Best Credit Cards for Flights in 2014

by on Wed March 19, 2014 • 4 Comments

Best credit cards for travel

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

Best for flying in the U.S. - Barclaycard Arrival Plus

arrivalplus170Most 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.

Best for Hawaii – Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Chase Sapphire PreferredThe 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.

Best for Mexico / Caribbean – Barclaycard Arrival Plus

arrivalplus170Traditional 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.

Best for Europe – Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred CardThe 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.

Best for Asia – Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred CardThe 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 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.

Best for South America – American AAdvantage and Chase Sapphire Preferred

AAdvantage VisaThere 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.

Best for Australia – Citi AAdvantage

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.

Best for Hotels – Starwood Preferred Guest American Express

starwood170If 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.

Want to earn more miles?

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.

We keep a list of the latest deals here

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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4 thoughts on Best Credit Cards for Flights in 2014

  1. annie

    I fly a lot between NYC and France and am a Delta frequent flyer – their delta ax card is expensive and does not offer many miles -
    what would you advise ?

  2. Julie

    I travel internationally to different parts of the world. Is there a universal miles card that does not limit one to any particular part of the world, i.e. Europe, Asia etc.?


      @Julie- The Barclaycard Arrival Plus earns points you can use to reimburse any travel expense anywhere in the world. United miles are also pretty useful for most international travel if you’re starting from abroad as they have the largest number of airline partners.

    2. Deb

      I have a VISA card through my local Credit Union that participates in a program called “Scorecard Rewards” and I have used points accrued through this card to purchase over 15 airline tickets. You get points for each purchase, and they can be applied to travel and merchandise. I have my pick of airlines and they have agreements with hotels all over the world and transportation. You can apply points and pay a balance, credit levels range from $325 off a ticket in the contiguous 48 states, or $825 towards a ticket to anywhere in the world, and the past few summers have a reward level that will get you deals for a full ticket to for example Eastern Europe. You can choose your flights and I’ve never experienced black out dates or times.

      I highly recommend this program. The points are awarded based on your spending, but you can combine multiple cards into a “household” my husband, myself, and our college student son are grouped together. We use our cards for everything and then pay off the balance each month. I highly recommend this program.

  3. Srinivas N

    I was looking between Barclays Arrive+ card and Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

    Chase card seem to have advantage as it is linked to British Airways and United.

    Arrive+ seem to cover AA, US Air plus – I noticed these advantages
    * Double Manufacturer warranty
    * Rental car Collision waiver
    * Tripit Pro account
    * Free FiCO scores

    Sapphire card do not seem to have any other advantages other than miles (which I think are some what similar to what Arrive+ gives)
    Why is Sapphire Preferred card gets better reviews and recommendations every where?


      @Srinivas N – The Sapphire Preferred also has double warranty and rental car collision waiver benefits. It also has trip delay coverage which the Arrival does not have, so you can get some reimbursement if your flight is delayed and you end up needing a hotel room.

  4. Kourtney

    I am planning my wedding for next year in Costa Rica. What would the best card be for flights to this area? Also, a card in which I can transfer the balance from a different credit card.



      @Kourtney – First we never advise transfering a balance to a points earning credit card. The reason is, any new purchases you make (which you would try to earn points) will be hit with the full, high interest rate, not the 0% balance transfer rate. So you end up paying more in interest charges than you will earn from the points.

      Better to find a good zero percent balance transfer like the ones from PenFed or Chase without points and transfer there.

      Then, at the same time, you can use a separate points card for the normal spending you pay off each month. For Costa Rica the Barclaycard Arrival Plus is an easy bet – it’s a quick $400 you can use to erase the cost of your flight. Or, try the United Explorer 50k mile deal which you can use to fly Copa, United, or TACA to Costa Rica for as low as 35k miles.

  5. Kerry

    I’m hoping to find a cheap way to get to Bora Bora next year. Was thinking it wouldn’t hurt to reduce the cost by applying miles. I see in your listing that CitiAdvantage is great for Australia & Chase Sapphire for Asia. Any opinion on South Pacific-specific destinations?

    Also in need of a 0% interest card to transfer a high balance to. Thoughts?


      @Kerry – AA miles are your friend there. For 75k roundtrip you can get on the non-stop from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui. You can’t book this online, you’ll need to do it over the phone. Availability of seats is pretty decent right now for dates next year. If you can’t quite make it to 75k miles from cards, you can book a one-way for 37,500 miles. Then buy a cash one-way fare for the other direction. On this route one way cash tickets are usually just half the lowest roundtrip fare, so they aren’t extra expensive.

      If you are flying in from somewhere else besides LAX there’s no extra mileage charge as long as seats are available, but always best to ask the agent to check that LAX-Papeete availability first.

      The other thing to note is to get from Papeete to Bora Bora you’ll have to pay for a short flight on another airline called Air Tahiti (different from Nui). They don’t let you book with points so you’ll have to pay for that out of pocket. You could also use points from a card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus to buy that ticket. The Arrival Plus has a 40,000 point intro bonus that’s worth $400 toward any plane ticket.

      As for 0% deals…consider searching for a site called Magnify Money, they have a pretty good list of them.


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