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)

What’s So Great About the Starwood Amex 35K Sign-Up Bonus?

starwood hotel

People seem to just lose it whenever the Amex Starwood Preferred Guest credit card comes with an increased sign-up bonus, such as the 35k offer currently available until early April.

At first glance, you might notice that the sign-up bonus on the SPG card is quite low compared to other credit card offers out there.

After all, there are many other credit cards that come with 80k, 100k, or even 150k sign-up bonuses. So why should we all go nuts when SPG raises their sign-up bonus to a measly 35,000 points?

Is 35,000 SPG Points an Amazing Offer?

Well, for one, it’s the highest sign-up bonus they’ve ever offered on the card, though the minimum spending requirement might be a little bit higher as well.

At the moment, American Express is offering an increased 35,000 Starpoints when you spend $5,000 in the first six months of account opening.

Broken down, it’s 25,000 Starpoints when you spend $3,000 in the first three months, and an additional 10,000 Starpoints if you can muster another $2,000 within the first six months.

The offer is only available until April 5th, 2017, meaning you have to make a decision in the next couple months if you haven’t taken advantage before.

Assuming you spend the required total of $5,000, you’ll wind up with 40,000 Starpoints, which is apparently pretty good for this lucrative credit card currency.

The sign-up bonus is usually only 25,000 points, so you’re getting a big bump on a percentage increase basis (40% bump to be exact), though it’s only another 10k points.

However, these points can go pretty far, or at least further than other award currencies, such as Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards.

One Redemption Idea for 40,000 Starpoints

For example, you get a transfer rate of 1:3 from SPG to Marriott, which is now owned by Starwood. So those 40,000 Starpoints equate to 120,000 Marriott Rewards points.

That’s well above the 80,000 Marriott Rewards points you can earn through the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase, or the business version of the card. Both would only net you 83,000 points after spending the required $3,000 in the first three months.

So we know right there that SPG points are indeed a valuable currency. And if you happen to have Chase Ultimate Rewards points lying around, you can get 5 free nights at a category 8 Marriott hotel, such as the beautifully updated Wailea Beach Resort in Maui.

Hotels in category 8 will set you back 40,000 Marriott points per night, but if you book four consecutive nights, you get the fifth night free.

In other words, if you have 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points that you can transfer over to Marriott along with your 40,000 Starpoints, you’ll wind up with 160,000 Marriott points.

Hello free vacation in Maui for five nights! And you only burned through 40,000 UR points in the process, which isn’t bad seeing that Chase is constantly throwing 100k and 80k offers our way.

Starpoint Airline Transfer Bonus

Another special benefit to Starpoints is the transfer bonus they enjoy when sent to participating frequent flyer programs. For every 20,000 you transfer, you get a 5,000 bonus, all year-round.

Put simply, 20,000 Starpoints equals 25,000 frequent flyer miles – oh, and they have the most airline partners of any credit card issuer, including some carriers that require very few miles to go long distances.

What’s special about the 35k bonus offer is the fact that you get 40k Starpoints after spending the required $5,000, which is enough for two 20k transfers to airlines.

If you transfer all 40,000 Starpoints earned via the 35k sign-up bonus offer, you’ll get 50,000 frequent flyer miles.

Typically, you’d have 30,000 Starpoints and you could transfer 20k for a 5k bonus, but then you’d only have 10k remaining, which wouldn’t receive the 25% bonus (has to be 20k increments).

Actually, you can get even more miles than that if there happens to be an SPG transfer bonus going on. One recent example was American Airlines providing a 20% transfer bonus.

That meant you could transfer 20,000 Starpoints to AA and receive the standard 5,000 transfer bonus, plus another 20% bonus on top of that, for an additional 5,000 AA miles.

All said, you’d get 30,000 AA miles for the price of 20,000 Starpoints. If you transferred all 40,000 Starpoints, you’d get 60,000 AA miles.

As you can see, the value of the SPG bonus can be a lot better than it looks once you factor in all the special perks of Starpoints.

Aside from frequent flyer and hotel transfers, you can always use the Starpoints for Starwood hotel stays as well, with some good value depending on the category. Certain developing countries have low-category hotels that are still quite nice, and you can use the cash & points option to stretch your points even more.

The icing on the cake is the fact that the annual fee of $95 is waived on the card the first year, meaning you might be able to get 60,000 frequent flyer miles without paying a dime in credit card fees. And the spending requirement is pretty reasonable.

You just have to be smart with redemptions, and avoid options that don’t maximize the value of these special points.

Pro tip: Don’t transfer Starpoints to airline partners that offer a less than 1:1 ratio, including United, Air New Zealand, GOL Airlines, and LATAM Airlines.

(photo: Matt@PEK)

How Barclaycard Arrival Travel Redemptions Actually Work

question

File this under tricky, or at first glance, confusing. If you recently hit the minimum spend on your Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard, you might be wondering how best to maximize those lucrative travel credits.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a manual on how to do it provided by Barclaycard, you’re just told you can redeem for travel statement credits “starting at 10,000 miles.”

Where it gets murky is the “starting at” part – in reality, the minimum redemptions are usually a lot higher if you’ve made large travel purchases, which makes it appear as if you’re getting a raw deal.

Let’s look at an example of this to illustrate what might seem like a misleading redemption policy.

Say you spent $3,000+ on the card and received your 50,000 bonus miles. You’re now around 56,000 total miles thanks to the 2X on all purchases plus the bonus.

Kudos to Barclaycard for applying those miles to your account literally the minute your purchase that surpassed $3,000 hit your account. That’s a big plus – no waiting period or wondering if you hit the minimum spend. The miles are just there instantly!

Where It Gets Confusing

minimum redemption

When you go to the travel statement credit area of their rewards page, you’ll see any qualifying travel purchases listed that you can redeem miles against.

But when you click on the “redeem now” button, you’ll probably be presented with a minimum number of miles that is well above 10,000, despite this being the number Barclaycard advertises.

In our case, the minimum redemption for a $393.90 purchase was 32,500 when the miles balance was around 56,000, more than triple the stated 10,000 minimum. What gives?!

Well, it’s unclear what gives to be honest, and it’s somewhat annoying because it might lead someone to believe they’ll be stuck with an insufficient amount of miles if they choose that high redemption.

Assuming they cash in 32,500 miles, they’ll have somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 miles remaining, which if the minimum is once again a seemingly arbitrary 32,500, they’d fall short.

So they’d either need to spend more to get more miles, or make a new purchase around $250 that the system recognizes as travel and generates a lower redemption number, such as 25,000.

In reality, this isn’t necessary, though you wouldn’t know it until you took that leap of faith and redeemed your miles on an initial travel purchase.

After redeeming 37,500 miles (which was another option above the 32,500 minimum), the minimum mile redemption was lower on subsequent redemptions. But again, this wasn’t known until that first redemption was finalized. So a cardholder might not know they’ll be able to redeem for a lesser amount.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the redemption minimum dropped to 15,000 miles on a different $393.90 travel purchase once the miles balance dropped to around 22,000, which while still above the oft-quoted 10,000 minimum, is manageable with the remaining miles in the account.

Our hypothetical cardholder can now redeem 20,000 of their ~22,000 remaining miles (they redeemed 37,500 the first go around) and wind up with only about 2,000 unused miles stuck in their account, unable to be redeemed until they reach 10,000 again.

Getting Nearly $600 in Value Fast

In total, the redemptions equate to $575 in travel credits, which is a good deal for a card that doesn’t charge an annual fee the first year, and only requires $3,000 in spending.

travel credits

The trick is making sure you actually spend $500+ on travel so you can redeem your miles for their maximum value, as opposed to cash.

It would be nice to know that your minimum redemption amount will automatically reset LOWER once you make your first travel redemption. But there’s literally no way of knowing what that magic number will be as it’s not set at 10,000 in many cases.

Oh, We Get It Now…Maybe

25 increments

Update: We figured it out, we think.

There was another situation where there were around 57,000 miles in the account and a few travel purchases we could redeem against.

One of the travel purchases was over $1,000, and it appears if you don’t have the miles to erase the entire purchase, it will only let you redeem in $25 increments.

That meant we could redeem at maximum of 55,000 miles for $550 value, but that would have left a random, and more importantly, insufficient amount of miles leftover for another redemption.

So we did some math and realized if we redeemed 10,000 miles first for a smaller ~$100 purchase, we’d wind up with more than 47,500 miles remaining. That just so happens to be enough to get over the next $25 threshold on a subsequent redemption.

most miles used

Returning to the $1000 transaction, we could now redeem 47,500 miles for $475 in value.

All told, that meant we got $575 in travel credit as opposed to just $550.

575 total

The moral of the story is this. For whatever reason, Barclays doesn’t seem to let you redeem all your miles unless it will cover the entire travel purchase.

If it’s less than the full amount, you apparently have to redeem in $25 increments. That means you need to do the math first to see how best to maximize your miles.

(photo: Ethan Lofton)

The Cash Value of Credit Card Points and Miles

cash register

Most blogs, bloggers, credit card websites, etc. value credit card currencies, such as points and miles, at a certain amount based on what they think you can squeeze out of them.

For example, a recent TPG post valued Chase Ultimate Rewards at 2.1 cents each, whereas MileValue values UR at a flat 2 cents each.

The thing with all these valuations is that it depends what you actually use the miles for, and what the cost would be to just pay for those redemptions out of pocket instead.

In the real world, it’s not all that helpful to place a value on points because there are so many different combinations and outcomes that it’d be impossible to sum it all up in one single point value.

But forget about all that. Let’s just focus on how much points are worth if you simply cash them in, for, well, cash.

We’re talking a check or direct deposit to your bank account, or a statement credit. Not a trip on an airline, a hotel stay, or an iPad.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Are Worth a Penny in Cash

chase cash back

While the valuations can definitely be higher if redeemed for travel, if you simply want cash for your Ultimate Rewards you’ll get a penny apiece.

In other words, if you have 104,000 Ultimate Rewards points thanks to that massive Chase Sapphire Reserve bonus, you’d be able to cash them in for $1,040. And yes, you can have that money direct deposited into any of your associated accounts in three business days.

Someone might say you’re a fool for doing so, but if you want cash, and only cash, Chase makes it easy and doesn’t give you a hard time about it. The minimum redemption is $20, but you can take out odd amounts (see above) for the full balance if you wish.

Cash Value of American Express Membership Points Varies

When it comes to American Express, it’s not so simple. They allow you to redeem your Membership Rewards points for cash, but only via a statement credit or an American Express gift card. Both aren’t truly “cash,” but we can still assign a clear value.

The bad news is they aren’t worth a penny apiece. In fact, they’re worth quite a bit less. If you redeem them for an Amex gift card, which can be used like cash anywhere Amex is accepted as payment, you’re looking at .50 cents for each point.

So 100,000 Membership Rewards points have a cash value of just $500. If you’re keeping track, that’s half the value of Ultimate Rewards points.

If you opt for a statement credit to erase some purchases you already made, you’ll get a slightly better .60 cents for each point. In this case, 100,000 MR points are worth $600, but only to cover purchases you already made.

Discover Miles Are Worth 1 Cent Each

miles cash back

If you happen to have the Discover it Miles card, the math is also very simple. A mile is worth a penny.

However, the card earns 1.5 “miles” per dollar, making the effective cash back rate 1.5% on all purchases.

And like Chase, redemption is a snap. You can request a direct deposit online, and perhaps more importantly, there’s no minimum redemption. Yes, you can get a redemption as low as $1.57 (or lower) if you so choose.

Redeem Citi ThankYou Points for Cash

citi cash back

Then we have Citi and their ThankYou Points, which probably won’t make you feel very thankful if you cash them in for, cash.

That’s right, Citi ThankYou Points (TYP) are worth just half a cent (0.50) each when redeeming for cash, which is a pretty awful valuation. You get the option of requesting a check or applying them as a statement credit.

If you want a check, the minimum redemption is 10,000 TYP for $50. You can also request a $100 check for 20,000 TYP. Either way, not a great deal.

Alternatively, you can request statement credits for as few as 2,000 TYP points for $10. So you get more flexibility, but still a poor valuation.

One “trick” around this is to request a check to pay down a mortgage or student loan – they’ll give you a value of one cent per point if you do this, and they just make out a check to the bank you tell them. That’s double the value.

Barclaycard Miles Cash Value Is 0.525 Cents

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus earns 2X miles on all purchases. There is an option to redeem for a cash back statement credit with a minimum redemption of 5,000 miles for $25.

Effectively, that means you earn 1% cash back because you get 2X miles on all purchases and the ratio is 2:1 for cash back rewards. But wait, there’s more. You get 5% of your miles back when you redeem them, so they’re actually worth a slightly better 0.525 cents apiece.

It should be noted that travel purchases earn a 1:1 ratio, or double (1.05 cents apiece), so 10,000 miles equals $100 in value plus 5% of those miles back. However, the minimum redemption for a travel purchase is $100.

Bank of America Travel Rewards Can Be Redeemed for Cash

This one is a bit tricky because Bank of America doesn’t post the value of cash back redemptions with regard to the points you earn on their Travel Rewards card. Granted, why would you apply for a travel card if you want cash, but still.

Making it even more difficult to quantify is if there’s a banking relationship bonus on those points. The best we could find was 0.9 cents per point via some comments from cardholders. That may or may not be accurate and/or current. Either way, it’s probably not the best use of these points.

Capital One Venture Miles Cash Value

If you have the Capital One Venture Card and happen to want cash back instead of a travel credit, know that the value of a mile is half a penny (0.5 cents).

But you get 2X on all spending with Venture, so you effectively get a penny per dollar spent when redeeming for cash, which would be 2 cents per mile if used for travel purchases.

In other words, 50,000 Venture Miles are worth $250 cash or $500 in travel statement credits. It is believed that the minimum redemption is 2,500 miles, though Capital One is pretty good at hiding this information from non-cardmembers.

Merrill Points Are Worth a Penny

This one is fairly straightforward, as far as we can tell. If you open a card such as the Merrill+ Visa Signature Card, you’ll earn one penny per Merrill point.

So 50,000 Merrill points will get you $500, though only via statement credit unless you have a BofA/Merrill bank account. Cash rewards start at 3,000 Merrill Points for $30 in value.

Travel redemptions are worth 2 cents because you only need 25,000 Merrill points for a $500 flight.

Nasa Star Trek Points Require a Klingon to Do the Math

Here’s a random one to add to the mix, assuming you’ve applied for a Star Trek credit card from the NASA Federal Credit Union.

Per DoC, Star Trek points are worth 0.704 cents with redemptions starting at 7,100 points. WTF? That’ll get you $50, while 14,200 will land you $100. These are statement credits FYI, and apparently can take 1 or 2 billing cycles. Talk about light speed.

As you can see, in many cases you’re probably better off going for a 2% cash back credit card like Citi Double Cash if it’s simply cash back you’re after.

At the same time, some of these travel-oriented credit cards have massive sign-up bonuses that can score you a ton of cash value upfront, even if you forego the huge travel redemptions in the process.

These cash back redemptions can also be helpful if you have no use for the points and want to cash out, close the card, and move on.

How Much Are Credit Card Points Worth (in Cash)?

Card Issuer Currency Cash Value
American Express Membership Rewards 0.5-0.6 cents
Bank of America Travel Rewards 0.9 cents
Barclaycard Arrival Miles 0.525 cents
Capital One Venture Miles 0.5 cents
Chase Ultimate Rewards 1 cent
Citi ThankYou Points 0.5 cents
Discover Miles 1 cent
Merrill Lynch Merrill Points 1 cent
Nasa FCU Star Trek Points 0.704 cents

(photo: Marcin Wichary)

American Express Membership Rewards Points Are Kind of Weak When Not Used for Travel

weak

If you’re new to the credit card points game, your first stop might be American Express, which has long been known for offering rich rewards to its cardholders.

Many of their cards earn “Membership Rewards” points that can be used for a variety of redemption options, such as travel, merchandise, gift cards, and so on.

But if you actually take a hard look at what you can do with your Amex Membership Rewards, you might be a little disappointed.

Amex Membership Rewards Redemption Values Often Stink

Amex gift card

Let’s assume you apply for the Amex Business Platinum that earns 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $15,000 in the first three months. Yes, that’s a ton of spending to earn what Chase will give you for spending $4,000 over the same period.

Now let’s pretend that you spent the required $15,000 and wound up with ~115,000 MR points. That’s a pretty good haul, despite all the spending that was required to get there.

Of course, you did have to pay a $450 annual fee in the process, some of which could be offset by a qualifying $200 airline purchase credit and perhaps a credit for Global Entry if you don’t already have it.

Anyway, you’ve got all your MR points and you’d like to see what you can do with them.

A new feature to the Amex Biz Platinum is the ability to book flights via the American Express Travel website and get 50% back.

So your 100,000 points would be worth double, or $2,000 worth of flights. That’s a good benefit for someone who travels frequently, though it should be noted it must be with your “selected airline.”

You get to pick one airline for both your annual credit and this new perk. That’s all good and well.

Alternatively, you could transfer your points out of Amex and into a different reward currency, such as into British Airways Avios, or Etihad Guest Miles. These options offer 1:1 transfers, meaning 1,000 points is worth 1,000 miles.

Again, great deal for the person looking to fly somewhere sometime soon.

But what happens if you don’t actually have a trip planned? Or don’t want to use your Membership Rewards for travel?

Well, this is where things get kind of sucky. You see, the value of Membership Rewards points tanks when they aren’t used for travel.

For example, if you want cash, you can’t really get it. Instead, you can redeem your hard-earned points for an Amex gift card at 2:1 value. If you burn through all 100,000, you’ll get the equivalent of $500.

That’s not very awesome, is it?

What Are Amex Points Good For?

Amex merch

Same goes for merchandise purchased with Amex MR points. You’re looking at 2:1 in many cases, valuing the points at just .50 cents each.

If you want to use the points for charges, a la statement credit, the ratio isn’t very good either. You’re looking at $600 for those 100,000 points, or .60 cents value.

There are some third-party gift cards you can redeem for that offer 1:1 value, such as Chili’s, or Home Depot, but come on, you can get those for a discount on sites like GiftCardGranny.

Same goes for Uber, you get 1:1 value. But most folks aren’t looking for 1:1 value…they’re looking for something exceptionally better to make that steep annual fee (and all that spending) worth it.

If you look at alternatives, like Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Preferred, you get way more options, even if you don’t have any plans to fly anywhere.

Most importantly, you’re given the option to redeem your points for cash at a 1:1 ratio, so you could get $1,000 no questions asked and do whatever you’d like with it. Even use it for travel eventually!

The moral of the story here is to look into the redemption options of the awards currency you’re earning to see if it will actually benefit YOU.

Many of the points blogs are travel-oriented, so they assume you’re going somewhere. If you’re not, you might be disappointed with what you wind up with.

That’s why a Chase card that earns Ultimate Rewards might be the better choice for the individual who is unsure if they’ll be traveling anytime soon.

What You Can Do with 100,000 Amex Membership Rewards Points

Amex gift card – $500.00
Donate to charity – $1000.00
New York City Taxis – $1000.00
Reserve flights via Amex Travel – up to $2000.00 (with 50% points refund)
Reserve prepaid hotels via Amex – $700.00
Shop with MR points – $500.00
Shop with Points at Amazon – $700.00
Telecharge – $500.00
Ticketmaster – $500.00
Third-party gift cards – up to $500.00
Transfer to airline/hotel partners – sky is the limit
Transfer to Plenti – $800.00
Uber – $1000.00
Use points at Best Buy – $700.00
Use points for Airbnb – $700.00
Use points for charges – $600.00

(photo: Paul Sableman)