As 2020 unfolds, this is the perfect time to take stock of travel goals and develop a strategy for the coming year. Your personal plan will depend on what’s important to you: is it airline miles, hotel points, ease and comfort while traveling, or the opportunity to indulge in special travel experiences? Depending on your goals, here are the best cards to help you achieve them. Bear in mind that signup offers fluctuate, so you’re better off focusing on the card’s ongoing earning power.
Best Card for Transferable Points
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa From Chase: Transferable points are usually the most valuable currency of all, since you’re not locked into a single frequent flyer program. Marriott Bonvoy takes the prize in this category with a whopping 43 airline transfer partners. Points transfer at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000-mile bonus for each 60,000 points transferred, netting you 25,000 airline miles for 60,000 points.
The current signup bonus for the Boundless Visa is 100,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first three months of card membership. The card earns six points per dollar at Marriott properties and one point per dollar elsewhere, all for a comparatively reasonable $95 annual fee.
Runners-Up: American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points are two of the best currencies to have. Amex points transfer to 17 airlines and two hotel programs, while Chase points can be exchanged with 10 airlines and three hotel chains.
The Platinum Card from American Express and The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN have current bonuses of 60,000 points, with annual fees of $550 and $595 respectively; they earn five points per dollar on flights and prepaid hotels at American Express and one point for everything else.
You have two options with Chase. The Sapphire Reserve ($550 annual fee) has a bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months; it gives triple points for both travel and worldwide dining, and the annual $300 travel credit (applied automatically) helps offset the fee. The Sapphire Preferred tops the Reserve with a 60,000-point bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months, with a lower annual fee of $95. The card earns double points on travel and dining.
Best Hotel Credit Card
World of Hyatt Visa from Chase: This card has rich benefits for Hyatt loyalists. The signup bonus is 25,000 points after spending $3,000 within three months, plus another 25,000 points after a total of $6,000 in spending within six months. You earn four points per dollar at Hyatt properties, on top of the five points per dollar for being a World of Hyatt member. You also receive a free anniversary night at Category 1-4 hotels. In addition, the WOH card is the only one that allows you to spend your way to elite status. You’re given Discoverist status just for having the card and receive five qualifying night credits; for every $5,000 spent, you get an additional credit of two qualifying nights. The annual fee is $95.
Runner-Up: The Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express is the only hotel card to come with top-tier status (Diamond). The current signup bonus is 150,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months, with the ability to earn 14 points per dollar at Hilton properties, along with seven points on flights, car rentals and U.S. restaurants. The $250 airline credit and $250 Hilton resort credit more than offset the $450 annual fee.
Best Airline Credit Card
United Explorer Card From Chase: The current signup bonus is 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months; you receive double points on restaurants, hotels and United purchases. The annual fee of $95 is waived the first year, and cardholders get their first checked bag free. Best of all, United is a member of Star Alliance, so you can use your miles to book flights on 27 partner airlines.
Runner-Up: The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card from Chase has a current bonus of 75,000 points: 40,000 after spending $1,000 in the first three months, plus an additional 35,000 after a total of $5,000 in spending within six months. This gives you a head start toward earning the Southwest Companion Pass, one of the sweetest deals in travel—you receive unlimited flights for a designated companion for the cost of taxes and fees. 125,000 qualifying points are needed, and credit card bonuses count. The card has an annual fee of $99; it gives you double points on Southwest purchases, along with 6,000 anniversary points.
Best Card for Luxury Travel
The two versions of the American Express Platinum Card (see above) are the clear winners in the category. They give you an exceptionally wide range of valuable benefits: Gold status with Hilton and Marriott; a $200 annual credit for incidental airline fees; elite status with Avis, Hertz and National Car Rental; a $100 credit for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry; access to Fine Hotels & Resorts and the International Airline Program. Amex also has the largest lounge network on the planet, allowing you entry into Priority Pass lounges, their proprietary Centurion lounges, Delta Sky Club (when flying Delta that day), as well as Escape, Airspace, Lufthansa and Plaza Premium lounges.
Best Business Travel Card
Chase Ink Business Preferred: The signup bonus is a tempting 80,000 points after spending $5,000 on purchases in your first three months. You receive triple points on the first $150,000 each year on travel, shipping, cable and Internet, as well as advertising on social media and search engines. The annual fee is $95.
Summary: Maximize your travel rewards by applying for the cards that best suit your spending patterns; while the signup bonus is important, the real payoff is the rate for ongoing spending on the card.