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  • Stephanie Grace
  • "What are the best travel rewards credit cards?"

Stephanie Grace

Los Angeles, California

What are the best travel rewards credit cards?

I am planning on traveling back and forth between LA and the UK in the coming year. I don't have many loyalty memberships with tons of frequent flyer miles/points racked up. I am thinking of opening a type of credit card that automatically gives you travel points or frequent flyer miles upon signing up.

Any recommendations or advice? 

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9 Answers

  • John Sappington

    top answer by

    My wife and I have traveled to Europe every other year since 1989 and we have flown free every time except for two trips. I have both United Mileage Plus and U.S. Airways Cards, as well as a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card that gives Chase Ultimate Award points. The Chase points transfer 1 point to 1 mile to United Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, British Airlines (called avios instead of miles), and Virgin Atlantic. They also transfer to Hotels and Amtrak. (The best hotel chain to transfer to is Hyatt, because their free stays require fewer points). To get to London, United and British are available through Chase points.

    If you fly economy on United by using the Chase transfer points or using the United Mileage Plus card miles, it will take 30,000 miles each way for Saver Awards and 65,000 miles each way for Standard Awards, plus tax of about $6 to $12 on the way over and about $200 on the return (because of high fees and taxes to fly out of the UK). It's easier to get Saver Awards mid-week and in non-summer months. Right now, nonstop Saver Awards are available are available through May and after September for LAX to Heathrow, and on some one-stop flights through the summer. United partners through Star Alliance with Lufthansa and Air Canada (among others), and it is often easier to get Saver Awards with them, especially in the summer. Lufthansa charges a little more in taxes and Air Canada charges about the same. I flew Air Canada through Toronto to London in June and it was a pretty good ride and an easy transfer. The return flight from Munich to Chicago was good on United (although they have started to charge for alcohol in coach on international flights), but the leg on United from Chicago to LAX was really bad in economy- no entertainment and a really cramped seat for a flight that long.

    Virgin Atlantic is a great airline and you can transfer Chase points to them. However, they charge $475 each way for taxes and fees for a "free" ticket.

    The Chase Mileage Plus Explorer card gives you a free checked bag, early boarding, and a few other perks, and you should get 30,000 bonus miles when you charge $1,000 in the first three months and an extra 5,000 miles if you add another card user and make a charge in the first 3 months. This is down from as much as 50,000 miles previously given for spending $3,000 in the first three months.

    British Airlines partners with American (and US Air until they merge totally with American) through oneworld. Economy MileSaaver Awards on American are 20,000 miles each way and 45,000 for Economy Anytime each way, considerably better than United. Awards booked LAX to London on British Airways website cost 25,000 avios for economy. I can't tell how much the taxes are now, but they have been more than $500 for a roundtrip ticket when I checked before. Because of the higher taxes, British flights have been easier to book. If they have lowered their fees, that may not be the case. The Citibank American Aadvantage Platinum Card gives you 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, with perks similar to United's cards, making it a better deal right now. I am going to cancel my US Airways Card and get this card shortly, so I get the 50,000 extra miles before the merger is complete and my US Air miles are rolled into an American account.

    There is one more type of credit card, which I am considering to replace my Chase Sapphire Card. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus Card gives you 2 miles for every dollar spent on anything. They are offering 40,000 miles (worth $400 in travel) when you get the card and charge $3,000 in the first three months. You book any travel on the card and use the accrued miles to get a credit for the travel charges when they become due. This allows you to book on any flight on any airline, which makes it easier to book nonstop flights and book at the last minute. Since you get 2 miles for every dollar, if you charge $10,000 on the card, you get 20,000 miles, worth $200 in travel credit. It's usually not quite as good a return as booking saver awards through United or American, but it gives you much more flexibility. Like the Sapphire and Mileage Plus cards, it has no foreign transaction fees. You also get back 20% of your miles when you use them to credit your account. You can use this card for all sorts of travel expenses, even those booked through sites like Priceline and Hotwire as long as the vendor codes them as travel.

    Now that you are completely confused, you can check online to compare travel credit cards at several websites, including nerdwallet.com. and cardhub.com. Good luck.

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    • Mark D.

      Mark D.

      That's some serious detail - awesome · (0 likelikes)

    • John S.

      John S.

      Thanks for liking my answer! · (0 likelikes)

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  • Peter Reinold

    answered first by

    HI Stephanie,


    i would suggest a credit card with the airline you take and you should stick with this airline or at least the alliance.

    For example with some airlines you get like up to 50.000 miles for signing up, you also get free checked backs or you can take a heavier bag instead of the lighter limit and you will earn miles to your account with every purchase. All the miles from the purchases and your flying miles can be redeemed towards free flights or upgrades. Because it is quiet a trip between this two cities, you will rack up miles quickly. But watch out! A couple airlines, like Delta, have changed their milage programm. You will now earn miles not anymore by miles flown - you will earn by dollars spent on a trip. And I dont think you want to buy this crazy expensive first class tickets to London or back.

    I guess you would like to fly non-stop. Check for the airlines which fly that route and check also their milage programm. It depends how much you will travel, if you reach a certain level you can also use their lounges which is quiet good especially on this long-haul flights.


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    • Justin S.

      Justin S.

      Great advice, Peter! These are important aspects to consider in an airline credit card. I also consider the airlines themselves based on which ones serve my hometown airport, and which alliances they're part of. · (0 likelikes)

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  • Brenda Burns

    Trippy Ambassadors are elite members of the community, hand picked to help you travel better! Interested? E-mail us at ambassadors@trippy.com.

    answered by

    I also use two Chase card. Chase mileage plus explorer Card and Sapphire. You get 10,000 points if you spend 25k on mileage plus and 7 percent of total miles on Sapphire (both end after next year). Plus 2 points per dollarfor all dining (fast food to fine dining) 3 points on the first Friday of the month and two points for travel related charges. Best of all if you go through the card's on line shopping, you can rack up huge points. Sometimes at a 15 to 1 ratio. I put EVERYTHING on the card and pay it off monthly. Flew round trip direct flight business class the last two years on Lufthansa. Check out the miles guy and other ff sites and compare. Always check seat guru before you book too.

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  • Ed Balogh

    answered by

    A caution about "fly any airline" non-affiliated bonus points. All Points are not created equal. The points that you accumulate on these cards, usually won't buy as a big a ticket as the ones airlines issue on their own flights.There is nothing to stop you from getting multiple cards on different airlines, except maybe bad credit. See where the airlines fly and consider how useful their destinations are to you if your credit capacity is restrictive. There are also marketing programs that you can register your cards with that give you extra miles for eating in restaurants in your home town that can improve the impact of your expenditures. These are great because if you don't otherwise have any activity on your miles account, your miles can expire! A well-timed meal in one of the restaurants from their list can protect those miles for future use. When spending the miles, treat them like money. Shop around for the best dates and destinations. You can fly to Montevideo for half the miles as Buenos Aires, Madrid is cheaper than
    Barcelona. Usually, the big introductory bonuses are for first-time customers, then they want to charge you a fee to keep the card after the first year. Rather than pay the charge, cancel the card and reapply as a business, and get another big bonus. If you don't have a business, you've got a year to start one. Usually if you tell them you are cancelling because you don't want to pay them for the privilege of skimming a percentage from every one of your purchases (what the merchants give up), they will waive or reimburse the annual charge, but a grundle more miles for changing is an even better deal. All these deals require that you put a goal amount of purchases on the card in the first few months, but just run everything through the card then pay it off with the cash you would have otherwise used. Remember the bonus miles are their bait. They usually don't have the best interest rates. So always pay them off every month, or you won't have the money or the free time to travel!

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  • Scott Mahaffy

    answered by

    Hello Stephanie! To piggy back on Peter's great answer, I would look at either OneWorld, or Star Alliance credit cards. It all depends on preference. My wife flies United often, so we have Explorer Credit cards. 50,000 mile sign up bonus, with minimal spending. Good perks too. With the miles you get by purchasing flights on this card, and the fact you will earn Gold status pretty quickly with your flights from LA to London. Once you have status, you also earn bonus miles on your flights. On the other hand, US Airways and American haven't completed their merger yet. You can still get a U.S. Airways card and get 50,000 miles and then an American Airlines card, which is also offering 50,000 miles. Once they merge, so will your miles. Again, you will have to meet some spending requirements. I would read up on those cards, then go into the websites of the airlines that have direct flights, especially United and American, since you U.S based. Look at the tiers of Premier levels and determine, based on your travels, which will reward you better for your loyalty. Hope that helps and safe travels!

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  • Asan Sahin

    answered by

    You can use Star alliance members milage program. So global.

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  • Elektra Alivisatos

    answered by

    I've heard great things about the Capital One Venture Card - even though you pay an annual fee, apparently it's totally worth it.

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  • Chris Tucker

    answered by

    IMHO its your AMEX card. That way you choose when you want to travel on who and how. I just call Amex travel and can split points and $, go all points or all $. The choice is all mine!

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  • Jeffrey willson

    answered by

    I use Chase ultimate rewards because it has the flexibility to transfer to many different airlines and hotels. You can sometimes get a good bonus for signing up (50,000 is pretty good, I got 70,000 once and heard rumors of 100,000). If I were looking for just specifically frequent flyer miles I would got with an airline specific card but this way I can transfer the point to a bunch of different places (hotels, airlines, even train)

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