Best Credit Cards for Travel Hacking (Updated Jan 2017)

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Welcome to NomadsNation’s best travel hacking credit cards.

We take hacking very seriously and aggressively research and renovate this page to make sure the information is up to date.

If you are new to Travel Hacking and are looking to go down the rabbit hole, here are some recommended articles to get you started.

How Travel Hacking Improves your Credit Score

Frequent Flier Miles 101

How to get Points and Miles for Free Travel

Points and Miles Explained


1) Chase Sapphire Reserve

 best travel hacking credit cards chase sapphire reserved
Reserve is one the best travel hacking credit cards, if you can swing it.

*Full Chase Sapphire Reserve review coming soon*

I really wanted to be rebellious and not put this as #1, but it just isn’t possible. And talk about making a grand entrance! The Chase Sapphire Reserve basically blew up the internet. Sporting a 100,000 signup bonus of very valuable Ultimate Rewards and 3x points for travel and dining. If you can swing it, it’s the best travel credit card of 2017.

Having said that, this card is not for everyone. The $450 annual fee is difficult to justify for the average person. And you’ll need to spend $4,000 on the card to get the 100k signup bonus. But if you spend a lot, travel a lot, and can utilize the $300 travel credit, there is no better card on the market.

The Good

  • 100,000 Ultimate Rewards
  • Access to Ultimate Rewards
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • 3x points on dining and travel
  • Priority Pass Membership
  • Chip technology
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Inflation of ego (shiny, heavy card)

The Bad

  • $450 annual fee (not waived)
  • $4,000 minimum spend
  • $75 for additional users
  • Excellent credit needed

2) Chase Sapphire Preferred

 best travel hacking credit cards sapphire preferred
The Sapphire is King and one of the best travel hacking credit cards

*Full Chase Sapphire Preferred review coming soon*

Both the Sapphire Preferred and the Sapphire Reserve require a $4,000 minimum spend, so if you can swing it, the Reserve is more lucrative. But with a waived annual fee and lower credit standards, the common Nomad will have a much easier time with the classiest travel credit card of all time. CSP.

An innovator in it’s niche, this card has been raising and setting the bar for travel cards since it’s introduction and has long been the best credit card for international travel. Because of this, Chase brands dominate the top of our list, and will continue to do so for some time. Versatile. Easy to use. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is still considered one of the best travel travel hacking credit cards ever. Sapphire is King.

The Good

  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards
  • Access to Ultimate Rewards
  • Annual fee waived first year
  • 7% point dividend annually
  • 2x points on travel and dining
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Amazing customer service
  • Inflation of ego (shiny, heavy card)

The Bad

  • 1x points on everything else
  • Current high minimum spend (usually it’s $3,000)

3) Schwab Debit Card

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The most important card for every traveler

*Full Charles Schwab review coming soon*

I know. This is not a credit card. But it is essential for every traveler! Why? No fees. No bank fees, no maintenance fees, and most importantly, no ATM fees. Every single ATM fee on the planet is reimbursed at the end of the month when you bank with Schwab (and did I mention it’s free?).

This card isn’t necessarily about the money you can save as much as it is the peace of mind you are given. Gone are the days of searching for bank-specific ATM’s to avoid $6 fees. Gone are the days of having to worry about carrying a minimum balance in your account. No more $10 account maintenance fees. Yes, the savings do add up, but it’s the peace of mind that really takes this card to the next level.

The Good

  • ATM fees are reimbursed at the end of the month
  • No banking fees for having account
  • No foreign transaction fees (rare for a debit card)
  • 0$ account minimum
  • Stellar customer service
  • Free brokerage account

The Bad

  • Great credit needed
  • Will require a hard pull on credit

4) Chase Ink Cash Business Card

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A must have for business owners

*Full Chase Ink review coming soon*

If you are a an independent business owner interested in free travel, this card is the epitome of a ‘no-brainer’ and is one of the best travel hacking credit cards. Chase is aggressively pursuing it’s commitment to quality, and this card is a prime example. Had it a better signup bonus and it could be the best travel credit card of 2017. 

Chase has gone through some renovations in their business card department, branding new cards like the Chase Ink Business Preferred (hello!) and killing off others like the Ink Plus (RIP!). The Chase Ink Cash is incredibly appealing in it’s lack of annual fee, and generous 5% cash back for office supplies, cell phone, internet and TV.

The Good

  • $300 cashback bonus
  • No annual fee. Ever.
  • 5x points cell phone, landline, internet, TV and others
  • 2x points on gas and restaurants
  • Employee cards at no cost

The Bad

  • Mediocre bonus
  • No travel points
  • Business credit card – need income and personal guarantee

5) BarclayCard Arrival Plus

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If you like ease of use, this is your best travel hacking credit card

*Full Barclay Arrival Plus review coming soon*

This could be your dream-travel-card, it just depends on your wants and needs. If you want to travel cheaper, but don’t want to go too far down the rabbit-hole of travel hacking, then this is the best travel rewards credit card. Barclay “miles” are less like miles and more like travel-redemption points. But that ease-of-use is what makes it so appealing.

2x’s on every spend is sweet, and more and more hackers are becoming very vocal about this replacing the Sapphire Preferred and becoming their new go-to. While I definitely see great value in Barclay’s points, Ultimate Rewards still gets a decisive edge.

The Good

  • 50,000 Barclay Miles
  • 2x points for every single purchase
  • 5% points back when redeemed for travel
  • Ease of use
  • Miles don’t expire
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Chip Technology

The Bad

  • Can’t transfer points to airlines
  • 120 day redemption window
  • Devaluations

6) Chase United Mileage Plus

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United Miles are very valuable

*Full Chase United review coming soon*

Just like the Citi AA, Chase United is giving away 30,000 miles for $1,000 minimum spend and a waved annual fee. It’s basically the same exact card, it just depends on which miles you prefer. The card has a lot of perks – priority boarding is nice, and free checked bags can really add up for the right traveler… but they aren’t anything to marvel over.

This card places highly for two reasons. 1) Out of all miles programs, United’s is one of the easiest to use. 2) It’s signup bonus is good, and the ability to double dip and combine with Ultimate Rewards is very doable. Combining the United Mileage Plus with other Chase cards enables you to rack up a TON of valuable United miles. Because of this, it’s my favorite airlines card of the best travel hacking credit cards.

The Good

  • 30,000 United Miles
  • 2x points on United Purchases
  • Free checked back (two people, round trip, $25 a bag = $100 savings)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Priority Boarding
  • United Club passes
  • 5,000 additional miles if you add an authorized user

The Bad

  • 1x on everything else
  • Having to fly on United planes

7) Citi AAdvantage

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AA miles are awesome too, making it one of the best travel hacking credit cards

Click here to read our full review of Citi AAdvantage

Citi dropped the signup bonus from 50k to 30k, which sucks, but keep an eye out as it inevitably will go back up. In the meantime, 30,000 AA miles are still very valuable. They have a ton of partners and are fairly easy to book – not bad for a waived annual fee and doable $1,000 minimum spend.

This card is as straightforward as it gets. It’s a great way to stock up on an additional 30-50,000 AA miles for a rainy day. If you live by an AA hub, or are exclusively loyal to AA, then there might be an argument to use this card for every day use. But otherwise, this isn’t a primary card, as the other perks aren’t great.

The Good 

  • 50k AA miles
  • Annual fee waived
  • 10% miles rebate
  • Reduced mileage award
  • Group One boarding
  • No foreign transaction fees

The Bad

  • 2x AA Flights/1x Everything Else
  • Fuel Surcharges

8) Amex Premier Rewards

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Expensive, but perfect for certain road warriors

Click here to read our full Amex Premier Gold review

This guy always seems to travel under the radar, but it’s it’s one of the best travel hacking credit cards and deserves more attention. At 25k, the signup bonus is currently OK, but Amex will increase it… it’s a matter of when. So keep an eye out.

If you live in the US, and are a serious traveler who prefers redeeming in First or Business…. There is a strong case to be made about this being your primary credit card. If you spend a lot of money directly purchasing flights through airlines, the 3x earning on this card can be incredibly lucrative. Add in a few 2x categories (restaurants, gas, groceries) and for the right person, this can be an everyday spender that will rack up a lot of points.

The Good

  • 25,000 Premier Rewards
  • First annual fee waived
  • Great transfer partners
  • 2x points on restaurants, gas and food
  • 3x points on flights
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Amex special offers

The Bad

  • 25,000 signup bonus is lowest bonus offered in a while
  • One signup bonus per lifetime
  • Annual fee
  • British Airways devaluation
  • Excellent credit needed

9) US Bank Club Carlson

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Club Carlson is the most versatile hotel card

Click here to read our full US Bank Club Carlson review

This is the only branded hotel card to make the Power Rankings, and deservingly so. 85,000 points sign up bonus and 40,000 points annually to offset the annual fee? You can rack up a lot of free lodging on this card, and very quickly. But unless you are a loyal Club Carlson-er, there are better choices for your primary credit card. Carlson points are not life-changing points. Carlson points are fun points!

This card is great in it’s versatility and ease of use. Category one properties run 9,000 points a night. Category seven properties run 70,000 points per night. Not to mention everything in between. You can enjoy a bunch of free stays at lower end properties, or a few extravagant nights at a swankier resort. Either are viable options that will help you save a good $400-600 in travel expenses – the choice is yours!

The Good

  • Monster 85,000 point signup bonus
  • 5x points on everything
  • Versatility with redemption
  • No blackout dates
  • Easy to use
  • Automatic Gold Status upgrade
  • 40,000 point Anniversary bonus

The Bad

  • Ok-ish value
  • Annual fee not waived
  • Foreign transaction fees
  • Excellent credit needed

10) Chase Southwest

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SW has the best mileage program

Click here to read our full Chase Southwest review

If you travel often in North America, this card could be your personal number one. Southwest points are so valuable and easy to use which is why it’s one of the best travel hacking credit cards. No blackout dates, no hidden fees – it’s probably the best system out there. The only downside is they just don’t fly to enough international destinations.

If you are looking for 50k SW miles, get the card, use the bonus, and cancel before the next annual fee kicks in. If the Companion Pass appeals to you, go for it! Outside of these perks, the card doesn’t offer much else. Get in now while the signup bonus is so high, it probably won’t last for long.

The Good

  • 50,000 SW Rapid Rewards miles
  • No fees or penalties for changing or canceling redeemed flights
  • Head start to getting the Companion Pass
  • 6,000 mile anniversary bonus
  • 2x points on SW purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees

The Bad

  • 1x points for all other purchases
  • Annual fee not waived

11) Amex Starwood Preferred

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Amex SPG… very swanky, very purple, one of the best travel hacking credit cards

Click here to read our full Amex SPG review

The 25k bonus is nice, but this card is typically tied to 4 or 5 star hotel stays, which is why luxury travelers promote it as the best hotel rewards credit card, and I don’t place it as highly. But it is a fabulous travel card, and in particular, the 25% bonus transfer is an awesome deal.

Three ways to look at this card. 1) I’m a hardcore (or aspiring hardcore) SPG loyalist, and I want to swim in a purple sea of 5x SPG points. 2) I fly with AA (or one of their partners), so instead of using an AA branded card, I’ll do my spending on this and take advantage of the 25% mile transfer bonus. 3) Get in. Get the bonus. Get out.

The Good

  • 25,000 Starpoints
  • 5,000 mile transfer bonus
  • 5x points on SPG properties
  • No blackout dates
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee waived first year
  • Free wifi account with Boingo

The Bad

  • 1x points on everything else
  • Nothing to neutralize annual fee
  • Points expire
  • Excellent credit score needed

12) Chase British Airways

best-travel-hacking-credit-cards-chase-british-airways
Avios points are a bit polarizing

Click here to read our full Chase British Airways review

This card is about the signup bonus. Avios points. And 50,000 of them. They’re great to have, and are best redeemed with Aer Lingus (Europe) AA (United States or Asia) and LAN (South America). There aren’t really any budget airlines in South America, and a lot of routes are monopolized by only a few airlines. Avios helps get you around South America for much cheaper.

Not much else aside from that. It’s simple. 50k BA miles. That’s all.

The Good

  • 50,000 British Airways miles
  • 2x points British Airways flights
  • Distance based redemptions
  • No foreign transaction fees

The Bad

  • Fuel surcharges
  • 1x points everything else
  • Devaluations
  • Annual fee not waived

13) Barclay Frontier

best-travel-hacking-credit-cards-barclay-frontier
Frontier miles are simple and effective

Click here for a full review of Barclay Frontier

The cards at the bottom of the list are here for a reason. While it’s still one of the best travel hacking credit cards, outside of it’s bonus, it doesn’t offer much value.

But look at this as a perk! Barclay’s Frontier is straightforward and easy. You get two free roundtrip flights for a $69 annual fee. The $500 minimum is a breeze, making it a perfect card for an app-o-rama. Frontier loyalists aside, after that, there is not reason to keep this card.

The Good

  • 40,000 Frontier miles
  • No blackout dates/seats
  • Low minimum spend ($500)
  • Can change or cancel reservation within one week of flight for free
  • 2x Frontier purchases (only matters if you are a Frontier enthusiast)

The Bad

  • 1x points everything else
  • Annual fee not waived

14) Chase Freedom

best-travel-hacking-credit-cards-chase-freedom
Freedom should be in every Hackers arsenal

Click here to read our full Chase Freedom Review

The best of both worlds! The Freedom is a perfect place to start for beginners, but it is also mandatory in the arsenal of the Hacking master. The new $150 signup bonus isn’t anything to lose sleep over, but the 5x’s rotating categories and ability to transfer to Ultimate Rewards is why the Freedom is one of the best travel hacking credit cards. It’s also the best travel card with no annual fee.

If you’re interested in travel hacking with the Chase Freedom, get excited. In an ideal world, one would have the Ultimate Rewards Trifecta – The Sapphire, The Ink, and the Freedom. Between the three there’s enough categories for extra Ultimate Rewards (2x-5x) to drown in.

If not, fret not! Get the Freedom anyway! Out of all the cards on the PR’s, this is the one that is easiest to get approved for. Use it for the rotating categories, or an everyday spender if you are looking to start racking up Ultimate Rewards. Then, if you get the Ink or Sapphire in the future, you can combine your points!

The Good

  • Ability to sync with Ultimate Rewards
  • 5x points on rotating categories
  • $150 statement credit
  • No annual fee (ever)
  • Low credit scores OK
  • No interest for 15 months

The Bad

  • No large signup bonus
  • $1500 limit on rotating categories
  • 1x points everything else

15) Citi ThankYou Premiere

best-travel-hacking-credit-cards-citi-thank-you
So much potential, so little signup bonus

Click here for our full review of the Citi ThankYou Premier

Citi’s ThankYou Premier’s earning potential is on par with the best credit cards for travel. Boasting 3x’s points on travel and 2x’s points on dining, this card earns more than the Sapphire Preferred or Arrival Plus. Similar to Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi TYP gives cardmembers the option to redeem their points through a travel portal (great value, easy to use) or to transfer their points to a handful of great airlines and hotels (better value, harder to use).

But until the signup bonus returns, do not apply for this card. When (if?) the bonus returns, things will go from “don’t apply!” to “is this one of the best travel hacking credit cards?” Quite the turn around.

The Good

  • 3x points all things travel
  • 2x points dining/entertainment
  • Great transfer partners
  • 25% bonus for travel redemptions
  • Annual fee waived
  • No foreign transaction fees

The Bad

  • NO SIGNUP BONUS
  • Citi’s Travel Portal is meh

*Disclaimer*

How do I create the list for the best travel hacking credit cards? A few factors.

1) Current Deals

Credit card companies are constantly changing their cards’ benefits, as well as offering new promotions. As banks make their changes, so will I.

2) My personal experience

At any given point I have 10-15 credit cards, and I know the in’s and out’s of these cards very well.

3) Recommendations via other sources

Although I’m pretty good at this stuff, I will admit that some are better, and there are a few resources in particular I hold as gospel. (upgradedpoints, travelisfreethepointsguy, millionmilesecrets, nomadicmatt, frugaltravelguy.)

4) Personal Preference

While I try to make my recommendations as middle-of-the-road as possible, some people just flat out prefer different point systems and airlines.

5) Quantity over Quality

This is where Nomads Nation best travel hacking credit cards may differ from other websites’. A lot of Hackers (daresay a majority) passionately pursue points and miles to be able to fly first class, business class, or stay in luxurious hotel suites for free. Believe me. It’s awesome, and I fully support them. In contrast, I promote traveling more efficiently, in hopes to prolong my travels. I would rather use my 80,000 miles for two flights in economy, then one flight in business. That is the goal of the NN. The Power Rankings will reflect that mindset.

6) Realistic Expectations

The most lucrative offers are sometimes require the most challenging spending requirements. Do you want 100,000 American Airlines miles? Duh. But spending $10,000 in three months is a bit outside of most people’s financial capabilities. NomadsNation writes for the common traveler.

Come on. What do you think? Think I missed one of the best travel hacking credit cards? Any deals expired? Comment below! Thanks guys!

3 thoughts on “Best Credit Cards for Travel Hacking (Updated Jan 2017)

  1. I was looking at your Chase Sapphire. To my knowledge, there is no 3x dinning on First Fridays. I think they ended that in 2016. Great article. I enjoy reading about travel hacking.

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