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Best travel credit cards from a man who’s traveled to 193 countries

I’ve consulted with a friend who’s literally traveled to every country in the world, and found the best travel credit cards for you to use.

Ramit Sethi · June 24th, 2016

Are you finally ready to book your dream vacation BUT… you want to make sure you get all the rewards you can before pulling the trigger on your stay?

Good news: I’ve combed the internet, dug through hundreds of options, consulted with a friend who’s literally traveled to every country in the world, and found the best travel credit cards for you to use.

Over the past 4 years, I’ve taken some great vacations to places like:

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    • Southeast Asia, where I had this pool right outside my private hotel room:

 

 

    • The Caribbean, where the house came with a private chef:

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    • And the snowy mountains of Utah, where I went Skiing and had a blast:

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And at each stop, I racked up a ton of reward points that allowed me to take even more trips (with cool perks) in the future.

Now it’s your turn. I want to make booking your dream vacation a no-brainer, too.

So here are the best travel credit cards to get all points and cashback you deserve.

The best travel credit card

My number one recommendation is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.

This is the best travel card on the market. Here’s why:

The 4 Starwood perks that matter most

  1. Flights + hotel points: Every time you spend money, you earn points. No questions asked. And you can redeem those points immediately for flights (on virtually airline) and hotels (in the Starwood program). The flexibility is what I love.
  2. Flights: You instantly get a 25% bonus on frequent flier programs. So let’s say you redeem 20,000 Starwood points to your Jetblue frequent flier program. Starwood will give you a 25% bonus — that’s 5,000 points — which is a HUGE bonus to get free flights faster. This is worth a ton in free flights.
  3. Hotels: You can stay at hotels for just 2,000 points, which is great if you just need a basic place to stay. But if you want ultra-luxury, Starwood has top-of-the-line properties (including the St. Regis and even higher-end resorts) that will accept your Starwood points. Here are the cheapest hotels and most expensive.
  4. Customer service: I fanatically test the customer service of companies I work with. My goal is for them to call me a diva in writing. I opened a second Starwood card (biz + personal) and somehow, they didn’t connect the card to my Starwood account. That meant that I had lost something like 15,000 points over the last few months. I sent them an email and a few hours later, they said, “We’ve retroactively applied your points.” Done. I love it.

Other perks:

  • Starpoints® bonus: earn up to 25K bonus points — 10K with your first purchase and another 15K when you spend $5K within the first 6 months of Card membership – enough for a weekend getaway to a Category 4 hotel like the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa
  • Free Hotel Nights: redeem Starpoints at over 1,100 hotels in over 100 countries worldwide — with no blackout dates
  • Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with hotels and resorts participating in the SPG® program
  • Earn 1 Starpoint® for each dollar of eligible purchases
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65
  • Terms and Restrictions Apply

My final test was this: The world’s best consumers of credit cards are management consultants at firms like McKinsey, Bain, and BCG. That’s because basically the only thing these consultants care about is points. Many of my friends have over a million points and are anal — even more than I am — about their choice of cards.

I know a bunch of friends who work at these places, and every one uses this card. DONE!

Downsides with AMEX credit cards

  1. AMEX isn’t always accepted. That’s one of the biggest downside to anything with AMEX. With that being said, more and more places are accepting them. For example, it is accepted about 95% of the time for me in NYC. So I have to carry a backup Mastercard/VISA, but rarely.
  2. Not everyone qualifies for AMEX. They’re pretty stringent about who they accept. If your credit is not so great, you may be rejected.
  3. You’ll get a lower credit limit. From what I can tell, AMEX is pretty risk averse even if you have a good credit score. So they’ll start you out with a smaller line of credit than most other companies will. You can request a credit-limit increase in 60 days, then 6 months later, so if you do get this card, set your Google calendar reminders. (How I got around this: I paid it off multiple times/month so I could spend what I needed to.)

Places to read about this Starwood card
With any credit card you get, always do your own research.

Even though this is a rewards card, it can still get you in debt — if you aren’t careful. Here are a couple of places to see what others have said, as well as understand the perks/rewards in great detail.

Other travel credit cards I recommend

I know that this card isn’t for everyone.

That’s why I turned to one of my friends Chris Guillebeau to get his other top 3 favorite travel credit card picks.

Chris has traveled to 193 countries (yes, that’s every one of them) and he regularly earns more than one million miles a year, with the majority coming through credit card bonuses and other non-flying activity. One reason he was able to do this is because half of his trips were nearly free — all paid for with miles and points from his rewards credit cards.

Top 3 Travel Credit Cards from a Man Who’s Visited All 193 Countries

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

First up is the the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card.

What Chris loves about this card:

  • It offers double points on all dining and travel expenses. That means you’ll get the most out of every dollar you spend on food and experiences when you’re traveling
  • No foreign transaction fees. That makes this a perfect pick for international travelers because there’s foreign transaction fees — ever
  • You can get the annual fee waived the first year — so it makes signing up a no-brainer

Other bonuses:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs at full value – that means 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points
  • Travel confidently with premium Travel Protection Benefits, including Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Trip Delay Reimbursement and more. For some people, this one feature alone makes it all worth it

If you don’t have it already, now’s the time to get started.

2. The Chase Freedom Unlimited (SM)

What Chris loves about this card:

  • When you spend $500 in the first three months, you instantly get $150 cash back
    There’s no an annual fee — ever
  • You get unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases automatically (even outside of travel related expenses)

Other bonuses:

  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After the intro period, a variable APR of 14.24-23.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • You can redeem your cash rewards anytime for any amount. Get the money deposited into your account on your terms. Whether you want it every few dollars to save up to a few thousands. This is a great option. And there are no secret hoops to jump through to get your cash back.
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open

3. The Platinum Card® from American Express

What Chris loves about this card:

Even though this card comes with a steep $450 annual fee (that can’t be waived), it comes with a TON of great benefits for heavy travelers including:

  • Lounge access in the U.S. and throughout the world thanks to complimentary Priority Pass membership
  • A $200 credit that can be used for airline extras on any carrier you want
  • Reimbursement for your Global Entry application ($100)
  • No foreign transaction fees on any purchases (great for international travelers)

One of the biggest benefits of this card is that the points are incredibly flexible. You can easily transfer points to miles in your favorite hotels and airline programs. In addition to dozens of other benefits this card offers to travelers, you’ll also get a 40,000 point signup bonus with a $3,000 minimum spend in your first three months.

Other bonuses:

  • You get 40,000 points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases in your first 3 months
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit. Up to $200 a year in baggage fees and more at one airline
  • There are no foreign transaction fees with your Platinum Card
  • Immediately get complimentary Hilton HHonors(TM) Gold Status
  • No interest charges because you pay your balance in full each month

Head over to Chris’s site, Cards for Travel, for more info on of any of these cards and more travel tips.

Unlike delusional people who say “Yeah, I really want to take an awesome vacation…someday…” I want you to take it NOW.

If you don’t have one of these cards, now’s the time to get one and start traveling.

What are you waiting for?

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