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The Best New Credit Cards for Serious Travelers

By Ramsey Qubein

May 7, 2018

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These credit cards offer serious benefits for dedicated travelers.

By AleksSafronov / Shutterstock

These credit cards offer serious benefits for dedicated travelers.

Is that junk mail or your ticket to ride? Take a look at the season’s latest cards and maximize your perk potential per dollar spent.

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The latest credit card offers can help fill that miles and points void just in time for your next trip. Many frequent travelers will tell you that travel rewards credit cards are now the most lucrative way to earn miles, annual travel credits, and ultimate rewards points since airlines slimmed down earning potential for most people. There’s something ironic about looking to your wallet if you want to score priority boarding, a cheaper hotel stay, a free checked bag, or even a free trip. Still, travelers enthusiastic about loyalty programs and reward rates should keep these new credit cards on their radar.

1. United Explorer Credit Card

The new United Explorer Credit Card delivers 40,000 MileagePlus miles for spending $2,000 within the first three months.

Cardholders earn two miles per dollar spent on United plus double miles on dining and hotels. There is also a $100 credit to be used for Global Entry or $85 credit for TSA Pre-Check, and 25 percent off onboard purchases, including snacks and Wi-Fi access.

A free checked bag for up to two travelers, two United Club passes per year, Group 2 boarding, and no mileage expiration for account holders will remain perks going forward.

Choose this card if ... you are a frequent United flier who spends a lot at restaurants and hotels. A solid alternative is the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which ups the ante with three Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on all travel and dining, Priority Pass membership, and the opportunity to transfer points back to United. It has a $450 annual fee versus the $95 fee for the United Explorer Credit Card.

2. Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

This is one of the newer cards in the Hilton Honors portfolio and is aimed at big spenders interested in lots of Hilton Honors points. In exchange for a $450 annual fee, new cardholders can earn 150,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of having the card.

What’s more, the card comes with 14 points per dollar spent on Hilton family hotel purchases and seven points per dollar spent for flights booked directly with an airline or through the American Express travel portal, car rentals booked directly through the company, and all U.S. restaurants. All other purchases earn three points per dollar spent.

Hilton Honors fans will surely say that the best perk of this card is automatic Diamond status, which comes with lounge access, free breakfast, and suite upgrades. There’s also a free weekend night just for signing up for the card plus an additional weekend night each year after renewing the card. Another free weekend night can be earned for spending $60,000 within a calendar year.

Choose this card if . . . you stay frequently at Hilton family brands (especially the upper-tier properties) and value the added benefits that come with Hilton Honors Diamond status without having to do all the travel leg work to earn it the hard way.

3. Barclays Arrival Premier World Elite Mastercard

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The Barclays Arrival Premier World Elite Mastercard comes with big rewards in the form of two Arrival miles per dollar spent on everything, making it a lucrative rewards card for those who charge everything. The card comes with Global Entry credit, access to Lounge Key airport lounges, and up to 25,000 loyalty bonus miles for keeping the card and meeting the spend threshold each year. Another unique feature of the card is that members can contribute to Barclays Travel Community to earn additional miles for sharing stories in the forum.

Choose this card if . . . you tend to charge everything you buy to one card. Offering two points per dollar on all purchases, it’s a fast way to score lots of miles, especially if many of your purchases do not fall into the travel or dining category stipulated by other cards with bonuses.

4. Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card

As part of the merged program between Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, the new Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card will offer to Marriott Rewards members an impressive six points per dollar spent at some 6,500 hotels across 30 brands. All other spending is rewarded with double points, and those who spend $5,000 within the first 90 days can earn a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points.

If hotel status is your jam, it comes with automatic Silver Elite status and a free hotel night (up to 35,000 points) each year you renew the card. Starting next year, the card comes with 15 elite-qualifying nights and Gold status for spending $35,000 per year. The annual fee is only $95, which means that the perks could easily outweigh the cost of the card fee.

Choose this card if . . . you value hotel points and elite status above frequent flier miles. With 6,500 hotels across 30 brands in 127 countries and territories, there are a lot of Marriott Rewards properties to redeem those hotel points.

5. Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card

Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and Starwood program points may all be merged, but the individual brand names will be sticking around a bit longer until early 2019. This new card comes with a great signup bonus and is a huge earner of Marriott Rewards points (don’t be confused by the card’s brand name).

If you had a Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express, you are still eligible to apply for this card, which comes with enhanced travel benefits. Cardholders automatically receive Gold Elite status in Marriott Rewards, which means bonus points and the potential for room upgrades, and (beginning in 2019) 15 elite night credits to apply to getting to the next level, Platinum Elite. This is meant to be a big-deal premium card and comes with perks like Priority Pass lounge access to hundreds of lounges around the world plus TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry fee waivers.

Its $450 signup bonus may sound like a lot at first, but travelers will get a $300 statement credit when using the card at any Marriott family hotel. It earns 6x points per dollar spent at Marriott family properties, triple points at domestic restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines, and double points on everything else.

Choose this card if . . . you’re a Marriott loyalist and looking to rack up big points to take advantage of the fantastic deal opening up category 7 properties (like St. Regis Bora Bora and St. Regis Maldives) at a reduced points rate before they become category 8 properties in January.

6. Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard

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The Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard is the ideal card for anyone living on the mainland who plans to vacation in Hawaii. New cardholders score 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months of having the card plus a one-time 50 percent off companion discount for round-trip economy class travel between Hawaii and North America on Hawaiian Airlines.

Other valuable perks include one free checked bag on Hawaiian-operated flights, waived foreign transaction fees, and access to World Elite Mastercard benefits like shopping discounts and hotel satisfaction guarantees.

For the $99 annual fee, cardholders earn three miles per dollar spent on eligible Hawaiian Airlines flights, two miles per dollar spent on gas, dining, and grocery stores, and one mile per dollar spent on everything else.

Alaska, American, Delta, and United fly to Hawaii mostly from their respective hubs, but finding award seats can be a challenge. Hawaiian Airlines offers flights from 12 mainland destinations, more than any other airline, which vastly ups your chances of finding award seats on their flights. Plus, Hawaiian is the only North American airline to offer free hot meals on all of its out-of-state flights.

Choose this card if . . . you’re tired of hunting for the occasional award seat on mainland carriers and want to take the family to Hawaii on vacation. The better odds of finding award redemption space paired with the 50 percent companion discount makes this a solid deal for those bound for paradise.

7. Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

It’s not all about miles and points. Fans of Lyft will find that the new Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express can be a winner, too. You earn double miles on Delta purchases and visits to U.S. restaurants. There’s a 20 percent savings on inflight meals, drinks, and headsets. People who sign up for the card between now and October 18 can earn two miles per dollar spent and up to $50 in statement credits on eligible Lyft purchases in the United States during the first six months of having the card. Plus, if you spend $500 on the card within the first three months of having it, you earn 10,000 SkyMiles.

Choose this card if . . . you’re a frequent Delta flier, Lyft user, and SkyMiles fan. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card provides more points on many purchases, but it comes with a $450 annual fee. The Blue Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, on the other hand, is free.

8. Uber Visa Card from Barclays

The Uber Visa Card from Barclays is a solid cash-back card giving you 4 percent back on dollars spent on dining, bars, and UberEATS; 3 percent cash back on airfare, hotels, and vacation home rentals; 2 percent cash back on Uber rides, online shopping, and video or music streaming; and 1 percent back on everything else. If you spend $500 within the first three months of having the card, you score a $100 bonus. Other perks include mobile phone protection and foreign transaction fee waivers.

Choose this card if... you value cash in hand more than miles and points. 

This piece was updated on Sept. 12, 2018 to include some more recommendations and extra detail.

>>Next: Marriott Just Shook Up the Loyalty Game—Here’s What’s in It for You

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