Adding a separate rewards card for business travel


Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
I started a new job last year that causes me to do more traveling. Right now, I have a Bank of America Cash Rewards card that I use for everyday expenses, as well as for company travel. I would like a separate card for travel, but I don't have a clue which card to get.

My airfare usually goes on a company card, but all the hotels, car rentals, food and so on go on my personal card, and then I am reimbursed. The hotels are mainly Hiltons but some Marriotts. I am typically going somewhere at least once a month for two or three nights and usually a bit more during the summer.

My credit at the moment is well above 750. Can you offer some guidance and card suggestions? -- Russell

Answer Dear Russell,
You've come to the right place. Thank you for including so much information on your travel habits and your reasons for wanting to switch.

This sounds to me like a smart strategy on your part. For people who are unfamiliar, the BankAmericard Cash Rewards card (no annual fee) offers 3 percent back on gas, 2 percent back on groceries and 1 percent back on everything else. The value from the card comes from using it for those everyday expenses -- gas and groceries -- that offer extra cash back. For your travel expenses, though, you're right: You can do better.

The main question, though, is what kind of rewards do you want? You've nicely filled in the details on how you plan to use your cards, but it is unclear what kinds of rewards interest you. Let's guess at some of the possibilities, with the kind of cards you'll want to consider. Your excellent credit score means you should have your pick of any of these: 

Cash back. You're used to getting cash back with your BankAmericard, so maybe that's your preference here, too. In polls, cardholders consistently say they prefer cash rewards over the second-highest reward, frequent flier miles. There are no cash-back cards with big rewards for spending at hotels and car-rental agencies, but there are a couple of cash-back cards that offer 2 percent back on all spending, which is double what you currently earn on travel expenses. These cards often will not have annual fees, but they won't have sign-up bonuses, either.

Hotel perks and free stays. If you want to make your hotel stays more comfortable and earn some free nights for a vacation, consider a hotel card that aligns with the places you stay. As much as you can, stay at a single chain on all your trips. 

In your case, with Hilton, Citi and American Express both offer cards that give big bonuses (10-12 points per $1) for Hilton spending, plus automatic Hilton Gold status, which gives you perks including late checkout, fifth night free and better rooms.

With Marriott, Chase offers a card that gives five points per $1 for Marriott spending, plus allows you to check out late and get gift shop discounts. If you use these cards consistently at hotels, the free nights can add up quickly.

The cards also typically give you bonus hotel points when you sign up, plus a free night's stay or two on the anniversary of your account (Citi's Hilton HHonors Reserve card cards gives you two free nights as a sign-up bonus, too). The cards tend to have annual fees.

Other travel rewards. If you'd like to use your rewards for personal travel but want some flexibility, there are a number of cards that might be suitable. The most lucrative ones give two points per $1 on travel expenses, then let you transfer accumulated points to airline or hotel programs or receive credits for travel purchases. Most banks offer something like this. These cards will typically have annual fees and sign-up bonuses.

Russell, you've made the right call in wanting to add a card. But now it's time to choose: What kind of rewards do you want?

See related: Award charts are key when considering hotel cards, How to keep points from a company credit card

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Published: February 3, 2015

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