I am not here to sell credit cards. For more unbiased opinions on various credit cards, check out Andy’s regularly updated list at lazytravelers.net, Milenerd’s Top 25 credit cards, Doctor of Credit’s post on churning, and the Flyertalk credit card offer master thread. For some excellent insight and a great reality check, read this excellent post by Loyalty Lobby on credit cards and credit card marketing.
As of 10/28/2014, we have no affiliate links that pay us a commission, except a Discover card that I don’t link to because it has no signup bonus, and signup bonuses are frequently available. I guess we didn’t push Barclays cards enough to sell enough cards to make the affiliate link folks happy.
The United MileagePlus ® Explorer Card
I think this is one of the top programs and credit cards available for most families working toward award travel. It earns 50,ooo-55,000 miles after $1000-$2000 in purchases. I have written about this card in this post, and there is a good example of the ‘XN’ class of award space that this card gives in this award booking post. I have not included a link since the best offer may show up in your United account (EDIT April 2015: currently the 55K offer, along with a $50 statement credit, shows up if you search for a ticket at united.com). When the best available offer is 35K, you may be able to apply for it and then send a secure message to Chase from your online account asking them to match you to the 55K offer. The annual fee is waived the first year.
This is another card I would recommend to nearly everyone who can manage credit card(s) according to the warnings above. it earns 50K miles after spending $3000 within 3 months and, like United, American’s program allows for one-way award ticket redemptions. This card also offers a checked baggage fee waiver for the cardholder (regardless of the method used to purchase the ticket as long as the same AA# is attached to both the card and the ticket), Group 1 boarding and a 10% rebate of AA miles used up to 10K miles each year. The annual fee is waived the first year, and Citi usually offers a credit to offset the fee if you call to cancel after 11 months or so. Since the landing page linked above might die while leaving the application page working, the direct application is here. The 2015 language on this application says you must not have had a Citi AA Platinum Mastercard card open or closed within the past 18 months. If you have had one, check out the AA Executive card below.
I’ve been critical of this card as the first card to recommend since United, AA and Southwest cards all offer more bonus points, but it’s definitely one of the best personal cards for earning flexible points that can be transferred directly to United, Southwest, Hyatt and others. I recommend getting this one after getting the cards that give you the points you need first – AA, United, Southwest or others. This is the standard offer for this card and earns 40,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 within 3 months. The annual fee of $95 is waived the first year, and not worth paying the second year in our opinion.
With its 5X categories, this is the one card that we keep and pay annual fees on. If you can wait for a 60K or 70K offer, they come around regularly.
Those are the best starting points for nearly everyone looking for international travel. For domestic travel, look into Southwest (our referral link as well as links to all three Southwest cards are here) and the various British Airways sweet spots on AA and US. From there, the best cards become a lot less one-size fits all. Transferable points from the various Chase cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points, and AMEX cards that earn Membership Rewards points and SPG points, are usually the best way to build and add to balances in the various programs without being tied to one program. No generic recommendation I or anyone else can make is a good reason to not do your homework on what program will work best for your family. Feel free to email if you have questions about how to most efficiently collect miles and points for a trip you’re planning.
Citi Executive AAdvantage® World Elite MasterCard – 50,000 miles after spending $5000 within 3 months.
This card has been the best offer ever, as I wrote about here. It has received less attention since the bonus dropped from 100,000 miles, but it is still the best churnable offer out there. You can get this offer over and over – I got 6 of them from January to August. In fact, I was the first one to report successfully churning this card in this Flyertalk thread. The offer has changed, but otherwise pretty much all of the relevant details on the card’s benefits and ways to minimize fees can be found within pages 5-15 of that thread. The wiki there has a link to the new thread for the latest datapoints. Definitely get the Platinum card (link above) before going for this one. If you have any questions at all about churning this card, please shoot me an email. As of 1/24/2015 this working link does give the bonus miles regardless of which cards you have or have had.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®- 40,000 points after spending $3000 within 3 months.
This card has worked out for us like I thought it would when I first posted on Flyertalk about it in 2013, except for the whole trains in Europe part since Italian rail tickets were not coded by Mastercard as travel when we went. We use it now with MS as a tool to get 50% off or more on travel we cannot get with other points. It is still not the first card I would recommend, but an excellent complement to other cards. It became more lucrative as a MS tool when the RewardsBoost portal was paying 4 points per dollar on AMEX gift cards, but that portal is no longer paying on them at all. This is not an affiliate link and does not pay me a commission.
US Airways® World MasterCard®- 50,000 miles after first purchase for members with elite status
If you don’t have status with US Airways and are not instantly or automatically approved, you may be denied for not having elite status. If you are able to get instantly approved, you should get the bonus and benefits with no problems. I’ve written about this card here. It has an $89 annual fee that is not waived. We have been able to get the no-fee for the first year versions of this card which you can check for here on Flyertalk. The most recent information and datapoints will be in that thread. This application promises 10,000 miles at your anniversary. This is not an affiliate link and does not pay me a commission.
I’ve written about this card and its shortcomings here, but it’s a good card to get to add to your US Airways (and soon to be AA) balance. It has an $89 annual fee that is not waived. We have been able to get the no-fee for the first year versions of this card which you can check for here on Flyertalk. The most recent information and datapoints will be in that thread. This is not an affiliate link and does not pay me a commission.
The typical rewards card has a $3000 minimum spending requirement in order to earn the bonus. If you spend more than you had planned and wind up carrying a $1000 balance at 16% interest, and then make only the minimum payment of $20 each month, those miles will cost you $994.17 in interest and $855 in annual fees over 10 and a half years. $1,849.17 for points that aren’t worth half of that. This is really really stupid. Please do not be really really stupid. Or even a little bit stupid. If you currently carry any balance at all on any credit card, the focus should be on paying that off, not getting more credit. Please do not use these links if you have credit card debt that you are paying interest on, or if you are unable to pay your bills in full every month! I recommend looking at the lists linked above before deciding on a rewards credit card program!