We didn’t get to where we are by not taking advantage of incredible deals, and if you follow our lead you might achieve greatness someday. The most lucrative earnings are, by far, sign-up bonuses offered by various credit cards. And if you put all expenses possible on your cards, additional earnings can really add up. On this page we’ll share our favorite cards, organized by category of earning.
Bank Points Cards
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Regarded by most as the current “must-have” card for any serious participant in the points game, you should get as many of these cards as you possibly can. For safety reasons Chase will probably only let you have one, but if you don’t take them up on that offer you are an idiot. Though the 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points offer is dead, you can still earn 40,000 delicious points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of card ownership (plus an additional 2,800 after the annual 7% dividend you’ll receive on those points). You’ll also earn 2x points on dining and travel spending, there is no foreign transaction fee, and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
Chase Ink Bold Business
The Ink Bold Business card can be considered the Sapphire Preferred of the business card world, and it makes a great companion for earning additional Ultimate Reward points, particularly on your business expenses. You’ll receive 50,000 UR points after spending $10,000 in the first three months, and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year. You’ll also earn 5x points on select business category spending up to $50,000 per year, mostly notably on Vanilla Reloads for your Amex Bluebird. If you mean business, or are at least willing to tell Chase that you do, you should not be without this card.
A new Ink Bold offer is expected in mid-November.
Chase Ink Plus Business
The Ink Plus card is virtually identical to the Ink Bold card, but it is a credit card rather than a charge card. This distinction is critical in that it means you can sign up for both.
Chase Freedom Card
The Chase Freedom card is in some ways the Cabernet Sauvignon of the credit card world: while enjoyable on its own, its true brilliance comes out when paired with the delicious steak that is the Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Bold. This essential combination enables you to convert the points earned on the Freedom card into fully-transferable Ultimate Rewards points, as opposed to only having a cash back option. The card offers rotating quarterly earning bonuses of 5x points and has no annual fee, so it is an efficient way to maximize your spending in various categories. The current offer is a measly 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points, but in the past there have been fairly regular 20,000+ offers, so it makes sense to wait until one is available. Vegetarians and those on the wagon need not apply.
American Express Platinum Card
A true classic in the travel card world, the American Express Platinum has maintained much of its appeal despite the recent run of competition from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. In addition to the current 50,000 Membership Rewards sign up bonus (after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership), the card comes with numerous perks: an annual $200 airline fee credit, no foreign transaction fees, a $100 credit to cover the cost of Global Entry registration, lounge access with American, Delta and US Airways, and a free Priority Pass Select membership. You will also receive complimentary upgraded status with Avis, Hertz and National Car Rental, as well as Gold Preferred status with the Starwood Preferred Guest program. The card has a hefty $450 annual fee, but these perks make it well worth the money in our mind, particularly in the first “year” of membership, given that the airline fee credit works on a calendar year basis. A business version of the Platinum card is also available but requires you to spend $5,000 in the first 3 months.
American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card
Another mainstay of those looking for great earnings per dollar, the Premier Rewards Gold card maximizes certain spending by offering 3x points on airfare, 2x points on gas and groceries, and 1x points on all other purchases. The card currently offers a 25,000 Membership Rewards sign up bonus after spending $2,000 in three months, though that bonus has been significantly higher in the past. If you are prone to ballin’ outta control, you can receive an additional 15,000 MR points for spending $30,000 on the card in a calendar year. The $175 annual fee is waived the first year, but the card does have foreign transaction fees, so keep your ballin’ stateside.
The card is also available in a business version that earns 3x points on airfare, 2x on gas, advertising and shipping, and 1x on all other spending. There have been sign up bonuses for the business version in the past (including a recent one-day-only 75,000 bonus), but there is currently no bonus offered.
American Express Mercedes-Benz Platinum Card
The Mercedes-Benz Platinum Card is similar to the standard Platinum card, but is designed specifically for those who would like to support “ze Germans.” You’ll receive 50,000 MR points after spending $1,000 in the first three months (most likely on gas for your new Benz), and the cards other perks are very similar to those offered by the standard Platinum. Though the card’s annual fee is slightly higher than the Platinum’s at $475, there is an added incentive of a $1,000 certificate good towards the purchase or lease of a new Mercedes after spending $5,000 on the card. Given our appetite for Benzes, our only question about this card is how many certificates you can get in a single year.
Airline Miles Cards
Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature and American Express Cards
Long a staple of the travel community, the Citi AAdvantage cards offer a great way to rack up American Airlines miles quickly. The Visa and American Express cards can be applied for simultaneously (it is recommended to use different web browsers) for a total sign up bonus of 100,000 miles. You’ll need to spend $2,500 on each card in the first four months to get the bonus, but the $85 annual fee is waived the first year. Other card benefits include two Admirals Club passes. Citi is also notorious for offering generous retention bonuses, and we have yet to pay the annual fee on an AAdvantage card, despite having held them several times over many years. A MasterCard version is also available, though the sign up bonus is generally lower.
Barclays US Airways Mastercard
A much overlooked card in our opinion, the US Airways Mastercard offers a chance to tap a different bank (Barclays – yeah, what the hell is that?), while still getting a sizable bonus of 40,000 US Airways miles after your first purchase. The $89 annual fee is waived the first year and you receive an additional 10,000 Dividend Miles every card anniversary. In addition to some boarding and baggage perks, two lounge passes, and a $99 companion pass, you also get a discount of 5,000 miles on US Airways award flights. For example, if you feel stressed and want to go to Amsterdam in January or February (off-peak months), the card’s anniversary bonus alone will afford you a trip in coach every three years. On top of all this, we have heard numerous successful reports of people churning this card. Not too shabby for valuable Star Alliance earning!
Chase United MileagePlus Explorer
Yet another great offering from Chase, this card makes the perfect addition to your repertoire if you have maxed out the Ultimate Rewards offerings and are looking to accrue more Star Alliance points. In the past, if you have some miles in your United account, you have been able to trigger a 60,000 offer after logging in at United.com, though this seems to have been pulled recently. We therefore suggest you wait to apply for this card.
Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus
One of the best cards to accumulate points for domestic travel, the Chase Southwest card rewards you with a 50,000 point sign up bonus after you spend $2,000 within the first three months of having the card. Though redemption values are tied directly to flight costs and can therefore fluctuate, Southwest’s program offers incredible flexibility because there are no blackout dates. If you’ve got domestic travel to do and you can stand the thought of flying economy, we’d highly recommend this card. The $69 annual fee is not waived the first year, but the annual bonus of 3,000 points essentially nullifies this cost.
American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles
The Amex Gold Delta card currently offers a 30,000 SkyMiles bonus after spending $500 in the first three months, which, given the ease of Delta’s award program, has got to be worth at least $25 or so. The bonus has been higher in the past and it might therefore be best to hold off, unless you are strongly in need of SkyMiles and have already taken advantage of the larger Membership Rewards card offerings. If you happen to fly Delta a lot, there are boarding and baggage perks associated with the card however, and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
American Express also offers two other Delta cards, both with higher annual fees and lower sign up bonuses, though those cards come with Medallion Qualification Miles and might therefore be worth investigating if you are specifically in need of MQMs.
Tip: We have at times seen offers to apply for this card while shopping on Delta.com where you can receive all of the above as well as a $50 credit against the ticket(s) you are purchasing that day. There have also been sign up bonuses of up to 70,000 SkyMiles recently, so you might want to wait for a higher offer.
Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card
Though its rewards program is often overlooked, Alaska Airlines offers some great redemption options through its partner awards. This card currently offers a fairly measly 25,000 mile sign up bonus, but we have heard numerous reports that it is churnable. The card also comes with a valuable $99 companion certificate, valid in any class of travel. Unfortunately, there are many complaints out there about Bank of America approving an applicant for a lower Platinum Plus or Preferred version with bonuses of only 5,000 and 3,000, so apply at your own risk. The $75 annual fee is not waived the first year.
Chase British Airways Visa Signature Card
With the Chase British Airways Visa, you’ll receive 50,000 Avios points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of having the card. The card also has no foreign transaction fees and features Smart Chip technology, which can help speed up transactions in Europe. You’ll earn 1.25 Avios points on every dollar spent and, if you are a big spender, you can earn a potentially lucrative Travel Together Ticket after spending $30,000 within a single calendar year. The ~ £60 annual fee is not waived the first year, and is also payable in the form of 95 U.S. dollars.
Hotel Points Cards
American Express Starwood Preferred Guest
A perennial favorite of those deep in the game, this card is prized largely for the flexibility and value of its points. The sign up bonus is currently 25,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first six months, but 30,000 point offers tend to appear each year, so it might make sense to wait, unless you are in urgent need of a SPG injection. Starwood points transfer to a large number of airlines and are eligible for a 5,000 point bonus on each 20,000 points transferred, meaning an effective earning rate of 1.25 miles for every dollar spent if used for miles. Even if not transferred, these points can be redeemed for rooms at Starwood properties, where the Cash & Points option often offers fantastic value. The $65 annual fee is waived the first year.
Note: If you’re feeling generous, please shoot us an email and we’ll refer you for this same deal and receive a 5,000 SPG bonus of our own in the process. Rest assured those 5,000 points will go to good use!
Chase Hyatt Visa Signature Card
The recently updated Hyatt offer presents cardholders with two free award nights at any Hyatt property worldwide after spending $1,000 within the first three months of having the card. Yes, you read that right: ANY HYATT PROPERTY WORLDWIDE. There is tons of value to be had here, particularly if you’re planning on being in a city with a Park Hyatt property any time soon.
Current Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum members also receive two Suite Upgrade Awards after the first spend. In lieu of any of the above, current Diamond members receive two Suite Upgrade Free Night Awards after their first purchase. Each anniversary you’ll also get one free award night for any category 1-4 property. The card has no foreign transaction fees, but there is a $75 annual fee that is not waived the first year.
Update: Million Mile Secrets shows you how to get the same offer with a $100 statement credit!
Chase Priority Club Select Visa
Another strong hotel card from Chase, the Priority Club Visa offers 60,000 points after first use along with an annual free night certificate. You’ll also get Gold status and a 10% points redemption rebate as long as you have the card. The card earns 5x points on Priority Club spending and 2x points on gas, groceries and dining. In our opinion this card is a must have, as the annual fee is more than covered by the points rebate and the annual night certificate. The $49 annual fee is waived the first year.
Update: Numerous Points Envy readers have received 80,000 points by applying through the link posted on the FlyerTalk forum here.
Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card
While we aren’t generally big fans of Marriott’s rewards program, this card offers a nice chunk of perks upon the cardholder’s first spend: 50,000 bonus points, a free night in a category 1-4 property and 15 nights towards elite status. The $85 annual fee is also waived the first year, and there is a free night award in a category 1-5 property each card anniversary. There are also no foreign transaction fees. Not too bad if you feel like slumming it at a Marriott every once in a while.