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The best credit cards for active duty military: Get waived annual fees

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There are plenty of discounts and benefits available to members of the military while on active duty. Some are highly advertised, while others are hidden in plain sight. On top of all the travel perks and discounts offered to those in the military, the ability to hold some of the best credit cards on the market without paying annual fees has been my favorite perk.

After several years in the military, neither I nor my colleagues had any idea what the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and the Military Lending Act (MLA) were. I wish I had then the knowledge I have now during all of my years of service. That way I could have leveraged those programs and other benefits available to me from the day that I entered active duty.

Whether you’re just starting out on active duty, are getting called up on active orders in the National Guard or Reserves, or have been on active duty for years, you can benefit from this information. This guide will review the best military credit cards and will also explain how to maximize the SCRA and MLA benefits for yourself and your family.

In This Post

The best credit cards for military members in 2022

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for travel benefits and lounge access.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for annual travel credit.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card: Best for Marriott stays.
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Best for flying Delta.
  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Best for Hilton stays.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

SCRA and MLA basics

In addition to determining which credit card is right for you, you’ll need to know some SCRA and MLA basics to better understand the financial coverage and benefits for yourself and for your family.


The SCRA was designed to provide service members relief from financial burdens while serving on active duty in the U.S. military. Of note, the SCRA puts a 6% cap on interest rates charged to service members on debts incurred prior to entering active duty.  An in-depth look at everything the SCRA covers can be found here.

The MLA protects service members as well as their dependents from certain lending practices. The highlight of the MLA is the Military Annual Percentage Rate (MAPR) regulation. This prevents creditors from exceeding 36% annually in total credit-related charges to covered borrowers under the MLA.

The MLA has been amended multiple times since it was enacted in 2006, which expanded which credit services were covered in an attempt to prevent credit agencies from shifting and hiding fees. This expansion of covered services prompted many credit card companies to waive annual fees in order to avoid complications. You can find an in-depth explanation of the MLA here.

So, who is covered by the SCRA and MLA?

  • Active-duty soldiers of all military branches.
  • Reserve soldiers on federal active duty.
  • National Guard soldiers on Title 32 (federal) orders exceeding 30 days.
  • Coast Guard personnel on Title 14 orders exceeding 30 days.

Additionally, any dependent of the above including:

  • Spouse.
  • Children under the age of 21.
  • Children under the age of 23 who are enrolled full-time at an approved institution of higher learning and dependent (or dependent at the time of the member’s or former member’s death) on a covered member for over one-half of their support.

Lastly, for these regulations to apply you must meet the above conditions at the time that you become obligated on a credit transaction or open an account. And once you no longer meet the above conditions, your accounts will no longer be covered and annual fees will resume.

Some credit card companies, such as American Express, have chosen to go above and beyond the requirements of the SCRA and MLA by waiving annual fees on cards. There was a recent change in the way American Express processes annual fee waivers and benefits for military card members. You need to request the right relief — either MLA or SCRA — based on the account opening date and your entry date into service. More info on requesting relief under the SCRA or MLA is covered at the bottom of this article.

Related: How to maximize credit card annual credits from home

Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the incredible benefits and built-in perks these cards have to offer, along with the relevant details for active duty service members. Of course, there are more credit cards that are beneficial to U.S. service members than just those I have highlighted in this article. These are just a sample of the premium credit cards you should consider looking into if you’re eligible for waived annual fees and other perks.

The Platinum Card from American Express

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

  • Waived $695 annual fee and authorized user fee for those covered under SCRA or MLA. (See rates and fees)
  • The card is offering a welcome bonus of 80,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on purchases in your first six months of card membership — or as many as 125,000 points to targeted individuals through the CardMatch Tool (targeted offers, subject to change at any time).
  • Up to $200 annual airline fee credit.
  • Up to $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit
  • Up to $200 annual Uber Cash on U.S. services.
  • Amex Centurion Lounge access for the cardholder and up to two included guests.
  • Unlimited Priority Pass Lounge access.
  • Delta Sky Club access (when flying a same-day, Delta-operated flight).
  • Spouses get annual fees waived for their own accounts.
  • Enrollment is required for select benefits.
  • Terms apply.

For more information on the Amex Platinum, read our card review.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

(Photo by The Points Guy)

*If you opened the account before Sept. 20, 2017, you will have to close the account before reapplying for the MLA benefits. Additional help can be provided by calling Chase’s military specialist line at 1-800-235-9978.

Related: The best Chase credit cards

For more information on the Chase Sapphire Reserve, read our card review.

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card

  • Waived $650 annual fee (See rates and fees) with the same stipulations as the Amex Platinum.
  • The card is offering a welcome offer of 150,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership.
  • Automatic Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status.
  • Earn up to $300 in statement credits per calendar year (up to $25 per month) for eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide.
  • Unlimited Priority Pass airport lounge access.
    • Enrollment is required for select benefits.
  • Terms apply.

For more information on the Bonvoy Brilliant, read our card review.

Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
  • Waived $550 annual fee (See rates and fees) with the same stipulations as the Amex Platinum and the Bonvoy Brilliant.
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new card in your first six months of card membership.
  • With most official government travel being on Delta, you could earn Delta elite status faster by holding this card and adding your TDY trip miles to your SkyMiles account.
  • Delta Sky Club and Centurion Lounge access (when flying on same-day, Delta-operated flights).
  • Annual companion pass valid on select flights in economy or first class at each renewal.
  • 20% off inflight purchases on Delta.
  • Enrollment is required for select benefits.
  • Terms apply.

For more information on the Delta Reserve Card, read our review.

Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
  • Waived $450 annual fee (See rates and fees) with the same stipulations as the Amex Platinum and the Bonvoy Brilliant.
  • The card is offering a generous welcome offer of 150,000 Hilton points after you use your new card to make $4,000 in purchases within the first three months.
  • Automatic Hilton Honors Diamond elite status.
  • Up to $250 annual airline fee credit.
  • Up to $250 annual resort credit.
  • Unlimited Priority Pass airport lounge access.
  • Enrollment is required for select benefits.
  • Terms apply.

For more information, read our card review.

Related: Best rewards credit cards

Getting your SCRA and MLA benefits right

It can be confusing to make sure you are eligible for and requesting the right benefits under the right law. If you are still unsure if you or your dependents are eligible, you can check out the SCRA and MLA websites to verify eligibility. Note that dependents only fall under the MLA and will not appear under SCRA searches.

These services are completely free of charge, so do not pay an online service to verify eligibility. Below is what you should see if you are eligible.

Once your dependent is verified on the MLA record search, you can refer them to a credit card you have and potentially end up with:

  • A referral bonus.
  • A minimum spending bonus.
  • Two waived annual fees.
  • Well over $1,000 saved, depending on the credit card.

Some service members have stated that no action was required of them once they opened a new account in order to get the waived annual fee. Below is an example of the letter you or your dependent may receive from Chase if you are covered under the MLA. Additionally, there are links and phone numbers listed with the credit cards below that will lead you to your benefits.

If you aren’t eligible under the SCRA and have a Chase account, you may receive a letter like this:

Bottom line

There are very generous benefits available to the military community. However, you must be a responsible borrower and have the credit score to support opening new accounts.

Military life can be stressful and tracking finances while changing addresses every two to three years can be difficult. If you can manage it and keep your credit journey organized, there’s no reason you shouldn’t take advantage of these rewards while on active duty.

Additional reporting by Richard Kerr, Benét J. Wilson, Christina Ly and Matt Moffitt.