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Let me start by admitting that I haven’t paid for a flight in about a year, if not longer. At least not paid in full with cash. In 2016 I decided I was ready to utilize miles and points to book travel, so the credits cards I applied, and was approved for, became my top travel credit cards. Right now I’m living in Medellin, Colombia and I got here on a flight that cost me just 17,500 miles. Did I have a horrible overnight layover for that price? Yes. I booked last minute. But thanks to one of my cards I have airport lounge access, so I thankfully did not have to stay curbside and bunk in an uncomfortable chair for the night.
Here are my top travel credit cards:
4. Barclaycard Arrival Plus
Points: 40,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days
Perks: No foreign transaction fees; Earn 2x miles on all purchases; Get 5% miles back.
Annual Fee: $89 (waived the first year)
It’s important to note that the 40k miles bonus aren’t actually miles at all. This bonus is also the equivalent of a $400 statement credit.
This is my least favorite card because unlike most cards that offer miles, there’s no travel portal to go to and redeem them. That’s why it’s #4 on my top travel credit cards list. You would instead make travel related purchases and then use the miles as a statement credit. The catch? The purchase has to be over $100. I had to read that somewhere when trying to figure out why my $70 flight from Medellin to Cartagena would not be erased. However, my airbnb’s costs were completely covered, thankfully. I normally don’t make big purchases, especially not travel related ones, so I was lucky to have these expenses and they be erased from my statement.
Points: 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within 3 months of opening your account.
Perks: No foreign transaction fees; 1st checked bag free; Preferred boarding; Receive 25% savings on eligible in flight beverage and food purchases; Earn 2 miles on every $1 AA purchases and 1 mile for all others; Earn 10% of your redeemed Advantage miles back (up to 10,000 per calendar year).
Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first 12 months)
I’m in the minority here, but I actually like American Airlines. I think DC is a major hub for them, so ever since I started flying, and specifically from DC, most of my flights have been on American Airlines.
I don’t appreciate boarding AA flights and there’s no in flight entertainment in the form of screens in headrests, but these are first world problems.
While they’re in no way my favorite carrier (I honestly don’t have one), their points are valuable to me, which is why I have not one, but two American Airline Advantage credit cards. I wanted those points!
My favorite perks of their cards are that I get preferred boarding. I literally sit and watch everyone line up to board knowing that they’ll most likely call my group before the majority of the flight, no matter if I’m sitting at the front of the plane or the very last seat. I just like to be seated and comfy pretty early on. The other great perk is earning 10% of your redeemed miles back. So this 17, 500 mile flight that I took? I got 1,750 of those miles back.
2. Barclay AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite
Points: Earn 60,000 miles when you make your first purchase in the first 90 days AND pay annual fee
Perks: No foreign transaction fees; 1st checked bag free; Preferred boarding; Receive 25% savings on eligible in flight beverage and food purchases; Earn 2 miles on every $1 AA purchases and 1 mile for all others; Earn 10% of your redeemed Advantage miles back (up to 10,000 per calendar year); World elite travel services aka preferred access to valuable offers and experiences.
Annual Fee: $95
This is #2 on my top travel credit cards list because you get your 60k points from just making a purchase in the first 3 months and paying the annual fee. That’s it. No minimum spend. Buy a friggin stick of gum if you want, but any purchase will do. I also love the getting miles back after redeeming them, as mentioned previously.
Points: 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months (that’s $750 toward travel)
Perks: $300 annual travel credit (this goes toward any travel related purchase, even uber and UberEats); 3x points on travel and dining purchases; 50% more in travel redemption; Receive $100 in application fee credit for TSA Pre Check or Global Entry; Priority Pass Lounge Access and many more elite travel benefits.
Annual Fee: $450
This baby? Oh it goes at the very top of any “Top Travel Credit Cards” list. Yes, the annual fee is high but I’ve never been more content with giving up $450 every year for something. I must admit that when the fee hit this year, I had to check my statement because I thought my card was stolen. Ha!
I was one of the very first to have this card. Shortly after it’s release, there’s was actually a shortage of metal plated cards, but I’d already had mine. I also was able to get the 100k sign on bonus, but as Chase Ultimate Rewards are the most valuable, in my eyes, 50k is still good. This was my third and last Chase product and the one I’ll stick with forever.
I use this card every time I swipe, no matter what I’m buying. I cleaned out my points this year, ending with my trip to Paris, so it was more than worth it. I’ve also been to Bali and Mexico twice by utilizing my Chase Ultimate Rewards points, 100,000 of which came from my sign up bonus on this card. #WINNING
If the annual fee worries you, this is how us travel card users look at it. Yes, it’s $450, but you get $300 in travel credit and $100 toward your global entry or TSA recheck application, making this card really cost you about $50 for the first year. That $50 is well worth it for all of the other perks and savings you get. After the first year it’ll be more like $150 annually, which is still a hell of a deal and why I will never part ways with this card.
If you’re wondering how to spend that initial money in order to get your cards sign on bonus, check out this post I wrote about hitting your minimum spend.
As always, be responsible and do plenty of research before signing up for ANY credit card. I never carry a balance and pay them off once receiving my statement. Only buy what you need or would normally buy had you not had a credit card
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that should you sign up for, and are approved for a card, I will receive a small allotment of points for referring you at no additional cost to you.