Getting the card with the most travel perks for your employees

Question for the expert Dear Cashing In,
I'm an employer for a small, specialty insurance company, with nine salespeople who travel extensively. The frequent flier advice columns -- including yours -- that I see have lots of advice for individuals, but could you help out a small-business owner, please? What airline/hotel credit card programs are there to maximize my benefits, while at the same time, giving me good opportunity to share the perks with my salespeople (especially the high producers)? -- Sven S.

Answer for the expert Dear Sven,
You're right that a business credit card can deliver substantial rewards for you and your hardest-working employees, especially if the rewards accrue based on all that travel. Whatever you choose, make sure it's suited for the kind of travel your business requires -- including the airlines and hotel chains you use most. If your business involves international travel, look for a card that has no foreign transaction fees and is widely accepted.

If you want flexibility, you might consider the Starwood Preferred Guest Business American Express. SPG points that you and your employees would earn are both generous and easy to redeem for travel. SPG points can be used at more than 1,000 hotels worldwide and 350 different airlines, all with no blackout dates. You can also save 3 percent to 10 percent on business expenses from FedEx, Hertz, OfficeMax and more with American Express OPEN Savings. Sign up before Sept. 4, 2012, and you can earn up to 30,000 bonus points -- enough for six weeknight stays at many Sheraton or Aloft hotels. Transfer 20,000 points to airline miles and you get another 5,000 bonus points.

SPG cardholders get their fifth night free if they stay four nights at the same hotel and their third night free at Sheraton hotels. You also get five "stay" credits toward elite status in their loyalty program. That's a lot of ROI for a $65 annual fee, waived the first year. However, this card won't do you much good if your business travel involves cities without Starwood hotels. (Starwood is not as well represented in some areas as other chains.) Also, make sure all balances will be paid on time as this is not a low-APR card.

A couple new options you may not have heard about: Chase Ink Plus and Citi Business ThankYou. A couple weeks ago, Chase re-launched its Ink Plus card with a new rewards program, aimed at giving small business owners the opportunity to earn points fast on business travel. Points on the new program don't expire and you can earn five points per dollar spent on $50,000 spent at office supply stores, cell and land-line phones, Internet and cable TV services each year. You also get two points per dollar spent on the first $50,000 at gas stations and hotel stays purchased through the hotel, and one point per dollar on all other card purchases.

Ink Plus cardholders get a 1:1 points transfer to major airline and hotel loyalty programs, and 20 percent off airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises when redeeming for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. They also get free access to 350 airport lounges around the world, no foreign transaction fees and free employee cards with spending controls.

Another new option is the Citi Business ThankYou card, introduced in June 2012, which allows small business owners to earn unlimited points for business-related purchases. You pay no annual fee and get up to 15,000 bonus points for signing up, but this one involves registering for revolving categories -- which can be a hassle -- and only the third quarter (July to September) rewards travel expenses (hotels, airlines and car rental).

Given all the travel your employees are doing, you're probably better off with Capital One Spark Miles (formerly the Capital One Venture Rewards Business), which offers two "No Hassle" miles on all purchases -- that's a 2 percent return. Miles are redeemable as a statement credit on everything from gas to hotels and dining. For a $59 annual fee, waived the first year, you earn a sign-up bonus of 10,000 points with the first $1,000 spent.

See related: What to consider before getting a hotel credit card, 10 ways business credit cards are different, Who owns frequent flier miles from a corporate credit card?

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Updated: 12-14-2018