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Today we’ll introduce what we consider the top credit cards in the travel rewards universe as well as some proposed options based on these top cards.

This lesson is not an attempt to detail every card in existence; we want to curate a list of cards that consistently offer top-notch travel rewards value from each signup:

Sapphire Preferred: The Sapphire Preferred is our top personal rewards credit card. It offers a generous bonus of Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points which transfer to over a dozen rewards partners (at least 2 in each airline alliance), so you have built in flexibility with your points strategy. Our four favorites are: United, Southwest, British Airways and Hyatt.

This an essential credit card to start racking up Ultimate Rewards points.  We’ve already described the importance of Chase’s 5/24 Rule, so this should be one of your first cards.

Click here to learn more about the


chase-ink-business-preferred-11-16Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card: This card offers the highly valuable transferable Chase Ultimate Rewards points (see Chase Sapphire Preferred® above).

It usually comes with a higher minimum spend than many cards to earn the bonus, but it is still a can’t miss card! As mentioned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card above, you need to open this card as one of your first 5 card applications as Chase has made getting approved nearly impossible if you’ve opened five cards in the last 24 months.


Chase Sapphire ReserveChase Sapphire Reserve® Card: Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® above, the CSR offers a nice bonus of Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points which transfer to 13 rewards partners, so you have built in flexibility with your points strategy. Our four favorites are: United, Southwest, British Airways and Hyatt.

The only hesitation with this card is you have to pay a $550 annual fee your first month, which is why we recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred® first. You can offset this fee by using the $300 travel reimbursement, which nets the fee down to $250.


Citi AAdvantage PlatinumCiti® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite MasterCard® (& similar business version):

AA’s generous off-peak award chart and its huge domestic flight network (former US Airways now included) make AA miles a must-have currency.

When this card has a 50,000 miles bonus it is a solid offer.


AMEX GoldAmerican Express® Gold Card (& similar business version): We highly value American Express Membership Rewards points because of the flexibility they afford with their many transfer partners (including British Airways, Delta, Jetblue, Singapore Airlines and many others).

You can often find a targeted offer in the mail for an increased bonus on this card (we’ve seen 50,000 – 75,000) with the annual fee waived the first year.

There are often transfer bonuses of 30%-50% on MR transfers to British Airways, so this is a great way to dramatically grow your stash of BA Avios points.

Air France is another solid partner as they offer discount award flights to Europe throughout the year and for those near Delta hubs, having Delta as a MR transfer partner is a big positive as well.


southwest premier newSouthwest credit cards (Multiple versions: Premier, Plus and Business all from Chase bank):

Southwest is a solid currency to use to fly in the continental US, and between these cards and Chase UR transfers, you should almost never run out of Southwest miles.

The Southwest Companion Pass is often referred to as ‘the holy grail’ of travel rewards, and we talk about it in detail in this article.


united_mileageplus_explorer_cardUnitedSM Explorer Card (& similar business version):

A solid card to pick up valuable United frequent flyer miles. We consider United miles the easiest to use when flying to Europe or Asia because their partner availability is significant, their website is very user-friendly and they do not ever pass on fuel surcharges.


British Airways NewBritish Airways Visa Signature® Card:

With the potential value of BA Avios miles for short-haul flights (under 1,150 miles one-way in actual distance), racking up Avios is an essential part of an overall travel rewards strategy.

We highly recommend these miles for use on American Airlines and Alaska Airlines flights within North America and an essential ‘sweet spot’ is using them to fly Aer Lingus to Dublin.


Venture CardCapital One Venture Rewards Credit Card:

These points can be used to offset any expenses that are coded as “travel” by the credit card company, which includes hotels, airfare, rental cars, trains, cruises, travel agencies and tour operators and more.

You also have up to 90 days to retroactively apply your miles against your travel expense(s), so it allows you to open this card, pay for your travel expense with the card and then complete the minimum spending requirement. This extra flexibility can be quite useful in a situation where you have a last-minute trip and you don’t have traditional points.


Spark Miles BusinessCapital One Spark Miles for Business: Nearly identical to the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for its ‘fixed value’ rewards except this is a business credit card.

Capital One Spark Cash for Business: Cash bonus offer on this card, which generally has a similar signup bonus to the Spark Miles card listed above; since the redemption is for cash back and therefore has greater flexibility, it would be slightly preferred in our opinion.


Proposed Options:

Note:  There is a very strong case to be made that due to Chase’s “5/24 rule” that your first five cards should all be from Chase so you aren’t locked out of them forever.

1. The Universal Strategy

  • Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

It is almost impossible to go wrong with any of the cards listed above as we find Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One Venture and American Airlines miles among the most versatile and valuable of all the point currencies.

This will always come down to your personal travel goals, airport options, etc., but you could easily make a case to add in United and Southwest cards.

2. The Domestic Strategy

From a domestic flight standpoint this is a great strategy, but please keep in mind that all Chase cards are subject to the Chase “5/24 rule” which states that you are likely to be rejected for Chase cards if you were approved for 5 or more personal cards in the prior 24 months (including card from any bank, including authorized user cards).

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®

3. The Flexible Strategy

Many people find the flexibility of the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One Spark Miles for Business quite valuable when starting out with travel rewards. We included those cards here with the transferable points from Chase and Amex which can be redeemed as cashback.

  • Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred®
  • American Express® Gold
  • Capital One Spark Miles for Business
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

4. The Big Bang Strategy

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Chase Sapphire Preferred®
  • Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
  • Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card
  • World of Hyatt Credit Card
  • The Platinum Card from American Express

These are just four of many potential options we could have come up with and you could really make nearly any combination of cards to fit your own travel needs.

Action Steps:

  1. Take the next few days to review the prior course materials to determine the exact cards you plan to open this time around. Then apply for some cards!
  2. Let us know about your strategy: Head over to the Facebook group and let us know your thoughts and plans and we’d love to offer some personalized advice.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.