I remember the bribe I got when I applied for my first credit card. It 1998 and it was outside Doherty Hall at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. I remember walking to class and someone stopped me to ask if I wanted a t-shirt. I was a freshman, I had clothes but an extra t-shirt meant another day I didn’t need to do laundry!
I applied for an AT&T Universal Card, a t-shirt, and 50 minutes a month of free long distance calling so I could call my parents for free (remember, 1998). A pretty sweet deal if you asked me back then.
If you offered someone a t-shirt today, they’d laugh at you.
Credit card companies no longer offer toasters, t-shirts, or other anything like that. They’re offering money. If you are approved for a Chase Freedom card and spend $500 in your first three months, you get $150. CASH. Forget t-shirts, bonuses these days come in the form of free hotel rooms, free flights, and cash money. If you aren’t getting paid something to use a new card, you aren’t doing credit cards right.
Travel hackers have known this for years, getting new cards and accumulating massive numbers of points. My post about how to get to Walt Disney World for free revolves around credit card bonuses and rewards.
If you want to get some of your travel subsidized by credit card special offers and promotions, check the list below to see the best available. I will update this list with the best ones as often as they come out.
Best General Promotion
If you don’t have a specific plan and just want to get a card with a great bonus and a flexible rewards program, look no further than the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. The Chase Ultimate Rewards program is the most flexible general rewards program available. You can transfer 1:1 to British Airways Executive Club, Korean Air SKYPASS, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®, United MileagePlus®, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Hyatt Gold Passport®, IHG® Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards® and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®. When you book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, you get 20% off on airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises so your points go even farther.
One of the best cards in their portfolio is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Just look at it! It was named MONEY Magazine’s Best Credit Card for Travel Rewards.
You can get 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months, which is worth more in travel when you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. You also earn 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on other travel, 1x on everything else (plus a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit). There’s an annual fee of $95.
If all that wasn’t sexy enough, it is also a no foreign transaction fee credit card!
If you already have the Chase Sapphire card or were otherwise unable to get it, a good alternative is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. It offers a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening the account, equal to $750 in travel. You earn 2x miles on every dollar you spend and its flexible rewards program lets you fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime. There is a $95 annual fee.
Best Hotel Promotion
The best hotel promotion will largely rely on the hotel you tend to spend the most time in. If you don’t have one, then you’ll want to pick one with the largest geographic reach so that when you do need to use the rewards, you have a convenient hotel to choose from.
Here are the best cards based on major hotel brand:
- Marriot – Marriot Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card
- IHG – IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
- Hyatt – The World of Hyatt Credit Card
- Hilton – Hilton Honors American Express Card
If you are hotel agnostic, I recommend the Marriot Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card because the Marriott system is one of the largest and most widely available. I previously recommended Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott acquired Starwood in 2016.
I had a special spot in my heart for the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest program because two of Walt Disney World’s nicest hotels, the Disney Dolphin and Disney Swan, are Starwood properties. Oh, the good ole days. 🙂
Check out the card and see what you think:
If Marriott isn’t up your alley or you consider yourself a Conrad Hilton type of traveler, the Hilton Honors has partnerships with two credit card companies – Amex and Citi – with two compelling promotional offers. The Hilton Honors is a great program on its own because members, even at the lowest Blue level, get a ton of benefits. The redemption prices are not as good as SPG, with a free night starting at 5,000 points, and a schedule that isn’t as clear.
The Hilton Honors Card from American Express is the one I prefer. It feeds into the Hilton Honors program, offers an automatic upgrade to Silver Status (one up from the starter Blue status).
The Hilton Honors Card from American Express offers 100,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. You get Earn 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio. Earn 5X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets, and at U.S. gas stations. Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card..
Much like hotels, the best airline credit card really depends on where you live and which airline you fly the most.
For us, it’s Southwest so we only have one option – the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card. We use it to earn points so we hit the 125,000 points necessary for a companion pass, which lets my wife fly when I fly for free.
Otherwise, here are the best airline cards for each airline:
- British Airways Visa Signature Card – Get up to 100,000 Avios. . Earn 75,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening and earn an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 in the first 12 months of account opening..
- Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard – 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
American Express Business Card: See Rates and Fees. The Business Platinum Card(R) from American Express: See Rates and Fees. Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card: See Rates and Fees. Hilton Honors American Express Card: See Rates and Fees. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card: See Rates and Fees.