Ted Rossman has seven years of experience in the credit card and personal finance industries as a member of the award-winning communications department at CreditCards.com and its sister sites The Points Guy and Bankrate.
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While snow and cold are currently gripping much of the country, it’s a perfect time to think ahead to summer vacations, and a new credit card could help you get there for free.
Right now is the perfect time to sign up – and it’s not just because of the power of thinking warm thoughts. The best sign-up bonuses typically require you to spend several thousand dollars within the first three months, and then you’ll need some time to get the points and plan the trip. I urge you to get started right away.
Here are some of my favorite travel cards with the best sign-up bonuses:
Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Reserve’s 50,000-point sign-up bonus is worth at least $750 in free travel (if you book through Chase Ultimate Rewards). It could be worth even more if you transfer to partners including United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, British Airways, Air France-KLM, Singapore Airlines, Marriott and many others.
You’ll also get free airport lounge access, free Global Entry/TSA Precheck, a $300 travel credit and 3 points per dollar on all of your travel and dining spending. To get the sign-up bonus, you need to spend $4,000 in the first three months, and there’s a $450 annual fee.
See related: It’s time to start planning your summer vacations using rewards points
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Thie Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card also grants 50,000 bonus points – in this case, after spending $3,000 in the first three months. They’re worth at least $500 in free travel, and perhaps more if you book through one of their transfer partners (examples: Alitalia, Cathay Pacific, Etihad and Qantas).
You get a Global Entry/TSA Precheck waiver and a much lower annual fee than the Sapphire Reserve ($95, waived the first year). The sign-up bonus spending threshold is also lower ($3,000 in the first three months).
The Capital One Venture Rewards card offers 2 points per dollar on every purchase and 10 points per dollar on hotel rooms booked and paid through hotels.com/venture.
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
You’ll get a 75,000-point welcome bonus if you opt for Starwood Preferred Guest card. Those points are worth five free nights at a mid-tier (Category 3) hotel. That’s the standard rate of 17,500 points per night x 4 nights = 70,000 points, and you get the fifth night free when you redeem four nights.
This would be a great value for a family. Or, you could use your bonus points to splurge on one night at a Category 7 hotel – like the drool-worthy St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort – and still have 15,000 points left over.
The SPG Amex charges a $95 annual fee (waived the first year). You need to spend $3,000 in three months to qualify for the sign-up bonus. This card gives 6 points per dollar at Starwood/Marriott properties and 2 points per dollar elsewhere, plus a free night (up to 35,000 points) each year you renew the card.
Note: Big changes are coming to the Starwood/Marriott family of cards later this month. I still like the idea of signing up for the SPG Amex before it closes to new applicants in a couple of weeks. Read “Chase to offer 100K bonus points with new Marriott Bonvoy Credit Card” to learn more.
See related: How to travel better using your credit card rewards in 2019
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
Sign up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards card before Feb. 11 and you’ll get an incredible deal. It includes the coveted Southwest Companion Pass (a friend or family member can fly with you for free through the end of the year) and 30,000 points (worth about $450 in airfare). Ongoing spending earns 1 point per dollar in most cases and 2 points per dollar on Southwest Airlines. There’s a $69 annual fee.
You need to spend $4,000 in the first three months to get the sign-up bonus. In subsequent years, you’ll get 3,000 points on each cardmember anniversary date. You can bump that up to 6,000 points if you choose the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card card ($99 annual fee) and 7,500 points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card ($149 annual fee).
When evaluating travel cards, I find it’s helpful to start with a goal in mind and work backward. Do you have a specific destination in mind? If so, look at which airlines fly there and focus on cards offered by those airlines and their partners, as well as transferable points cards with the right relationships. Or maybe you already have a lot of frequent flyer miles and would benefit from a fresh haul of hotel points.
Whatever your situation, there are plenty of great cards that can help you plan an awesome summer vacation.