While I absolutely love fall, I’m sad to see summer come to an end. Our neighborhood pool closes on Labor Day, and I always hate it when that happens. It always feels like the end of an era or something. And by the time it opens again next year, my kids will be one year older. Parents, where does the time actually go?

Still, we’ve got some pretty fun trips planned for the next few months. As Greg shared in a recent travel post, we’re heading to San Diego, St. Thomas, Greece, and Puerto Rico before year’s end. Oh, and we’re going on a super secret surprise trip to what has to be the least convenient island in the Caribbean to get to. If you want the details on that, you’ll have to sign up for my travel group on Facebook.

Once these upcoming trips are over, I have a ton of planning to do! Not only do I have 315,000 Membership Rewards Points to burn, but I have around 200,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, too. I’m not sure where they’ll take me, but I’ll find out soon!

Best Credit Card Rewards for September 2016

If you’re looking for a way to travel on a budget, the top travel credit cards can make it happen. All you need is good or excellent credit, a solid plan, and several months to see the process through from beginning to end. If you need help planning, feel free to hit me up on my Free Travel Advice page.

While there are a ton of excellent rewards cards and signup bonuses available each month, I only pick my favorites for this monthly post. Here are the top cards and offers as I see them for September 2016:

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

As I shared a few weeks ago, the Southwest 50,000 point offer is back. Whether you want to earn the Southwest Companion Pass or just want to earn a bunch of free flights, now is the time to sign up. Spend $2,000 on your card within the first 90 days and earn 50,000 miles worth at least two-round trip domestic flights or flights to the Caribbean.

And if you shop Southwest sales fares often, these points can go even further. Earlier this year, my husband and I flew to Raleigh, North Carolina for less than 8,000 Southwest Airline Rapid Rewards points round-trip! Plus, you can frequently find sales fares to big cities like Chicago and Boston for less than 7,000 points per leg, depending on where you live.

Even if you don’t fly Southwest at all, this card is still a good deal. Pay the $99 annual fee and turn in your 50,000 points for $500 in gift cards to stores like Walmart, Toys ‘R  Us, Home Depot, and more.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card

In case you haven’t heard, Chase just released a premier travel card meant to compete with the American Express Platinum card. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in 90 days, a $300 travel credit, lounge access, and more. This card does come with a hefty $450 annual fee, but it’s more than offset if you can use the $300 annual travel credit twice (this year and next).

Other benefits come in the form of better earnings and redemptions. With this card, you’ll get 3x points on all dining and travel expenses. As an added bonus, your Chase Ultimate Rewards points will be worth 50 percent more when you use them to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. I wish I could get this card, but I was sadly denied due to too many hard inquiries. That’s life, I suppose! Either way, this is a smart card to consider if you want a ton of points and travel benefits.

Discover it® Miles

discover it milesThis is one of the few cards I suggest that doesn’t offer a signup bonus. Here’s how it works: With the Discover it® Miles, you earn 1.5 “miles” for every dollar you spend, and with no annual fee. The cool thing is, Discover promises to double the amount of points you earn after your first year.

While you don’t get those “extra” miles upfront, this card allows you to earn 3 percent back on every purchase you make. And since it doesn’t charge an annual fee, this is truly free money for the taking as long as you don’t carry a balance, pay interest, or pay late fees.

Even with the highly popular Chase Freedom Unlimited card, you won’t earn close to 3 percent if you’re angling for cash back instead of travel. For that reason – and the fact that this card charges no annual fee – I think the Discover it® Miles is a great deal.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

I am so glad the Chase Freedom Unlimited card is no longer a rumor. Unlike the traditional Chase Freedom® card that offers a flat 1% back on all purchases and 5% back in categories that rotate every quarter, the Chase Freedom Unlimited card offers a flat 1.5% back on all of your purchases. This is obviously a better deal if you don’t like keeping track of rotating categories or if you don’t feel you would take advantage of them.

If you also have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card, then the Chase Freedom Unlimited might also be a better deal. Since all purchases qualify for 1.5% back and points are unlimited, you can earn a lot more points for travel this way.

The Chase Freedom Unlimited also offers a $150 signup bonus after you spend just $500 on your card within 90 days. As long as you pay your bill in full when it comes due, this is the closest thing to “free money” you’ll ever find.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Everyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card for myriad reasons. First, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are the most lucrative travel rewards points out there in my opinion. And second, they are so flexible! After all, you can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for straight-up cash back, gift cards, or even merchandise if you want.

The other cool thing about Chase points is that you can transfer them to all the best hotel and airline loyalty programs at a 1:1 ratio. That list includes Southwest Rapid Rewards even, which is the best airline program for families by far. Other transfer partners include IHG (the points I’m using for my all-inclusive resort in Jamaica for Spring Break), Marriott, British Airways, Hyatt, and United, among others.

Here’s the best part: The current signup bonus on this card is 50,000 points, which is worth $500 in high value gift cards (some low-value cards cost more), $500 in cash, or more than $600 in travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Meanwhile, you’ll also earn 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else.

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

If you’re looking for a hotel credit card you can keep for the long haul, I highly recommend the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card from Chase. Not only does this card offer 60,000 points after you spend just $1,000 on your card within 90 days, but it offers a free night at any IHG property worldwide on each account anniversary.

My favorite way to use IHG points is at their all-inclusive property in Jamaica. We went to the Holiday Inn Resort in Jamaica the last two years using points, and my kids keep asking when we’ll go back. (You can read my review of the resort here.) This particular property costs just 35,000 points per night (or 25,000 points plus $70 if you use their points and cash option).

Related: How We Booked Spring Break in Jamaica for FREE

Obviously, there are plenty of other IHG properties to choose from all over the world. In fact, they have over 4,700 properties worldwide. Another reason I like this card is because it has such a low annual fee. It’s free the first year, but each subsequent year costs only $49. And don’t forget – you get a free night at any IHG property worldwide in exchange for that fee. Since you can use your free night at any IHG property no matter the cost, this is a stellar deal.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred AMEXAlthough this isn’t a travel card, I’ve been seriously considering signup up for this one the last few months. With the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, you earn 6x points on your first $6,000 in grocery spending each year – that’s $360 in rewards right there if you spend at least $500 at the grocery store each month!

In addition, you earn 3x points at U.S. gas stations and department stores and 1x points on everything else. Better yet, you can score a $150 signup bonus if you spend just $1,000 on your card within 90 days. You can redeem all of your points for cash back and use them for everything from travel incidentals to plane tickets and more.

This is an excellent offer if most of your spending takes place at the grocery store, but it makes sense for people who spend a lot on gas and transportation costs as well. There is a $75 annual fee, however, so you have to weigh the pros and cons of paying that fee before you sign up. All things considered, I think this card is an excellent option for most families.



Ink Plus® Business Credit Card

I recently earned a ton of Chase Ultimate Rewards points with my husband’s Ink Plus® Business Credit Card by buying Lowe’s gift cards from an office supply store to pay for our new floors. Pretty sweet, huh?

With this card, you’ll score a 60,000 point signup bonus after you spend $5,000 on the card within 90 days. Plus, you’ll earn 5 points per dollar spent on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year, 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year, and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn. Whew – that was a mouthful!

While the annual fee is not waived the first year, you’ll more than make up for it with the stellar signup bonus. After all, 60,000 points is worth $600 in cash back, $600 in high value gift cards, or more than $750 in travel. That’s way more than the $95 annual fee.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

AMEX Starwood Preferred Guest

With the Marriott and Starwood merger underway, there’s no telling how long the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express will be around! It might still be here several months or even years from now, but maybe not. Who knows?

Regardless, this card is especially valuable if you enjoy free hotel stays or want to transfer to an obscure international airline. Right now you earn 25,000 points after you spend $3,000 in 90 days, and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year. Score!

 

On a personal note, I cashed in the majority of our points for a week-long stay at the Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa. For the record, this property cost us 12,000 points per night. Score!



 

Want free travel advice? Don’t forget to check out my free travel advice page. Also, feel free to hit me with any questions in the comments!

Love to travel? Want some cash back? Check out Holly's picks for the top credit card rewards offers this month!