I receive compensation for content and many links on this blog. Citibank is an advertising partner of this site, as is American Express, Chase, Barclays and Capital One. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by my advertising partners. I do not write about all credit cards that are available -- instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same). Terms apply to the offers and benefits listed on this page.
In June I wrote the truth about each airline and hotel chain in a nutshell. Jim asked me to do the same thing for each of the major rewards credit cards.
Airline rewards cards:
You get airline cards for their initial bonus and for travel benefits like early boarding and free checked bags (if you don’t already have elite status). Ongoing spend is generally more valuable on bank cards whose points transfer to a variety of airline frequent flyer miles programs.
- Don’t spend money on the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card [offer expired], you want it if you live in a Delta hub city and lack status, but you’ll earn more points using American Express Membership Rewards cards and you can choose to transfer those points to Delta or to other airlines.
- The same holds for a UnitedSM Explorer Card, Chase points transfer to United and you earn points faster with Chase Ultimate Rewards cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card. (United is reportedly mad at Chase over this.)
Notably though the UnitedSM Explorer Card may have the best benefits of a mass market airline card, because (1) United’s Basic Economy is the most draconian, so you need the card or elite status in order to still bring a full sized carry on bag on board, and (2) you’ll get 2 one-time United Club passes each year for your account anniversary as well. The card gets you access to last seat availability on extra miles awards as well as extra saver award availability that general members don’t have.
- The one reason to spend on a Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is that the points you earn count towards a companion pass, where you get to designate one person to travel with you for just the cost of taxes when you fly Southwest either on a paid ticket or on points.
Cathay Pacific First Class
Hotel rewards cards:
You get hotel cards for help with hotel elite status, and for annual free nights — if you’re paying a fee for a hotel card it’s like buying a Groupon, you get a luxury hotel stay at a big prepaid discount.
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card gets you Gold status from Hilton, the only mid-tier hotel status that comes with complimentary breakfasts. Each year you spend $15,000 on the card you’ll earn a weekend night reward, and $40,000 in a calendar year earns Hilton Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.
- The World Of Hyatt Credit Card is the only one I want to spend money on, that’s because (1) they encourage you with free nights along the way, (2) it helps towards elite status, and (3) I find their status to be the most rewarding.
You get an annual free category 1-4 night each year at card renewal, and an additional free night after $15,000 in spend each cardmember year. It comes with 5 qualifying night credits towards elite status every year and 2 more elite nights for every $5,000 you spend on the card. That gets super rewarding because it stacks with nights you stay even on points, such as points transferred in from Chase and because you get another category 1-4 free night after 30 elite nights, a choice of gift card or points at 40 nights, confirmed suite upgrades at 50 nights, and a category 1-7 free night (plus Globalist status and assigned Hyatt concierge) at 60 nights.
- The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card gets you a free night after each account anniversary year at eligible IHG hotels worldwide; a free reward night each time they redeem points for any stay of 4 or more nights; and platinum status for as long as you remain.
- Marriott Bonvoy BoundlessTM Credit Card is worth getting for its initial bonus, worth keeping for the annual Free Night Award (which can be used at properties that require up to 35,000 points for the night) every year after account anniversary as well as for 15 Elite Night Credits each calendar year that can be used towards higher tier levels. However like most hotel cards spending is not well-rewarded.
Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
Bank rewards cards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the best card for getting started in miles and points, with the best initial bonus offer of any personal card at 60,000 bonus points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months from account opening. Where banks have made so much progress over airlines and hotel programs is the ability to transfer points to a variety of different programs, and choose which one later — that gives you tons of flexibility to have the points you need, when you need them, with the program that offers you the award you want.
- Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card is the fastest-earning small business card with 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening and 3x earning on the first $150,000 spent on travel; shipping; internet, cable and phone services; and advertising with social media sites and search engines.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve® was the ‘it’ card when it first launched with a 100,000 point bonus, now it’s half that and other rewards cards have done a lot to catch up, but 3x earning on travel and dining remains strong. (This is not my referral link, information about the product is neither provided nor reviewed by its issuer.
- American Express® Gold Card is my go-to for restaurant and on up to $25,000 per calendar year of U.S. supermarket spend, earning 4x in those categories.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express gets you access to more airport lounges than any other card, encompassing Centurion, Delta, Priority Pass, Plaza Premium, Airspace, and Escape lounges. It comes with modest Hilton and Marriott status too.
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has come out of nowhere over the past year to become a double threat, 2% back on spend towards travel as always but now points also transfer to airline miles.
- The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express is the best single card for otherwise-unbonused spend, offering a full 2 Membership Rewards points on your first $50,000 in purchases per year.
- Citi Prestige Card was once a benefits-rich card to rival Amex Platinum, now Citi has done a 180 making it weak on benefits and strong on points-earning. 4th night free hotels has been devalued, no more American Airlines lounge access or golf benefit and Citi’s gutting travel protections. However it now earns 5x on air (like Amex Platinum) and on restaurants (beating slightly Amex Gold).
Etihad First Apartment