondering what you’ll do with the remainder.

What good are a few thousand Marriott points? Should you just leave them in your account and consider them collateral damage to a reward redemption that didn’t completely add up?

Nope. You should think about transferring them out of Marriott and into a reward currency you actively use, or plan to use in the near future.

Turn Marriott Points into Starpoints

Marriott points

One simple option is converting Marriott Rewards points into Starpoints. This is super easy and fast thanks to the marriage of Starwood and Marriott.

Literally all you have to do is go to the Marriott website, click on “My Account” in the top-right corner once logged in, then click on “Use Points.”

From there, you simply select the option next to “Marriott Rewards + SPG” that enables you to transfer points between the programs.

A window will pop up that allows you to quickly transfer Marriott Rewards points in 1,000 increments. The ratio is 3:1, so for every 1,000 Marriott points you want to move out, you’ll get 333 Starpoints in return.

Marriott to SPG

It’s not a spectacular redemption, but seeing that Starpoints are valued so highly, and generally hard to come by, it’s not a bad use of unused Marriott points.

We have an account with 7,070 unwanted Marriott points. Using this option, we can transfer 7,000 of them for 2,333 Starpoints.

Seeing that American Express typically only offers 25k Starpoints (35k at the moment) when you sign-up for their card, this isn’t an awful amount of points to suddenly have.

It might even be just what you need for a bigger reward, or enough to allow you to transfer 20,000 Starpoints to a transfer partner and get that sweet 5,000 bonus.

Transfer Marriott Points to Frequent Flyer Programs

Marriott United

Another option is to transfer your remaining Marriott points to a frequent flyer program, such as United, Southwest, JetBlue, Virgin America, Avios, and so on.

In fact, it might be a good option to activate an Iberia Plus account.

The cheapest redemption option at the moment requires 8,000 Marriott points. You can transfer that amount to United for 2,000 MileagePlus miles.

Again, that might be enough to top up your account and redeem for a big award flight.

Marriott FF

The other frequent flyer programs require a minimum of 10,000 Marriott points, but you do have the ability to buy some Marriott points if you’re just shy of that minimum.

For example, you can buy 1,000 Marriott points for $12.50, which normally wouldn’t be a good deal, but if you just need 1,000 more to get to 10,000, the math could make sense, depending on how you value the airline miles.

Buy Marriott points

Keep in mind that you might be able to just transfer your points directly to Starwood, and then on to frequent flyer programs that way, without having to worry about the 10,000-point (or 8,000-point) minimum. And the ratios might be better.

Either way, the redemption options will be better than doing nothing with your unused Marriott points, which is probably something that happens pretty frequently with nominal leftovers.

There’s also the option of using the points for gift card redemptions or donating them. If you want a $10 Starbucks gift card, you can forfeit 5,000 Marriott points.

Of course, it might serve you better to take the 1,666 Starpoints instead…

(photo: Paul Sableman)

How to Book British Airways Award Flights with Iberia and Save Big on Surcharges

BA

So you’ve got 100,000 some odd credit card points. Now what? Well, redeem them. But how? Good question, it’s often not as easy as it looks. Fortunately, there are 12 million travel blogs here to help you…

Let us join the fray and answer a question regarding British Airways awards, which are often frowned up because of the massive surcharges that accompany travel redemptions.

The Problem with British Airways Award Bookings

In a nutshell, British Airways has a surcharge problem. A big one. They can’t help but charge customers hundreds (thousands) of dollars to fly with them, even if you use tons of points to book a “free flight.”

What’s the point of using points (sorry for the pun) if you also have to pay a ton of cash too? Might as well just buy a revenue ticket and earn miles, right? Well, there isn’t a point, which is why points and miles are often redeemed via other avenues.

But there is a solution. And that’s to book British Airways awards (or their partners like American Airlines) using a different carrier, such as Iberia, a Spanish airline.

It works because Iberia charges much lower surcharges, though they still charge these fees in many cases. It’s just that they’re a fraction of what you’d have to pay if you booked award travel directly with BA.

Enough talk, let’s look at a clear-cut example to illustrate the costs and the savings of using this loophole to book an award trip.

Flying Business Class from the West Coast to London with Points

It can be tricky to land a cheap business class flight award ticket to Europe unless you’re willing to go to some random cities.

But say you want to travel from the west coast of the US (LAX or SFO) to London. It’s a very common destination and one that can be expensive to book with miles in a class outside economy. And let’s face it, who wants to sit in economy for 10 hours?

Well, it’s very difficult to find business class saver awards via partners like United on this route. Typically, you’ll have to fork over 150,000 miles each way if you want business class. Or 170,000 for first class. That’s just too much.

Often, you’ll need to travel to some other European city, like Dublin, Brussels, or Madrid, or some place in Germany to save on miles and/or get a business class or better award at the saver rate of 70,000 miles or less each way.

That might lead you to try other airline transfer partners, such as British Airways.

If you use the BA website to book a business class award from LAX to LHR, you’ll often be presented with some options to fly business class from the west coast to London using miles.

While that might at first glance be seen as the answer you’ve been looking for, you’ll quickly be discouraged by the outrageous surcharges associated with the ticket.

For a pair of roundtrip business class flights to/from the west coast to London, you might be looking at fees of $2,500 or so, plus all the miles you have to relinquish to get there.

Most people probably won’t be okay with that, or even able to afford it. Factor in the cash value of the points you’re giving up and it might be like spending a couple grand per ticket. No Bueno.

Using Iberia to Cut the Fees

book with avios

If you do the same exact search at Iberia, you should see the same flights available, but with much lower surcharges. The same exact flights that cost $1,250 per ticket in fees might only set you back $500 each.

Yes, you still have to pay fees with Iberia, and they’re much more than those typically tied to United award flights, but if there’s no availability in business class through other alliances, it might be worth it to you to pay the fee to get your business class saver tickets.

The convenience of flying to the airports you’d like to fly to might well be worth it, not to mention the fact that you won’t have to pay for connecting flights because you won’t be forced to fly into adjacent airports throughout Europe.

Our guess is many people would be happy to pay $500 to fly business class roundtrip between the west coast and the UK while giving up the typical amount of points these saver flights cost.

The problem is Chase Ultimate Rewards don’t transfer to Iberia, only to British Airways. And while Amex MR points can be transferred directly to Iberia, the ratio is a poor one at 250:200.

However, if you follow some steps, you can transfer miles between the two programs and potentially save some dough while expanding your redemption options.

Key Steps to Ensure You Can Transfer Avios from British Airways to Iberia

This whole setup works because British Airways and Iberia use the same award currency, known as “Avios.”

There are some important things you need to know about the Iberia frequent flyer program to ensure this works.

If you’re moving points from a British Airways reward account to Iberia, your Iberia account and BA account need to have been open for 90 days.

Additionally, some type of activity has to have taken place in these accounts in order to transfer BA miles to Iberia.

The best way to ensure you’re all set to go if/when you want to move Avios from BA to Iberia is to open an Iberia and BA frequent flyer account ASAP, whether you have travel plans or not.

Tip: Make sure the information on both accounts matches 100%, such as your name, e-mail address, birth date, etc. If they don’t, you could run into trouble when attempting to execute a transfer between them!

Then transfer some nominal amount of Avios into the accounts to generate activity. There are also ways to earn Avios doing surveys, participating in social media, and signing up for partner deals, apparently.

But if you have an Amex card that allows transfers to airlines, you can link up your Iberia account and transfer a small amount of Membership Rewards that way as well and without the 90-day waiting period. However, the transfer ratio isn’t 1:1 like it is with Chase, it’s 250:200. However, they sometimes have promos that better 1:1, so look out for those.

Amex to Avios

To activate the Iberia account, simply move the minimum 250 MR points to Iberia. You’ll wind up with 200 Avios.

This is why it’s always good to leave some small amount of rewards currency in all your accounts…

UR to BA

To activate your BA account, move a minimum of 1,000 UR points from Chase.

Once 90 days have gone by, you can “combine your Avios” via the BA website. Or the Iberia website. Or Avios.com. It can get pretty messy, so follow the many instructions others have laid out.

Essentially, if you’re wanting to redeem an Iberia flight with Ultimate Rewards, you need that Iberia frequent flyer account seasoned for 90 days. So get cracking now!

Another issue with transferring Amex MR to Iberia is the lag time. It can take a day or two (or more) for the points to transfer. They say 4-7 business days!

With Ultimate Rewards, the transfers seem to be instant. That can come in handy if you don’t want to miss out on limited inventory award seats for a big trip.

In any event, make sure both your BA and Iberia frequent flyer accounts are active and seasoned before you try to transfer points among them.

Once they are, you can move Ultimate Rewards from Chase to BA, and then to Iberia, and save lots of money by avoiding costly surcharges.

It gives you a new redemption option in a roundabout sort of way, but can be well worth the work once it’s all set up.

We looked at a business class booking from LAX to EDI this summer that had surcharges of ~$2,500 on the BA website when using Avios. It was actually an American Airlines flight.

The same exact flight when booked with Avios on the Iberia website only charged ~$1,000 in fees. That’s just one of many examples out there.

You may also save on the number of Avios needed to book the flight when using Iberia instead of BA.

So there you have it. Chase Ultimate Rewards don’t transfer to Iberia directly, but including one extra step means you can redeem them by way of BA.

Pro tip: Sign up for any and all frequent flyer programs you think you’ll ever use immediately to ensure you don’t get caught up with any seasoning requirements. You may also gain access to special deals and unexpected free seat upgrades along the way!

(photo: BriYYZ)