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Here at MMS, we’re all about the best travel credit cards with the highest welcome offers, ongoing perks, and return for your spending. And we always recommend Chase cards for folks who are new to the travel hobby, because they’ve got stricter application rules than other banks.
Issuers like Chase, AMEX, Citi, and Capital One have some of the most valuable welcome bonuses these days. But if you already have lots of their cards, or have been in the hobby for a while, you might be searching for other options that can give you a boost towards your travel goals.
These certainly aren’t the first cards we’d recommend to newbies. But for folks who might have limited choices in what they can apply for, there are still great offers to consider.
I’ll share a few picks for best travel credit cards that might be flying under your radar.
These Aren’t the Best Travel Credit Cards for Newbies – But for Travel Veterans, They’re Worth a Look
Read our post about the best travel credit cards
It’s tricky when you’ve been into miles and points for a while and have already gotten most of the best cards for travel. In a lot of cases, you’re locked out of getting more bonuses from the biggest card issuers because they have tight rules around their card applications. For example:
- Chase has their “5/24 rule,” which means you won’t be approved for most Chase cards if you’ve opened 5+ cards from any bank (except for certain business cards, including Chase business cards) in the past 24 months – the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is our favorite card for beginners
- American Express limits folks to one card bonus, per person, per card, per lifetime. So if you’ve had an AMEX card in the past, you won’t be eligible for the bonus on that exact same card again
- Citi won’t approve you for a card if you’ve opened or closed a card within the same “brand” (like their Citi ThankYou cards, or American Airlines cards – although there are exceptions) within the past 24 months
1. US Bank Altitude Reserve
Apply Here: U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card
Harlan keeps pressing me to consider the U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card, and he’s got a good point – it comes with an excellent welcome bonus. You’ll earn 50,000 points (worth $750 in travel) after spending $4,500 on qualifying purchases within the first 90 days of account opening, up to $325 in annual travel credits, and 3X points on travel and mobile wallet purchases.
That’s a nice deal from one card, but there’s a big caveat. In order to be approved for the US Bank Altitude Reserve, you must have an eligible existing relationship open and active with US Bank a minimum of 5 business days before you submit your application. This could include:
- Checking or savings account
- Certificate of Deposit
- Home Equity Loan
- Home Equity Line of Credit
- Auto/Boat/RV loan
- Personal loans
- Private banking account
- Consumer credit card issued by US Bank
If you’ve already got a relationship with US Bank, the Altitude Reserve is worth considering, particularly if you spend a lot on mobile wallet purchases. For example, Harlan uses his card in combination with Apple Pay to earn 3X points at Costco.
It also comes with additional perks, like:
- Complimentary membership to Priority Pass Select airport lounges, with 4 free entries per year for you and 1 guest (you will NOT get additional memberships for authorized users)
- 12 free Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi passes per calendar year
- Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit of up to $100, available every 4 years
The $400 annual fee is NOT waived the first year, and additional cardholders are $75 per year. However, if you’ll make the most of up to $325 in annual travel statement credits and perks like Priority Pass Select membership and GoGo in-flight Wi-Fi passes, you’ll come out ahead.
2. Wells Fargo Propel
Apply Here: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
With the Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card, you’ll earn 30,000 bonus points (worth $300 in cash back, travel, gift cards, or other rewards) after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
There’s NO annual fee. So it’s free to keep forever and potentially boost your credit score. Plus, you’ll earn:
- 3 points per $1 spent on travel purchases (flights, hotels, homestays, and car rentals)
- 3 points per $1 spent on eating out and ordering in
- 3 points per $1 spent on gas stations, rideshares, and transit
- 3 points per $1 spent on eligible streaming services, like Apple Music, Hulu, and Netflix
- 1 point per $1 for all other purchases
And when you pay your monthly cell phone bill with the Wells Fargo Propel American Express card, you’ll get secondary cell phone protection to cover repairs or replacements. Most cards with cell phone protection charge an annual fee, so this is a valuable perk.
After paying a $25 deductible, you get a maximum of $600 per claim and $1,200 per 12-month period. Note that the coverage is secondary, which means if you’re covered by another insurance policy you’ll have to file a claim with it first.
Here’s our review of the Wells Fargo Propel.
3. Barclaycard Arrival Plus
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® currently has its highest welcome bonus ever. You’ll earn 70,000 Arrival miles (worth $700 in travel statement credits) after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. The $89 annual fee is waived the first year, so it’s free to try out to see if it’s a good fit for your wallet.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus is an excellent choice if you don’t like fussing with award charts or worrying about blackout dates on flights and hotel stays. That’s because you can redeem your miles for just about any travel purchase, like:
Airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, purchase and travel agencies, discount travel sites, trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, and the account annual fee as defined by the merchant category code.
So if you’re planning a cruise, or a big train or camping excursion, it’s a good way to wipe out those costs. I’ve had this card in the past and used it towards hotel stays I couldn’t redeem other points for.
One big restriction with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus that can be frustrating: You’re limited to redeeming miles for travel purchases of $100 or more. So you can’t get a statement credit for, say, a $20 taxi ride. (If you’re looking to earn miles to redeem for travel purchases without a minimum redemption amount, have a look at the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card instead).
You’ll also get 5% of your miles back when you redeem them. And you’ll earn 2X miles on every purchase (so you don’t have to worry about tracking bonus categories).
A lot of folks who travel overseas like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus because it comes with no foreign transaction fees and Chip-and-PIN technology, which is useful in spots like Europe where you might need to enter a PIN at gas stations or train station kiosks.
After your first year with the card, you’ll want to evaluate it carefully, because there are other cards (like the Citi® Double Cash Card) that offer a similar rate of return with no annual fee. If you like the Chip-and-PIN technology, 5% miles rebate, and other perks (you can read our full review of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus here), it could be worth keeping long term.
4. Bank of America Premium Rewards
The Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card deserves some attention. It offers a 50,000 point sign-up bonus (worth $500 in cash back statement credits, gift cards, deposit to eligible Bank of America or Merrill Lynch account, or travel purchases through the Bank of America travel center) after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.
Points from this card are worth 1 cent apiece. And it comes with:
- 2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining purchases
- 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Up to $100 airline incidental credit (per calendar year)
- $100 Global Entry / TSA PreCheck credit
- NO foreign transaction fees
It’s got a $95 annual fee, not waived the first year. That’s quite low for a “premium” card, and if you can make the most of the airline incidental credit each calendar year, you’ll always come out ahead. In fact, if you were to apply for the card now, you’d get up to $100 credit for 2019 and another early in 2020 before your annual fee comes due, essentially earning $105 in free credits ($100 airline incidental credit X2 – $95 annual fee).
Here’s where the card can really shine: If you’re part of the Bank of America Preferred Rewards Program, you’ll get a bonus on your earning rates with the Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit card. Depending on how much money you have in your Bank of America account, or have invested with Bank of America or Merrill Lynch, you’ll earn:
- Preferred Rewards Gold members with $20,000 to $50,000 in assets – 25% bonus
- Preferred Rewards Platinum members with $50,000 to $100,000 – 50% bonus
- Preferred Rewards Platinum Honors members with $100,000 or more – 75% bonus
Unlike other premium cards, the Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card doesn’t come loaded with other extras like Priority Pass Select airport lounge access or the ability to transfer your points to airline and hotel partners. So after your first year with the card, you’ll want to assess whether the earning rate makes sense for you, compared to no-annual-fee cards.
But if you’ll use the full $100 airline incidental credit each year, it’s essentially free to keep because this credit negates the annual fee. And having it in your wallet while traveling overseas will save you on foreign transaction fees.
Have a look at our full review of the Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit card to decide if it’s right for you.
Just because you’ve been in the travel hobby for a while doesn’t mean there aren’t good travel credit cards to apply for. Here are a few that are worth a second look:
- U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card – Read our review of the US Bank Altitude Reserve
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card – Read our review of the Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® – Read our review of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
- Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card – Read our review of the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card
We always recommend that folks new to miles and points should consider Chase cards first (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card) because of their 5/24 rule. Then move on to top travel credit card bonuses from issuers like AMEX, Citi, and Capital One.
But after that, if you’ve already gotten a lot of these cards, you’ve still got options. As always, consider your travel goals (and whether or not you’re trying to become eligible for Chase cards again) before you pull the trigger on any new card.
Did I miss any of your favorite “sleeper” credit cards? Let me know in the comments!