What are the best cards to earn award flights this year?
The answer depends on where you want to fly. You’ll get the most personalized results if you use our CardFinder tool and enter your monthly spending habits. We don’t store any information, and there’s no login required.
But if you’re looking for general suggestions, here are some of the best credit cards for earning flights in economy class based on where you want your points and miles to take you. They are cards with points you’ll actually be able to use, based on our knowledge of earning and using millions of miles. And we’ve taken into account all the changes to frequent flyer programs that have been announced recently
Most regular airline miles just don’t give you a lot of value for travel close to home – you can expect to pay 30,000 – 50,000 miles for a basic coach ticket. So you’re better off with a double points card that you can use for travel on any airline like the Barclaycard Arrival.
Every point you earn is worth one cent, so 10,000 points = $100 in travel value. And you earn them twice as fast as most traditional airline cards thanks 2x points on all of your purchases. There’s also a little 10% refund of points you spend, so it really works out to 2.2x points on all of your purchases, a nice deal for an annual fee that’s lower than many airline cards.
Using your points is easy. Just pay for any travel expense (plane ticket, hotel room, car rental) with your card, then you can use points to pay for some or all of it. If you spend $1,500 a month it’s easy to earn over $300 in travel rewards a year, even with the annual fee.
Pro tip: If you are willing to do some homework and live in a city with a lot of American Airlines, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines flights there is a way to get flights for as few as 9,000 points roundtrip. It involves some Chase cards that let you earn British Airways points. Learn about it here.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is your best bet to save on trips to Hawaii. You can transfer points to your mileage account with United, which gives you lots of options to get there starting at 45,000 miles roundtrip.
Pro tip: If you live in a city that Alaska Airlines serves to Hawaii (which is basically anywhere on the West Coast) you can take advantage of a cool deal. You can fly to Hawaii for just 25,000 points roundtrip thanks to British Airways’ partnership with them. It’s not the most obvious thing, but read here to learn more about it.
Traditional airlines miles don’t usually offer a ton of value to the Caribbean. Fares are already pretty cheap and the price in miles is usually pretty high. If you must go that route, American AAdvantage miles are decent with some days available for 35,000 miles roundtrip.
But you’ll save a lot of frustration if you stick to the Barclaycard Arrival and have the flexibility to save on flights with any airline.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card gives you lots of flexibility to get to Europe. It lets you transfer points you earn into your United MileagePlus mileage account at any time. That’s useful because you can use United miles to fly on United, Lufthansa, Air Canada, and more airlines to Europe with lots of days available for 60,000 miles roundtrip. United’s mileage program doesn’t charge surprise fuel fees on awards like American Airlines’ program does.
Earning is fast thanks to 2x points on all dining and travel spending you put on the card.
And if you want to use your points for places besides Europe you’re in good shape. The points from the card transfer into Southwest miles as well, with hassle free options throughout the U.S.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card again is a great option. You can use transfer points to United and use United’s partners ANA, Thai, Air China, EVA Airways, Singapore Airlines, and more to get throughout Asia with good availability of award seats. Most of them are easy to see right on United.com when you do an award search.
The miles are also really flexible – United lets you add in a free stop at any city along the way so for example you could see both Beijing and Phuket for several days each on the same trip.
Pro tip: American AAdvantage miles are also really useful, though they don’t have as many partners to Asia as United and you need to call in to book them. But you can often get seats for just 50,000 miles roundtrip, a great deal.
There are two stories for South America. If you’re trying to get down to Brazil, Argentina, or Chile stick with American miles. Between their own flights and partners LAN and TAM you have the most options down there.
But for other parts of South America the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and transferring to United miles is your best bet. United’s partners Copa and Avianca have the area covered with lots of flights and award availability at the lowest priced mileage levels.
If you’re trying to get down under American AAdvantage and its Citi cards are your best bet thanks to lots of space available on partner Qantas for 75,000 miles roundtrip.
If you earn most of your points from basic credit card spending the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card is one of the fastest ways to earn free nights. Starwood is the program for many hotel brands you recognize, including Westin, Sheraton, W, Le Meridien, and St. Regis.
And it doesn’t take a lot of points for reward nights. Most hotels are under 20,000 points a night, with many available for 7,000 – 10,000 points. For example the Disney Swan and Dolphin hotels, which are right on the Disney World property in Orlando, are available for 10,000 points a night, even though they often retail for over $200 a night.
Even better – there are no blackouts or restrictions like with airline miles. If a room is available to book in cash, you can book it with points.
Starwood also has useful ‘Cash and Points’ awards so you can stay at many hotels for $70 a night plus 5,000 points.
The best strategy isn’t to stick to just one card. It’s to apply for several cards over time, building your balances with intro bonus offers in several programs so you have lots of miles and points to choose from.
Applying for a couple of cards every few months is what a lot of mile enthusiasts do. It lets them try out cards and programs to get a feel for which are best for their own needs, and the intro offers let them earn a lot of award travel in the process. Many offers give you 30,000, 40,000 or more miles to start.
You can do the same if you want to put a little effort into it. You credit score generally declines 3-5 points per card application, but that impact only lasts 12 months on your report, and many people have seen their scores go up as they handle more lines of credit responsibly. So if your credit score is already well above 700 you have good breathing room to try this.
Just make sure you keep track of when annual fees come due and pay your cards in full each month. For the best credit score impact you should pay them off before the statement date.
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