The Best Credit Cards For Active Duty Military

The Best Credit Cards For Active Duty Military
ChooseFI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. ChooseFI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. This post may contain affiliate links. ChooseFI may earn a commission when our links are used to sign up for a service or make a purchase, at no cost to you. Thank you for supporting ChooseFI by using our links! Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. See our disclosures for more info.

Want a step-by-step guide to earning travel rewards in the military?

Subscribe to the get the download.

Active duty military can have the top rewards credit cards in every category without worrying about annual fees. This is because Chase, American Express, and Capital One waive annual fees for active-duty military as part of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the Military Lending Act. This is an amazing perk for active-duty military!

Best Credit Cards For Military By Category

Best For:Card NameSee DetailsLearn How To Apply
Best Signup BonusChase Sapphire ReserveSee more detailsLearn how to apply here.
Best Travel BenefitsThe Platinum Card From American ExpressSee more detailsLearn how to apply here.
Best For Everyday SpendingCapital One® Venture® Rewards Credit CardSee more detailsLearn how to apply here.
Best For CashbackBlue Cash Preferred Card from American ExperessSee more detailsLearn how to apply here.
Best Airline CardUnited Explorer CardSee more detailsLearn how to apply here.
Best For DiningAmerican Express Gold CardSee more detailsLearn how to apply here.
Best Hotel CardThe Hilton Honors American Express Aspire CardSee more details
Best For Balance TransfersCiti Double Cash CardSee more details
Best For Military Base SpendingUSAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Credit CardSee more details

When looking for the best credit cards for military we kept several factors in mind:

  • Sign-up bonus
  • Ongoing benefits
  • Earning rates

Sign-up Bonus

The best bonuses are worth at least $500 or more. Sign-up bonuses are used as an incentive to attract customers to apply for their card over the competition and they can be quite lucrative. Typically, you have to spend a certain dollar amount in purchases in a set amount of time in order to receive the sign-up bonus. They are definitely worth planning your spending to make sure you hit the spending requirements.

Ongoing Benefits

Many cards offer ongoing perks that make them valuable to hang on to–especially when you don’t have to pay the annual fee. Perks like travel credits, checked bag fee waivers, and free hotel nights are just some of the ongoing benefits that cards can offer.

Earning Rates

Some cards offer increased earning rates for spending in specific categories. For example, you may earn double points on gas or at the grocery store. Those are great to have when not working toward a sign-up bonus.

Best Sign Up Bonus–Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is Chase’s top-tier transferrable point rewards card.

Benefits include:

  • 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months from account opening
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • 3X point earning rates on travel and dining purchases
  • Complimentary airport lounge access with Priority Pass Select membership
  • Up to $100 credit on Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • Trip cancellation/ trip interruption insurance
  • $550 annual fee is waived for active-duty military
When redeemed for travel in the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, points are worth 1.5 cents each. This makes the sign-up bonus worth $750. And Chase Ultimate Reward points are incredibly versatile. In addition to being able to book flights, hotel, rental cars, cruises, and activities with Ultimate Rewards points, they are also transferable.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points may be transferred to 13 different travel partners for potentially even more value. While other credit cards may offer sign up bonuses similar in value, the Chase Sapphire Reserve includes additional benefits that push it to the top.

The $300 travel credit is automatically reimbursed and easy to use. Normally, the annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Reserve is $550, but for military eligible for MLA benefits, the fee is waived. The $300 travel credit is essentially free money. Of special interest to active duty military is the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance. This provides coverage in the event of changes in military orders for you, your spouse, or domestic partner when the travel is purchased with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Learn how to apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve here.

Related: Military Can Get The Chase Sapphire Reserve For Free

Best For Travel Benefits–The Platinum Card From American Express

In military circles, The Platinum Card from American Express is frequently recommended as the best card to have. It’s definitely one that tops our list as well.

Benefits include:

  • 50,000 Membership Rewards Points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months
  • $200 annual airline fee credit
  • 5 Membership Rewards Points earned per dollar spent on flights booked through American Express Travel or directly with the airlines
  • Access to the Global Lounge Collection
  • Up to $100 credit on Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • $15 per month in free Uber rides
  • $550 annual fee is waived for active-duty military

Airport Lounges

Civilians fork over $550 each year to have this card in their wallet. It’s easy to see why. The Platinum Card from American Express is hands down the best card to have for its airport lounge benefits. No need to search for a seat at crowded gate, pay for an over-priced muffin at the food court, or stalk the outlets so you can charge your phone. Airport lounges are a quiet and relaxing location to wait prior to boarding. Many have nice selections of free food and drink, and outlets are available everywhere.

With The Platinum Card from American Express, you have access to more than 1200 airport lounges in 130 countries.

Lounges include:

  • The Centurion Lounge
  • The International American Express Lounges
  • Priority Pass
  • Escape Lounges
  • Delta SkyClubs (when flying Delta)
  • Plaza Premium
  • Air Space
Traveling with others? No problem. Bring guests into the lounge with you. With the exception of the Delta Sky Clubs, a limited number of traveling companions may accompany the cardholder into the lounge.

Airline Fee Credit

Airlines are charging for almost everything these days. Thankfully, most airlines will waive baggage fees for active-duty military. If not, The Platinum Card from American Express will offset the cost. With this card, receive up to $200 in statement credits each calendar year for incidental charges made to your selected airline. What are incidental charges?
  • Checked baggage fees
  • Oversize baggage fees
  • Change fees
  • Phone reservation fees
  • Pet fees
  • Airport lounge day pass and membership purchases
  • Seat assignment fees
  • In-flight refreshments and amenities
  • In-flight entertainment (excluding internet)

Uber Cash Credit

Ridesharing is a super convenient way to get around a city or to and from the airport. The Platinum Card from American Express has you covered. Cardholders enjoy VIP status and a $15 per month in Uber Cash credits. In December, there’s an extra $20 for a total value of $200 per year.

Hotel Status 

Hotels like to reward loyal customers with little perks during their stays. Status can mean upgrades, late checkouts, free breakfast, and other perks. Having status also earns additional bonus points on each dollar spent. But reaching those higher tiers takes a lot of nights or stays. Get status without all the stays. The Platinum Card from American Express offers Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite and Hilton Honors Gold status just for having the card.

Increased Earnings on Travel Purchases

Besides the benefits The Platinum Card from American Express provides during travel, cardholders also earn 5x points on flights booked directly with the airline or with American Express Travel. Need a hotel? Hotels booked through American Express Travel also earn 5x Membership Reward points. Learn how to apply for The Platinum Card from American Express here.

Related: The Platinum Card From American Express Is Free For US Military: Here’s How

Best For Everyday Purchases–Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

As good as some high-annual fee cards are, many aren’t very compelling for everyday spending. For your everyday purchases, you can do better than earning just one point or mile per dollar. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card doubles the value other cards typically offer on everyday spending. Learn how to apply for this card here.

Benefits include:

  • 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 within the first three months of opening the account
  • 2 Venture Miles per dollar spent
  • 10X miles at hotels.com/venture
  • Up to $100 credit on Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • 15 airline transfer partners
  • $95 annual fee is waived for active-duty military
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is an excellent choice for your everyday, non-bonus category, expenses. Not only does it offer a healthy 50,000-mile bonus, the $3,000 spend within the first three months of account opening to earn the bonus is quite reasonable. Better yet, it earns two Venture Miles per dollar on every purchase. To receive all the benefits of elite hotel status, bookings need to be made directly with the hotel.

However, when booking stays at independent hotels or when there’s no elite status benefits to lose, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card earns 10x points when booked through their portal.

The versatility of Venture Miles is another reason the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a great choice for everyday spending. Miles may used for flights, hotels, rental cars, etc., or transferred to one of Capital One’s 10 travel partners. Learn how to apply for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Related: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Review: Most Versatile Travel Rewards Card

Best For Cash Back–Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

Transferrable rewards points are great, but cash is king. A good cash back card rounds out your portfolio. Use earnings for a multitude of travel or financial goals. The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express has bonus categories with earning rates that top all the competitors.

Benefits include:

  • $250 statement credit if you spend $1,000 in the first three months
  • 6% cash back on US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year–then 1% cash back)
  • 6% cash back on select streaming subscriptions
  • 3% cash back on transit purchases such as taxis, rideshare, parking, trains, buses, and tolls
  • 3% cash back at US gas stations
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • $95 annual fee is waived for active-duty military
That 6% cash back on your first $6,000 in US supermarket purchases is incredible and equals $360 each year. That’s a huge savings! Using public transit is already economical, and becomes even more so when using this card to pay for tickets and fares. And just like with the American Express Gold Card, the 6% earning applies for purchases at US-based military commissaries.

Related: Best Cash Back Credit Cards For Everyday Spending

Best Airline Card–United Explorer Card

While miles earned with co-branded airline cards aren’t as versatile as transferrable points, they are still worth pursuing. Members of the military can rarely make personal travel plans very far in advance. Having points and miles spread out across different rewards programs helps make near-term rewards travel possible. Chase’s co-branded United Explorer Card tops our list of best airline credit cards.

Benefits include:

  • 60,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within three months of opening the account
  • An additional 25,000 miles when you spend $10,000 in purchases in the first six months of opening the account
  • Earn 2 miles for every dollar spent at restaurants, hotels, and at United Airlines–1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else
  • Largest number of destinations served
  • Most travel partners of any airline alliance
  • Greater flight availability when redeeming miles
  • United Club access
  • $0 annual fee for the first year, $95 after that but it’s waived for active-duty military
United has a large domestic footprint and its 35+ partner airlines give United miles a fairly extensive reach world-wide. There’s another feature that makes United cards valuable beyond their miles–Cardholders have more flight options when redeeming miles. Having more flights choose from when booking reward travel means more available seats. That can make the difference between booking a trip or skipping it entirely. United Explorer Card screenshot

United Club Passes

United Explorer Card offers two United Club one-time-use passes. Cardholders will receive them shortly after account opening and then two more with each account anniversary. Access to United Clubs nicely complements the network of airport lounges available with the previously recommended cards.

United Club Card

Another card that offers the United Club passes is the United Club Card, also through Chase. However, the sign-up bonus is not typically as lucrative as the one for the United Explorer Card. What the United Club Card does offer is access to the United Club all the time, not just the one-time-use passes that the United Explorer Card offers.

A way around this is to request a product change and upgrade to the United Club Card after your first account anniversary. This allows you to reap the best of both cards. The higher sign-up bonus with the United Explorer Card and then the United Club membership from the United Club Card. Learn how to apply for the United Explorer Card here.

Best For Dining–American Express Gold Card

Everyone should have a card that will earn them big rewards in for dining and groceries, but since active duty military doesn’t need to worry about an annual fee, they can get the very best. And that’s the American Express Gold Card.

Benefits include:

  • 35,000 Membership Rewards points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months
  • 4 Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent on dining
  • 4 Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent at US supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year)
  •  3 Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent on flights booked with airlines or at amextravel.com
  • $10 per month in statement credits toward dining purchases with select vendors
  • $100 annual airline fee statement credit on a selected qualifying airline
  • $250 annual fee is waived for active-duty military
Groceries is one of the big three household expenses, right up there with housing and transportation. The American Express Gold Card earns 4x Membership Rewards points at restaurants worldwide.

Too tired to cook or even go out? This card also offers $10 in monthly statement credits to meal delivery services Grubhub and Seamless, or at select restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

In addition to the dining benefits, the American Express Gold Card earns 4x Memberships Rewards points at US supermarkets, up to $25,000 per year. And yes, the 4x earning works at military commissaries located in the US. There’s also a $100 airline incidental statement credit on a selected airline. Learn how to apply for the American Express Gold Card here.

Best Hotel Card–The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Getting to your destination is only half the battle. Hotel credit cards are a great way to get not only points, but free nights and more. The top hotel card is without a doubt the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. There are a ton of perks with this card that civilians pay $450 a year for. They can easily get more than $450 in value from this card, but military gets it all for free.

Benefits include:

  • 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months
  • 14 Hilton Honors points for every dollar spent at participating hotels and resorts
  • 7 Hilton Honors points for every dollar spent at restaurants, participating car rental services, and flights booked at amextravel.com
  • 3 Hilton Honors points for every dollar spent everywhere else
  • Free weekend night reward upon opening and with each anniversary year
  • Up to $250 Hilton Resort Statement Credit each year of card membership
  • Up to $250 Airline Statement credit each calendar year
  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond Status
  • $450 annual fee is waived for active-duty military
The free weekend night reward is incredibly valuable. It’s valid for almost any Hilton property. Only a handful of exclusions are listed on the Hilton website. Even better, it can be combined with the $250 Hilton Resort Statement Credit. Meaning the credit can be used for room charges or on the room rate for an additional night while using the free weekend night.

Hilton Honors Diamond status is the highest tier achievable. It normally requires 60 nights per year to reach. With Diamond status, there are perks like Executive Lounge access, room upgrades, free breakfast, late checkout, premium internet, and a 100% bonus on Hilton Honors base points earned.

Best For Balance Transfers–Citi Double Cash Card

Though there’s no sign-up bonus, The Citi Double Cash Card is great for developing good financial habits. With this card, Citi incentives users to pay their bill.

Benefits include:

  • 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 months
  • 1% cash back on purchases
  • 1% cash back when paying the bill
  • no annual fee
Rewards cards are never a good deal if you carry a balance and pay interest. But for those who already have credit cards with balances they can’t pay in full, transferring balances to a 0% interest card is a smart move. The Citi Double Cash Card offers an introductory 0% APR on balance transfers for the first 18 months. Unfortunately, there is no cash back for paying off the balance transfers. Spend that time getting out from underwater and learning how to manage debt and credit more effectively.

But even after you’ve paid off the card, you may consider keeping it. This is the only card available rewarding cardholders not just for purchases, but when paying for those purchases as well. Better yet, there’s no limit on how much can be earned. For everyday spending, 2% cash back on everything is pretty good.

This is an ideal card to have when transitioning from a financial position that includes credit card debt to one of properly managing the use of available credit.

Related: How To Use 0% Intro Offers To Get Out Of Debt Fast

Best For Military Base Spending–USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Credit Card

No, this isn’t about the Military Star Card. There’s a better deal out there. The USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Credit Card offers a healthy cash back bonus on certain purchases.

Benefits include:

  • 5% cash back on the first $3,000 in combined gas station and military base purchases
  • 2% cash back on the first $3,000 in grocery purchases yearly
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Special military SCRA rate of 4% APR
  • no annual fee
The quality and availability of on base shopping opportunities varies greatly around the world. The major benefit of shopping on base is not having to pay sales tax. All else being equal, military members can save a good percentage in just sales tax making major purchases on base. Combine that with a credit card offering and additional 5% in cash back, and that’s some significant savings.

Those who do a lot of on-base shopping should have no problem maxing the $3,000 limit out and in turn, earn the $150 cash back. Earn an additional $60 cash back from the 2% cash back on the first $3,000 in grocery purchases each year.

But this card only earns 1% cash back for everything else, so it isn’t the best choice for everyday spending. After maxing out the cash back bonus categories, it’s a sock drawer card. Hit the limits and put it a drawer. Bring it back out again on January 1st when the limits reset.

Why Annual Fees Are Waived For Military?

There’s no doubt military life comes with a range of challenges. But the primary focus of service members must always remain on the mission. To ensure that financial hardships at home do not become a distraction, Congress has implemented Federal laws that provide various financial protections to the military.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)

SCRA has been around for a number of years and is widely known within the military ranks. It provides the service member with a broad range of protections involving issues such as:
  • Lease terminations
  • Evictions
  • State residency rights
  • Interest rates
Under SCRA, interest rates are capped at 6%. However, SCRA provisions only apply to debt incurred prior to entering active duty and only when requested by the service member. Unfortunately, new loans or lines of credit obtained while on active duty are not eligible for the protections or interest rate limits set forth by SCRA. Though the law does not require it, several companies kindly apply SCRA benefits to accounts opened while on active duty. It’s a nice way to thank members of the military for their service and sacrifice. Specifically, American Express has been the most generous applying SCRA benefits to both its personal and business cards. Capital One also waives annual fees under SCRA regardless of when the account was opened.

Military Lending Act (MLA)

The most recent benefit for military became law just a couple of years ago. In 2017, Congress expanded MLA to include additional interest rate protections. The key difference between SCRA and MLA is that MLA protections apply to loans and credit cards obtained after its effective date, October 3, 2017. Additionally, the protections afforded to military under MLA include dependents of active duty service members.

Interest rates under MLA are capped at a whopping 36%. That’s a huge number when compared to SCRA’s mere 6% cap. However, MLA incorporates fees in the interest rate calculation. The exception is bona fide fees. That’s a key term and one that is open to the card issuer’s interpretation. Therefore, not every credit card company calculates interest rate the same. Consequently, the implementation of MLA is not consistent across companies.

Chase is one issuer great about applying MLA benefits to its personal credit card products. But adhering to the law, Chase only applies MLA benefits to accounts opened after the Oct over 3, 2017 effective date.

Considering which issuers apply SCRA or MLA benefits, what are the best cards for members of the military? Here’s some more info on SCRA and MLA.

Bottom Line

There are a number of credit cards that offer incredibly valuable rewards and ongoing benefits. Because of Federal laws designed to provide financial protections to service members, annual fees on many of the most lucrative cards can be waived. Members of the military can take advantage of these benefits to save money and travel better.

All the recommended cards are eligible for annual fee waivers under either SCRA or MLA. For cards issued by American Express or Capital One, make the request for SCRA benefits online or by calling the number on the back of your card. With Chase, MLA apply automatically when selecting”Military” as the source of income. Or request MLA benefits by calling the number on the back of the card. Regardless of the issuer, it never hurts to call and ask if any special benefits or considerations ave available to service members.

Related Articles

The Best Credit Cards For Active Duty Military

ChooseFI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. ChooseFI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. This post may contain affiliate links. ChooseFI may earn a commission when our links are used to sign up for a service or make a purchase, at no cost to you. Thank you for supporting ChooseFI by using our links! Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. See our disclosures for more info.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on google
Google+
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on pinterest
Pinterest

Comment Disclaimer: Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Leave a Comment