An impressive selection of new travel rewards cards have exploded onto the scene with much fanfare. But some experts say you’re better off sticking with some perennial favorites as you plan your 2020 rewards strategy.
As banks scramble to attract new customers and increase their market share, an impressive selection of new rewards credit cards have exploded onto the scene with much fanfare.Over the past few years, the list includes luxury hotel credit cards like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card and cash back cards like the new Uber Visa Card. Meanwhile, other rewards cards we know and love (like the American Express® Gold Card) have been uniquely reimagined to offer more perks and better earning categories.
For the most part, these new cards and refreshed offerings have been welcomed by credit card enthusiasts everywhere. After all, having more options is better for everyone, right?
Lee Huffman, a credit card and travel expert who blogs at BaldThoughts.com, seems to think so – at least for the most part. More competition is always a positive for consumers, but since there are hundreds of cards to choose from, he also says it’s easy to get overwhelmed as you compare cards and their benefits.
5 travel rewards cards to consider in 2020
Tried and true travel credit cards to consider
To find the best rewards plan for your needs, Huffman suggests figuring out the type of rewards you want (hotel rewards, airline miles or flexible points, for example) and filtering your search accordingly. From there, look for cards that offer a big sign-up bonus and extra points in categories you spend the most in.
But if you’re tired of trying to keep up with all the new rewards cards and their unique offerings, you can also consider a different strategy altogether – signing up for a card that people have been raving about for years. Fortunately, there are plenty of rewards cards that have been around for a while.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve
According to credit card journalist Jason Steele, consumers searching for a new card should look for a competitive sign-up bonus, strong rewards for spending, valuable cardholder benefits and reasonable fees.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which has been around for a long time, checks off everything on this list and has experienced continued popularity thanks to its big sign-up bonus and affiliation with the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
Those who sign up for Chase Sapphire Preferred can earn 60,000 points worth $750 in travel (when redeemed through Ultimate Rewards) after they spend $4,000 on their card within three months of account opening. They also get 2x points on all travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases. You can cash in your points for cash back or gift cards, use them to book travel or transfer 1:1 to popular loyalty partners like Southwest Airlines, United MileagePlus, World of Hyatt and Marriott Rewards.
“This offers exceptional value to cardholders who have great choices when it comes time to redeem their rewards,” said Steele.
The best part? The annual fee is only $95.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve, which has only been around since August 2016, has also earned the respect of travel rewards cards experts and rewards enthusiasts everywhere. It was so popular when it was released, in fact, that Chase ran out of the metal cards they used to make it, and JP Morgan reported $200 million in unexpected losses during the quarter it was released because of the generosity of the card’s rewards.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers the same flexible points as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. In exchange for its higher $550 annual fee, however, you get an annual $300 travel credit, 3x points on travel (immediately after earning the travel credit) and dining and a Priority Pass Select membership, among other perks.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Steele also suggests taking a look at the The Platinum Card from American Express. This card offers flexible points you can redeem more than one way plus a wealth of benefits like airport lounge access, a $200 airline fee credit and elite status with airlines and hotels. There is also a monthly Uber credit worth $15 in every month except for December, when you get the $15 montly credit plus a $20 bonus ($35 total in Uber rides).
American Express charges a $550 annual fee to carry this card, but right now you can earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points if you spend $5,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. You also get 5x points on airfare booked with airlines as well as airfare or prepaid hotels booked through AmexTravel.com.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
Credit card expert Ben Luthi says he is a big fan of rewards programs that let you transfer points to airlines and hotels, but that there’s room for cards that offer flexible travel credits as well. That’s why he continues carrying one of the first rewards cards he signed up for – the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.
“I got it back in 2013, and it’s still one of the best cards on the market,” he said.
While the card’s terms and conditions have changed slightly over the years, the core benefits remain the same. It gives you 2x miles on all your purchases and you can redeem them for any travel expense over $100 at a rate of 1 cent per point. Currently, you can also earn 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within 90 days of account opening. The sign-up bonus alone is worth $700 in travel.
And while the Barclaycard isn’t affiliated with a specific loyalty program, this can actually work in your favor.
“I think the card’s flexibility is what makes it so competitive,” said Luthi. “You’re not stuck with one airline or hotel brand, and you can book travel however you want.”
While the Citi Prestige was temporarily unavailable for new sign-ups in 2018, travel writer and loyalty expert Ramsey Qubein says this is another oldie but goodie you shouldn’t ignore.
“My Citi Prestige has been sitting at the back of my wallet for years, but its recent announcement to add a hefty rewards boost to travel-related spend will make it my new go-to card soon,” he says.
Qubein’s suggestion is based on Citi’s intention to offer a refreshed version of this card starting in January 2019. The new Citi Prestige will offer 5x points on dining and air travel purchases, 3x points on cruises and hotel purchases and 1x points on everything else. The $100 Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit will remain from the old version of the card, but the $250 annual air travel credit will be expanded to cover any travel purchase instead of just airfare.
A big sign-up bonus is expected as well, though there aren’t any details available on how many points you’ll receive quite yet. Unfortunately, one of the card’s most popular benefits – a fourth night free on paid hotel bookings – can only be used twice per year starting September 2019. The annual fee is also increasing from $450 to $495.
See related: Why I wish I had a card with better travel protections
Considering a new card? Know the rules first
Before you rush out to sign up for a travel credit card that has stood the test of time, it’s important to know each card issuer’s rules on who can qualify.
For example, American Express has a “once per lifetime” rule that prohibits consumers from earning a welcome offer on each of its cards more than once \u2014 even if you haven’t had the card for five or six years.
Chase also sets limits on card approvals, including a rule that says you can’t get one of its rewards cards if you’ve had more than five new credit cards from any issuer within the last 24 months. For Chase’s popular Sapphire and Reserve cards, you’re also prohibited from earning a sign-up bonus if you’ve earned the sign-up bonus on either card within the last 24 months.
Citi includes language in most of its applications that says you cannot earn the signup bonus on a card if you’ve opened or closed a card within the same family of cards within the last 24 months. This means even if you’ve never had the Prestige before, you can’t earn the bonus on this card if you’ve opened or closed another ThankYou card like the Citi Premier Card within the last two years.
Barclays has rules that dictate who can earn its sign-up bonuses, too, but they are too vague to know where you stand for sure. The public application for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard states that you “may not be eligible for this offer if you currently have or previously had an account with us in this program.”