ChooseFI Logo

Top Credit Cards For Active Duty Military

Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a ChooseFI advertiser. Disclosures.

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

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 transferable point rewards card.

card_name

Benefits include:

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.
  • An easy to use, annual, $300 travel credit
  • Priority Pass lounge access
  • 5X points on air travel and 10X on hotels and rental cars when purchased through Chase Travelafter the first $300 spent on travel purchases annually.
  • 3X on other travel and dining  and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • 50% more value when you redeem through Chase Travel
  • TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry statement credit, up to $100 once every four years
  • Comprehensive travel insurance coverage
  • $550 annual fee

SCRA or MLA benefits may apply for active-duty military.

When redeemed for travel through Chase Travel℠, points are worth 1.5 cents each. This makes the sign-up bonus worth $1125 when redeemed that way. And Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are incredibly versatile.

In addition to being able to book flights, hotel, rental cars, cruises, and activities with Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, they are also transferable.

Chase Ultimate Rewards® points may be transferred to over a dozen 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.

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.

Image of The Platinum Card® from American Express

Benefits include:

  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on eligible purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • $200 annual incidental fee credit on selected airline*
  • 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 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees every 4 years
  • $15 per month in Uber Cash with a bonus $20 in December*
  • $695 annual fee annual fee (SCRA and MLA benefits may apply for active-duty military)
  • Terms Apply

* Enrollment is required for select benefits

Airport Lounges

Civilians fork over $695 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 1400 airport lounges in 140 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 up to $200 per year. Terms apply.

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.

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.

card_name

Learn how to apply for this card here.

Benefits include:

  • Limited-time offer: For a limited time, earn 75,000 Miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening, plus receive a one-time $250 Capital One Travel credit in your first cardholder year – that’s equal to $1,000 in travel
  • 5 Venture Miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars that are booked through Capital One Travel
  • 2 Venture Miles per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Up to $100 credit on Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Transfer miles to over a dozen airline transfer partners
  • $95 annual fee.

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 75,000-mile bonus (plus the one-time $250 Capital One Travel credit in your first cardholder year), the $4,000 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.

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 the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card‘s 15+ travel loyalty programs.

Learn how to apply for Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

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

Great For Cash Back—Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Transferable 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.

Image of Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Benefits include:

  • Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months.
  • 6% cash back at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then you’ll earn 1%)
  • 6% cash back on US streaming subscriptions
  • 3% cash back on transit (rideshares, tolls, parking meters)
  • 3% cash back at US gas stations
  • 1% back on other purchases

terms and conditions apply

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. The card has $250 fee. This fee is waived for active-duty military.

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 are available to service members.

Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a ChooseFI advertiser. Disclosures.
More To Explore