Top 15 Most Valuable Travel and Rewards Credit Cards 2016

The following table contains the top 15 travel and rewards cards based on value received through sign up bonuses and usage. The value that you receive from any card may differ, based on your particular usage patterns and whether you are able redeem points you earn for the most valuable rewards.

Also see our list of the 10 best credit cards based on the value of the sign-up bonus!

Card Sign-Up Bonus / How To Accrue Points Redemptions for Maximum Point Value A Great Card for People Who

The Barclaycard® World Elite Arrival Plus Mastercard®

The Barclaycard® World Elite Arrival Plus Mastercard® 2.1%
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Bonus:
Receive 50,000 points when you spend $3,000 within 3 months. That's like $525 in free money!


Points:
2x per every dollar spent on the card.  Points have a 1 cent value when redeemed for direct statement credits against travel and earn a 5% point bonus on each redemption.  $89 fee, waived first year.
Points are redeemable only for travel statement credits, against virtually any travel charge.

Citi ThankYou® Premier (same spending rewards as ThankYou® Prestige)

Citi ThankYou® Premier (same spending rewards as ThankYou® Prestige) 2.7%
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Bonus:
No sign-up bonus.


Points:
3x on travel, including gas, 2x at restaurants, 1x everywhere else. No foreign transaction fees. $95 annual fee, waived the first year.  (A separate card, the Citi Prestige Card, carries a 50,000 sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 within the first three months,  but also carries a $450 fee in return for the benefits described in this article).
Points may be transferred to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer (which the points can have significant value as described here), Hilton, Cathay, Qantas, Malaysia (not recommended) or one of several other lesser known travel partners. May alternatively be redeemed directly on American at 1.6 cents per point.
Those who charge a lot on travel and restaurants, and who can take advantage of one of the Singapore Airlines redemptions outlined in this article (other rewards, including the direct credit on American Airlines, provide less than the value ascribed here.).

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card®

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card® 2.7%
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Bonus:
Get 100,000 points after spending $4,000 within three months.


Points:
Earn 3x at restaurants and on travel.  Use in conjunction with the Chase Freedom to earn 5x at quarterly rotating categories, including groceries, restaurants, Costco and Amazon.  Also use in conjunction with the Chase Ink Cash card to earn 5x at office supply stores and on telecommunications spend (detailed here).  $450 annual fee.
Transfer points to:
  • Hyatt - 8,000 points gets a night at the Hyatt Regency Greenville, SC.
  • British Airways - 15,000 points gets a round trip ticket between Chicago and the East Coast (on AA)
  • United - 140,000 points gets a RT business class ticket from JFK to Narita
  • Singapore - 60,000 points gets a RT business class ticket from the mainland US to Hawaii (on United)
Those seeking flexibility in the way they can redeem travel rewards points.

Chase Ink Plus Card®

Chase Ink Plus Card® 2.7%
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Bonus:
Get 60,000 points after spending $5,000 within three months. (Offer sometimes raised to 70,000).


Points:
Earn 5x at office supply stores, 2x on gas and hotels, 1x everywhere else. No foreign transaction fees. $95 annual fee, waived first year. (This is the business version of the above card and value is maximized when using it in conjunction with other Chase cards, as described here).
Same as above
Small businesses or individuals seeking to separate business spend from personal spend. Those seeking flexibility in the way they can redeem travel rewards points.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express 2.7%
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Bonus:
100,000 points after spending $3,000 within 3 months. (Targeted offers for the business version are often as high as 150,000 points).


Points:
Ordinarily 1 point per $1 spent on the card. $450 annual fee. $200 annual travel credit can be used in twice in a payment year (once in each of two successive calendar years).
Transfer points to:
  • British Airways at 1 Amex to 0.80 Avios.
  • Singapore Airlines where they have significant value if used as described in this article.
  • Delta Airlines where they are worth nothing.
Those seeking flexible points that can be redeemed on several solid partner airlines, including British Airways and Singapore Airlines.

American Express OPEN® Business Gold Rewards Card

American Express OPEN® Business Gold Rewards Card 2.7%
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Bonus: 30,000 points after spending $5,000 within 3 months (Targeted offers are often as high as 75,000 points after spending $5,000 in three months).

Points:
Ordinarily 1 point per $1 spent on the card, although there are certain categories for faster accumulation. $175 annual fee, waived the first year.
Transfer points to:
  • British Airways at 1 Amex: 0.80 BA
  • BA Singapore Airlines at 1:1 where they have the value described above.
  • Delta Airlines at 1:1 where they are worth nothing.
Those seeking to segregate business expenses and earn flexible points that can be redeemed on several solid partner airlines, including British Airways and Singapore Airlines.

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card®

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card® 2.625%
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Bonus: N/A

Points:
Provides 1.5 points for every dollar spent, plus a 75% bonus for those holding more than $100,000 in a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch account.  Points are redeemable only for travel statement credits.
N/A
Those holding over $100,000 in assets either at Merrill or BoA who seek maximum flexibility in travel redemptions, in return for giving up opportunities that may be available through a hotel or airline program.

The Hyatt Card® by Chase®

The Hyatt Card® by Chase® 2.4%
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Bonus:
2 free nights at any Hyatt worldwide after $2,000 spend; also get a $50 statement credit after your first purchase and 5,000 Hyatt points when you add a second cardholder.


Points:
3x at Hyatt, 2x at restaurants, 1x everywhere else. No foreign transaction fees. $75 annual fee, waived the first year.   After payment of your annual fee, you will receive 1 night each year in a Hyatt category 1-4 hotel; you will also receive 5,000 bonus points to keep the card if you call Chase to inform them that you want to cancel the card because of the fee.
 
Redeem 8,000 points for a night at Park Hyatt Mendoza or Hyatt Regency Montreal, or 30,000 points for a night at the Park Hyatt New York or Park Hyatt Paris.
Those seeking to redeem value for their credit card spend at Hyatt, which is one of the most valuable hotel programs even after recent program devaluations.

British Airways® Visa Signature Card®

British Airways® Visa Signature Card® 2.1%
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Bonus:
50,000 points after spending $2,000 within 3 months.


Points:
$95 annual fee, waived the first year.
15,000 points gets a round trip ticket between Chicago and the East Coast (on American), or a round trip between Seattle and LA (on American), or a round trip trip between London and Madrid (on Iberia).  Note that redemptions directly on British Airways are often subject to excessive fees.

Those seeking great value for their credit card spend by redeeming on short haul flights through British Airways' partners

American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card®, also available for Business

American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card®, also available for Business 2%
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Bonus:
Current signup offer is 10,000 after your first purchase and 20,000 of which are awarded after you spend $3,000 in 3 months.


Points:
Earn 1 point per $1 spend. Fee waived the first year.
48,000 points for 5 nights at Sheraton Kauai Resort, The Westin Palace Madrid or the Westin Michigan Ave Chicago
Those who plan to stay at Starwood hotels for long stays and can take advantage of 5th night free awards.

Citi American Airlines® Advantage Platinum Select World Mastercard® (or Business Mastercard for Businesses®)

Citi American Airlines® Advantage Platinum Select World Mastercard® (or Business Mastercard for Businesses®) 1.9%
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Bonus:
50,000 points after spending $3,000 within 3 months.


Points:
2x points on American, 1x everywhere else. $95 annual fee, waived the first year.
40,000 miles gets a round trip ticket between the US and Europe during low season.
Those who fly American Airlines or who seek to redeem points on American.

United Mileage Plus Explorer Card® (Also available as a business card)

United Mileage Plus Explorer Card® (Also available as a business card) 1.9%
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Bonus:
50,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in 3 months.


Points:
Earn 2x on United, 1x everywhere else. $95 annual fee, waived the first year.  No foreign transaction fees.
Redeem 140,000 points for a business class ticket from JFK to Narita, or redeem 30,000 points for an intra-Europe coach class ticket on a Star Alliance® partner.
Those who fly United Airlines, or who seek to redeem rewards on United.

The Fairmont® Visa Signature Card by Chase®

The Fairmont® Visa Signature Card by Chase® 1.3%
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Bonus:
2 free nights at any Fairmont worldwide after $3,000 spend within three months. Receive a third free night after $12,000 in annual spend.


Points:
5x at Fairmont, 2x on airlines directly, and car rentals restaurants, 1x everywhere else. No foreign transaction fees. $95 annual fee, waived the first year.
Free nights may be redeemed at any Fairmont worldwide, but may not be redeemed for consecutive nights in New York.
Those who travel to Fairmont locations and can spend $12,000 a year on the card in order to get a third free night.

Citi Hilton Honors® Visa Reserve Card®

Citi Hilton Honors® Visa Reserve Card® 1.7%
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Bonus:
Earn 2 free weekend nights at any Hilton worldwide after you spend $2,500 in first four months.


Points:
Earn 10 points per $1 spend at Hilton, 5 points per dollar spend on air and car rentals, 3 points everywhere else. $95 annual fee
Most Conrads are 95,000 points per night. Two free nights can be used at any Conrad including the Conrad New York.

Those who plan to stay at Hilton hotels.

Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card® by US Bank

Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card® by US Bank 1.2%
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Bonus:
50,000 Gold points when you sign up and 35,000 when you spend $2,500 in 3 months. 40,000 each year you renew.


Points:
Earn 5 points per dollar spent. We value these points in the maximum scenario as being worth 0.4 cents each. $75 annual fee.
Redeem 70,000 points for 1 night at the MayFair in London.
Due to a recent program devaluation, this card only has value for those redeeming at the May Fair in London on certain Radisson Blu hotels in Europe, as this article explains.

Getting Started with Rewards Credit Cards

Many credit cards today offer some type of reward for using them in the form of points. Points can be redeemed for cash back, free gifts, and travel rewards (hotels, airfare). After having analyzed this space extensively, BestCashCow believes that travel reward programs offer the best sign­‐up rewards, with some worth well over $1,000 if you meet promotional spend requirements; and the best return, with some programs easily offering up to 3% of the regular spend. For certain categories that offer 2, 3 or even 5x, for every dollar spent on a credit card, as much as fifteen cents of a certain part of your spend can come back in the form of a reward, that's up to 15% of your spend.

But to get this level of reward takes some knowledge of how these credit cards work and also the various deals offered by the cards. Earning valuable travel rewards points is easy with the right credit card and a little bit of research and planning. It can also be exciting, even exhilarating. Most importantly, it can enable you to travel the world in a class of service that you might not otherwise be able to afford, or to see places that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive to get to.

It is important to note that rewards cards do not make sense for those who plan to carry a balance. For those looking to finance purchases on their card, a low interest credit card is the better choice. But, if you pay off your balances monthly, flexible rewards points or travel rewards in the form of hotel points and air miles will provide you with the most value for your credit card spend.