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Credit Cards with the Best Flight Rewards Programs for Frequent Business Travelers

November 24th, 2016 /

As a small business owner, I depend on a multitude of bank accounts to manage personal and business expenses, track company-wide expenditures, and make sure everything is kosher with the accounting department—and using different credit cards for these purposes makes the process much easier. Especially when I travel, I love the convenience of having a designated card.

If you’re in the same boat and are currently weighing your options, below are a few business travel-friendly offerings that, in my humble opinion, are definitely worth considering. (Including one or two I’m tempted to sign up for myself.)

what are the best business travel credit cards?

Not all credit cards are created equal – especially when it comes to travel perks. Image by Flickr user Philip Taylor (CC BY 2.0)

Airline-Specific Co-branded Cards

We all know that in order to get the most benefit from an airline, you sign up for their particular credit card. These cards commonly give double flight miles for purchases within their network. So if you’re loyal to a specific airline, you might just choose whichever card they offer.

But not all of these programs are created equal, and for the uncommitted, it’s definitely worth weighing the pros and cons of a few popular options before signing up:

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Southwest may be a budget airline, but they don’t skimp on perks. Their card comes with 6,000 bonus points on your yearly renewal date. You also get two free checked bags and a 40,000 point bonus after the card has been opened for three months. And when you reach Companion Pass status (by completing 100 one-way flights in a year), you can bring a guest for free on any flight for two years.

In terms of actually earning points, flying business select will give you twelve points per dollar on your ticket. You’ll need somewhere in the ballpark of 20,000 points to earn a free cross-country round trip from, say, San Diego to Baltimore, which is not likely to be a problem if you’re always on the road. For budget shoppers, this card is an attractive option. The downside (and it’s a big one): you’re stuck flying Southwest, an egalitarian, airbus-style experience, with no ability to pre-select your seat and a far lower likelihood of getting first class upgrades.

The JetBlue Plus Card

This card gives you access to the TrueBlue rewards program, saving you 50% on in-flight snacks, cocktails, and entertainment. It also comes with a higher earning structure: many cards offer two miles per dollar on flights, but JetBlue offers six miles on flights, two on groceries and restaurants, and one on everything else, making it a good all-in-one card when you’re traveling. You’ll also get a 30,000 point bonus after three months and a 5,000 point yearly anniversary bonus.

If you fly frequently out of Florida, where JetBlue has a strong presence, these savings may this card your best bet. However, JetBlue’s limited national presence is a potential drawback—I’d suggest making sure they have flight hubs along your most common routes before you commit.

United Mileage Plus Explorer Card

United gives cardholders one free checked bag, priority boarding on all flights, and two single-use airline lounge passes per year. The sign-up bonus for this card is impressive, at 50,000 points, and if you spend over $25,000 annually you also get a 10,000 point bonus. (60,000 miles will earn you two round-trip business tickets within the continental US.)

But United is arguably a better value if you fly internationally since they offer more destinations at lower prices than other international airlines. If you stick close to home, the airline has a less visible presence and their offerings might not be enough to sway you: I’ve had mediocre experiences with United and wouldn’t be overly enthusiastic about becoming a permanent customer.

AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard

This card comes with one free checked bag—a benefit that you can pass along to four of your friends. (Frequent American flyers know what a relief this perk will be.) Cardholders receive priority boarding on all flights, in-flight discounts, and 10% miles back on every purchase that’s redeemed.

A round-trip business-class flight within the United States will cost you about 60,000 points, though, which means the payout here is considerably smaller. Unless you’re flying out of Dallas on every trip and want a company with a strong local presence, I wouldn’t jump at this deal.

best credit card rewards programs for frequent fliers

As a business traveler, you want a card that will give you the most benefit on the most trips. Image by Flickr user frankieleon (CC BY 2.0)

Flexible Rewards Credit Cards That Win at Travel

If you’re not planning to fly a particular airline more than five times per year, a co-branded credit card probably isn’t worth the hassle. In this case, I’m a huge fan of cards offering flexible rewards that apply to any airline or hotel.

Here are my top two choices:

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

This card is an industry favorite, and for good reason: You start with a 50,000 point bonus (worth $625 in travel) and can easily transfer those points to a variety of airlines and hotel loyalty programs. No blackout dates or restrictions means you can basically use your points for any available seat on any flight. (If you book your flight through the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform, you also earn even more points.) I’d suggest this option if you’re looking for a particularly high sign-on bonus that will net you a free flight very quickly.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card also gives you two points for every dollar spent on travel or dining. This isn’t unusual enough to make or break the deal, but if you already spend a lot of time at restaurants with your clients, it’s a nice touch.

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Another contender in the flexible benefits race is Capital One’s offering. This card has an unfortunately lower bonus of 40,000 points (worth $400 in travel), but the simple payout system is one of the best—you can just book your travel normally, without needing to use a particular platform, then pay using reward miles. This option also lets you earn two flight miles for every dollar you spend on any purchase, putting the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card’s travel and dining perks to shame.

Since Capital One’s initial bonus is lower, choosing between these two cards is basically a numbers game: if you don’t need an immediate payout and are more interested in earning flights over the long haul, Capital One is the better bet. If you’re looking for instant gratification, stick with Chase.

The Cream of the Crop

I usually don’t think twice about annual fees for travel cards. The miles I earn mean the fees often pay for themselves. But I’ll admit to being startled by a recent contender: The Chase Sapphire Reserve card, newly released in August 2016, has a $450 annual surcharge. But to offset the cost, it offers slew of select perks for frequent business travelers who enjoy luxury:

  • Access to over 900 elite airline lounges across the globe.
  • The largest first-year bonus of any card: 100,000 points, worth up to $1,500 in travel.
  • $100 credit toward your TSA pre-check application (which I swear by).
  • Three points for every dollar spent on travel (including hotels and transport) AND on dining.
  • Easy transfer of points to any airline or hotel, with no blackout dates or restrictions.
  • $300 in free statement credit annually.
  • 24/7 access to a “Visa Infinite Concierge,” who will book dinner reservations and event tickets on your behalf.

If I were in the market for another card, this is the one I’d choose. As a business traveler, I’m guaranteed to make up that $450 rather quickly, and the huge bonuses and higher earning structure are incredibly attractive.

The caveat, of course, is that this card is only for high-spending frequent flyers. Someone who travels every couple of months rather than every week or two might find the Chase Sapphire Reserve more burden than benefit.

choose your travel credit card carefully

When it comes to travel credit cards, the more you spend, the higher the benefit. Image by Flickr user Chris Potter (CC BY 2.0)

Use Your Travel Card Like a Pro

One additional tip: regardless of which card you choose, sign up at the right time. A recent report found that taking advantage of off-season windows when opening new cards gives you higher bonuses. The right timing, typically between August and December, could net you 5,000 to 50,000 additional points, on top of the standard sign-up bonus.

If you’re looking for even more perks, you can also check out JetLux for access to corporate hotel rates and suite upgrades. We’ll help you get the most out of your travel experience, no matter which credit card you use.

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