5 Best Credit Cards for Active-Duty Military [May 2024]


Serving in our country’s military brings added responsibility and commitment — but it can also bring financial challenges.

Years ago, some of the financial challenges that military families face were recognized and addressed with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA) and the subsequent Military Lending Act (MLA). If you’re an active-duty military member, chances are you’re familiar with these laws and their revisions.

These Federal laws limit the interest rates and fees lending institutions can legally charge active military members, their spouses, and domestic partners.

While the laws include special consideration for vehicle leases, payday loans, mortgages, and housing rights, they are particularly important as they apply to credit cards. Specifically, opportunities have been created for military members to take advantage of some of the more elite benefits of rewards-earning credit cards without incurring high annual fees.

The SCRA applies to credit card accounts opened prior to active military service, but many credit card issuers extend the benefits to credit cards acquired during active duty as well. The MLA governs credit cards acquired during active military service.

Both laws have positively affected how credit card issuers administer their credit card terms for active military. Today, we’ll focus on which credit card issuers go above and beyond the minimum requirements of these laws and how their actions benefit the active military.

Let’s review our recommendations for the best military credit cards for active members (including spouses) and the associated card benefits.

American Express (Waived Annual Fees, Best Card Benefits & Perks)

American Express offers benefits to active-duty military that go beyond the letter of the law.

They do not limit benefits to credit cards opened prior to active military service. Instead, Amex is waiving fees and offering reduced interest rates on all of their credit cards — even newly acquired ones.

Benefits Provided

  • Waived annual membership fees and other fees such as late payments, returned payments, and over-limit fees
  • A cap of 6% on interest rates for cards acquired prior to active duty or 36% (Military Annual Percentage Rate) for cards acquired during active duty
    • Newly acquired cards are not capped

How to Request Benefits (Do This After You’re Approved)

  • Online: Log in to your credit card account online and click on “account services.” Under the account services tab you will find “credit management.” You will see SCRA Benefits under that tab and be able to request the benefits there.
  • Phone: Call 800-253-1720 from the U.S., or outside of the U.S. call collect at 336-393-1111.
  • Fax: Fax active duty documents with American Express account numbers to 623-444-3000.
  • Mail: Mail documents with account numbers to American Express, Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, PO Box 981535, El Paso, TX 79998-1535

Hot Tip: If you are currently active-duty military with an American Express card but you haven’t applied for benefits, you should strongly considering doing so. You could save hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest and annual fees. 

Best American Express Credit Cards for Active Military

1. The Platinum Card® from American Express ($695 Annual Fee Waived, Best Card for Worldwide Lounge Access, Premium Benefits & Perks)

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Amex Platinum reigns supreme for luxury travel, offering the best airport lounge access plus generous statement credits, and complimentary elite status.

$1,760

Good to Excellent (670-850)

  • 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. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • $200 Hotel Credit: Get up to $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®. The Hotel Collection requires a minimum two-night stay.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back in statement credits each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Disney+, a Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, The New York Times, Peacock, and The Wall Street Journal. Enrollment required.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With complimentary access to more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more airport lounge options than any other credit card issuer on the market. As of 03/2023.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Save on eligible delivery fees, shipping, and more with a Walmart+ membership. Use your Platinum Card® to pay for a monthly Walmart+ membership and get up to $12.95 plus applicable taxes back on one membership (excluding Plus Ups) each month.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Select one qualifying airline and then receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year when incidental fees are charged by the airline to your Platinum Card®.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only. Terms Apply.
  • $189 CLEAR® Plus Credit: CLEAR® Plus helps to get you to your gate faster at 50+ airports nationwide and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your Membership (subject to auto-renewal) when you use your Card. CLEARLanes are available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues.
  • Receive either a $100 statement credit every 4 years for a Global Entry application fee or a statement credit up to $85 every 4.5 year period for TSA PreCheck® application fee for a 5-year plan only (through a TSA PreCheck® official enrollment provider), when charged to your Platinum Card®. Card Members approved for Global Entry will also receive access to TSA PreCheck at no additional cost.
  • Shop Saks with Platinum: Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases in Saks Fifth Avenue stores or at saks.com on your Platinum Card®. That’s up to $50 in statement credits semi-annually. Enrollment required.
  • Unlock access to exclusive reservations and special dining experiences with Global Dining Access by Resy when you add your Platinum Card® to your Resy profile.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Financial Snapshot

  • APR: See Pay Over Time APR
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None

Rewards Center

American Express Membership Rewards

Hot Tip: Check to see if you’re eligible for a welcome bonus offer of up to 125k (or 150k) points with the Amex Platinum. The current public offer is 80,000 points. (This targeted offer was independently researched and may not be available to all applicants.)

Why We Like the Card for Military Members

If you travel a lot, having lounge access can add economy and comfort to your trip. You can grab a free drink, a bite to eat, and relax during your journey. Cardmembers will have access to upscale Centurion lounges, considered to be some of the best airport lounges available.

In addition, you’ll enjoy Priority Pass Select membership, which allows you and 2 guests complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges worldwide. Priority Pass is the world’s largest lounge network with nearly 1,400 lounges.

If you travel on Delta Air Lines, you’ll also enjoy access to Delta Sky Clubs (cardholder only).

The Global Entry credit is also a nice perk that reimburses you when you pay for your application or renewal with your Platinum Card®.

Hot Tip: For a lot more information, see our post on the benefits of the Platinum Card for Active U.S. Military members. Remember that the $695 annual fee is waived if you’re active military (including spouses and domestic partners), making this an incredible opportunity to pick up a card with a huge welcome bonus and packed with benefits and perks!

American Express Centurion Lounge Hong Kong
Centurion Lounges are some of the best in the world, and you’ll have complimentary access. Image Credit: Greg Stone

2. The American Express® Gold Card ($250 Annual Fee Waived, Earn Lots of Bonus Points on Dining & U.S. Supermarkets)

American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

This is the best card for food lovers who dine out at restaurants (worldwide), order take-out and want big rewards at U.S. supermarkets!

$1,320

Good to Excellent (670-850)

The American Express® Gold Card is a game-changer.

With this card, you can earn 4x Membership Rewards points at restaurants and you’ll also earn 4x Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1x.

There isn’t another card on the market that offers a 1-2 punch like this. Of course, there are several other benefits of the Gold Card as well, including extra monthly dining rewards and more.

  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Get a $100 experience credit with a minimum two-night stay when you book The Hotel Collection through American Express Travel. Experience credit varies by property.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.

Financial Snapshot

  • APR: See Pay Over Time APR
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None

Rewards Center

American Express Membership Rewards

Hot Tip: Check to see if you’re eligible for a welcome bonus offer of up to 90,000 points with the Amex Gold card. The current public offer is 60,000 points. (This targeted offer was independently researched and may not be available to all applicants.)

Why We Like the Card for Military Members

Because the Membership Rewards points you earn on everyday spending can be redeemed easily for travel, the Gold Card strikes a balance of being an everyday earning credit card and a travel rewards credit card.

For those who travel occasionally but spend regularly on dining and at U.S supermarkets, this card is an excellent match. You can read our post for more on the benefits of the Amex Gold Card for active-military members.

Bottom Line: American Express offers over 60 different cards, and they waive annual fees on all of them for active military.  

Chase (Waived Annual Fees, Excellent Card Benefits)

Benefits Provided

Chase offers benefits for active military members in accordance with the MLA law for those under active duty who applied for cards after September 20, 2017. Benefits apply only to personal credit cards, not to Chase business credit cards.

  • Waived annual fees and other fees (except late fees and insufficient fund fees)
  • Military Annual Percentage Rate (MAPR) won’t exceed 36% (includes any fees)
  • Any introductory promotional interest rates (0% APR, etc.) will be honored

How to Request Benefits (Do This After You’re Approved)

After applying for the credit card of your choice, you can request SCRA/MLA benefits:

  • Access your Chase.com online banking profile
  • Select “secure messages” in the upper left of the page
  • Select “compose message”
  • Under “inquires,” select Military SCRA benefits
  • Include your account number
  • Attach supporting documents

You can call 1-877-469-0110 to ask about credit card fee waivers for Chase credit cards (8 am-10 pm Monday through Friday, and 9 am-6 pm Saturdays). Internationally, call collect at 318-340-3348.

All Chase personal credit cards are included for Military benefits; here are some of the most popular that we recommend.

Best Chase Credit Cards for Active Military

3. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card ($95 Annual Fee Waived, Excellent First Time Card)

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

A fantastic travel card with a huge welcome offer, good benefits, and perks for a moderate annual fee.

$1,500

21.49%-28.49% Variable

Good to Excellent (670-850)

  • Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s over $900 when you redeem through Chase TravelSM.
  • Enjoy benefits such as 5x on travel purchased through Chase TravelSM, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases, $50 Annual Chase Travel Hotel Credit, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase TravelSM. For example, 75,000 points are worth $937.50 toward travel.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get complimentary access to DashPass which unlocks $0 delivery fees and lower service fees for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2024.
  • Member FDIC

Financial Snapshot

  • APR: 21.49%-28.49% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None

Rewards Center

Chase Ultimate Rewards

A great first time rewards credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers a nice balance of practical travel benefits and earning valuable Ultimate Rewards points.

  • 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Travel
  • 5x points on Lyft (through March 31, 2025)
  • 5x points on Peloton equipment and accessory purchases over $250 (through March 31, 2025)
  • 3x points on dining
  • 3x points on online grocery store purchases
  • 3x points on select streaming services
  • 2x points on all other travel purchases
  • Travel protections and benefits, including trip interruption/cancellation and primary rental car insurance
  • Redeem for 25% more value on Chase Travel

Why We Like the Card for Military Members

Earning valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards is a real benefit and being able to redeem them for travel on the Chase travel portal for 25% more is an added bonus.

Ultimate Rewards points can also be transferred to travel partners for even more value.

If you’re a Military Member renting a vehicle, know that you’ll be protected with primary car rental insurance.

4. Chase Sapphire Reserve® ($550 Annual Fee Waived, Priority Pass Lounge Access)

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

A top player in the high-end premium travel credit card space that earns 3x points on travel and dining while offering top luxury perks.

$1,500

22.49%-29.49% Variable

If you’re looking for an all-around excellent travel rewards card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is one of the best options out there.

The card combines elite travel benefits and perks like airport lounge access, with excellent point earning and redemption options.  Plus it offers top-notch travel insurance protections to keep you covered whether you’re at home or on the road.

Don’t forget the $300 annual travel credit which really helps to reduce the annual fee!

  • Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $1,125 toward travel when you redeem through Chase TravelSM.
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase TravelSM immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase TravelSM. For example, 75,000 points are worth $1125 toward travel.
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority PassTM Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Member FDIC

Financial Snapshot

  • APR: 22.49%-29.49% Variable
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: $0

Rewards Center

Chase Ultimate Rewards

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card is a premium travel rewards credit card with a long list of benefits for active-duty military.

  • Priority Pass Select Membership with access to over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide after enrollment.
  • $300 travel credit each card anniversary year
  • 5x total points on air travel and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Travel
  • 3x points on other travel and dining
  • 10x points on Peloton equipment and accessory purchases over $250 (through March 31, 2025)
  • Transfer Ultimate Rewards to travel partners for potential added value
  • Redeem Ultimate Rewards points for 50% more value on travel purchased through the Chase Travel portal
  • Global Entry, Nexus, or TSA PreCheck credit up to $100

Why We Like the Card for Military Members

If you’re traveling frequently, the worldwide lounge access benefit will make your journey more comfortable and economical. The $300 travel credit each card anniversary year is easy to use and adds immediate value.

With elevated earning on travel and dining purchases and 50% more value when redeeming through the Chase travel portal, any military member who travels will utilize this card’s benefits.

5. Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

This all-purpose cash-back card offers great bonus categories, including bonus points for every purchase you make!

0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 20.49% – 29.24%.

Good to Excellent (670-850)

  • INTRO OFFER: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) – worth up to $300 cash back!
  • Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year).
  • After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. You can choose to receive a statement credit or direct deposit into most U.S. checking and savings accounts. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open!
  • Enjoy 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 20.49% – 29.24%.
  • No annual fee – You won’t have to pay an annual fee for all the great features that come with your Freedom Unlimited® card
  • Keep tabs on your credit health, Chase Credit Journey helps you monitor your credit with free access to your latest score, alerts, and more.
  • Member FDIC

Financial Snapshot

  • APR: 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 20.49% – 29.24%.
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars

Rewards Center

Chase Ultimate Rewards

If you want a great point earning card and like the idea of having a choice between cash-back and Ultimate Rewards points, the Freedom Unlimited will make sure every purchase is earning rewards you can use.

  • 5% cash-back on travel through Chase Travel
  • 3% cash-back on dining and drugstore purchases
  • 1.5% cash-back on all other purchase
  • 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; regular APR applies thereafter
  • $0 annual fee for all cardholders, including military

Why We Like the Card for Military Members

If you have a major purchase to make, you can save a lot on interest charges with the 0% APR rate for the first 15 months you have the card.

Hot Tip: Chase credit cards are subject to their 5/24 rule, which limits the number of credit cards for which you can be approved. Review the 5/24 rule carefully before applying. 

Discover

Discover provides benefits for active military members regardless of when they apply for a credit card, and does not limit benefits to only those credit cards acquired prior to the law.

In fact, Discover does not charge an annual fee on any of its cards to anyone, including military.

One of the best features of most Discover cards is that all the cash back you earn in your first year is matched at the end of your first card anniversary.

Benefits Provided

  • Interest rate not exceeding 5.9%
  • No late fees or fees for being over limit
  • Any introductory purchase or balance transfer rates are calculated at the promotional rate (if less than 5.9%)

Requesting Benefits (Do This After You’re Approved)

There are several options for requesting benefits.

  • Online: Sign in to your Discover card online account and click on the “manage” tab. You will see the link for SCRA benefits. Then click on “request benefits now.”
  • Phone: Call 1-844-337-4645, or from overseas call 1-801-451-3730.
  • Mail: Send a request via mail to Discover, SCRA Department, P.O. Box 30907, Salt Lake City, UT 84130-0907
  • Fax: Fax your request to 1-224-813-5767, attention SCRA Department

Discover will attempt to verify your service through the Defense Manpower Data Center. You do not need to submit verification documents unless requested to do so.

Benefits With Other Credit Card Issuers

The following credit card issuers cap credit card interest rates and/or waive annual fees for credit cards opened prior to active military service only.

  • Capital One: Waives all fees including annual fees and caps interest rates at 4%
  • Citi: Waives all fees including annual fees and lowers interest rates to 0%
  • Bank of America: Caps interest rates at 6%
  • Barclays: Caps interest rates at 6%
  • U.S. Bank: Waives all fees and caps interest rates at 6%

Bottom Line: While all credit card issuers adhere openly to the SCRA and MLA laws, American Express, Chase, and Discover deliver benefits beyond the law’s minimum requirements. 

Best Credit Cards for Veterans

Most of the benefits of the SCRA and MLA laws expire within a specific period of time once you’ve left active duty, usually 12-15 months.

During your service, you may have become familiar with these financial institutions that provide continuing services to retired military. Note that you must be a member of these organizations prior to applying for their credit cards.

Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card

Best for: Everyday spending

  • Requires average to excellent credit
  • Welcome bonus worth $300 after spending $3,000 in first 3 months after card approval
  • 3X points at supermarkets and gas stations
  • 2X points at restaurants
  • $0 annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees

USAA

USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card

Best for: Everyday spending

  • Maximum 4% APR for 12 months during deployment or after active military service
  • 3X points for dining
  • 2X points for gas stations and supermarket purchases
  • 1X points all other purchases
  • $0 annual fee

Pentagon Federal Credit Union

PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card

Best for: Everyday spending

  • Points can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, or merchandise at less than 1 cent each
  • $100 welcome bonus after minimum spending requirement
  • 5X points on gas station purchases
  • 3X points at grocery stores

Hot Tip: For a lot more information on this topic, see our guide on the best credit cards for military veterans.

Final Thoughts

Those about to embark on active duty or who have already done so can benefit greatly from having the annual fees waived on some advantageous credit cards.

Premium travel credit cards can have fees exceeding $500 per year, plus additional fees for authorized users. Having these fees waived while qualifying for the valuable benefits offered can result in significant savings.

Remember that balances still need to be paid off each statement period to avoid interest charges (even reduced ones), and payments must be made on time to preserve your good credit score.


The information regarding the Navy Federal More Rewards American Express® Card, USAA Rewards™ American Express® Card, and PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer. 

For the rates and fees of the Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For the rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here. 

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.



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