BEST REWARDS CREDIT CARDS 2015

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THE BEST US AIRLINE AND HOTEL CREDIT CARDS FOR 2015

It may still be spring, but Memorial Day has passed and summer travel season has officially begun. If they haven’t done so already, many travelers will be looking to book transatlantic and international flights in the coming weeks.
Summer travel often involves more than your typical roundtrip flight from home and back. Many travelers look to pack in visits to multiple countries, especially in regards to European travel. This often means booking multiple one-way flights and hotels.
Summer travel planning can be stressful, but it’s also an experience brimming with endless possibility, and is undeniably one of the most exciting times of the year in the travel industry. Unfortunately when it comes to airfare, it is also one of the most expensive.
That’s where the credit card game comes into play. Following our recent article on the credit card game for beginners, today we provide a rundown of our top current credit card picks for our US-based readers, both for airlines and hotels.
Signing up for one (or more) of these cards can get you a roundtrip to Europe (or beyond) for next to nothing and depending upon your destination, even get you a few free nights in a 4 or 5 star boss hotel in the process.
The Park Hyatt Maldives

AIRLINES

Chase British Airways Visa
Some signup bonuses rise and fall, some leave the market altogether, but the Chase British Airways Visa has remained a constant. For as long as we’ve been reviewing the card, it has offered a signup bonus of 50,000 British Airways Avios (after $2000 in purchases made in the first three months after account opening), and no annual fee for the first year.
As we’ve demonstrated before, Avios are among the most valuable travel points in the airline industry. This holds true for worldwide travel, but particularly for travel within the US on BA OneWorld partners American and US Airways. Note: American and US Airways have officially merged as one company but still operate as separate brands.
Avios are valuable within the US for two key reasons:
1) Distance-based rewards. Unlike most airline reward programs, Avios are distanced-based. If you have a trip in mind that’s just a bit too far for a drive (Los Angeles to San Francisco, for example), Avios are a perfect option.
With all other US airline reward programs, a one way flight is a one way flight, and usually costs 12,500 miles, whether that’s from LA to San Fran or LA to New York. Not so with Avios. For all trips under 650 miles, a one way flight can be had for a mere 4,500 miles. You can offset this number even more with the Cash & Avios option, using a combination of a small cash fee and Avios to reduce the total amount of Avios used. See here for more information.
2) No award fees. Unlike most programs, Avios lend themselves to spontaneity. Like taking impulsive trips with 48 hours notice? Avios are THE reward program for you. Many frequent flier programs charge an “award processing fee” if a reward flight is booked less than 21 days prior to departure. Not so with Avios, a booking the day before costs the same amount of as a booking made months ago.
A signup bonus of 50,000 Avios is a gift, and one of the best deals on the credit card market today. Depending on your destination and/or itinerary, 50,000 Avios can easily translate to over $1500 value in free flights. For its value alone, this card is among our highest rated not just for summer travel, but year round. Get the Chase British Airways Visa card in your wallet ASAP.
Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard

The merger of US Airways with American Airlines left the US market with three major carriers: American, United, and Delta. Of these airlines’ reward programs, American AAdvantage remains our favorite.
For their ease of use, award availability, and date flexibility, we rate American AAdvantage miles as the most valuable airline points on the US market. Enrolling for this card is a great way to start or pad your account.
Its signup bonus of 50000 AAdvantage miles (awarded after $3000 of purchases in the first three months after account opening) is one of the best on the market today – enough for two domestic roundtrips anywhere in the US or one roundtrip from the US to Europe at off peak dates, potentially offering cardholders well over $1000 of free travel. The annual fee is also waived for the first year.
It’s worth noting that during peak season, roundtrip tickets from the US to Europe start at 60,000 AAdvantage miles. However, this amount can be easily reached through regular spending or flight bonuses if you fly with American or any other OneWorld carrier.
In addition to a signup bonus of 50000 miles, the card also provides account holders with free checked bags on all US domestic flights for the account holder and up to 4 guests, priority boarding, 10% refunds on all points redemptions, and 25 percent off in flight purchases.

HOTELS

Chase Hyatt Visa
For nearly two years, the Chase Hyatt Visa has been one of our most highly recommended hotel credit cards. First, because we rate Hyatt Gold Passport as one of the best hotel rewards programs in the US market and second, because of its generous and unrestricted signup bonus.
Most hotel rewards credit cards offer users a specific number of points as a signup bonus for enrolling for the card. And many of these offers are attractive and worthy of attention, enough to land 2 or 3 nights in a high-quality downtown hotel in most major cities. However, if you really want the top end of a particular brand, it’s still not enough points.
With the Chase Hyatt Visa, the signup bonus is different. After $1000 in spending within the the first 3 months after account opening, you don’t get a windfall of points. Instead, you are given two free nights in any Hyatt property worldwide. Hyatt has several brands in its portfolio, and among these are the ultra-luxurious Park Hyatt and trendy boutique Andaz brand.
Underwater dining at the Hilton Conrad Maldives

Depending on the location, rooms at Park Hyatts or an Andaz can easily go for $800 USD a night, or much higher. With this card, it doesn’t matter – you get two free nights at any Hyatt property of your choice, no matter the price.

This opens up a world of options. You could consider two nights at the Park Hyatt Maldives, an an amazing 5-star luxury retreat on an island a world away with your own private villa. A standard villa here goes for well over $1000 USD a night.
You could also consider the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Offering stunning views of the entire city, excellent food and the highest in luxury, this is one of Hyatt’s best. And as one of the most expensive cities on the planet, even basic hotels don’t come cheap in Tokyo. Rooms at the Park Hyatt Tokyo can easily go for $800 a night and so, free nights here offer amazing value both in terms of luxury and locality.
In addition to its excellent two free night signup bonus, the card also offers several good bonus categories for daily usage, awarding 2 Hyatt Gold Passport points per dollar spent on dining, airline tickets, and rental cars, and the standard 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
In another welcome benefit, the card also gives holders instant Platinum elite status within the Hyatt Gold Passport program. Platinum is the middle elite status tier of the program, and gives members: a 15% point bonus when earning points, complimentary room upgrades, free in-room internet access, late check out requests (until 2:00pm), an expedited check in line upon arrival, and several additional benefits.
Citi Hilton Reserve Visa
This is a surprising addition to our list. Hilton HHonors is not our favorite hotel points program. Redeeming points for free nights at the hotels you want is often difficult and Hilton’s rewards chart has been devalued to near-ridiculous levels. You now need an astonishing number of Hilton HHonors points to get a free night at a decent property in Europe or the US.
That said, you shouldn’t avoid the program entirely. There are still signup bonuses which offer a huge number of points to get you started. Currently, Citi is offering a Hilton Visa that’s a surprising gem in terms of overall value.
Like the Chase Hyatt Visa above, the initial attractiveness of this card isn’t a huge amount of points. Instead, it offers two free weekend nights right off the bat after spending $2500 on the card in the first four months.

Upon account approval, cardholders are given two free weekend nights at any Hilton property worldwide. And unlike many other hotel rewards programs, these award nights aren’t capped at a certain level. You can use these free nights at Hilton properties that would ordinarily costs thousands per night. The only slight drawback is the card’s restriction to weekend nights, as opposed to any night with the Chase Hyatt Visa – a small price to pay given the thousands in value at stake.

Room with a view at the Hilton Bora Bora
In addition, since Hilton is a much bigger company with a much bigger portfolio of properties, the options for redeeming your free nights at luxury properties is amazing. In practically every corner of the world, a high-end Hilton property can be found.
Nights at exotic properties in locales such as Tahiti at the Hilton Bora Bora or Thailand at the Conrad Koh Samui. These can normally cost over $1000 USD per night, but can be yours for free.
Note: The $95 annual fee for this card is not waived for the first year. However, for a limited time, the card offers a $100 statement credit on your first stay at any Hilton property in the first three months, which easily makes up for the fee.
Summer is always the most exciting time of the year for travel and thankfully, many banks are offering phenomenal credit card bonuses to match.
As we always stress when it comes to travel rewards, what is here today may not be here tomorrow. If any of these cards and rewards programs appeal to you, act now to get the card(s) that best suit your needs and don’t hesitate. Happy planning!
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