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The best mile credit cards of 2015 – Help to get started

by on Thu January 8, 2015 • 63 Comments

Best mile credit cardsYou’ve probably tried to use miles and points before, and had it end in frustration.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Not all miles are created equal, and the miles you should earn depend on where you want to go. Switching to the right card can make a big difference in how quickly you earn the trip you want.

We constantly monitor award prices and airfare for the most popular destinations, and use that intelligence in our tools and reviews. We’ll guide you to find the best cards for where you want to go:

CardFinderWant a decent card without much thinking? Our basic picks are below – choose one of those cards and you’ll definitely be headed in the right direction with a good bonus and miles in a program that’s valuable for your reward goal. While paying an annual fee opens the door to the most lucrative rewards, if you don’t want a fee, see our ranking of No Annual Fee travel miles cards.

Want to find the best cards based on your plans? Some cards are good for domestic travel, and bad for getting to Europe. Others are good for small spenders, but not adequate for big spenders. Our CardFinder tool will rank cards based on where you want to travel and how much you can spend on a card. monitors award availability and pricing for the largest airlines and uses that as part of the calculation to help you get in the cards that are right for where you want to travel.

Already have an airline in mind? If you are already earning miles via flying regularly, you can check all options for earning miles in your airline program. You might be surprised to see the card that’s best for you might not be the airline’s own card. Our CardFinder lets you compare options for each of the major programs based on your spending. Just go to the ‘Airline Credit Cards’ menu at the top of this page and you’ll see groupings by airlines, or go straight to the CardFinder and you can filter for specific airlines using the toolbar on the right.

Rather put in more effort to earn as many miles as possible? Applying for the biggest intro deals will get you there fastest if you’re willing to hold more than one card. You can often be earning 10 points per dollar or more whenever you’re spending toward an introductory offer, which adds up fast. Our bonus offers page details the biggest deals and is filled with tips.

If at any time you are confused or have a question, ask us by adding a comment at the bottom of the page, or use our Contact form and we’ll get back to you with personal help.

Best for Flights Overall

  • chasesapphirepreferred170May2014Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Why: For domestic travel, the ability to transfer the points you earn into Southwest Rapid Rewards points gives you good value (a $300 ticket needs just 22,000 Southwest points), though if all you want is domestic flights consider the Barclaycard Arrival below.
  • The card is also great for international flights because you can transfer points into your United MileagePlus account (see how) and take advantage of all the awards United has to offer, including round-trip tickets to Europe for 60,000 miles. It’s easy to find award seats for these awards thanks to United’s partners like Lufthansa and Air Canada. You can also transfer points into your accounts with other programs including Hyatt, Marriott, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Amtrak, IHG Hotels, and Korean Airlines.
  • If you’re thinking of trying more than one card, consider this one early. There are reports Chase tends not to approve people who have opened 5 or more new cards in a 2 year period.


Best for Domestic Flights

  • capitalone170Card: Capital One Venture Rewards
  • Offer: 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days (that equates to $400 off your next trip). $59 annual fee waived for the first year.
  • Why: Earns Double Miles on all spend, so you get easy 2% cash rewards good on any travel purchase. Just buy a ticket with the card and reimburse some of all of it with your points. Traditional airline miles are not usually a great deal for domestic travel if you don’t fly often – it’s hard to beat a 2% cash value, so this is a good choice for those flights.  Southwest points are also worth considering if Hawaii isn’t in your plans. You can compare both using our CardFinder tool. And while you can use your Venture miles to buy any international flight, it’s often a better deal to use real airline miles for those expensive flights.


Best for International Flights (Economy)

  • chasesapphirepreferred170May2014Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Why: 2x points on dining / travel and you can transfer the points you earn into real airline miles with United, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and Korean Airlines at any time. United has some of the best award availability for international economy class award seats thanks to its Star Alliance partners like Lufthansa. Awards to Europe start at 60,000 miles roundtrip with United.


Best for International Flights (Business / First Class to Europe)

  • Card: The Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card
  • Offer: Earn 15,000 points when you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days of account openingeveryday
  • Why: It’s possible to earn 1.5 points per dollar on everything, 3x on gas, and 4.5x on your grocery spending with this card. It’s the most powerful for earning Amex Membership Rewards, and they have some of the easiest options to Europe with miles. You can take advantage of Delta and its partners Virgin Atlantic and Alitalia by transferring points to Delta SkyMiles and flying for 125,000 miles roundtrip with decent availability. You can also take advantage of transferring to Virgin Flying Club and getting Delta flights for 100,000 miles roundtrip with no fuel surcharges.
  • Tip: You can transfer to Air Canada’s Aeroplan and book United flights for 90,000 miles roundtrip with no fuel surcharges, though availability on United is tough to find during peak months.


Best for International Flights (Business / First Class to Asia)

  • Card: Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®
  • Offer: For a limited time, earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.*
  • Why: American has some of the best availability in Business / First Class at good rates for long international flights thanks to its partners Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Iberia, Qatar Airways, LAN, Air Berlin, Royal Jordanian, and more. Beware though transatlantic flights on partner British Airways incur surcharges of about $1,000 on round-trip Business and First Class tickets.
  • Tip: Transatlantic / Transpacific business class flights need a lot of miles – at least 100,000 round-trip. You may want to pair this card with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. Why? Because the points it earns can be transferred into your American Airlines account at any time, along with over 20 other airlines. So getting the bonus from both of these cards will net you a lot of American miles very quickly.


Best for Hotel Nights

  • starwood170Card: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
  • Offer: Currently expired.
  • Why: If you’re primarily earning points via credit card spend, Starwood tends to have some of the lowest priced awards in terms of points required. For example its ‘Cash and Points’ option lets you use 5,000 points + $75 / night for its mid-level Category 4 hotels, which include many W, Westin, Le Meridien, and Sheraton hotels.
  • An added bonus is that you can transfer the points you earn into over 20 airline mile programs, including American and Delta. You also get an extra 5,000 miles for every 20,000 points you transfer, making this a great card for topping off your airline miles. We recommend this if you’re saving up for a high value international flight.

Want to really boost your earning?

The fastest way to earn miles and points is to not stick to just one card. Instead, some people like to apply for several cards over time to try them out and earn the big sign up bonuses each offer.


The reason they do it is this:

Let’s say you’re using a card with a 30,000 mile bonus after $1,000 in spending within 3 months. That means for the first $3,000 you spend on that card you’re effectively earning 30 miles per dollar. That’s much better than any regular earning you’ll get from a card after the bonus.

So once the bonus spending on one card is done, you can consider opening up a different card and working toward that bonus. Let’s say it’s a card that earns 40,000 miles after $3,000 in spending. Then, you’re earning 13 miles per dollar you spend upfront. That’s a lot more than the 1-2 miles per dollar you will get if you continue with just one card.

This is not for everyone. Keeping track takes some discipline to know which cards you want to keep and which aren’t working out for you.

And there can be restrictions. For example Chase may not approve you if you’ve opened more than 5 cards in the last 2 years. So take it easy.

It’s okay to be comfortable with just one or two cards you really like and ‘setting it and forgetting it’ – you’ll still earn hundreds or thousands of dollars a year in extra travel rewards.

But if you’re really set on big mile balances going after bonuses for part of the year can help boost your accounts quickly and help you understand which cards work for you in the long term.

We keep a fresh list of the latest deals and tips here with information on how much offers are worth and what’s required to earn them.

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Follow @MileCards on Twitter for the latest updates and new offers

Still confused? Have a question?

Leave a comment below -- we'll reply shortly -- no need to use your real name. Or, use the email form at the top of the page for private advice.

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63 thoughts on The best mile credit cards of 2015 – Help to get started

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  8. Amalia Wechselmann

    I’m looking for a card that will give me miles for Lufthansa / Swiss and other Star Alliance airlines. Mostly
    International flights. Please help !


      @Amalia – A good bet there is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The points it earns can be transferred into United MileagePlus miles anytime. And that lets you book award seats on all the Star Alliance airlines.

  9. Wayne Parsons

    Last year I flew over 150,000 miles on United often paying a higher fare class in order too improve chances of complimentary upgrades. I am a 2 Million Mile United frequent flyer and have been a perennial 1K for several years. On domestic flights since December 2015 I have rarely received a complimentary upgrade (CPU) with a less than 10% chance of upgrade out of 14 trips. Almost all of the upgrades were on short flights on Regional jets or 737s. Longer flights which are the ones I usually book, the chances of an upgrade are very small and my results have not been better when I tried to use a Regional Upgrade certificate or miles to upgrade. On International routes United almost never has seats available for their System-wide/Global upgrades and I have had to wait until departure or a few days before departure for an upgrade. I often will try to find any routing to Europe through all available US airports to all available European airports and 3 or 4 months in advance have found no seats. I see little reason to fly United for the frequent flyer benefits. I can only imagine the frustration of United frequent flyers who only fly 75,000 to 100,000 miles. United has too many passengers and not enough seats. I am exploring other airlines after 30 years of loyalty to United. I can supply a running list of flights and upgrades to prove my point.

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  11. Derek

    Hi There,

    I got a new job where travel is required. I have to travel from California to Ireland regularly(4+ times a year). I would like to get a card that will help upgrade me to economy plus or first class just by having the card(Not sure if that is even possible). I started using Delta so have about 20K miles with them. Any advice? I can change airlines if that would be better. Alaska airlines has the companion ticket and is compatible with delta(right?) which I was considering.


  12. Catherine

    I’m looking into one of the Amex cards to build up miles for a flight to Europe in February (I already have the Sapphire and Explorer cards), and will most likely need to use United/Lufthansa to get to my distination. I noticed that the only Star Alliance member that Amex’s points transfer program can be used with is Air Canada. Can I transfer points to Air Canada and still book the flights I need on United or Lufthansa, and/or can I combine/transfer my United MileagePlus miles if needed to make up the difference? I did notice that on your description of the amex card you said 90,000 miles are needed to book United flights? (I usually book them for 60,000 miles). Thanks for clarifying.


      @Catherine – For Economy Class you can book United flights for 30,000 miles one way / 60,000 miles roundtrip via Air Canada. That 90,000 miles was for Business Class roundtrip. The catch is if you book Lufthansa flights across the ocean using Air Canada miles you’ll pay extra fuel surcharges.

      The surcharges are lowest coming back from Europe. So you could use United miles to book the flight from the US to Europe. Then Air Canada miles for the trip back on Lufthansa. You’ll pay about $150 USD ($200 Canadian) extra vs using United miles, which don’t impose a surcharge.

      If you manage to find United flights, Air Canada doesn’t impose any surcharge on those at all, so you can book those with your Air Canada miles and not pay extra surcharges.

      And short flights within Europe on Lufthansa won’t cost much either – it’s just the long segment across the ocean with Lufthansa that you’ll find the big surcharge.

  13. Irma

    I am new to this whole Miles Credit Card stuff and would really appreciate some help picking out the best for me. I am interested in International travel (don’t really travel domestic). I am looking for a card with good mile earnings which would allow me to book with any airline and not have to depend on just one specific airline. I see some cards offer miles if you spend a certain amount within the first 3 months or so (I think I can spend about $3, 000 in the first 3 months). Also I’d like something with not so heavy of a annual fee.
    Hope you can help! Thank you in advance :)


      @Irma – A Capital One Venture would work well for your needs. You get $400 in travel after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. There’s no fee the first year, then after that it’s just $59 which isn’t bad. To use the points, just pay for your flight with the card, then use the points to erase some or all of the cost of the flight from your statement.

      Any airline qualifies and you don’t need to use a special website to book. Just pay for your flight with the card wherever you’d like.

    2. Ashley

      I’m planning a trip to Europe in May/June of next year. I want a card that will accumulate the amount of points for the round trip ticket to save money for spending there. I also want to use the card while I’m there so no foreign transaction fees. no annual fee would be nice but it’s not a deal breaker. My monthly spending is about $500.


        @Ashley – The more effort, but higher value option would be to try two cards. Get the United Explorer for the intro deal, which requires $1,000 in spending in 3 months. You’ll get at least 30k points, which is enough for a one way ticket from Europe on the flights where ‘Saver’ space is available. Then when you’re done with that, consider the Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex, which has the same deal – at least 30k points, which is enough for a one way ticket to Europe on flights where ‘Saver’ space is available.

        If you know you’re really flexible with just about any day in May/June and are okay with having some backup cities in Europe this is your best option. Both cards have no fee the first year and no foreign transaction fees.

        You’ll use the Delta miles to get *to* Europe. Then use the United miles to get back *from* Europe. Just beware you need to stick to flights that have the award seats open. It’s a good idea to check on and to see if seats at 30k miles one way are generally available for the place you want to visit. No guarantees until you have the miles, but if you see a lot of options then that’s a good sign.

        If you can’t find ‘Saver’ space as a fallback you have a separate option to use the Delta miles to pay for part of the cost of any Delta flight. It’s called ‘Pay with Miles’ and 30k points is worth $300 if you use that option.

        If you think that’s too much to think about, then the simpler option is to get the no annual fee BankAmericard Travel Rewards card. You can use it to buy any ticket you want, and you can use your points to erase some of the cost after you buy it.

        With your spending level you’ll probably earn around 15,000 – 20,000 points, which is enough for $150 – $200 off your flight. So the total savings are less than with the United or Delta cards, which could save you $1,000 or more. But you don’t have to think about Saver seats or other things like that.

        1. Ashley

          Now with the restrictions with where AmEx is accepted is the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® a go option for the second card, it has the same opening advantage, but is a MasterCard?

  14. Hanna Cuttle

    My friend and I are relocating to Texas in the Spring. Will be buying furniture, etc, for two leased apartments. Since we hope to clear out of here, Walnut Creek, by May we will run into the hot months in TX. So we’ll also be looking for travel opportunities in cooler climes. Presently I have United’s Mileage Plus, Southwest Airlines and United Explorer, latter not yet used. I’m interested in adding Sapphire, is that a good idea? Hanna


      @Hanna – Yes it would complement well since you can move the points to either your United or Southwest accounts, and you can fly American flights via British Airways.

  15. Sylvia

    My husband and I along with our 7 yr old daughter plans to travel to Jakarta, Indonesia next year and would like to start saving up points. We have BofA business card cash reward. Our monthly personal spending is about $3000 and a huge business expense in the coming September about $23,000.
    We’d like to at least travel in premium coach but would prefer business class if we can.
    Which card(s) would be suitable for us? We have excellent credits.

  16. Kris

    One time trip to Europe. After doing research and picking a card I thought would work because the advertise pin can chip I found this web site. I mainly was looking for what the card offered for first time applicants. No interest on purchased for a period of time, no annual fee, etc. Don’t plan on keeping the card once I return. Now I am in doubt of the card I chose. Less then a week from leaving and I need to know if the Bank of America Visa will work all over Europe. Like I said, I am not in it so much for the rewards program a card offers.

  17. Denise Paschal

    Hello, I want to get a advantage card great for travel. We usually travel a couple of times a year. Not worried about annual fee, but I don’t spend to much on CC per month. Is there a card out there for me.


      @Denise – Where would you like to travel? For starters the Barclaycard Arrival is a good choice if you spend about $1,000 or so a month. You’ll get $400 for free travel quickly, and earn double points on everything. You can use the points to erase the cost of travel you buy with any airline or hotel.

  18. Cece

    We’re flying to Scotland for our 15th anniversary next year. We spend about $4,000 a month on our current cash back card but we’re reasearching miles cards. I wouldn’t mind flying business class :) Free coach tickets are fine too. What card would you suggest, I see the amex listed above for European travel but the Saphire looks really good too and seems to have a better opening bonus.


      @Cece – Business class to Europe can get tough, but it’s not impossible. For 2 people you’re going to need about 115-140,000 miles each if you’re flexible. If you just got one card, your $4,000 / month spending would get you about 100k points total in a year with the Amex Everyday Preferred for Chase Sapphire Preferred.

      So to get enough for 2 people you’ll need to get a few cards.

      Here are some ideas…

      Read here to see how you can earn 70-90k United miles with the Sapphire and Explorer options.

      Each of you should separately apply and get those cards, so you have 70-90k each. That’s enough for one way to or from Europe in Business Class with United or its partners.

      Then, consider this 50k deal for the American Express Premier Rewards Gold

      If each of you gets it you’ll be really close to the 62.5k or so you need for a one way to or from Europe in Business Class with Delta SkyMiles.

      Your ongoing spending will probably get you the rest.

  19. Sarah

    I’d like to travel to Italy and to New Zealand but have no travel rewards card at all. Which one would be the best for me to use? I don’t spend that much every month either ($600) so I’m not sure I could make the $1,000 per month requirement and would need the card to be flexible. My earnings in my pay will go up but I’d like to take the trip in three years. Would Capital One Venture card ($59/yr) or the Amex Everyday Preferred credit card be best? Should I wait until I get car maintenance done in order to reach the $3,000 spending limit in 90 days?

    Chase does not add up according to my spending habits so I can’t use them or their annoying portal you have to book everything through.


      @Sarah – The Venture is a good choice for you if you can wait until you have those repairs so you can hit the $3,000 in 3 months. That gives you $400 in rewards. Though afterward you may want to consider switching it to a no annual fee version. That is an option, and you can keep your rewards on request. After that, you may want to consider the Citi Double Cash which earns double cash with no annual fee.

  20. joe

    Have a united presidential plus card card can/or should i upgrade my card to a sapphire preferred? orapply for separate account? please advice thanks


      @joe – They’ll make you apply for a separate account. The Sapphire will earn you 2x on dining and travel. The Presidential Plus already earns 2x on United, hotels, and car rentals so a lot of the travel is covered there. The big difference is you earn points you can transfer to other programs like Southwest, Marriott, Hyatt, and others.

      So really 2 reasons you may want the card….1) if you want the transferable option, or 2) if you just want to top up your United account with the 40k bonus points for opening up a new Sapphire account (you can choose to transfer as many or as few of those points into United as you’d like).

  21. Larry Gropper

    Hello, I have 160,000 pts in Aeroplan, 150,000 pts in Amex, 140,000 in Starwood/Amex. I live in US. What is best way to use these for a round trip thru Europe(Ams to Vie to Greece thru Italy and Israel?


      @Larry – USA – AMS – VIE – ATH – USA is possible on one Aeroplan award ticket, with full stays in each. Beyond that you would need to do separate ticketing to Italy and Israel. Awards within Europe aren’t the best deal because of all the taxes and fees levied, but Air France Flying Blue using your Amex points would let you do an Athens – Italy (stopover) – Israel – Athens ticket. You could fly Alitalia for that and it would be 30,000 points roundtrip.

      1. Larry Gropper

        Thank you, quite complicated, but worth a try. I will call Aeor and Alitalia. Turkish Air also seems helpful.
        Thanks again., Larry


          @Larry – Another (still complicated) option is to transfer 135,000 – 140,000 Amex points to AsiaMiles and fly Business Class across the ocean. You can try to fly AirBerlin across the Atlantic and around Europe (they have hubs in Dusseldorf, Berlin, and Vienna). Use American or US Airways to meet up with the AirBerlin flight (they fly out of Chicago, New York, and Miami). The key with AsiaMiles is you get 5 free stops.

          The catch is for the 135,000 – 140,000 point price is you need to make sure your total flight distances are less than 20,000 miles. And Air Berlin only offers Economy class within Europe. The same trip in all economy across the ocean is 85,000 – 95,000 points.


      @Frank – No real difference. Sometimes if it doesn’t process immediately online you can call to check and see if there’s additional info they need.

  22. William Nelson

    I used the Card Finder and I’m confused by the results. Y’all suggest the Chase Sapphire Preferred (which I can get the fee waived since I’m Military), but the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature keeps coming up as the card that fits me the most. I happen to be a PenFed member. The PenFed shows $433 Travel Rewards Earned and 41,760 Annual Points (Ongoing Years). I tend to fly SW and United the most. So should I still get the Chase card or go with the PenFed? Sorry if this anwser is easier than I realize.


      @William- Sounds like the PenFed is the card for you. The CardFinder is tailored to your particular spending habits and travel goals. The general recommendations for the Sapphire Preferred are based on the most common spending habits, which are probably different from yours.

  23. gc

    it looks as if sapphire card provides more trip cancellation insurance than the mileage plus explorer. just wondering if this is in fact true? if so it would seem beneficial to purchase airline cards with this card? however doesn’t look like this card gives free checked bag… so a little confused… please clarify? If not is there a card that gives both?

      1. mommafrica

        Hello. I have the MileagePlus Select. I would like to know as to which card this actually is: Explorer,etc. because I don’t see it listed here. I also have the Sapphire Preferred. But I am now considering getting the Ink Business Card (one w/out an annual fee) and the Slate so that I can balance transfer the SP and another to the Slate and start using the Ink so that it won’t appear on my credit report being that I want to refinance my home. That being said, how will obtaining these cards affect the refinancing of my home? My score is in the high 760′s.
        Hopefully you can understand what I am asking here. This is kind of urgent.

        1. MileCards

          @mommafrica – The Select card isn’t open to new applicants anymore, it was a legacy of the old United. It’s a good card – double points on grocery spending.

          As for your question on your refinancing. Anything above about 760 on a credit score isn’t going to change much when it comes to rates on new loans. Sounds like you’re already in the hunt for the best rates.

          Best way to deal with a balance and prepare for refinancing is to pay off your card balances in cash. If you want a business card to put spending on so it’s not on your report, that’s fine, but you can achieve the same effect by paying off your bill before the statement is created each month.

  24. collette dearborn

    I have a brochure in front of me that offers 50,000 bonus points after spend $1000 in the first 3 months plus a free night stay. Offer code Z48. Looking at all the options on the computer I do not find this offer, which is perfect for me ???????

  25. Julie

    Do the points expire on the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card?(couldn’t find any info in the fine print) Are there booking fees or transfer fees?

    1. MileCards

      @Julie – No they don’t expire as long as you have an Ultimate Rewards based card (the Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire no annual fee, Chase Freedom, and others). There are no booking fees at and there are no fees to transfer your points into an outside mileage account like United or Southwest. Once your points are in a United or Southwest or other account that program’s rules will apply.


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