14+ Best Credit Cards for Active Duty Military 2021

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The Platinum Card® from American Express card is annual fee waived for military. Terms apply.

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The best military credit cards are the premium luxury travel cards from American Express and Chase. These cards offer military servicemembers no annual fees, amazing welcome bonuses, luxury travel experiences, and recurring annual benefits worth $1000s.

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 credit cards with no annual fees for military.

Chase and American Express both waive their annual fees on personal cards for military servicemembers and military spouses.

Here is the optimal order to apply for credit cards if you are in the military:

  1. Beginner's credit card from Navy Federal for 12 months to establish credit history
  2. Chase Freedom Flex or Chase Freedom Unlimited (best cash back credit cards for military)
  3. Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred
  4. Pick 3 more Chase cards: IHG, Hyatt, United Explorer, United Club, Southwest Cards, Chase Freedom Flex, or Freedom Unlimited best Chase credit cards for military
  5. American Express® Gold Card, learn how to upgrade this card or read the full Amex Gold military review
  6. The Platinum Card® from American Express, compare Amex Platinum vs Amex Gold
  7. American Express Green Card, upgrade to Platinum or read the full review
  8. Amex Hilton Honors Aspire (read my full review)
  9. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card (read my full review)
  10. Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card then upgrade to Aspire
  11. Hilton Honors American Express Card then upgrade to Aspire
  12. Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (read the full review)
  13. Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (read how to upgrade to another Amex Delta Reserve)
  14. Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card then Upgrade To Delta Reserve #3

Chase and Amex SCRA and MLA Rules

Chase 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 personal cards.

Chase waives annual fees for military members on all of their personal cards opened after 20 Sep 2017.

You get all the perks of these cards with no annual fees. We’re talking about $1000s 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 American Express cards. Amex also has restrictions on how many Amex cards you can open.

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

We’ll assume you have not had any credit cards before and little to no credit history. The first thing to do is get a beginner's credit card from a military friendly bank, like Navy Federal Credit Union. If you already have a credit score over 600 then you can skip this step and go to Step 2.

navy federal cashrewards credit card for military
  • Learn how to apply for the Navy Federal cashRewards credit card
  • Earn $100 cash back bonus when you spend $2,000 with 90 days of account opening
  • 1.5% cash back on purchases
  • Start redeeming rewards as soon as you earn them.
  • $500 to $1000 per year of cell phone coverage with a $50 deductible
  • No annual fee
  • No balance transfer fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Terms Apply, read the full review of the Navy Federal cashRewards card

You can check your credit score for free on CreditSesame, Credit Karma, or with your Amex Platinum card.

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.

If your credit score is below 720, I recommend building your score up by opening any of the no annual fee cards offered by Navy Federal (NFCU), USAA, or PenFed. These are the best, military friendly credit cards to start building a history of responsible credit card usage.

Within less than 12 months of getting a no annual fee card and building your score, you will be able to get the better cards listed below.

You can see how I built an 800+ credit score in my 20s without carrying any credit card debt. Even though I have over 20 credit cards, my score is still over 800.

Since these cards have 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. Again, I cover what “5/24” means in this article.

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

Now 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 Flex

  • Learn how to apply for the Chase Freedom Flex
  • $200 welcome bonus after $500 of purchases in the first 3 months after opening card
  • 5% cash back on rotating categories up to $1500 – activation required each quarter
  • 5% cash back on travel (hotels, rental cars, airfare) purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, takeout, and delivery
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
  • 1% cash back on every other purchase
  • Points never expire as long as account is open
  • Up to $1000 per year of cell phone insurance if you pay your monthly cell phone bill with the card
  • No annual fee

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Chase Freedom Unlimited for Military
  • Learn how to apply for the Chase Freedom Unlimited
  • Earn $200 cash back after $500 spend in the first 3 months of account opening
  • 5% cash back on travel (hotels, rental cars, airfare) purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, takeout, and delivery
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase after that
  • No annual fee

I prefer the Chase Freedom Unlimited for its simple 1.5% cash back on everything. The Chase Freedom Flex 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

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

Chase Sapphire Reserve No Annual Fee for Military
  • Learn how to apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • $550 annual fee waived to $0 for US military + spouses with Chase MLA policy
  • Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Reward Points after $4000 of spend in the first 3 months – $750 value when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • $300 annual travel credit – through Dec 31, 2021 gas station and grocery store purchases also count towards your travel credit
  • 10x points on hotels and rental cars & 5x points on air travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards after the first $300 spent on travel annually
  • 3x Points on other Travel (airfare, hotels) after earning the $300 travel credit
  • 3x Dining restaurants, takeouts, delivery)
  • Ultimate Reward Points redeemed through the Chase travel portal are worth 1.5 cents, a 50% bonus
  • Priority Pass lounge and restaurant access with over 1300+ airport lounges worldwide
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry
  • Primary car rental auto insurance and trip cancellation/interruption insurance
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Learn more in the Chase Sapphire Reserve review

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

You might also consider a Chase Sapphire Preferred, as it usually offers a higher sign up bonus than the Sapphire Reserve. After one year of holding a Sapphire Preferred, you can upgrade it to a Reserve to earn 3x on travel and restaurants and the $300 annual travel credit.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred Military SCRA MLA
  • Learn how to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate after spending $4000 in the first 3 months of card membership
  • 60,000 points = $750 minimum when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal
  • New benefits include $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit
  • 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards portal
  • 3x points on dining (includes takeout, delivery, and dine-in)
  • 2x points on all other travel purchases
  • Points can also be redeemed with “Pay Yourself Back” for 1.25 cents each on eligible purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees, great for overseas OCONUS assignments, TDY, and PCS
  • Primary rental car insurance coverage & trip cancellation/interruption insurance
  • Unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Must activate by 12/31/21.
  • Get up to $60 back on eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021
  • Upgrade to a Chase Sapphire Reserve after 1 year (compare Reserve vs Preferred)
  • $95 annual fee waived for military and spouses with Chase Military Lending Act

Whether to get the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve depends if you think you will get more value out of the extra Ultimate Reward points or a $300 travel credit.

If you value Ultimate Reward points at more than 3 cents per point, than it makes sense to get the CSP and then upgrade to a CSR.

Personally, if I was starting building my credit card empire again, I would get the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the larger sign up bonus, then upgrade to a Chase Sapphire Reserve 1 year later to get the recurring $300 annual travel credit, 3x points on travel and restaurants, and the excellent travel insurance.

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 Flex 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 a personal Southwest credit card for 60,000 welcome bonus points and the Southwest Airlines business card for another 60,000 welcome bonus points. You are allowed to hold both a personally and a business Southwest card at the same time.

If you meet the minimum spend for the welcome bonus on both these cards, (let's say $5000 total) you easily surpass the 110,000 points required for the companion pass. If you open these cards in Dec 2019, complete your spend by February 2020, you will have the companion pass for all of 2020 AND 2021. 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

Read my full Southwest Companion Pass for military review to see how to maximize these Southwest cards to fly your partner for free for almost 2 years!

  • Learn how to apply for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority
  • $149 annual fee waived for military and mil spouses
  • Best ever offer: Earn up to 100,000 Southwest points. Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months, plus earn 50,000 more points after spending $12,000 in the first 12 months
  • Earn 3x points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases
  • Earn 2x points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare
  • Earn 2x points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming services
  • 7500 bonus points on card anniversary
  • $75 annual Southwest travel credit
  • 4 Upgraded boardings per year
  • 25% back on in flight WiFi and drink purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier

  • Learn how to apply for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
  • $99 annual fee waived for military
  • Earn up to 40,000 Southwest points when you spend $2000 in the first 3 months
  • 6,000 anniversary bonus points

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus

  • Learn how to apply for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus
  • $69 annual fee waived for military personnel
  • Earn up to 40,000 Southwest points when you spend $1000 in the first 3 months
  • 3,000 anniversary bonus points

Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Card

  • Learn how to apply for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business card
  • Earn 80,000 points after $5000 of spend in the first 3 months of card membership
  • 4x points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines purchases
  • 3x points on Rapid Rewards hotel and car partners
  • 2x points on rideshare
  • 2x points per $1 spent on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable, and phone services
  • 1x point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Inflight WiFi credits
  • 9,000 bonus points after your card anniversary
  • Global Entry or TSA Precheck Fee Credit
  • $199 Annual Fee NOT waived for military

Chase Freedom Flex or Freedom Unlimited

Whichever card you didn't get in Step 2, now is a good time to pick up the other. Learn how to apply for the Chase Freedom Flex or learn how to apply for about the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

United Explorer Card

  • $95 annual fee waived for military
  • Up to $100 Global Entry Fee Credit
  • 2x miles on hotel and restaurant charges

Step 5: Apply for American Express Platinum(s)

Now 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)

Military SCRA MLA AMEX Platinum
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express – learn how to apply
  • Annual fee of $695 waived for US military personnel and spouses (rates and fees)
  • Best Ever Public Offer: Earn 100,000 Membership Reward Points welcome bonus (valued at $2000+) when you spend $6000 in the first 6 months
  • Earn 10x points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US up to $25,000 in combined purchases for the first 6 months (an extra 250,000 points potentially!)
  • Earn 5x points on airfare booked directly with airline or on amextravel.com up to $500,000 per calendar year
  • Earn 5x points on prepaid hotels at amextravel.com
  • $200 annual Hotel Credit: Get $200 statement credit on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts or the Hotel Collection booked on Amex Travel and paid for with your Platinum Card
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credits: Up to $20 in monthly statement credits when you use your Platinum card to pay for: Peacock, Audible, Sirius, and the New York Times. Enrollment Required.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on Uber Eats and rides
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at 1 qualifying airline
  • $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit, can be used for gift cards, enrollment required
  • 40 Centurion Lounges and 1200+ Priority Pass airport lounge access for free
  • $179 CLEAR Credit: Get through airport security faster with CLEAR
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Heavy metal card that looks and feels really cool
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express – learn how to apply
  • Read my full review of the Amex Platinum card for military, terms apply

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

American Express Gold Card military AMEX Gold Card Military No annual fee SCRA $250 annual fee waived
  • Learn how to apply for the American Express® Gold Card
  • $250 Annual Fee waived for US military and spouses (rates and fees)
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Reward Amex points after spending $4000 in the first 6 months of account opening
  • Rose Gold is back! Choose between the Gold or Rose Gold version when you apply.
  • 4x points on all restaurants, including takeout and delivery
  • 4x points on US supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year) – includes OCONUS Commissaries
  • 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline or on amextravel.com
  • No foreign transaction fees – great for the 4x on restaurants when travelling for fun, OCONUS TDY, or PCS!
  • $120 annual Uber or Uber Eats cash. Earned as $10 per month.
  • $120 per year credit at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House or Shake Shack (enrollment required)
  • Read my full review of the Amex Gold card for military, terms apply

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

American Express Green Card for Military: No Annual Fee!

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. Sign up for my free, 5 day email based credit card course to begin your journey.

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, Surpass, and Honors.

You can earn over 250,000 Marriott points with the 3 Marriott Bonvoy cards: Brilliant, Boundless, and Business. All the Hilton cards can earn you over 350,000 Hilton points.

Best Military Credit Cards for Hotel Stays

Check out the best military hotel credit cards article for in depth comparison of the top 4 cards.

American Express Hilton Honors Aspire

Free Diamond Status at Hilton Hotels for Military
  • American Express Hilton Honors Aspire Card
  • $450 annual fee waived for US military servicemembers and spouses
  • Complimentary Diamond Status at all Hilton brands (suite upgrades, breakfast, check in gifts, etc)
  • 150,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points welcome offer after $4000 of purchases in the first 3 months
  • 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
  • Full review of Amex Aspire card, terms apply

The AMEX Hilton Honors Aspire card is a powerhouse. I took my family out to dinner at the Hilton Surfers Paradise Resort in Australia and applied the entire $250 resort credit. Free dinner for 6!

The complimentary diamond status and no annual fee for US military servicemembers makes this a no-brainer card for SMs. Learn more about this and other Hilton AMEX cards with no annual fees for military.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Free for Military
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card – learn how to apply
  • $450 annual fee 100% waived for US military personnel (rates and fees)
  • $300 Annual Marriott Statement Credit on all charges to your room including spa, restaurants, room service, laundry, and nightly rates
  • Earn 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy points and a bonus free night award after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. Resort fees may apply. Terms apply, offer expires November 3, 2021
  • Earn 6 points per dollar spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Redemption up to 50,000 points, certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Complimentary Gold Elite Status at all Marriott Bonvoy properties (Westin, St. Regis, Ritz Carlton, etc)
  • No foreign transaction fees, terms apply

Learn more about all 3 of the Marriott cards available with no annual fees for military personnel.

Amex Hilton Surpass

  • Learn how to apply for the Amex Hilton Honors Surpass card
  • 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points as a welcome offer after spending $2000 in the first 3 months
  • Plus, earn a $150 credit after your first purchase with the card in the first 3 months
  • Earn a weekend night award when you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year
  • $95 annual fee waived for US military (rates and fees)
  • 12x Hilton Honors points at Hilton properties
  • Upgrade this card to another fee waived Aspire card and get all the benefits of the Aspire card x2
  • Learn how to upgrade to Amex Aspire cards

Amex Hilton Honors Card, then upgrade to Aspire after 1 year

Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

Chase IHG Premier MLA
  • Learn how to apply for the Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier
  • $89 annual fee waived for US military according to Chase MLA policy and waived for everyone for first year
  • Earn 150,000 IHG bonus points after $3000 of spend in the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn a free night each account anniversary
  • Fourth night is free each time you redeem points for a 4+ night stay
  • Earn up to 25 points per $1 spent at IHG properties
  • Automatic Platinum Elite Status (2nd highest membership level)
  • Up to $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Fee credit every 4 years – military members should get Global Entry, since you can get PreCheck with your DOD ID number off of your CAC
  • No foreign transaction fees – essential for international travel

Chase Hyatt

Chase The World of Hyatt Military MLA
  • Learn how to apply for the Chase World of Hyatt card
  • Earn 30,000 welcome bonus points – spend $3000 in the first 3 months to earn 30,000 points.
  • Limited Time Offer: Apply by 9/30/2021 and upon approval you'll receive 2 Tier-Qualifying Night credits for each night you stay from 8/16/21 through 12/31/21
  • Hyatt rooms start at just 5000 points, so you could earn 6 nights with just the welcome bonus
  • 1 free night at any category 1-4 Hyatt hotel every year you keep the card open
  • Earn ANOTHER free night at category 1-4 hotel when you spend $15,000 on the card in a year
  • Cardholders get World of Hyatt Discoverist status (Tier 2/4) just for having the card, as long as the account is open
  • $95 Annual fee waived for US military personnel and spouses with Chase MLA policy

Hyatt is an awesome hotel brand that really treats loyalty members right. Free nights start at just 5000 points, so 30k bonus points could earn you 6 free nights at excellent hotels around the world.

Free Delta Amex Cards for Military

You can earn heaps of Delta points with the Amex line of Delta co-branded credit cards. Learn more details about the Amex Delta cards with military annual fee waivers in this article.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

AMEX Delta Reserve card free for US military

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

Annual Fee: $550 per year, waived for US military servicemembers and spouses to $0

Welcome Bonus: Limited Time Offer: Earn 80,000 bonus Skymiles and 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months of card membership offer expires 11/10/2021.

  • This is my TOP recommended Amex Delta card for military
  • $550 annual fee waived for US military (active duty and Title 10/32 Guard/Reserve)
  • Annual Companion Certificate – earn a domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+, or Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate every year on your account anniversary. Government taxes and fees of no more than $75 may need to be paid, see terms and conditions
  • 3x miles on Delta purchases, 1x on all other eligible purchases
  • Complimentary Delta Sky Club (airport lounge) access when travelling on a Delta flight in any class
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck (military should get Global Entry)
  • Priority boarding (main cabin 1)
  • Earn up to 60,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) with Status boost every year. After you spend $30,000 on your card, you can earn 15,000 MQMs four times per year. MQMs are used to determine Medallion Status and are different from the miles you earn towards flights.
  • No foreign transaction fees, terms apply (rates and fees)

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

AMEX DELTA Platinum no annual fee for military

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Annual fee: $250, waived for military and spouses to $0

Welcome Bonus: Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus Skymiles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. Offer expires 11/10/2021.

  • Receive an annual Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate on your account anniversary. Payment of government taxes and fees up to $75 may be required.
  • 3x Skymiles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels
  • 2x Skymiles on restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery, and U.S. supermarkets
  • 20% off in-flight purchases on Delta, posted as a statement credit
  • Main Cabin Priority 1 boarding – get that overhead storage!
  • First checked bag free – Delta usually checks up to 4 bags free for US military on leave or on orders
  • Fee credit for Global Entry (military should get this one) or TSA Precheck
  • Earn up to 20,000 MQMs: after you spend $25,000 in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year. MQMs are different than Skymiles and are used to determine Medallion Status.
  • No foreign transaction fees, terms apply (rates and fees)

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card (upgrade to another Amex Delta Reserve)

AMEX Delta Gold for Military and Spouses

The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

Annual fee: $0 introductory Annual Fee for the first year, then $99 – fee is waived for active duty military and spouses

Welcome Bonus: Limited Time Offer: Earn 70,000 bonus Skymiles when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021

  • 2x miles on Delta purchases, restaurants worldwide, and US supermarkets
  • Main Cabin Priority 1 boarding – get that overhead storage!
  • First checked bag free – Delta usually checks up to 4 bags free for US military on leave or on orders
  • No foreign transaction fees, terms apply (rates and fees)

Being in the military comes with many perks and benefits. The best military credit cards are the travel reward credit cards everyone else has access to, just without the annual fees.

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. See this month's top military credit card bonus offers.

You can sign up for my 5 day, 100% free online course that teaches you how to maximize your military credit card benefits. I'll never send you any spam and you can unsubscribe at any time. You can get your first card and annual fee waived in less than 30 days.

Sign up today for the Ultimate Military Travel Hacking Course and learn how I have 38 of the best military credit cards.

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

40 thoughts on “14+ Best Credit Cards for Active Duty Military 2021”

  1. What happens when you get out of the military? Are the fees still waived, do you get locked in? I am a Marine reservist, did a year active so I have a DD214. Any clue about whether I’d qualify to waive these fees?

  2. Should I get the Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card or the AMEX Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant credit card? Reading through the fine print for the bonus offers, it appears you cannot get the bonus offer for the one card if you have already gotten the bonus offer for the other. Should I prioritize one over the other? The Chase card appears to have a better bonus offer, but the AMEX has better overall features afterwards. Is there any issue in holding both the cards? Thanks!

    • Check out my article on Marriott military credit cards for all the details. The Amex Marriott Bonvoy brilliant is definitely the superior card for Marriott. I recommend getting that one even if the bonus is lower than the Chase because of the Amex’s annual recurring benefits.

  3. Have you explored something similar for military members stationed in Europe? I would imagine you can still squeeze the same benefits out of the hotel travel cards. But what’s the best strategy for taking advantage of air travel benefits to/from the UK or Germany?

    • Same strategy and same cards will work for Europe stationed servicemembers. I used this plan when I was stationed in the Middle East for 2 years and flew to Europe often. Stayed in many nice hotels around Europe for free, some favorites are Hilton Carlton Edinburgh, Ritz Carlton Geneva, and Hilton Garden Inn Bucharest Romania.

      • If we’re about to be stationed in Europe, wouldn’t make much sense to get the Southwest card, right? Which card provides the most airline travel benefits while travelling to/from Europe?

  4. I recently came across this site and wanted to say thanks for all the info and recommendations!

    I do have one question regarding building out the AMEX portfolio. For a single active duty servicemember, how much time do you recommend allowing to pass before opening up the next card? Obviously, one would want to ensure they have met the spending requirements to achieve the sign-up bonus on their most recently opened account. If they are able to do that rather quickly (e.g., 1-2 months), then what is the minimum recommended wait before applying for their next AMEX card?

    • Check out the Amex card application rules here. You can open up to 2 cards every 90 days and 1 card every 5 days. If you can handle the minimum spends, opening 2 cards a week apart, waiting 100 days (just up be sure) from the second card and then opening 2 more a week apart should be an aggressive pace.

  5. You should “prefer” the Sapphire Preferred over the Reserve given the new 80,000 point bonus. If the user’s transferring points or waiting until the second year when they upgrade it to a Reserve, it’s a better deal.

      • Thanks for clarifying. I have one of my Five card slots left. Do you have any recommendations as far as when to close one card and open another? I don’t want to raise any suspicion with AMEX. I also want to solidify my final slot after I max out the points on the cars that I don’t want to keep asap. I am going for the 3 Aspires, 1 Bonvoy, 1 Delta reserve you recommended. Currently I have one aspire, one surpass (Upgrading), one Delta reserve and one Bonvoy.

  6. Hi Spencer. Love your website. There is one thing that I am a little confused about. According to your optimal order of applying for credit cards you have seven American Express credit card slots occupied( Delta reserve, Delta platinum, delta gold, Hilton Aspire, Hilton surpass, Hilton honors, Bonvoy brilliant). This does not Include getting a second bonvoy card as you have recommended for the five CREDIT card slots before. So really there are nine that seem to be getting recommended. It doesn’t seem possible. Also, for your second bonvoy credit card slot as part of your five credit card American Express slots, how are you getting this? From the business card? If so it is less rewarding than the non-business bonvoy and I would think getting the third Hilton honors card and upgrading it to an aspire would be more valuable In filling your five credit card maximum from American Express. Thank you for your time.

  7. is the recommendation base on a two player mode? i dont see a need for both me and my wife to get the chase freedom and freedom unlimited

  8. You may want to add the US Bank Altitude Reserve near the top of the list. They’re sensitive to new lines of credit (generally denied above 2/12), but waive the annual fee for military and offer a $325 annual travel credit and other perks fairly comparable to the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

  9. If I already have established credit and only have a couple of bank CC, do you recommend CSR or AMEX Plat first? I have heard that chase is a little more particular in their approvals, so I should start there. Thoughts? Thanks for all the data!!

    • I would recommend you get Chase first due to their 5/24: CSR, Hyatt of the world (free annual night), IHG (annual night), United Club Mileage Plus (for their lounge), & Southwest Rapid reward.

      Then I would go after AMEX Plat, Gold (4x grocery, rest.)*, Marriott Bonvoy (annual night), Hilton Aspire(annual night)

      and Citi Bank Prestige ($250 travel cred by calendar yr) and yes annual fee is waived. Sent your LES to their military department and eventually, you’ll get a letter.

  10. Question for you. Where to go from here?

    I have (all the cards are over a year old):

    Amex: Plat, Gold, Blue Cash Preferred, Bonvoy, Delta Reserve, Delta Platinum
    Chase: Free, Free Unlimited, Ritz, and Amazon

    Next steps
    1) Have an email offer to upgrade my Bonvoy to a Bonvoy Brilliant, might as well.
    2) I can get back in on the CSR in January so I plan to do that.
    3) Not sure what else, maybe to go after the Hilton Honors card or Citi prestige, citi aadvantage, or united club.
    4) Don’t know if I follow the Delta platinum to Delta reserve upgrade, but already get the second com pass with the plat.
    5) Like using the Amex gold for restaurants so I don’t know if I want to upgrade it

    My wife isnt military and only has one wells fargo card :/

    Primary purchases (hope I’m doing this right):

    Gas: Blue cash preferred
    Groceries: Blue cash preferred
    Restaurants: Amex Gold
    Amazon: Amazon card
    Travel: depends (Amex Platimum or Delta cards depending)
    Other: Chase Freedom Unlimited or Chase Freedom depending on the quarter

  11. Your plan lines up with the strategy I had in mind, however my research has showed you can only ba e 5 amex credit cards (not including charge cards). So I’m curious to know how you have 3 hilton cards, 3 delta, and the Marriott card since that’s 7 cards. Did you close some to stay at 5? Thanks!

  12. You may want to mention that IHG and Hyatt cards can generally be opened by those who have more than 5/24 (unless that’s changed very recently), so a user may benefit from other Chase cards in their first five.

    • David – 2019 data points show that IHG and Hyatt do now fall under Chase’s 5/24 rule. I was even rejected for a Chase Amazon Prime Rewards card because I had opened too many accounts in the last 2 years. :(

  13. Spencer,
    I’m pretty well versed in all of this material, but I’ve never been able to get Citi to waive my Prestige fee. Can you please explain how to do this.

    • I don’t have direct experience with this yet, I just opened a Citi Premier last week. My understanding is you can send a copy of your orders or LES to [email protected]

      Please report back any data points you have to share with the rest of the community!

      • Spencer,

        Were you able to get Citi to waive the annual fee? I’ve maxed out what I can with AMEX & Chase, and am looking at other CC providers. I called both Citi and Capital One and inquired about waived annual fees. Both companies said that the fees would only be waived if I had applied for the card PRIOR to going on active duty.

      • Confirmed. My Presitge which I opened Oct 2019 annual fee was waived. Just follow the instructions above and you should get a letter in about a month.

  14. Does Air Force reserve get the annual fee waived as well? How about reserve called for deployment?

  15. That’s great info Spencer, thank you! If you are the primary finance person in the family, do you just have the log ins for the CC’s on which your wife is the primary acct holder so you can track the activity? Do you ever close out the cards whose benefits you have received and which you are no longer using? I know you don’t really do the dollar tracking budget (based on past post), how do you track the family expenditures…monthly? weekly? Sorry for all the questions…taking notes and trying to streamline the process!

    Interesting to note- Just recently found out that if a military member OR spouse applies for AMEX Plat or Chase Reserve, is accepted and then adds the spouse as the secondary user, the secondary user can no longer apply for the benefits of the card AND it counts against their 5/24 rule count. It may be better for each partner to apply seperately, each be the primary user, to get the full benefits. May need to stagger the applications for spending goal purposes.

    • Thanks for the questions!

      1. Yes, as the primary finance person in the family we share our log in details. She allows me to login to her accounts to make payments and keep track of the cards.

      2. Yes, I close cards frequently if I am no longer receiving the benefits from the cards. Especially if the card charges an annual fee. Thankfully, because annual fees on most Chase and all AMEX cards are waived for US military, I don’t have many cards that charge an annual fee.

      3. I don’t really track family expenditures any more. We spend money on what’s important to us (food, travel) and don’t spend it on things we get little pleasure from (gadgets, alcohol, cable, cars). Budgeting is an annoying chore to me.

      We invest 50% of my military paycheck. We save >95% of my wife’s paycheck. I consider that a 90% solution for 10% of the effort (Pareto’s principle). Could we eek out a little more savings? Probably, but why? We have no debt, we will be financially independent in a few years, and we enjoy our life. We save the dollars so we don’t have to count the pennies. At this point saving $100-200/month is not going to make us FI that much quicker. And at what cost to time, effort, and stress?

      Our budget is pretty stable at this point. We pay ourselves a “marriage premium.” Like an insurance premium that you pay to the insurance company. This is money we can spend on whatever we want without the other partner questioning it. Mine usual goes into my hobbies (cycling, gaming, fitness). My wife usually saves her premium and buys her friend’s flights so she can holiday with them.

      Joint expenses like food, restaurants, going out to eat, gas for the car just come out of the joint money. We discuss what we consider a joint expense and what it considered a marriage premium expense. If we can’t agree, which is rare, we pay out of our marriage premium.

      Our marriage premium when I was a young lieutenant not making that much was $50/month each. Now it’s grown to $500/month each. We set aside money every month for the recurring expenses (cell phone plan, internet, house cleaner, Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime, renters and car insurance) and then allow ourselves to spend whatever is left in the checking account.

      Once a week I pay off the credit cards. If we ever dip into a savings account, for instance if we have a large airfare purchase coming up, I make a note of it so we pay ourselves back. Usually expenses are high in one month and low in the next. It all seems to work out in the end.

      4. I don’t think your statement is true, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong. As far as I know, authorized users CAN open new accounts with their own Social Security number (SSN) and receive the welcome bonus. I have done it many times myself and recently. However, you are correct that being added as an authorized user CAN count against your Chase 5/24 rule, so be careful with that.

  16. Great and useful post. I did have two questions: 1. Do you feel like with more cards open and available, there is more chance for fraudulent activity and identity theft? 2. How do you keep track/use/store all of these cards? How do you track the spending/payment activities on so many? We have the USAA Limitless, Chase Reserve, AMX Plat, Amazon and I feel like I’m already at capacity tracking spending/payment on just those four. Thank you!

    • 1. No. Fraud prevention is really quite good these days and all of my cards have zero liability for fraudulent charges. If a card is ever stolen or compromised, I simply phone the company, dispute the charge, and order a new card to be delivered. It’s happened a few times in the last 10 years and is always resolved within 20 minutes on the phone. New cards are delivered in 2-7 days depending on whether the company expedites the card.

      2. I have a credit card holder book to physically hold my cards. $15 on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2SlbFgf I track the spending requirements in a spreadsheet I built myself. The column headings are “Spending Required…Open or Closed…Bank Issuer (AMEX, Chase, etc)…Card Name…Primary User (me or my wife)…Minimum Spend…Total Spent…Spend Remaining…Date Opened…Date to Meet Minimum…Annual Fee…Date to Close Account…Bonus…Reward Program


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