A good credit card can be a great traveling—and saving—companion. To make our selections, MONEY compared the cards’ sign-up bonuses, rewards, and fees. Then we consulted the pros at NerdWallet and ValuePenguin for their calculations.
You can cash in your stash at the rate of 1¢ for each point earned, but devote your collection to travel and each point is worth 25% more: 10,000 points will buy you $125 worth of airline tickets or a hotel room stay. You can transfer the points to one of Sapphire’s partners, which include United, Southwest, and British Airways; Hyatt, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton hotels; and more. Chase waives foreign transaction fees for Sapphire Preferred customers, and if you have to cancel your trip because of illness or bad weather, the card provides $10,000 in travel insurance. Annual fee: $95 (waived first year)
Starwood points are worth about 2.3¢ each when they’re redeemed for hotel stays, much more than the Hilton HHonors card and the IHG Rewards Club Select. You can also transfer your Starwood points to more than two dozen frequent-flier programs; you even get a 5,000-point bonus when you transfer 20,000. To reap the card’s benefits, you’ll have to stay at one of Starwood’s 1,200 hotels, but those include Westin, W, and the St. Regis—some of the nicest hotel brands. Starwood also charges no foreign transaction fees. Annual fee: $95 (waived first year)
Other cards offer bigger sign-up bonuses and similar rewards, but this Southwest card gives you more value per transaction than its rivals—a third more than the Gold Delta Skymiles card, estimates ValuePenguin.com’s Robert Harrow. That means you can earn a free flight from Dallas to Baltimore with your 25,000-point sign-up bonus alone and still have points left over. Best of all, you get 6,000 free bonus points each year. Annual fee: $99