*Everything in this article is accurate as of December 6, 2020. All information was taken from the companies’ website as linked at the bottom of the article.
Many members of the military feel that they don’t have enough money to travel with their family. If you’re living on a one-person income, and certainly if you’re at a lower rank, traveling by plane and purchasing hotel rooms are two things that are certainly going to destroy your budget.
This is where credit cards come in. If you can use them responsibly and never, I mean never, have debt with them. They could be a blessing to everybody in the armed forces. Credit cards contain amazing benefits and perks that military members have the option to take advantage of with no annual fees for many cards. That is something that civilians do not have the benefit of doing. The primary thing to keep is that you absolutely must pay off the card in full every single month to get maximum benefit from these cards.
Annual fees are waived due to the Military Lending Act (MLA) as well as the Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Ensure you call the company to confirm this is still in affect with their company prior to signing up for the cards.
So, what are these brilliant benefits?
- You have no annual fees.
You are reading that correctly. These amazing cards like the American Express Platinum, or the Chase Sapphire Reserved that have annual fees of hundreds of dollars per year cost absolutely nothing to people serving in active duty. That means that when you sign up for these cards, you can instantly gain $500+ USD every single year in free annual fees. The best part about this is that you still get all the benefits as well as all the airline/cashback points.
2. Racking up air miles.
Now, the previous thing may have been unknown to you but there still is an order of operations for taking advantage of this benefit the best you can. When looking for credit cards you must see what their company limitations are. For example, Chase will not allow somebody to open more than 5 new credit cards in 24 months. That includes non-chase cards. This is known as the 5/24 rule. So, if you plan to open lots of cards to get as many sign-up bonuses as possible ensure that you plan with this Chase rule. Many people decide to get the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred cards and then getting a few other Chase cards prior to moving to other companies like Citi, or Amex.
Getting a significant amount of air miles is easy. Research will need to be done in order to see the most effective way to spend points. But if you don’t want to spend much time on it, you can purchase plane tickets at any time for however many points they cost and on the day you would like to fly out.
A single sign-on bonus for a new credit card can be more than 100,000 points. This was a bonus I’ve received on the American Express Platinum during a +25,000-incentive offer. This offer is worth more than $1,200 dollars in plane tickets and if used strategically this could give you 3-5 round trip flights, or even a first-class flight to Europe if you find some good offers.
How amazing is that, getting to fly first class to Europe for FREE, just because you are a member of the armed forces and do business with credit card companies that support the military. It’s a brilliant privilege that we can utilize, something that we should not abuse or take for granted.
These are two of the top travel credit cards:
Amex Plat Main Benefits: $700+ value without using points
75,000 points sign on bonus
5x points on flights
10x points on gas
10x points on supermarkets
$100 hotel credit
Hilton Honors Gold Status
$200 Airline Credit
$200 Uber Credit
Free Global entry or TSA pre check fee
No foreign transaction fees
$100 at Saks Fifth Ave
Reserve Main Benefits: $700+ value without using points
50,000 Bonus Points upon account opening and meeting spending limit
3x on dining
3x on travel
$300 Annual Travel Credit
Free Door Dash Subscription
$120 complementary spending on Door Dash
$120 on Peloton Membership
10x points on Lyft rides
Free Lyft Membership
Free Priority Pass (access to 1000+ airport lounges)
No Foreign Transaction Fees
Preferred Main Benefits: $180+ value without using points
The main reason you’d get this card is the sign-up bonus however, due to having $0 annual fee if you are military. Reserve is a much better deal. You cannot get both sign-on bonuses within 48 months.
60,000 sign up bonus
2x on restaurants
2x on groceries
2x on travel
Free Door Dash subscription
$60 on Peloton Membership
5x on Lyft rides
No Foreign Transaction Fees
If you decide to get both cards, or neither of them the next options are usually airline specific cards. For example, United Airlines, Delta, and Alaska airlines all have their own individual cards. The benefits of these cards vary depending on where you live. Some cities are better for varying airlines.
3. Free Hotels. (link 1 or two hotel cards)
So, now that you have your free flights around the world for the rest of your military career. How about a free place to stay? The next thing that you can do, after getting one, two, or a few air mile credit cards is get some hotel benefits credit cards. Hilton and Marriott offer some great credit cards. There are cards that offer 150,000 or more points just for a single sign up bonus. These points are not usually of the same value as airline credit cards are, but they still give you the benefit of being able to stay at these hotels for multiple nights, for free.
One card that isn’t necessarily the best benefits, but it is possibly the most fun is the Ritz-Carlton Credit Card. It offers some awesome benefits for somebody who isn’t paying an annual fee, and even for people that do pay fees. The best benefit in my opinion that it offers is a free night stay every year at a Ritz-Carlton Resort! This is a super fun benefit that allows you to stay at a world class hotel for a night without breaking the bank. Some people schedule a trip around this one-night stay. Remember though that this card is a Chase credit card, meaning it falls under the 5/24 rule as discussed above.
4. Free lounges.
There are many cards that offer access to airport lounges. Two of the best are the same as the air miles credit cards. Those are the American Express Platinum, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve. These two cards will gain you access to almost every lounge in almost every airport.
Now, why do you care about airport lounges? Have you ever felt like you need a shower after an 8-hour flight? Do you get hungry before your flight or on layovers? Do you want a drink but don’t want to pay $25 for a whiskey coke?
All those things plus more is what you get when you have access to lounges. Of course, different lounges have different perks but with these top tier credit cards, like the American Express Platinum will gain you access to the Centurion lounges which depending on the location, you get to take a shower, you get really good food including vegan options and they give you free alcohol. They provide internet that will hold a good connection, must better than the normal airport internet. There is private seating, where you get your own cubby to relax, take a nap, or eat your meal in peace. It’s a place to escape the thousands of people running around the airport during your pre-flight hours. Many lounges only offer free food and beverage, as well as an escape from the crowd. But even that is amazing, it’s one of those things you never realized you needed however once you have it you are so grateful you do.
This benefit is one of the best ones if you enjoy traveling. It reduces costs and stress a surprising amount. Having a delicious meal in your stomach during a long layover, and not having to spend $30 on a cheeseburger is brilliant. You can even bring guests in many lounges.
Some of you will find dealing with air miles and trying to find good a deal booking flights to max out the benefit is not worth it. All you want is CASH. If this is you, no need to worry! Getting extra dollar bills in your bank account is also an option. You have the ability to get upwards of $1000 cash into your bank account if you search out the right credit cards. Some cards give 5% cash back on rotating categories, some give 2% on every purchase. Most cash back credit cards give at least $150 sign up bonus.
Another thing to consider is that some of the cards that give points, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve for example, allows you to cash in those points. Using them on flights gets you a better deal for your money but if you want to take the 50,000-point bonus for example and just get $500 deposited into your bank account that is an option you have. Look into the terms for each credit card because many will not allow a direct cash withdraw if they are not cash back cards.
6. Maximum interest on debt before you joined.
If you have debt on credit cards, it’s important for you to know that you can call up your credit card and reduce the interest to 6%. This is only for debt you had PRIOR to enlisting or commissioning. If you have debt and have been paying a higher interest, they will REFUND any extra interest that you have paid. This is a very important benefit for people who joined with credit card debt. It could save you hundreds of dollars, you just need to call your credit card company to resolve this issue!
This also falls under the MLA and SCRA as mentioned in the beginning of this post.
MILITARY STAR CARD!
The frightening star card. The credit card that everybody tells you to run from. As soon as you arrive at training until your first base and beyond you hear “DON’T GET A STAR CARD”. I agree, kind of. You probably should not get a star card unless you have NO CREDIT, although many people may still benefit from them. This is something I wish I would have known when I joined. I ran from the card like everybody said until I wanted to get a solid credit card like the ones mentioned above. There I was applying for the Chase Sapphire Reserve when I get denied. “You have insufficent credit score.” Damn… That’s when I got the star card and wished I would have known because I would have gotten it as soon as I joined over a year earlier. Not everybody falls into this catagory, and some people may want the card for the benefits it offers, not just for building credit.
Now, why do people tell you to run? They say this because the card gives you somewhere around a few thousand dollars in limit. So, new members of the service will get their shiney new credit card. Go to the base exchange and spend thousands of dollars on JUNK, or maybe some cool stuff. Now theres an 18 year old who’s $2000 in debt and is making $2000 per month or less. Oops. This kind of debt starting your career takes forever to get out of, or maybe this is the start of a downhill slide leading to tens of thousands of dollars in debt. It’s something to consider when joining the world of credit cards owners.
It is ok to get a military star card if it’s good for your situation. You could just use it for gas. Use it to get the holiday sales for presents for your family. You probably should not use it if you cannot pay it off the same day! However, anybody can get this card even with 0 credit. It will allow you to build credit to eventually get these awesome cards above which sometimes require at least a year or more of active credit on time payments.
Another quick tip, after you use the card once it is active on your credit score. You can literally use it to buy one candy bar and never use it again and your credit will continue to build over time. You do not need to hold a balance to make your credit go up.
Another option is a secured card through your bank. These are simlar to gift cards, you put money on the card and thats all the money you can spend. This is also a good way to build good habits and not attain debt while still building credit if that is something you are interested in doing.
Thanks so much for reading, if you have further questions you can comment below!
WARNING! DO NOT GO INTO DEBT GETTING ANY OF THESE PERKS. Of course, that is your choice it is just not the best way to build long term wealth.
American Express Platinum:
Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred:
Link to the many Hilton Cards:
link to the Marriot Cards:
Ritz-Carlton Credit Card: