Check out this month's top recommended cards WITH NO ANNUAL FEES for US military.
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The credit card benefits available to active duty military servicemembers are outstanding. Thanks to two laws called the Military Lending Act (MLA) and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), military personnel and their spouses can access the best luxury cards with no annual fees.

If you’re starting from no or limited credit history, here is the optimal order to apply for credit cards if you are in the military:

  1. Secured Credit Card (learn more here) for 12 months to establish credit history
  2. Chase Freedom (click here) or Chase Freedom Unlimited (click here)
  3. Chase Sapphire Reserve (click here)
  4. United Explorer, United Club, Southwest Cards, Chase Freedom, or Freedom Unlimited
  5. American Express Platinum (My Top Recommended Card)
  6. AMEX Gold Card, upgrade to Platinum (click here)
  7. AMEX Green, upgrade to Platinum (click here)
  8. Hilton Aspire (click here)
  9. SPG Luxury (click here)
  10. SPG Personal, upgrade to SPG Luxury (click here)
  11. Hilton Ascend then upgrade to Aspire (click here)
  12. Hilton Honors then upgrade to Aspire (click here)
  13. Business Platinum (click here)
  14. Delta Platinum (click here)
  15. Delta Reserve (click here)
  16. Delta Gold then Upgrade To Delta Reserve #2 (click here)
  17. Chase IHG (click here)
  18. Chase Hyatt (click here)

Chase and AMEX SCRA and MLA Rules

Military SCRA MLA AMEX PlatinumChase and American Express have generously interpreted these laws and offer fee waivers on most of their cards. American Express waives all fees on all of their credit and charge cards, including business cards. Chase waives annual fees for military members on all of their personal cards (not business) opened after 20 Sep 2017.

You get all the perks of these cards with no annual fees. We’re talking about hundreds of dollars a year in travel credits, Uber rides and UberEats, free hotel stays, free first/business class tickets, free airport lounge access, and the list goes on.

In order to access all these benefits in the most efficient manner, you need to apply for these cards in a specific order. That’s because each card issuer has rules regarding how many cards you can have and how many cards you can apply for in a specific amount of time.

For instance, Chase has a 5/24 rule. This means you can only open a Chase card if you have opened less than 5 credit cards in the previous 24 months from any issuer. This rule means you need to first open 4-5 Chase cards, then open unlimited American Express cards.

Take your time and make sure you can meet the minimum spend required on each card so you get the bonus. Don’t go into debt, pay off your card weekly, and do not apply for too many cards at once.

Step 1: No Credit

secured credit card for military with bad or no creditWe’ll assume you have not had any credit cards before and little to no credit history. The first thing to do is get a secured credit card. If you already have a credit score over 600 then you can skip this step and go to Step 2.

You can check your credit score for free on CreditSesame, Credit Karma, or with your AMEX Platinum (learn more here).

This is a card that you put a small deposit down on when you open it. This ensures the credit company will be able to reclaim some money if you default. But you won’t, because you’re in this to reap the tremendous benefits towards the end of the plan.

I recommed the Capital One Secured Mastercard (learn more), which has no annual fee. This is a great card to start building a history of responsible credit card usage.

Since it has no annual fee, you can leave the account open forever to age your credit history. This helps you eventually get the much better luxury travel and cash back rewards cards.

Note that this does take away one of your 5/24 Chase spots. You are now at 1/24. However, it is important to have a good credit history and credit score before moving on to the more luxurious cards.

Step 2: 12 Months After Secured Card

Chase Freedom UnlimitedNow that you have built up a credit history, it’s time to start a relationship with Chase Bank.

The first card to get is a no annual fee (for everyone, not just military)

Chase Freedom (click here)

  • 15,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus points after $500 of spend in the first 3 months ($150 value)
  • Earn 5% cash back on quarterly rotating categories (like gas, groceries, internet services) and 1% back on all other purchases
  • No annual fee

Chase Freedom Unlimited (learn more here)

  • 15,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus points after $500 of spend in the first 3 months ($150 value)
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase
  • No annual fee

I prefer the Chase Freedom Unlimited for its simple 1.5% cash back on everything. The Chase Freedom is also great though because usually half the year you can get 5% cash back on gas, which tends to be a big expense for most military members.

You can combine your Chase Ultimate Rewards on one card, so save your UR points on these lower tier cards. Consolidate all of your UR points on higher tier cards as you acquire them. Be patient and don't cash out your Ultimate Rewards just for cash.

Step 3: 3-6 months After 1st Chase Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve bonus

Now you have 12 months of credit history with your secured card. You also have a no annual fee Chase cash back card. It's time to move on to one of the best luxury cards available:

Chase Sapphire Reserve (learn more here)

  • $450 annual fee waived for US military servicemembers (and spouses)
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • 50,000 Ultimate Reward points after $4000 of spend in the first 3 months ($750 value)
  • 3x points on travel and dining
  • Travel insurance when purchasing airfare and hotels through the card
  • No foreign transaction fees

The CSR is one of the top travel cards with annual fee waivers. Chase only allows you to have one card in the Sapphire brand of cards. For military members with annual fee waivers it makes sense to go for the top tier card and get the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Step 4: Pick Your 5 Chase Cards

Next, pick from the remaining Chase cards to fill your 5/24 slots. If you fly domestically, getting a Southwest Companion pass is a great option. United cards can be good, especially if you fly them often for TDYs.

If you have a secured card, a Chase Freedom or Freedom Unlimited, and Chase Sapphire Reserve, you should be able to pick up 2 more Chase cards to max out your 5/24 limitation. Pick any of the two cards below, depending on your travel/cash back goals.

Southwest Airlines credit cards are a great option. If you earn 110,000 Southwest miles in one calendar year, you earn a companion pass for the rest of that year AND the following year. For example, let's say you open the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card (40,000 welcome bonus points) and the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card (60,000 welcome bonus points).

If you meet the minimum spend for the welcome bonus on both these cards, ($4000 total) you are only 6000 points shy of the 110,000 points required for the companion pass. If you open these cards in Dec 2018, complete your spend by February 2019, you will have the companion pass for all of 2019 AND 2020. This is a huge benefit!

Note that you can only get the bonus on one personal Southwest card per person per 24 month period. Business cards do not count against this limitation.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card (learn more here)

  • $149 annual fee waived for US military servicemembers
  • Earn 40,000 welcome bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening
  • $75 annual Southwest travel credit
  • 7500 account anniversary bonus points
  • 2x points on Southwest purchases
  • 20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and movies

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier (learn more here)

  • $99 annual fee waived for military
  • 40,000 welcome bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • 6,000 anniversary bonus points

Chase Southwest Premier Business SCRA MilitarySouthwest Rapid Rewards Plus (learn more here)

  • $69 annual fee waived for military personnel
  • 40,000 welcome bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • 3,000 anniversary bonus points

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card (learn more here)

  • 60,000 welcome bonus points after spending $3000 in first 3 months
  • 6000 anniversary bonus points
  • Note that the $99 annual fee is NOT waived on Chase business cards for military

Chase Freedom or Freedom Unlimited

Whichever card you didn't get in Step 2, now is a good time to pick up the other. 15,000 Chase UR points for only $500 of spend. Learn more here the Chase Freedom or learn more here about the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

United Explorer Card (learn more here)

  • $95 annual fee waived for military
  • 40,000 welcome bonus miles after $2000 in spend in the first 3 months
  • 5000 bonus miles after adding an additional authorized user and they make a purchase
  • 2x miles on hotel and restaurant charges

Step 5: Apply for American Express Platinum(s)

Military SCRA MLA AMEX PlatinumNow that you've exhausted your Chase options, it's time to move on to the best luxury cards available: American Express Platinum cards.

You need to start building your AMEX Platinum collection to reap annual benefits and welcome bonuses worth thousands. Start with the regular AMEX Platinum.

Platinum Card from American Express (My Top Recommended Card)

  • $550 annual fee waived for active duty military
  • 60,000 Membership Reward points after $5000 of spend in first 3 months of card membership
  • $200 annual Uber or UberEats credits
  • $200 airline fee credit (good for gift cards)
  • $100 Global Entry fee reimbursement
  • Centurion Lounge and Priority Pass airport lounge access
  • 5x points on airline tickets
  • No foreign transaction fees

Next, open an AMEX Gold card and after one year upgrade it to a Platinum. The benefits of Platinum cards are additive, so when you add another Platinum card to your Uber account, you get $30 of monthly credits ($70 in December).

American Express Gold Card (learn more here)

  • $195 annual fee waived for military
  • 25,000 Membership Reward points after $2000 of spend in the first 3 months of card membership
  • $100 airline fee credit
  • 3x points on flights booked directly with airline
  • No foreign transaction fees

Finally, open a AMEX Green card. This is another AMEX charge card that you can upgrade to a Platinum card after one year.

American Express Green Card (learn more here)

  • $95 annual fee waived for military
  • Eligible for upgrade to AMEX Platinum after one year of card membership

Step 6: Hotel and Airline Cards

From here on out, keep learning about the credit card reward space and apply for cards as they come available in the programs you like and use.

You can focus on hotel cards and get free Hilton Diamond Status by holding a AMEX Hilton Honors Aspire card. You can earn dozens of free night stays with the full AMEX Hilton line up: Aspire, Ascend, and Honors.

You can earn over 250,000 Marriott points with the 3 SPG cards: Luxury, Personal, and Business. All the Hilton cards can earn you over 350,000 Hilton points.

Hotel Credit Cards for Military Members

Free Diamond Status at Hilton Hotels for MilitaryAMEX Hilton Aspire (learn more here)

  • $450 annual fee waived for US military
  • Complimentary Diamond Status
  • 150,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points welcome offer after $4000 of purchases in the first 3 months (worth up to 18 nights of stays!)
  • 1 weekend night reward after opening your account and every year on renewal
  • $250 Hilton Resort Credit
  • $250 airline fee credit
  • 14x Hilton Honors Bonus Points at Hilton properties
  • No foreign transaction fees

AMEX Starwood Preferred Guest Luxury (learn more here)

  • $450 annual fee waived for active duty military
  • 1 free night award (worth 50,000 points)
  • 100,000 Marriott points welcome bonus after $5000 in purchases within the first 3 months of card membership
  • 6x points earned at SPG and Marriott hotels
  • 3x points earned on US restaurants and flights booked directly with the airline
  • $300 credit on eligible purchases at SPG or Marriott properties
  • Complimentary Gold Elite Status
  • No foreign transaction fees

AMEX SPG Personal, upgrade to SPG Luxury (learn more here)

  • $95 annual fee waived for military
  • 75,000 Marriott reward points welcome bonus after $3000 in the first 3 months of card membership
  • Earn 6x points at SPG and Marriott hotels
  • 1 free night award at 35,000 points annually
  • No foreign transaction fees

AMEX SPG Business (learn more here)

  • $95 annual fee waived for US military
  • 100,000 Marriott reward points welcome bonus after $5000 in the first 3 months of card membership
  • 6x points earned at SPG and Marriott hotels
  • Annual free night award at worth 35,000 points

Hilton Ascend, then upgrade to Aspire (learn more here)

Hilton Honors, then upgrade to Aspire (learn more here)

  • 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $1000 in the first 3 months of Card Membership

Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card (learn more here)

  • $89 annual fee waived for US military
  • 100,000 points welcome bonus after $3000 of spend in first 3 months of account opening
  • 5000 points after adding an authorized user and they make one purchase
  • Annual free night award after each account anniversary
  • Earn 10 points for $1 spent at IHG hotels
  • Automatic IHG Platinum Elite Status, with complimentary room upgrades
  • NOT subject to Chase 5/24 rule

Chase Hyatt (learn more here)

  • $95 annual fee waived for active duty US military
  • 40,000 point welcome bonus after spending $3000 in the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 9 points per $1 spent at Hyatt properties
  • Automatic World of Hyatt Discoverist status
  • NOT subject to Chase 5/24 rule

Free Delta AMEX Cards for Military

You can earn heaps of Delta points with the AMEX line of Delta co-branded cards

AMEX Delta Reserve card free for US militaryDelta Reserve (learn more here)

  • $450 annual fee waived for active duty US military
  • 40,000 welcome bonus miles after $3000 of purchases in the first 3 months
  • Complimentary Delta Sky Club lounge access for the card holder
  • Receive a Domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+® or Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card

Delta Platinum (learn more here)

  • $195 annual fee waived for US military
  • Earn 70,000 welcome bonus miles after spending $3000 in the first 3 months of opening your new card
  • Annual domestic main cabin round-trip companion certificate, you only pay taxes and fees
  • 2x miles earned on Delta purchases

Delta Gold, then Upgrade To Another Delta Reserve (learn more here)

  • $95 annual fee waived for military
  • 60,000 welcome bonus miles after spending $3000 in the first 4 months
  • Priority boarding
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • You can upgrade this card to Delta Reserve after 1 year for an additional companion pass

Being in the military comes with many perks and benefits. Chase and AMEX’s interpretation of the MLA and SCRA open up a tremendous opportunity to the above-average military servicemember.

The total value of all of these cards is well over $20,000. Take your time, hit all of your minimum spending so you get the bonuses, and don't get too many cards at once. NEVER accumulate debt. Pay your card off in full once a week.

Good luck applying and let me know of your experience in the comments!

Best Credit Cards for Active Duty Military 2018: A Step-by-Step Guide

AMEX Platinum With NO Annual Fees for US Military

Military SCRA MLA AMEX Platinum

Military servicemembers and spouses can get the American Express Platinum (learn more here) with NO annual fees. 

Learn more about this military fee waiver.

The AMEX Platinum offers:

  • $550 Annual Fee WAIVED for US Military (and spouses)!
  • 60,000 Membership Rewards Points welcome offer
  • $200 credit for Uber rides (or Uber Eats!) annually
  • $200 airline fee credit
  • Centurion Lounge and Priority Pass Airport Lounge Access
  • NO foreign transaction fees

These benefits make it my top recommend card.

If you already have an AMEX Platinum card, check out the other AMEX cards and Chase credit cards with no annual fees for US military personnel.

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One thought on “Best Credit Cards for Active Duty Military 2018: A Step-by-Step Guide

  • October 7, 2018 at 23:44
    Permalink

    Chase waives annual fees for AD military!

    Reply

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