2016 was the year of the sign-up bonus. From the release of Chase Sapphire Reserve to multiple leaked links for the American Express Platinum 100,000 point sign-up bonus, my point balance is higher than ever. Since I solely use credit card rewards for travel, I picked a few of my favorite travel credit cards from 2016. This list is based on offers available this year and the benefits of each card.
Top Hotel Credit Card
I’ve written about my love for the Hyatt credit card previously and it still remains at the top of my list. Despite an increase in spending requirement (it’s now $2,000 in the first three months up from $1,000), this credit card can provide ridiculous value depending on how you choose to redeem your two free nights.
While some of the most expensive hotels book up quickly, you should have no problem redeeming them if you plan ahead. The Park Hyatt New York which goes for upwards of $1,000 per night can be yours for the cost of a $75 annual fee! I should note that the annual fee was previously waived for the first year. Regardless, I still think the Hyatt credit card is worth it.
I recommend holding onto this card even though there is an annual fee since you get a free anniversary night at a category 1-4 property each year. The card also comes with Platinum Status which is good for late check-out and preferred rooms upon arrival (e.g. higher floor).
Top Airline Credit Card
In September, Delta increased the sign-up bonuses on both of their American Express co-branded cards, Delta Gold and Delta Platinum. Normally I’d recommend going for the Gold card since the annual fee is waived for the first year, but the Delta Platinum offer was higher than usual at 70,000 points. The full offer included 70,000 miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You also get a $100 statement credit if you make a Delta purchase in the first 3 months. While the annual fee is $195, the statement credit and miles help offset it.
While the public offer is now only 35,000 miles, you can still sign-up for the 70,000 mile offer here through 2/1/2017.
My strategy for this card is to hit the spending requirement quickly and use the miles within the first three months. That way you can use this credit card to pay for the fees on the award flight which will trigger the $100 statement credit.
Top Luxury Travel Credit Card
I’ve documented my favorite benefits of this card previously but the highlights are: $300 travel credit per calendar year (and travel is a liberal category at Chase!), points worth 1.5 times when booking travel through Chase’s portal, and 3x points on dining (also liberal) and travel.
While the annual fee is high at $450, the benefits from the first year more than pay for it. Even if you think you’re more suited for Chase Sapphire Preferred, it’s worth signing up for this card and downgrading or canceling. You can get $600 in travel credit and the 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points before paying the second annual fee. This card will be around for a while, but I’m not sure how sustainable the sign-up bonus is so get it sooner rather than later.
Top Fixed-Value Travel Credit Card
Fixed-value travel credit cards get a bad rap since they’re essentially cash back cards that you can only use for travel. I still think they’re useful for flights that aren’t worth booking with miles, stays at Airbnbs, and other travel-related purchases like tours or cruises.
With an increased 50,000 point sign-up bonus, this year’s best fixed-value travel credit card is Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard.
This card earns 2 points on all purchases and has no annual fee for the first year. One of the main benefits of this card over similar ones is that you get 5% of your points back after every redemption. Even if you don’t see yourself using this card in the long-term, it’s worth getting it for the bonus. It’s also possible to churn this card which adds to its value.
Top Transportation (non-airline) Credit Card
The Amtrak Guest Rewards World MasterCard may be completely useless for some people but I actually think it’s a decent card. Sometimes the train is a better alternative to flying; there’s no security line and you can show up right before boarding. Since I like to visit New York City, taking the train is usually the best bet from Boston unless you don’t mind hours of bus traffic. The 20,000 point bonus offer is good for at least two roundtrip rides from Boston to New York. The card has $79 annual fee but it has some other perks to offset this. First, you get a 5% point rebate when you book Amtrak award travel. You also get a companion coupon, one-class upgrade, and single-day ClubAcela pass as as a welcome gift and a companion coupon and one-class upgrade each year.
Click here for the full list of top travel credit cards. What credit cards are at the top of your list?