One of my readers, Aimy, asked me to “find the best credit card that racks up the most points for travel” for her daughter. Well, I passed along that question to Dave who runs Free Travel Genius, a website dedicated to teaching readers how to travel for free by leveraging credit card points. Here is his response:
That is a very open ended question, so I will do my best. First, let me caveat that one should only be focused on getting reward points when they have good credit and are able to pay off their credit cards each month. If you are having difficulties, please read advice such as this post by guest blogger Ross. Otherwise, read on.
“Best” Travel Reward Credit Cards
There are three types of “best” cards. First are the ones with the best signup bonus. Next are the ones with the best long-term return on your spending. Finally, there are the cards that give you direct benefits (such as lounge access or free bag check). I am going to focus on the “Mega Bonuses” today since, for most people, this is how to amass a lot of free travel quickly. If you want to learn more about Long-Term Spending Cards or Travel Benefit Cards, please see my website.
My general rule is that I won’t sign up for a new credit card unless I get at least $400 in value back. There are just too many lucrative offers available today and there is a limit to how many new cards you can get each year. There are techniques to pull in hundreds of thousands of points each quarter, but I am going to give more realistic advice for a first timer and assume you will start with 1 or 2 cards (if your credit score is < 720, I would probably start with 1). Note that all of these techniques can be replicated for each family member over 18 with a good credit history and enough household income.
For those that fly domestic and live near a Southwest hub, the best card available right now is the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card by Chase. This card gives you 50,000 Rapid Reward points after your first purchase which translates into $833 of discount economy tickets on Southwest for a $69 annual fee. $833-69 = $764 net value by getting this card. Sounds great to me!
If you don’t fly domestic a lot, I would consider the Chase Sapphire Card to be a great alternative (note that it is difficult to get two new Chase cards within a few months). This card has no annual fee the first year and gives you at least 53,000 ultimate reward points after spending $3,000 within 3 months. You can simply have them send you $530 for the points (not bad for 30 minutes of work), get $625 toward airline travel or 53,000 United miles. If you travel international and/or business class a lot, the United Miles could be worth well over $1,000 to you.
If you are going for a second credit card on your first Mega Bonus run, take a look at my site for more ideas.
Crystal’s Comment: Hope this helps, Aimy! I just use my Discover More card to get 5% cash back in rotating categories and 1% overall. Then I can use the cash back on gift cards or just get cash directly for trips…