Credit card users love airline miles, but the relationship has become a bit strained in recent years. Sure, cardholders are excited by the idea of award travel, but the reality of earning miles and then trying to find an available award seat leaves much to be desired. Airlines are continuously changing the rules of their frequent-flier programs, making fewer seats available for awards and requiring travelers to spend more miles.
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In response, savvy credit card users and award travel enthusiasts have focused on using cards that offer points that can be transferred to several different frequent flier programs, depending on which one happens to have the best available award flights at any given time. This practice acts as a hedge against the airlines changing their program after cardholders have already saved up their miles, but before they have had a chance to redeem them.
Beyond being able to transfer points to airline programs, these cards must also make it easy for cardholders to earn points. This means offering reasonable annual fees, and attractive bonuses for earning more than just one point per dollar spent. It is also nice when these cards, marketed to international travelers, offer EMV smart chips and do away with pointless foreign transaction fees. We considered all of these factors as we looked for the best airline miles credit cards in America for 2014.
The ideal way to use any rewards credit card is to pay the balance in full every month to avoid paying interest charges, which could chip away at the rewards you do earn over time. If you carry a balance from month-to-month, your better bet is to find a low-interest credit card that can help make it easier to pay down your credit card debt (this calculator can show you how long it will take to pay off your credit card balances).
Finally, before you apply for an airline miles credit card — or any credit card, for that matter — pay close attention to the card issuer’s guidelines. While it’s very important to find a credit card that meets your needs, it’s just as important to make sure you meet the issuer’s guidelines so that you apply for cards you’re more likely to get approved for. Checking your credit scores beforehand can give you an idea of where you stand and what you may qualify for. You can see two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.
The Winner: American Express Everyday Preferred
Why it won: This new American Express card offers Membership Rewards points that can be transferred to 17 different airline programs, and also features attractive bonuses for spending.
The rewards: Cardholders earn triple points for up to $6,000 of annual spending spending at U.S. supermarkets, double points at gas stations, and one point per dollar spent on all other purchases. American Express wants customers to make this their go-to card, so they offer a 50% mileage bonus during every statement period that cardholders make at least 30 separate transactions. So cardholders can receive as much as 4.5 points per dollar spent at supermarkets, and three points per dollar at U.S. gas stations, which is a phenomenal rate of return for points that can be transferred to frequent flier miles.
The costs: There is a $95 annual fee for this card, but a 2.7% foreign transaction fee imposed on all charges processed outside of the U.S.
1st Runner-Up: Chase Sapphire Preferred
The rewards: Chase Sapphire Preferred offers double points on all travel and dining expenses, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Points can be transferred to frequent flier miles with six different airlines, with all of the three major airline alliances represented. Other benefits include two free visits to airline lounges, an EMV smart chip and no foreign transaction fees.
The costs: There is a $95 annual fee for this card, which is often waived for the cardholder’s first year.
2nd Runner-Up: Starwood Preferred Guest Card From American Express
The rewards: This is a hotel card, but the Starwood Preferred Guest program allows transfers of points to miles with 33 different airlines. Cardholders earn just one point per dollar spent on all purchases, but additional bonuses are available when spending at a Starwood property, which includes Westins, Sheratons and other brands. When cardholders redeem 20,000 points at once, they receive a 5,000-point bonus, making each dollar spent worth 1.25 miles. And of course, points can also be redeemed for free nights at Starwood hotels.
The costs: There is a $65 annual fee for this card, which is often waived for the cardholder’s first year, but a 2.7% foreign transaction fee imposed on all charges processed outside of the U.S.
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.
More from Credit.com
- How to Get a Credit Card With Bad Credit
- Foreign Currency Conversion Fees: An Unwelcome Companion
- How Many Credit Cards Is Too Many?
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.
Jason Steele has worked as a computer systems administrator, a commercial pilot, and a contributor to several of the top personal finance sites as an expert on credit cards and travel. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware with a degree in History.