MCKIBILLO

The first step to choosing a card is identifying the benefits you value. Are you wedded to a single airline and looking for elite status? Or are you a points-and-miles hound and want to work the system for award seats and free hotel nights? Some travelers prioritize VIP treatment and ancillary perks on the road, while others just want to keep things simple and get cash back for their travels. Here’s a look at some of the best options and who they’re right for.

April 16, 2015

Low-Hassle Traveler

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
This card doesn’t make you jump through hoops to get your benefits. It offers double points for all charges and lets you exchange them for statement credit (2,500 points get you $25). Redeem them for credit on travel purchases, and you’ll receive an extra 10 percent, giving you a 2.2 percent rate of return. The card is also chip- enabled for extra security and ease of use abroad.

The Basics
Annual fee: $89, waived the first year
Foreign-transaction fee: none
Points bonus: 40,000 if you spend $3,000 within three months
Transfer partners: none

Runner-Up
Capital One Venture Rewards Card is a close second in this category, offering double miles for all purchases and similar statement-credit benefits for a $59 annual fee, which is waived the first year.
 

Loyal Flier

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
Among airline-branded cards, Southwest’s rises to the top when it comes to point value thanks to the carrier’s low redemption requirements for award seats. The added ben- efits are great, too: no change fees, two checked bags for free, and a companion pass if you hit 110,000 points in a calendar year. Southwest’s ongoing expansion will only add possibilities.

The Basics
Annual fee: $99
Foreign-transaction fee: none
Points bonus: 25,000 if you spend $1,000 within three months
Transfer partners: Accepts transfers from several hotel programs; you can also use points to pay for travel

Runner-Up
Virgin America Visa Signature Card perks include a free checked bag, a $150 discount on a companion ticket, and flight redemptions for as few as 2,500 points.
 

Jet-Setter

American Express Platinum Card
This card is all about travel benefits: members get rebates on Global Entry or PreCheck membership fees ($100 and $85, respectively); an annual $200 airline fee credit; free Boingo membership; and access to Delta, Priority Pass, Airspace, and Amex’s new Centurion airport lounges.

The Basics
Annual fee: $450
Foreign-transaction fee: none
Points bonus: 40,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months
Transfer partners: Sixteen airlines, including Delta, JetBlue, Singapore, British Airways, and Emirates, plus four hotel brands

Runner-Up
Citi Prestige offsets its $450 annual fee with a $250 air travel refund, Global Entry credit, access to more than 700 airport lounges, and the fourth night free at any hotel booked through Citi Prestige Concierge.
 

Road Warrior

Starwood Preferred Guest from American Express
Offering up to five points for every dollar spent at Starwood’s 1,200 hotels and resorts, this card makes it easy to earn free nights—even at the company’s high-end brands. Points can also be transferred to claim award seats with more than two dozen airlines.

The Basics
Annual fee: $65, waived the first year
Foreign-transaction fee: 2.7 percent
Points bonus: 10,000 points after your first purchase, plus 15,000 if you spend $5,000 within six months
Transfer partners: 32 airlines (including Delta, American, and United), along with Avis, Amtrak, and other companies

Runner-Up
Chase Sapphire Preferred offers double points for all travel and restaurant charges, which can be redeemed for travel via Chase’s own booking tool or by transferring them to partners. Plus, it has no foreign-transaction fee.

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