The best credit card for travel rewards of 2018 — Chase and Amex


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Often, when I meet someone new and the conversation topic turns to “what do you do for a living,” many people are interested when I say that I write about travel and credit card rewards. Invariably, people ask me what the best credit card is that they should have.

It’s actually a pretty complicated answer. The best rewards card for you depends on a lot of different things. For instance, whether you travel often, are loyal to one specific airline or hotel chain, what kind of rewards or cash back you want to earn, and what you tend to spend your money on.

However, with all of that in mind, it’s actually pretty easy to generalize. For most people, assuming they travel a few times a year, have disposible income, and pay their cards off in full each month, there are three contenders for the all-around best option. While two of them have astronomical annual fees, they all represent a fantastic value to anyone who weilds them.

Keep in mind that we’re focusing on earning rewards and perks, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards or benefits.

When you’re working to earn credit card rewards or take advantage of travel benefits, it’s important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back — or spending more than you would otherwise. Basically,treat your credit card like a debit card.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Sign-up Bonus: 50,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first three months)

My first pick is the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Earning 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on dining and any travel, and 1x per dollar on everything else, the Sapphire Reserve earns points quickly through your everyday spending, and it comes with a slew of perks.

Points are worth 1¢ as cash or 1.5¢ each towards travel booked through Chase, but can also be transferred to a number of frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs — typically, this gets you the most value for your points. Benefits include access to airport lounges through the Priority Pass network, trip delay coverage, purchase protection, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit, and primary rental car insurance.

However, while the airport lounge access can be great, most Priority Pass lounges are in international terminals, which isn’t helpful when you’re flying domestically.

The annual fee is a hefty $450, but that’s offset by a $300 travel credit each year, good for things like taxis, subway fare, parking, tolls, and flights. Effectively, that makes the fee just $150, which can easily be outweighed by the rewards you’ll earn in a typical year.

There aren’t many downsides to this card— besides the up front annual fee. Chase has invested heavily in making the Ultimate Rewards program competitive. Booking flights by transferring points to frequent flyer partners is generally more lucrative— that’s usually how people use points to fly in first and business class— but it can be complicated because you have to decipher award charts, find availability, and work around complicated airline rules.

However, because the Sapphire Reserve allows you to get 1.5¢ for each point, if you use them to book travel through Chase’s online or phone travel agent, there’s a simpler and still-valuable option.

Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Sign-up Bonus: 50,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first three months)

The Reserve’s older sibling, the Sapphire Preferred offers a number of similar features and an identical sign-up bonus for a lower annual fee. The card earns 2x Ultimate Rewards points instead of the Reserve’s 3x the points on dining and travel, and 1x the points on everything else.

Points are worth a lower 1.25¢ when used for travel booked through Chase, but can still be transferred to frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs. There’s no annual travel credit, but there’s still car rental primary coverage, as well as slightly less-generous trip delay coverage and purchase protection. The annual fee is a more manageable $95, which is waived the first year.

While the Sapphire Preferred was the all-around best card for a long time, the Sapphire Reserve has made it a harder choice. Ultimately, the choice comes down to whether or not you’re willing to pay the higher up-front annual fee.

The Preferred earns fewer points on bonus spending categories than the Reserve, and the value of the points on travel booked through Chase is less. The no-hassle travel credit on the Sapphire Reserve makes the annual fee on that card effectively $150 (accounting for the $300 you get back through the credit), so — depending on your spending habits — it can be worth paying more up front for the Sapphire Reserve.

For more, you can read about why you might prefer the Reserve over the Preferred, or a counterpoint about why the Preferred might be the best fit for you.

Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.

Platinum Card from American Express

Welcome offer: 60,000 points (after spending $5,000 in the first three months)

The American Express Platinum card has one of the highest annual fees of any consumer credit or charge card — $550 — but as Amex’s flagship product, this premium credit card offers a tremendous amount of value to offset that fee.

To be clear, if you’re focused on just rewards, you’re better off sticking with the Sapphire Reserve or Preferred.

The card earns Membership Rewards points, the currency in Amex’s loyalty program, which can be exchanged for statement credits or cash back, used to book travel through Amex’s travel website, or, to get the most value, transferred to any of 17 airline and three hotel transfer partners. The card earns 5x points on airfare purchased directly from the airline, and 1x on everything else.

However, Amex Membership Rewards points — while definitely valuable — can be harder to maximize than Chase Ultimate Rewards points. This is especially true since it’s harder to earn them quickly — the Sapphire cards’ travel and dining bonus categories help you rack up points quickly, while the airfare category with the Platinum Card is more restrictive.

Instead, the Platinum card’s real value comes from its various perks and benefits.

The Platinum card offers a $200 airline fee credit each calendar year, and up to $200 in Uber credits each cardmember year. It also grants the cardholder access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world, including Priority Pass lounges like the Sapphire Reserve, plus Delta Sky Clubs and Amex’s own Centurion Lounges.

Other benefits include automatic gold elite status at Starwood, Marriott, and Hilton hotels, a statement credit to cover enrollment in Global Entry/TSA PreCheck, concierge service, and much more.

I got more than $2,000 worth of value in my first year with the Platinum card, using it in conjunction with my Sapphire Reserve. I’m a fan of both cards, but if I could only have one, it would probably be the Sapphire Reserve.

Click here to learn more about the Amex Platinum from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.



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