Chase Sapphire Preferred
This card is the perennial best card for the award travel novice. The sizable sign-up bonus, plus a handful of strong transfer options, and the ability to simply book travel directly through Chase makes it a great first card. You can get a feel for all the potential travel rewards credit cards offer with little downside.
The typical sign-up bonus is 50,000 points, worth either $500 cash or $625 in travel, after spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months. This is typically offered with a $0 annual fee the first year.
However, there is a current offer for 60,000 points as a sign-up bonus, but the annual fee is *not* waived (LINK). This is a wash, in my opinion, as I would rather have 50,000 points scot-free, rather than paying $95 for 10,000 more Ultimate Rewards. You could always redeem points to offset the fee, but this would cut the extra bonus down to 500 points. Hardly worth writing home about.
But…if this $95 would go toward paid travel anyway, you can argue that the 10,000 points, worth at least $125, is a decent play. You’re netting an extra $30.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred also earns 2x points on dining and travel and 1x on all other purchases. You can read why it is a great into card in a previous post (SEE: 5 Reasons Why the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the Best Starter Travel Credit Card).
Remember that the Chase Sapphire Preferred is subject to the infamous Chase 5/24 rule (SEE: Trying to Understand the Chase 5/24 Rule). In a nutshell, if you’ve opened 5 or more new credit accounts in the past 24 months, Chase will not approve you for a new card. Also, if you have either the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, you are ineligible for a new Sapphire Preferred account. Lastly, the Sapphire products have their own 48-month restriction between bonuses; more than 4 years must have passed since your last bonus on one of these products to be eligible.
Citi ThankYou Premier
This card is back with a 50,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months, which is an excellent deal for this card (LINK).
This is Citi analog to the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Their points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed for travel through their portal, or you can transfer them to a number of partners. The best, in my opinion, are Singapore KrisFlyer, Avianca LifeMiles, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Etihad, and British Airways Avios.
The 50,000 bonus points are worth $625 in travel if booked through Citi’s portal. This makes the offer pretty comparable to the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The annual fee is waived the first 12 months.
Citibank has a decent array of transfer partners, but are lacking in the hotel arena, without any good options. Chase has Hyatt. But this is not to say that transferring your points to partners isn’t the way to go, as some offer great value (SEE: 3 Best Programs for Short-Haul Awards in the Western U.S.).
The Barclaycard Arrival+ has amazed me by continuing to offer the best intro bonus I’ve ever seen on the card, a whopping 70,000 miles. These can be yours after you spend $5,000 on the card in the first three months. The annual fee is $0, but $95 thereafter (LINK).
Note that Arrival+ “miles” are generally redeemed as a statement credit for travel purchases, which makes them more like cash back that actual miles. The card offers an excellent sign-up bonus, but is not a long-term keeper, in my opinion, unless you want something that earns essentially travel cash. But you put a lot of spend on it. As you get 5% of your miles back when you redeem them, this makes the return a hair better than a simple 2% cash back card. But the annual fee reduces this utility basically to zero.
However, the Barclaycard Arrival+ does have other benefits, such as no foreign transaction fees and collision coverage for rental cars, so even if you value these benefits marginally, these may make the fee worth it. Still, the ease of a 2% cash back card with a $0 annual fee cannot be understated (SEE: 4 reasons why you shouldn’t overlook cash back cards).
These are still the current best travel credit card offers for those just jumping into award travel. All three cards have the benefit of being useful for a variety of needs, as the points are flexible and can be used for cash bookings, or, in the case of Citi and Chase, transferred to partner programs. These are also also recommendations from personal experience, as I’ve held all three of these great products previously.
Finally, none of these links pay me anything. I recommend these cards because I truly see them as the best general travel credit card offers. However, if you want to support this blog, I do have access to some referral links that I can generate for you, I just can’t post them. Just send me a note through the Contact Me page.