Sorting through hundreds of available travel cards to find the best one might seem like an impossible task. However, it becomes much easier if you remember one of the cardinal rules of the points and miles world: Transferable points are the most valuable currency you can have.
The reasoning behind it is simple. You may be exclusively loyal to a single airline or hotel chain—if so, there’s a card that will allow you to accumulate points or miles in that specific program. If you value flexibility, though, you want points that transfer to the largest number of airline or hotel partners.
Example: Say a trip to Singapore is at the top of your bucket list. The award-winning flag carrier, Singapore Airlines, is known for a fabulous inflight experience. While the airline is notoriously stingy with award space for partner airlines, booking an award is much easier if you’re a member of its frequent flyer program. Singapore Airlines happens to be a transfer partner of American Express, Chase, Citi and others. Enroll in the program, search for award space, transfer your points, and you’re on your way.
Depending on your individual priorities, here are the best travel rewards cards:
Low Annual Fee, Large Number of Transfer Partners
Capital One has jumped into the points and miles arena with a splash over the past year, and their Venture Rewards Card is well worth getting: it ranks in the top tier of travel rewards cards for comparatively little cost.
Pros: Signup bonus of 50,000 Venture Miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening; earn two miles per dollar spent; $95 annual fee, waived the first year; no foreign transaction fees; 15 airline transfer partners; $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck; through January 2020, 10 miles per dollar spent at hotels.com.
Cons: Miles transfer at a 2:1.5 ratio for most partners, except for Emirates, JetBlue and Singapore, which are slightly worse (2:1). Although this is offset by the earning rate, it’s not the 1:1 transfer ratio offered by many other cards.
Insider tip: This is a strong value proposition at a very reasonable price. Estimates on the value of Venture Miles range from 1 to 1.4 cents.
Most Valuable (And Some of the Most Versatile) Rewards Points
Chase Ultimate Rewards points are estimated to be worth 2 cents apiece with transfer partners, or a minimum of 1.5 cents when booked through the Chase Travel Portal. The Sapphire Reserve is Chase’s top travel rewards card, and it offers attractive earning rates on both travel and dining purchases. The $450 annual fee may seem high, but remember that you receive a $300 travel credit each year that effectively lowers the card fee to $150.
Pros: 50,000 bonus points when spending $4,000 in the first three months your account is open; earn triple points on all travel and dining; Priority Pass Select membership; $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck; points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to nine airline partners and three hotel partners (Hyatt, IHG and Marriott Bonvoy); primary car rental insurance, along with a host of other travel insurance benefits.
Cons: Recent reports indicate that qualifying for this card requires a high credit score and a very high income. The $450 annual fee has to be paid up front.
Insider tip: If you don’t qualify for the Sapphire Reserve, start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which offer some of the same perks for a more modest $95 annual fee. Once you establish yourself with Chase, you can apply for a product change to the Reserve in a year or two.
Luxury Travel Perks, Largest Number of Transfer Partners
When it comes to benefits, nothing compares to the Platinum Card from American Express or the Business Platinum Card from American Express Open. Both versions offer 18 airline partners and three hotel partners (Hilton, Choice Hotels and Marriott Bonvoy), and most transfer at a 1:1 ratio. If you can rationalize the annual fee ($550 for the personal card, $595 for the business version), this is the most valuable travel card to have. Most estimates value American Express Membership Rewards points at 1.5 cents apiece; shop around for signup bonus offers, which change constantly.
Pros: 65,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (personal); 50,000 points after spending $10,000 in the first three months, with an additional 50,000 points after $15,000 spending in the same period (business); gold status with both Hilton and Marriott; the largest lounge access program (including the American Express Centurion lounges, Priority Pass and five other networks); the largest number of transfer partners; $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck; $200 airline credit annually; discounts through the Fine Hotels and Resorts collection, plus a host of other benefits.
Cons: As noted above, the annual fees for these cards are stiff. Earning rates are also low (one Membership Rewards point per dollar), with the exception of five points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel.
Source: frugal travel guy