These Are the Credit Cards I Used to Fly Around the Globe for Free in First Class

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I’ve been a travel hacker for the past 3 years and have flown across the world 6+ times with my wife in first class for free with points.

Spending points is only part of the flight hacking game.

Earning points is arguably the more important aspect of getting free flights with miles.

To earn airline miles, you can get them by 1) flying on the airlines or 2) by spending money on airline affiliate credit cards.

Since I don’t travel weekly for business, my main way of getting points is by using credit cards to get miles.

Most cards offer 1-3 points per $.01 spent, and I’ve broken down the top earning cards based on points redeemed as well as their credit card perks.

The best travel credit card with no annual fee is the Bank of America Travel Rewards Card, because it earns 2.67 points per purchase and points can be redeemed on any airline or any hotel with no blackout dates.

The best travel credit card for International travel is the Amex Platinum because it earns 5x on flights, has no transaction fees and gets you access to Amex Centurion lounges as well as 100s of lounges via Priority Pass.

The best travel credit card of 2017 is the Chase Sapphire Reserve because it earns 3x points on travel and dining, comes with a $300 annual travel credit (good for any travel purchase, including Uber), and gets you access to 100s of lounges via Priority Pass.

Keep reading for a full breakdown of all the features of these travel credit cards, including transfer partners, annual fees, and how to redeem your points for the best free flights.

These Are The Best Credit Cards for Free Flights

Here’s the chart I have ranking all of these travel cards.

These rankings are based on my own personal opinions, and were not impacted by any payments I might receive from these card providers.

Best Credit Cards for Free Flights

The highest rated cards are the Amex Business Platinum Card  and the Citi Prestige card, clocking in with 33 points (out of a total of 40).

Credit CardScore
Chase Sapphire Reserve30
Chase Sapphire Preferred23
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard23
Chase Ink Business Preferred Card24
American Express Business Platinum Card33
American Express Business Gold card21
American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card23
Citi Prestige Card33
Bank of America Travel Rewards Card19

I’ve broken down each of the cards rankings and benefits below. Let me know what you think of my scoring and any adjustments I should make.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

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Chase Sapphire ReserveScore
Annual Fee1
Sign Up Bonus5
Best Use of Points5
Category Bonus4
Travel Perks3
Portal Booking3
Lounge Access4
Concierge5
Total Rating30

Chase Sapphire Reserve Annual Fee Score: 1/5

The Chase Sapphire Reserve annual fee is $450.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Signup Bonus Score: 5/5

Members earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on their card in the first 3 months of activation. That makes out to be $750 towards travel rewards when you use the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Best Use of Points Score: 5/5

andaz tokyo with points

Transfer 100,000 points to Hyatt for four nights in a Category 6 property. You can use your Ultimate Rewards points to stay in the amazing Andaz Tokyo, which we stayed in and absolutely loved back in 2016.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Category Bonus Score: 4/5

3x points on travel and dining worldwide, 1x points on all other purchases.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Travel Perks Score: 3/5

Up to $100 towards Global Entry or TSA Pre Check, access to 900+ airport lounges, no blackout dates and/or travel restrictions.

The card also comes with a $300 Annual Travel Credit.

This travel credit applies to any purchases classified in the “travel category”, which can include items like:

  • Pet fee charges
  • Upgraded seats
  • Meals/food bought on board
  • Uber/taxi rides
  • It may pertain to gift card purchases from airlines, but stick to small amounts like $50

Chase Sapphire Reserve Travel Portal Booking Score: 3/5

Chase Sapphire Reserve does not offer an additional bonus for booking through their portal, but each point is worth 1.5 cents toward any vacation that you book through the Chase Portal.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Lounge Access Score: 4/5

Members receive access to over 900 airport lounges worldwide and complimentary Priority Pass Select membership.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Concierge Score: 5/5

Access to Visa Infinite Concierge who can help you with requests, like dinner reservations, or Broadway, music and sporting event tickets.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Transfer Partners

Chase Transfer Partners (Airline)Transfer RatioTransfer Time
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1:1Almost Instant
United Airlines MileagePlus1:1Almost Instant
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards1:1Almost Instant
Korean Air SKYPASS1:1Almost Instant
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1:1Almost Instant
British Airways Executive Club1:1Almost Instant
Flying Blue AirFrance / KLM1:1Almost Instant

Chase Hotel Transfer Partners

Chase Transfer Partner (Hotel)Transfer RatioTransfer Time
Marriott Rewards1:12 days
Hyatt Gold Passport1:1Almost Instant
IHG Rewards Club1:11 day
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards1:12 days

Chase Sapphire Preferred

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Chase Sapphire PreferredScore
Annual Fee4
Sign Up Bonus4
Best Use of Points5
Category Bonus3
Travel Perks1
Portal Booking4
Lounge Access1
Concierge1
Total Rating23

Chase Sapphire Preferred Annual Fee Score: 4/5

The Chase Sapphire Reserve annual fee is just $95 and the first year is waived.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Signup Bonus Score: 4/5

Members earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on their card in the first 3 months of activation. That makes out to be $625 towards travel rewards when you use the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Users also earn 5,000 points after adding the first authorized user and making a purchase in the first 3 months.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Best Use of Points Score: 5/5

best use of points chase

1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel programs such as Singapore Suites. For just 93,500 miles you can fly in Singapore Suite class for free with points. Singapore recently devalued their points, but this is still an amazing redemption considering this flight costs $4,000+.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Category Bonus Score: 3/5

2x points on travel and dining worldwide, 1x points on all other purchases.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Travel Perks Score: 1/5

This card lacks many of the travel perks that other competitors offer, such as free checked bags.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Travel Portal Booking Score: 4/5

Points are worth 25% more when used to book vacations through Chase’s travel portal.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Lounge Access Score: 1/5

Chase Sapphire Preferred does not offer lounge access.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Concierge Score: 1/5

Chase Sapphire Preferred does not offer concierge access.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Transfer Partners

Chase Transfer Partners (Airline)Transfer RatioTransfer Time
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1:1Almost Instant
United Airlines MileagePlus1:1Almost Instant
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards1:1Almost Instant
Korean Air SKYPASS1:1Almost Instant
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1:1Almost Instant
British Airways Executive Club1:1Almost Instant
Flying Blue AirFrance / KLM1:1Almost Instant

Chase Hotel Transfer Partners

Chase Transfer Partner (Hotel)Transfer RatioTransfer Time
Marriott Rewards1:12 days
Hyatt Gold Passport1:1Almost Instant
IHG Rewards Club1:11 day
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards1:12 days

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard

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Barclaycard Arrival PlusScore
Annual Fee4
Sign Up Bonus3
Best Use of Points3
Category Bonus4
Travel Perks2
Portal Booking1
Lounge Access1
Concierge5
Total Rating23

Barclaycard Arrival Plus Annual Fee Score: 4/5

The Barclaycard annual fee is just $89.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus Signup Bonus Score: 3/5

Members earn 50,000 mile signing bonus, which is worth $500, if they spend $3,000 in the first 90 days of having the card.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus Best Use of Points Score:3/5

best-use-points-barclaycard-arrival

While the Barclaycard Arrival does not allow you to transfer points to a program to receive 9x the bonus, this restriction actually makes these points a lot more flexible.

If you have enough of these points, you can use them on virtually any travel expenditure.

I personally have used them to pay for Ani Villas Anguilla (where we had our wedding), so if anyone asks you, can you pay for your wedding with points, the answer is YES!

Barclaycard Arrival Plus Category Bonus Score: 4/5

2x points on all purchases.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus Travel Perks Score: 2/5

Offers access to premium offers and travel advisors and most forms of travel insurance.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus Travel Portal Booking Score: 1/5

Purchases are made directly through airline/hotel website, not booking portal.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus Lounge Access Score: 1/5

Barclaycard Arrival Plus does not offer lounge access.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus Concierge Score:5/5

World Elite Mastercard comes with a complimentary 24/7 concierge service.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus Transfer Partners

With the Barclaycard, members do not transfer to a list of partners. They simply go directly to the website they wish to book with and do it there at a fair 1:1 ratio.

Chase Ink Business Preferred Card

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Chase Ink PreferredScore
Annual Fee3
Sign Up Bonus5
Best Use of Points4
Category Bonus4
Travel Perks2
Portal Booking4
Lounge Access1
Concierge1
Total Rating24

Chase Ink Preferred Annual Fee Score: 3/5

The Chase Ink Business Preferred annual fee is just $95.

Chase Ink Preferred Signup Bonus Score: 5/5

Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from your account opening. If you redeem these points through the Chase portal, you’re looking at around $1,000.

Chase Ink Preferred Best Use of Points Score: 4/5

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Transfer 115,000 points to United for round-trip business class to Europe. United flies virtually everywhere in Europe, so these United transfers can be some of the most convenient way to explore all your favorite parts of the Old World.

Chase Ink Preferred Category Bonus Score: 4/5

3x points on shipping, internet/cable/phone service, travel, and advertising. All other purchases earn 1x points.

Chase Ink Preferred Travel Perks Score: 2/5

This card offers travel protection.

Chase Ink Preferred Travel Portal Booking Score: 4/5

Points are worth 25% more when used to book vacations through Chase’s travel portal.

Chase Ink Preferred Lounge Access Score: 1/5

Chase Ink Business Preferred does not offer lounge access.

Chase Ink Preferred Concierge Score: 1/5

Chase Ink Business Preferred does not offer concierge access.

Chase Ink Preferred Transfer Partners

Chase Transfer Partners (Airline)Transfer RatioTransfer Time
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1:1Almost Instant
United Airlines MileagePlus1:1Almost Instant
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards1:1Almost Instant
Korean Air SKYPASS1:1Almost Instant
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1:1Almost Instant
British Airways Executive Club1:1Almost Instant
Flying Blue AirFrance / KLM1:1Almost Instant

Chase Hotel Transfer Partners

Chase Transfer Partner (Hotel)Transfer RatioTransfer Time
Marriott Rewards1:12 days
Hyatt Gold Passport1:1Almost Instant
IHG Rewards Club1:11 day
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards1:12 days

American Express Business Platinum Card

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AMEX Business PlatinumScore
Annual Fee1
Sign Up Bonus4
Best Use of Points5
Category Bonus3
Travel Perks5
Portal Booking5
Lounge Access5
Concierge5
Total Rating33

AMEX Business Platinum Annual Fee Score: 1/5

The AMEX Business Platinum annual fee is $450.

AMEX Business Platinum Signup Bonus Score: 4/5

Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases on the Business Platinum Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership.

AMEX Business Platinum Best Use of Points Score: 5/5

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Just like the Chase Sapphire cards, you can transfer AMEX points to Singapore Airlines to fly New York to Frankfurt for 93,500 points on Singapore Suites.

Transfer points from AMEX Membership rewards to KrisFlyer to redeem.

AMEX Business Platinum Category Bonus Score: 3/5

5x points for each dollar of eligible purchases made when you book on the American Express Travel website, 50% point rebate.. 1.5x points on qualifying purchases of $5,000 or more, 1x points for all other purchases.

AMEX Business Platinum Travel Perks Score: 5/5

Up to $200 Credit a year for baggage fees, access to 1,000+ global airport lounges, no foreign transaction fees, complimentary internet access, fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔. Earn 2X when you pay for your Uber with American Express. Platinum card members receive $15 in Uber credits for U.S. rides every month PLUS a bonus of $20 in December ($200 annually).

AMEX Business Platinum Travel Portal Booking Score: 5/5

Receive 5x points when booking through AMEX Travel.

AMEX Business Platinum Lounge Access Score: 5/5

Access to over 1,000 lounges worldwide with Priority Pass.

AMEX Business Platinum Concierge Score: 5/5

AMEX Business Platinum offers exceptional concierge service.

AMEX Business Platinum Transfer Partners Score: 5/5

Amex Transfer PartnerTransfer RatioTransfer Time
AeroMexico1:1.62-12 days
Air Canada1:1Almost Instant
Alitalia1:1Almost Instant
ANA1:12-3 days
British Airways1.25:1Almost Instant
Cathay Pacific*1:11 day to 1 week
Delta Air Lines1:1Almost Instant
EL AL50:1Almost Instant
Emirates1:1 Almost Instant
FlyingBlue AirFrance/KLM 1:1 Almost Instant
Hawaiian 1:1 Almost Instant
Iberia1.25:11-3 days
JetBlue1.25:1Almost Instant
Singapore Airlines 1:11-2 days
Virgin America 1:0.5Almost Instant
Virgin Atlantic 2:11-2 days
Etihad Airways 1:1Almost Instant

American Express Business Gold Card

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AMEX Business GoldScore
Annual Fee2
Sign Up Bonus4
Best Use of Points5
Category Bonus5
Travel Perks2
Portal Booking1
Lounge Access1
Concierge1
Total Rating21

AMEX Business Gold Annual Fee Score: 2/5

The AMEX Business Gold annual fee is $175, but your first year is waived.

AMEX Business Gold Signup Bonus Score: 4/5

Earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of membership.

AMEX Business Gold Best Use of Points Score: 5/5

Fly on United’s Business Class product for only 20,000 AMEX miles.

Fly United in Business or First Within the U.S. (KrisFlyer Miles)

In addition to being able to transfer to KrisFlyer for Singapore Suites flights, you can also transfer Membership Rewards points to KrisFlyer to fly on United giving you access to United flights plus their partner airlines like Lufthansa, TAP Portugal, ANA, Swiss and more.

You need to call KrisFlyer to make this redemption, but here’s the award chart for flying United within the United States:

  • 20,000 miles one-way for business class
  • 30,000 miles one-way for first class

United normally charges 50,000 of their own miles to fly one-way, so this is up to 50% off the normal price.

AMEX Business Gold Category Bonus Score: 5/5

3x points in your choice of one of the following: airfare purchased directly from airlines, advertising, gas station purchases, shipping purchases, computer hardware, software, etc. 2x points on the 4 remaining categories, and 1x points on all other purchases.

AMEX Business Gold Travel Perks Score: 2/5

Baggage insurance, travel insurance, car rental loss.

AMEX Business Gold Travel Portal Booking Score:1/5

No bonus when booking through the portal.

AMEX Business Gold Lounge Access Score: 1/5

No lounge access.

AMEX Business Gold Concierge Score: 1/5

AMEX Business Gold does not offer concierge access.

Amex Transfer PartnerTransfer RatioTransfer Time
AeroMexico1:1.62-12 days
Air Canada1:1Almost Instant
Alitalia1:1Almost Instant
ANA1:12-3 days
British Airways1.25:1Almost Instant
Cathay Pacific1:11 day to 1 week
Delta Air Lines1:1Almost Instant
EL AL50:1Almost Instant
Emirates1:1 Almost Instant
FlyingBlue AirFrance/KLM 1:1 Almost Instant
Hawaiian 1:1 Almost Instant
Iberia1.25:11-3 days
JetBlue1.25:1Almost Instant
Singapore Airlines 1:11-2 days
Virgin America 1:0.5Almost Instant
Virgin Atlantic 2:11-2 days
Etihad Airways 1:1Almost Instant

American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card

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AMEX StarwoodScore
Annual Fee4
Sign Up Bonus4
Best Use of Points5
Category Bonus3
Travel Perks2
Portal Booking3
Lounge Access1
Concierge1
Total Rating21

AMEX Starwood Annual Fee Score: 4/5

The AMEX Business Gold annual fee is $95, but your first year is waived.

AMEX Starwood Signup Bonus Score: 4/5

Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months and an extra 10,000 bonus Starpoints after you make an additional $2,000 in purchases within the first 6 months.

AMEX Starwood Best Use of Points Score: 5/5

Best SPG Redemption at The St. Regis Maldives

Starpoints are the currency of SPG properties (and soon Marriott properties), and one of the most amazing SPG property is St. Regis Maldives.

You can transfer your SPG points for an overwater bungalow in the Maldives for 26,000 points per night. Considering rooms cost upwards of $2,000, this is a fantastic value.

AMEX Starwood Category Bonus Score: 3/5

Earn 2 Starpoints® for every dollar of eligible purchases on the Card at participating Marriott Rewards® hotels. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other eligible purchases.

AMEX Starwood Travel Perks Score: 2/5

Car rental loss and damage insurance, no blackout days for hotel purchases, travel accident insurance, roadside assistance.

AMEX Starwood Travel Portal Booking Score:3/5

Transfer Starpoints to over 30 airline frequent flyer programs, mostly on a one-to-one basis. Receive a 5,000 Starpoint bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to a participating frequent flyer program.

AMEX Starwood Lounge Access Score: 1/5

No lounge access.

AMEX Starwood Concierge Score: 1/5

AMEX Starwood does not offer concierge access.

Amex Transfer PartnerTransfer RatioTransfer Time
AeroMexico1:1.62-12 days
Air Canada1:1Almost Instant
Alitalia1:1Almost Instant
ANA1:12-3 days
British Airways1.25:1Almost Instant
Cathay Pacific1:11 day to 1 week
Delta Air Lines1:1Almost Instant
EL AL50:1Almost Instant
Emirates1:1 Almost Instant
FlyingBlue AirFrance/KLM 1:1 Almost Instant
Hawaiian 1:1 Almost Instant
Iberia1.25:11-3 days
JetBlue1.25:1Almost Instant
Singapore Airlines 1:11-2 days
Virgin America 1:0.5Almost Instant
Virgin Atlantic 2:11-2 days
Etihad Airways 1:1Almost Instant

Citi Prestige Card

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Citi PrestigeScore
Annual Fee1
Sign Up Bonus5
Best Use of Points5
Category Bonus4
Travel Perks5
Portal Booking5
Lounge Access4
Concierge5
Total Rating33

Citi Prestige Annual Fee Score: 1/5

The Citi Prestige annual fee is $450.

Citi Prestige Signup Bonus Score:5/5

Earn 40,000 bonus points after making $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

Citi Prestige Best Use of Points Score: 5/5

best use citi thankyou points

Citi ThankYou Points allow you to transfer to American Airlines, TrueBlue, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and Hilton HHonors. You can of course transfer to Singapore Airlines for Suites Class, but one of the best redemptions (and unique to this card) is transferring 25,000 miles to AAdvantage for a saver business class seat from NYC to LAX.

Citi Prestige Category Bonus Score: 4/5

3x points on air, travel, and hotels, 2x points on dining and entertainment, 1x points on all other purchases.

Citi Prestige Travel Perks Score: 5/5

$250 annual air travel credit, complimentary 4th night stay at any hotel of your choice after a minimum 4–consecutive night booking through the Citi Prestige® Concierge, complimentary access to hundreds of VIP lounges, $100 Global Entry application fee credit, exclusive discounts on excursions and vacation packages, 24/7 concierge service.

Citi Prestige Travel Portal Booking Score:5/5

Points are redeemable for flights on any airline when booked through the ThankYou Travel Center. No points cap and no point expiration.

Citi Prestige Lounge Access Score: 4/5

Hundreds of VIP lounges through Priority Pass Select.

Citi Prestige Concierge Score: 5/5

24/7 concierge service.

Citi Transfer Partner (Airline)Transfer RatioTransfer Time
Cathay Pacific Airways1:124 hours
Etihad Airways**1:16 days
EVA Air1:12 days
Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue1:12 days
Garuda Indonesia1:12 days
Malaysia Airlines1:1N/A
Qantas Airways1:12 days
Qatar Airways1:12 days
Singapore Airlines1:12 days
Thai Airways1:14 days
Virgin America1:0.52 days
Virgin Atlantic Airways1:12 days
JetBlue TrueBlue1:0.82 days

Bank of America Travel Rewards Card

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Bank of AmericaScore
Annual Fee5
Sign Up Bonus3
Best Use of Points3
Category Bonus3
Travel Perks2
Portal Booking1
Lounge Access1
Concierge1
Total Rating19

Bank of America Annual Fee Score: 5/5

No annual fee.

Bank of America Signup Bonus Score:3/5

20,000 bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of your account opening.

Bank of America Best Use of Points Score: 3/5

best use of bank of america points

Just like the Barclaycard, you can use the Bank of America points on any travel category. My best redemption is using the points for one of the best new hotels in the world, The Other Side, Bahamas. Nights start at just $550, equivalent to 55,000 points.

Bank of America Category Bonus Score: 3/5

Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere

Bank of America Travel Perks Score: 2/5

No blackout dates or restrictions on travel, redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars or baggage fees.

Bank of America Travel Portal Booking Score: 1/5

BoA does not offer travel portal booking.

Bank of America Lounge Access Score: 1/5

Does not offer lounge access.

Bank of America Concierge Score: 1/5

Does not offer concierge service.

List of Amex Membership Rewards Transfer Partners

If you have applied for the Amex Platinum card with the 100K bonus, you’ll surely agree that it is a good time to review all the Amex Membership Rewards airline and hotel transfer partners.  Recently, I was checking at my American Express online account and thought the list of transfer partners were hard to find, it’s all worth it.

Take note that most of these transfer at a 1:1 ratio (meaning 1,000 Amex Membership Rewards points transfer to 1,000 miles/points) unless otherwise noted.  American Express also periodically offers limited time transfer bonuses for transfers to certain partners.

List of Membership Rewards Airline Partners

  • Aeromexico (1,000 Membership Rewards = 1,600 Premier points)
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • KLM and Air France Flying Blue
  • Alitalia Mile Miglia
  • ANA Airlines
  • Asia Miles
  • British Airways Avios  (250 Membership Rewards =  200 Avios)
  • Delta Skymiles
  • El Al  (1,000 Membership Rewards = 20 Matmid points) (horrible transfer ratio)
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Guest
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia Plus  (250 Membership Rewards points = 200 Avios)
  • JetBlue TrueBlue (250 Membership Rewards  = 200 TrueBlue points)
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Virgin America Elevate (200 Membership Rewards = 100 Elevate points)
  • Virgin Atlantic FlyingClub  (limited time transfer bonus: 1000 Membership Rewards points = 1000 1300 Flying Club miles through 5/22/17)

List of Membership Rewards Hotels

  • Choice Privileges
  • Hilton HHonors  (1,000 Membership Rewards points = 1,500 Hilton HHonors Points)
  • SPG Starwood Preferred Guest (1,000 Membership Rewards points = 333 Starpoints) (bad ratio)

Although they transfer at a great ratio, I would not transfer my Membership Rewards to Hilton HHonors since there are 2 Amex cards and 2 Citi cards that earn Hilton points so they are very easy to earn elsewhere.  I would rather transfer my Membership Rewards points to one of the airline programs.

Here is a link of all the Membership Rewards transfer partners on the American Express website.

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