Credit Cards for People Who Love Free Travel and Money

Physician on FIRE has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Physician on FIRE and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.


I love travel. Money, too!

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All Credit Cards by Category

Top Cards & Limited Time Offers

Credit Card Tracking Spreadsheet

How 1 Card Saved Us $3,000

Simplify Managing Multiple Cards

 

Additional Credit Card Posts:

 

Best Small Business Credit Cards

Best Cash Back Credit Cards

 

For many years, I used one Chase credit card for pretty much everything. With a typical credit card bill of $4,000 to $5,000 a month, I was rewarded with $40 or $50 worth of points every month and I thought that was pretty darned good.

When I shopped at Amazon, I got triple the usual points, and there used to be some other perks, like using $250 worth of points for a flight worth up to $400. I knew the ins and outs of the one card’s benefits pretty well, and I did my best to get the most value I could for my points.

When the redemption options changed and the points were essentially devalued, my eyes started wandering to these other shiny cards I was starting to hear about online. There are plenty of fish in the banking sea, and I was willing to cast a line to see if there were better options out there for me.

Boy, were there ever.

Since then, and then was just a few years ago, I’ve done much better.

 

I’ll bet you could do better, too.

 

Credit Cards Travel Money

a sampling of my card collection

 

Credit Cards for People Who Love Travel and Money

 

In the last two and a half years, I’ve booked at least 20 round-trip flights, about half of them to international destinations, using bonus points and miles earned mainly from introductory offers on various credit cards. The only out-of-pocket costs on those flights are the taxes and fees, which typically run $5.60 each way on domestic flights (and more for international flights).

I don’t keep a ledger of all the travel I’ve booked this way in the last couple years, but off the top of my head, I know I’ve booked all of these nearly-free flights:

 

In total, I would guesstimate I’ve saved over $20,000 in travel costs in the last couple years, and I don’t spend a ton of time on this stuff. That $20,000 I’ve saved is the equivalent of earning an extra $35,000 or so when you factor in the taxes I pay on earned income. Bonus miles and points are not taxed.

 

Another way think about it is that, for a high-income earner, $10,000 in free travel is like getting an $18,000 raise. 

 

I have acquired a number of different credit cards, of course, but I can easily meet the minimum spending requirements in a month or two, and when you have a system to track your cards, it’s not difficult to manage.

And I’ve got just the thing you need.


 

Top Travel Reward Cards

 

Credit Card Spreadsheet — Track the Details

 

I’ve been on a spreadsheet-building spree lately, and I made another one just for you. Well, it’s for me, too. I took the one I’ve been using and spruced it up, including some of the better offers available for those who love free travel and money.

There are columns for all of the pertinent information, and I’ve pre-filled the current info for some of the top cash back and travel reward cards available, with some recent limited time offers highlighted in red. I’ve blurred the data as it changes often, but I frequently update the actual spreadsheet available for download.

 

Personal credit cards

 

Business Credit Cards

 

Business_Credit_Card_Tracker

 

I’ve also summarized the best perks for these cards. This screenshot has been edited to fit the perks on screen.

 

 

 

Finally, if you prefer to start with a blank slate, entering only cards you currently own, the second tab in the file gives you an empty canvas on which to paint your card rewards masterpiece.

 

 

Subscribers to the site already have a link to the spreadsheet in the e-mail I sent out, but if you enter your email to download, you won’t be double-subscribed.

If you would like a copy of your own, please enter your e-mail below, and I’ll send you a link. You’ll be subscribed with the option to receive a weekly digest and can opt out completely with one click.

Credit Cards I Have Used

 

I plan to update this spreadsheet with new offers and updated information when it becomes available and subscribers will be alerted to new copies of the updated spreadsheet when it becomes available.

Note that I have not acquired all the cards listed on the spreadsheet, but I have used each of the following cards in recent years:


 

Free Money with Credit Cards: How One Card Saved Us $3,000

 

How valuable are these points? To give you one example, I booked our flights to Honduras (we left Friday, April 27th) on March 7th. Based on the AAdvantage award chart, we can get to Central America for 25,000 points round trip with MileSAAver Off Peak seats.

I was able to find flights to Tegucigalpa that fit our itinerary at that point level, allowing us to partake in an amazing medical mission with One World Surgery as a family, paying only the taxes and fees for international travel, which totaled $74.70 apiece for the round-trip flights. If we had purchased the flights ourselves, we would have paid about $3,300 for the four tickets.

 

NPH_Honduras_Nerve_Block

a bedside peripheral nerve block in honduras

 

So for 100,000 points, we were able to fly round trip to Central America. Using a Citi AAdvantage card to pay for the fees, we were credited 10% of the miles back, so it actually only set us back 90,000 miles.

 

 

Currently, obtaining two (one for you and one for your spouse) of any of several available Citi Aadvantage Mastercards will get you enough points to get you to any American Airlines Caribbean, Mexican, or Central American destination and back.

The welcome bonus on two cards get the four of you to South America and back (or you and a loved one to Asia or Europe and back).

 

 

Tips to Simplify Managing Multiple Credit Cards

 

Always Autopay Your Credit Card!

 

The first thing I do when I acquire a new card is set up autopay by connecting the online credit card with my bank account and ensuring the full statement balance will be paid on time automatically.

It’s a good idea to keep at least a few thousand dollars in a checking account and / or have an automated sweep from savings into checking at your bank.

If you can’t afford to pay credit cards in full every month, you should not be using a credit card, plain and simple.

If you have the option to set your monthly due date for the credit card, there is some advantage to having each of your cards due at the same time to keep things simple.

If you fail to do this, it’s not difficult to miss a payment — and, yes, I have. The late fee or finance fees may be forgivable if you call the credit card issuer and make an honest plea, but it’s best to set it, forget it, and not have to make that awkward phone call.

 

No Companion Credit Cards

 

You will often be enticed to pick up a second card for a spouse on the same account with a bonus of points or miles that might be worth a small fraction of the welcome bonus.

I advise against this.

The better option is to apply for a new card under your spouse’s name and social security number, using household income on the application.

By opening a new account rather than obtaining a companion card, you can get double the bonus for each card you choose to acquire. Would you rather have 55,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points or 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points?

 

Top Small Business Cards

 

Chase Credit Cards First

 

If you are new to travel rewards, start with Chase cards. The bank has a “5 / 24” rule. If you have applied for five new credit cards in the last 24 months, you can expect to be denied. Companion cards count, unfortunately, even if you’re not the person who originally opened the account. We learned that lesson the hard way.

 

Chase Ultimate Rewards are among the most desirable and flexible reward points out there. They can be transferred to a number of travel partners including Southwest, United, Hyatt, Marriot, IHG, Ritz-Carlton, and a number of international airlines. Points can also be redeemed directly for travel at 1.5 cents per point with the Sapphire Reserve or 1.25 cents per point with the Sapphire Preferred.

 

Chase Personal Credit Cards

 

First Card: If I were starting anew today, I would start with a Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred card.

 

In addition to the difference in travel redemption, there is a drastic difference in annual fees. The Sapphire Reserve is $450 per year with the benefits of $300 of reimbursed travel and a $100 Global Entry credit every 5 years. You’ll receive 50,000 Ultimate Reward points when meeting the minimum spend of $4,000 in the first three months

The Sapphire Preferred has a much smaller $95 annual fee. The welcome bonus is quite generous with 60,000 Ultimate Reward points granted when meeting the minimum spend of $4,000 in the first three months.

 

Second Card: Grab either the Freedom (1% back + 5% on rotating categories) or Freedom Unlimited (3% back on the first $20,000 spent your first year, 1.5% back on everything after that). These will give you Ultimate Rewards points that are more valuable if transferred to one of the Sapphire cards you obtained first.

 

 

Third Card: Consider a travel card co-branded with your favorite hotel or airline. The following are all Chase cards:

 

 

Chase Business Credit Cards

 

Fourth Card: If you have any kind of business, the Chase Business Cards are outstanding options.

 

The Ink Business Preferred card gives you 80,000 Ultimate Reward points as a welcome bonus (currently the best welcome bonus out there, in my opinion) when you meet the minimum spend of $5,000 in the first three months and comes with a $95 annual fee.

The Ink Business Cash and Ink Business Unlimited cards give you $500 in cash after meeting the minimum spend of $3,000 in three months (and have no annual fee, ever).

 

Don’t Carry a Dozen Cards

 

You don’t want the George Costanza wallet bursting at its leather seams. There’s probably little need to carry more than about three cards at any one time, and if you’re not a dedicated optimizer, one card will do.

You can always swap out the card(s) in your wallet, purse, or manbag before traveling overseas, flying a certain airline, or staying at a particular hotel chain.

In my manbag wallet, I keep one cashback card (Chase Freedom) and one card that I’m using to meet the minimum spending requirement in the first three months. Depending on our travels, I may also have a card that matches the airline on which I’m traveling. If ttravelingoverseas, I make sure I have a card with no foreign transaction fees. Most of the cards on the spreadsheet qualify.

 

Don’t Stress

 

I don’t always use the most optimal card for the situation. As is true with most facets of personal finance, I’ve found there’s a point of diminishing returns when trying to use the ideal card in each and every transaction.

Applying the Pareto principle, 20% of the effort is likely to get you 80% of the results.

The same is true for redemptions. Don’t do anything foolish, like getting 0.8 cents per point when shopping on Amazon when you could have 1 cent per point in cash (there’s actually a card that does this). And use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points wisely. This often means transferring to a travel partner for a better redemption.

Don’t stress if you can’t remember which category gives you the most points this particular quarter. I can’t, either. If you’ve got a system that works, let me know in the comments. I can see where a label maker could come in handy, but I’m just not that into squeezing every last point out of my card collection.

Finally, I wouldn’t be too concerned about the effect of multiple cards on your credit score. My understanding from what I’ve read and what I’ve seen is that a new card can temporarily decrease your score by five to ten points. This is what mine has done over the last six months.

 

 

Finding the Best Travel Credit Cards

 

 

Many of the best credit cards can be found via my relationship with CardRatings. I implore you to consider using a link on this page, as I donate half my profits to charity. Any site that refers you to a credit card issuer receives a referral fee, and I’m not aware of anyone else being as generous with their affiliate income.

With that in mind, you can find all of the cards from the spreadsheet here. You’ll see a couple of my favorites, along with some limited time offers below.

If you’re a small business owner, see my post detailing some of your best options: The Best Business Credit Cards for Your Small Business

 


 

Top Credit Cards

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred: 60,000 points

 

    • 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in 3 months
    • $95 annual fee
    • 2x points on travel & dining
    • 25% more value when booking travel with Chase portal
    • Many point transfer partners
    • No foreign transaction fees

 

Learn More about the
Chase Sapphire Preferred.

 


Chase Sapphire Reserve: 50,000 points

Chase Sapphire Reserve

  • 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in 3 months
  • $450 Annual fee partially offset by $300 travel credit each year
  • Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓
  • 3x points on travel & dining
  • 50% more value when booking travel with Chase portal
  • Many point transfer partners
  • Free Priority Pass Select = Airport Lounges worldwide = free food and drink at hundreds of airports

 

Learn More about the
Chase Sapphire Reserve.

 


Current Limited Time Offers

 

This section is updated regularly as the offers frequently change. The welcome offers are typically above what you would normally see for these cards.

 


 

Hilton Honors Ascend American Express: 125,000 Points

  • 125,000 points after $2,000 spend in first 3 months
  • $95 Annual Fee
  • Weekend night free after $15,000 spend in a calendar year
  • 12x Points per dollar spent at Hilton, 6x or 3x in other categories
  • Automatic Gold Status
  • Diamond Status for > 1 year after $40,000 spend in a calendar year
  • No foreign transaction fees
Compare this card to others

 


Hilton Honors Business American Express: 125,000 Points

Hilton Amex Biz

  • 125,000 points after $3,000 spend in first 3 months
  • $95 Annual Fee
  • Weekend night free after $15,000 spend in a calendar year
  • 12x Points per dollar spent at Hilton, 6x or 3x in other categories
  • Automatic Gold Status
  • 10 Free Priority Pass Select Lounge visits per year
  • No foreign transaction fees
Compare this card to others

 


IHG Rewards Club Premier card80,000 Points

  • 80,000 points after $2,000 spend in first 3 months
  • $89 annual fee
  • Free night each account anniversary
  • up to 25 points per dollar at IHG hotels (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, etc…)
  • Free Platinum Elite Status
  • No foreign transaction fees

 

Learn More about the
IHG Rewards Club Premier card.

 


The World of Hyatt Credit Card from Chase: 50,000 points

  • 25,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months
  • Additional 25,000 points after spending $6,000 in first six months
  • $95 annual fee
  • Free hotel nights start at 5,000 points. Welcome offer worth up to 10 nights.
  • 1 Free night stay on cardmember anniversary

 

Learn More about the
World of Hyatt Credit Card from Chase.

 


Chase Ink Business Cash: $500: Again, straight cash, homey.

  • Spend $3,000 in the first three months
  • No annual fee
  • 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent on office supply, cable, and phone.

Learn More about the
Chase Ink Business Cash card.

 


Chase Ink Business Unlimited: $500: Straight cash, homey.

Chase_Ink_Business_Unlimited

  • Spend $3,000 in the first three months
  • No annual fee
  • 1.5% cash back on every purchase
  • 0% APR for 12 months on balance transfers

 

Learn More about the
Chase Business Unlimited card.

 


Chase Ink Business Preferred: 80,000 Points 

  • Spend $5,000 in the first three months
  • $95 annual fee
  • 3 UR points per dollar on travel and select business categories
  • No foreign transaction fees

 

Learn More about the
Chase Ink Business Preferred card.

 


 

Finally, a business card so good I’m not allowed to mention by name, but it will get you 70,000 Aadvantage Miles after $4,000 spent in 4 months. It only cost me 90,000 miles to take my family of four to Central America. The card also offers a free companion certificate if you spend $30,000 and renew the card the following year. Compare small business cards to find this offer.

Links to Cards by Category

 

 

You can always find these links quickly from the menu bar at the top of the page. On a desktop, it looks like this:

 

 

Finally, please exercise caution with the language in the comments. The card issuers don’t like the terms that rhyme with “travel snacking” or “travel packing.” Also, please avoid the yearning to use any word that starts like “church” and ends like “burning.” Thank you for your discretion.

Download the spreadsheet and start earning that cash back, those flexible points, airline or hotel points today!

 


Have you scored some nearly-free trips using travel rewards? What has your strategy been?

If not, what’s stopping you?

Physician on FIRE has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Physician on FIRE and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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