A guide to choosing the best travel credit card
Updated: March 31, 2020
A travel rewards credit card is a lending product that offers points and miles for traveling, including for airline, hotel, restaurant and transportation categories and can be your ticket this summer to sandy beaches or that trip to Japan this fall that youíve long dreamed of.
With COVID-19 rendering travel inadvisable right now, you might think that a travel card isn’t something on your immediate horizon. But if you think in the long term, you can actually leverage your spending on a travel card to earn rewards that you can use when the crisis abates.
Consider cards that reward for things you need to buy anyway, such as toilet paper, soaps, food and other basic needs (although we advise against hoarding purchases). Consider a general-purpose travel card or a card that rewards on popular streaming services, such as the Wells Fargo Propel American Express.
The point is to save up your points and miles today for that trip you may be able to take in the summer or fall. Here is what else we look at for you:
Best Travel Credit Cards
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Why this is the best travel credit card for sign-up bonus
The Sapphire Preferred card’s 60,000-point sign-up bonus (after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months) is worth as much as $750 when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
With ongoing rewards from traveling and dining, this card should be top-of-mind when considering travel. However, for ongoing rewards other than those of worldwide travel and dining, this card may not be the best choice. Plus, as our Chase Sapphire Preferred card review details, big spenders may see more value in the card’s luxury alternative, the Chase Sapphire Reserve®: “If you spend a lot on travel and dining per year (over $7,750), the Reserve could more rewarding – despite a $550 annual fee.”
Best travel perk
Perhaps the best known of the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s travel benefits is the primary auto rental waiver, which is quite generous. This insurance kicks in before your personal auto insurance, and it can cover up to the actual cash value of the car.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Why this is the best travel credit card for everyday use
One of our favorite travel cards with no annual fee, the Wells Fargo Propel, offers rewards not just in travel, but also in a great mix of everyday spending categories: While you may not be able to take advantage of the 3X points on dining, travel and transit at this time, there is also 3X points on gas station purchases and select streaming services, and 1X points on all other purchases.
You’ll earn a welcome bonus of 20,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months, which is pretty good for a card with no annual fee. As our Propel card review notes, Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards points are also very flexible, and you can redeem for travel, cash back, gift cards and more without sacrificing point value. Unfortunately, though, you can’t transfer points to outside loyalty programs. That could be a deal-breaker if you’re hoping to squeeze extra value out of your points.
Our expert’s take: “I earned more rewards from the Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card in 2019 than my other four credit cards,” says CreditCards.com Industry Analyst Ted Rossman. “With no annual fee, it’s giving me a rewards payout that’s comparable to some of the most popular elite cards on the market.”
Best travel perk
While it carries some standard travel perks like lost luggage insurance and no foreign transaction fee, the Wells Fargo Propel stands out for its cell phone protection plan. If you pay your bill with your Propel card, you can get reimbursed up to $600 if your phone is damaged or stolen ($25 deductible applies), which could certainly come in handy for frequent travelers with pricey phones.
Discover it® Miles
Why this is the best travel credit card for earning miles
Discover offers an unlimited bonus in which all of the Discover it Miles you’ve earned will be matched at the end of your first year. That means if you earn 35,000 miles for the year, your bounty becomes 70,000 miles at the end of the first year, or $700.
This card’s rewards program is quite flexible: It comes with no blackout dates, and you can redeem miles for statement credits or even cash. As our Discover it Miles review puts it: “Because Discover redeems miles by crediting your travel purchases directly to your account, you can fly any airline you want, when you want.” Unfortunately, though, you can’t transfer miles to a frequent flyer program and boost their value.
Best travel perk
The card charges no foreign transaction fee, making it an option both at home and abroad. And while Discover card international acceptance is more limited than that of Visa and Mastercard, the issuer enjoys a high acceptance rate in a number of popular destinations, including Argentina, Brazil, Greece, India, Japan, Jamaica, Morocco, Puerto Rico and more.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Why this is the best travel credit card for international travel
The Venture Rewards card come with no foreign transaction fee – perfect for sightseeing in London this summer or fall. It also recently expanded its list of travel partners to 17, adding Wyndham Rewards and Accor Live Limitless as its first hotel transfer partners, and boosted its JetBlue TrueBlue transfer ratio by 50%.
This general-purpose travel card is a solid, straightforward product, offering excellent rewards benefits. However, if you’re looking to maximize your sign-up bonus (and spend), you might want to look elsewhere, because you can do better than the Venture Rewards card’s 50,000 miles sign-up bonus (after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months).
Best travel perk
Among the travel perks covered in our Capital One Venture Rewards card review, the card’s credit of up $100 toward the cost of Global Entry or TSA PreCheck stands out. You won’t have to pay hundreds in an annual fee for a chance to skip U.S. immigration and customs lines or breeze through airport security without fumbling with your shoes, belt, or laptop.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
Why this is the best travel credit card for airline rewards
Earn 125,000 points in a year and you can score one of the most coveted perks in all of travel rewards: the Southwest Companion Pass. This pass lets you bring a companion with you on any Southwest flight you purchase with cash or points for up to the next 2 years for free (minus taxes and fees). Our Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card review breaks down some strategies for earning the pass, including via credit card spend, sign-up bonus, pairing with a Southwest business card and referring a friend.
With a competitive sign-up bonus, this card also offers 2X points for Southwest purchases, as well as partner hotel and car rental purchases. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus has no blackout dates and no seat restrictions. And while long a great domestic carrier, Southwest is increasingly expanding to go abroad. However, the anniversary bonus of 3,000 points is lower than the Premier’s, and there’s an annual fee of $69 that isn’t waived the first year.
Best travel perk
Every once in a while, you’ll find a card that offers baggage delay insurance, and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus is one of them. This benefit provides reimbursement for the emergency purchase of essential items when your baggage is delayed by more than six hours, up to $100 per day for a maximum of 3 days.
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
Why this is the best travel credit card for no annual fee
It’s a great starter card for budget-conscious travelers, charging no annual fee or foreign transaction fee and offering a sign-up bonus of 20,000 miles after you spend just $1,000 in the first 3 months.
This card’s no-hassle rewards earning scheme makes it a great choice for travel beginners. You’ll earn 1.25X miles on every purchase, and you can transfer your miles to more than 15 travel partners. As our VentureOne card review breaks down, however, the card’s ongoing rewards are not the most lucrative. Indeed, thanks to its outsized rewards rate, the Capital One Venture card may be a better option even with its $95 annual fee (waived first year). That said, if you only plan to use the card enough to earn rewards for an annual trip, this is the card for you.
Best travel perk
The VentureOne offers travel accident insurance when you pay the full cost of your passenger fare with the card. While this is a perk you’ll hopefully never need to use, getting up to $250,000 worth of coverage in case of accidental death or dismemberment while traveling should give frequent travelers some peace of mind.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Why this is the best travel credit card for annual travel credits
The Platinum Card’s annual travel credits are unparalleled – earn a $200 annual airline fee credit for checked baggage and more, as well as up to $200 in annual Uber credits (that’s up to $15 a month plus a $20 bonus in December).
You can also earn annual credits of up to $100 each year on Saks Fifth Avenue purchases (enrollment required) and earn complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts and a rich welcome offer the first year. The $550 annual fee might take your breath away when compared to other travel credit cards’ annual fees, although if you use the credits of The Platinum Card, you will more than recoup the cost.
Best travel perk
While our Amex Platinum card review covers a plethora of top-notch travel perks, the card’s luxury lounge access stands out. You can escape airport chaos and relax with benefits like complimentary food and beverages, spa service and more at Priority Pass, Delta Sky Club, Airspace and Centurion lounges. You can even bring along two guests at no additional cost.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Why this is the best travel credit card for travel insurance
In the wake of COVID-19, this card’s generous travel insurance protections should give frequent travelers some peace of mind. You can get reimbursed up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip with the card’s trip cancellation and interruption coverage. You’re also covered for up to $100,000 in emergency evacuation and transportation costs while on a trip and up to $2,500 in emergency medical or dental costs if you’re 100 miles or more from home.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel credit toward travel purchases (then 3X points on travel after that) is a rare find, as well as the 3X points on dining at restaurants and 1X point on everything else. And earn a 50% boost on travel bookings through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. That said, the annual fee is sizeable, at $550, and is not waived the first year.
Best travel perk
With just a one-time enrollment, the world of Priority Pass™ Select opens up to you, giving you access to more than 1,000 airport lounges across the globe. And as our Chase Sapphire Reserve review calls out, when you factor in the card’s $300 travel credit, “the Sapphire Reserve is one of the most affordable options for gaining lounge access.”
Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card
Why this is the best travel credit card for hotel rewards
You have a lot of flexibility in how you redeem rewards, including booking rewards nights at one of the over 7,000 Marriott properties worldwide, transferring to an airline loyalty program or using the Cash + Points option to redeem some points and cover the rest of your stay with cash.
This card’s sign-up bonus of 30,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months is quite generous for a card with no annual fee, and frequent travelers will appreciate its rewards rate of 3X points at Marriott Bonvoy properties and 2X points on other travel purchases. That said, the card’s overall rewards rate is low (just 1X points on general purchases), and as our Bonvoy Bold card review details, “you’re best off redeeming points for hotel nights, since the value of most other redemption options is poor.”
Best travel perk
The card includes 15 elite qualifying nights each year of membership, which automatically gives you Sliver Elite status with Marriott. Silver Elite status comes with perks like late checkout, free in-room Wi-Fi and mobile check-in services.
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business
Why this is the best travel credit card for business travel
This card’s generous 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One TravelSM and 2X miles on all other purchases make it ideal for frequent travelers and small-business owners who want to put most of their spending on a single card. And, as our Spark Miles for Business card review explains, “despite no ability to stretch point value, the flat earning rate on the Spark Miles card still ranks it relatively high among popular business cards.”
Earn a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles-equal to $500 in travel once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the frist 3 months from account opening, employee cards are free – and they also get the 2X miles offer, which will boost your earnings even more. However, this card has an annual fee of $95, although it’s waived the first year. Also, the regular APR rate is high at 18.49% (variable).
Best travel perk
With the Spark Miles for Business, receive up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck when you use your card. You can get one statement credit per account every 4 years, and your account must be open and in good standing when the credit is applied.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
All information about Bank of America Cards has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. Bank of America Cards are no longer available through CreditCards.com
Why this is the best travel credit card for no foreign transaction fee
The Bank of America Travel Rewards’ no foreign transaction fees make it ideal for world travel and even online purchases with foreign merchants, since other cards with this fee can mean you pay up to 3% on every international travel transaction or purchase that goes through a foreign bank.
The BofA Travel Rewards card beats out the VentureOne Rewards both in the sign-up bonus and the ongoing rewards, all while matching its no annual fee offer. Unfortunately, there is no 0% intro APR offer on balance transfers and only a 12-billing-cycle 0% offer on purchases (16.49%–24.49% Variable thereafter).
Best travel perk
As you can see in our Bank of America Travel Rewards card review, the card “doesn’t come with extensive perks, but it does come with a few benefits that make it valuable for frequent travelers.” Not only will you pay no foreign transaction fee, you can add a PIN for international travel, which could be a lifesaver if you’re traveling to an area short on U.S. tourists.
United℠ Business Card
The information for United℠ Business Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Why this is the best travel credit card for earning business miles
This is a good card for down the road, because many of the boosted rewards involve travel, and in a few short months, this could be the ideal card for you. Not only will you earn 2X miles on United purchases and on local transit and commuting, but also at gas stations, restaurants and office supply stores.
The United Business Card carries a huge sign-up bonus of 100,000 miles if you spend $10,000 in the first 3 months. The card also comes with an anniversary bonus of 5,000 miles if you also have a personal Chase United card. When that it comes to perks, however, our United Business Card review notes that the card falls just a bit short of luxury alternatives, offering limited lounge access and no credits for expedited security screening.
Best travel perk
You’ll get a $100 annual United travel credit after 7 United flight purchases of $100 or more, which you can use to cover airfare and many other United purchases.
Summary of the best travel credit cards of 2020
||Travel Rewards Rate
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
||2X points on travel and dining
||3.9 / 5
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
||3X points on dining, travel, transit and gas station purchases
||3.5 / 5
|Discover it® Miles
||1.5X miles on all purchases
||4.0 / 5
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
||2X miles on all purchases
||$95, $0 first year
||4.2 / 5
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
||2X points on Southwest® purchases
||3.7 / 5
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
||No annual fee
||1.25X miles on all purchases
||3.5 / 5
|The Platinum Card® from American Express
||Annual travel credits
||5X Membership Rewards Points on flights and hotels booked through amextravel.com
||4.5 / 5
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®
||3X points on travel
||4.6 / 5
|Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card
||3X points at participating Marriott Bonvoy properties, 2X on other travel
||3.1 / 5
|Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business
||5X miles on hotel and rental car bookings through Capital One Travel℠
||$95, $0 first year
||4.5 / 5
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
||No foreign transaction fee
||1.5X points on all purchases
||3.4 / 5
|United℠ Business Card
||2X miles at gas stations, restaurants and United purchases
||4.2 / 5
Research methodology: How we chose the best travel cards
Travel credit cards analyzed: 300
Commmon features of the cards we researched (and number of cards):
No foreign transaction fee (300), airport lounge access (59), free checked bag (46), elite status (37), priority boarding (28), free nights (16)
Criteria used:Rewards rates, rewards categories, sign-up bonus, point values, transfer partners, redemption options, redemption flexibility, annual fee, other rates and fees, travel credits, airport lounge access, travel accident insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, concierge service, other travel benefits, travel portal functionality, credit needed, customer service, events or other perks
How do travel credit cards work?
Travel credit cards fall into three main categories:
- First, you have cards that offer airline miles or hotel points and are co-branded with companies like Marriott, American Airlines and Delta. With these cards, you earn miles or points that can be used with a specific travel loyalty program. For example, a Southwest Airlines co-branded card will earn Rapid Rewards points. Ideal for brand loyalists, these cards can also offer airline- or hotel-specific perks like elite status or airline lounge access. Paired with an airline or hotel rewards program’s special offers and promotions, these cards are a great way to rack up rewards with your favorite travel partner.
- Next, you have fixed-rate or general travel cards. Thes cards get you points or miles (not connected to any one airline or hotel) that you can redeem for travel, usually through your issue’s travel portal. For example, the Capital One’s Spark cards offer miles that can be redeemed for travel through the Capital One Travel℠ portal or via the Purchase Eraser at a rate of 1 cent per mile. Rewards on these cards tend to be a bit more flexible since you don’t have to redeem with a particular airline or hotel and can often book through third-party travel sites.
- Finally, you have cards that offer transferrable points, most famously from issuers like American Express and Chase. These cards offer points that can be transferred to other loyalty programs, sometimes at an inflated rate. These cards are often even more flexible, allowing you earn points on some of your everyday purchases and then move your points to the loyalty program that best suits you and offers the greatest per-point value. Many of these cards also give you the option to choose between cash back and points.
We’ll dig into each of these card types in detail in the next section.
Which type of travel credit card is best for you?
Travel cards come in a few different flavors, including general-purpose travel cards and co-branded travel cards. Here, we look at the pluses and minuses of key types of travel cards.
General travel credit cards
What is a general travel credit card?
A general travel card is a product that will typically offer more flexibility on travel redemption than the co-branded travel cards, but sometimes that’s at a cost.
How does a general travel credit card work?
While some general travel cards simply post all manner of travel for you to redeem through a statement credit, others offer boosted rewards when redeeming for travel through an issuer-specific portal, such as the Citi ThankYou program. These cards will also often have partnerships with select airlines and hotel brands.
Who are general travel cards best for?
If you need flexibility in choice of airlines and hotel brands or you are a last-minute booker, then a general travel card is probably the best option, because they typically partner with a variety of brands and blackout dates are often not a problem with these cards.
Benefits of general travel credit cards
- Airport lounge: The premium travel cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, offer access to airport lounges, great for that lengthy layover.
- TSA PreCheck and Global Entry: Some cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, offer up to $100 in reimbursement through a statement credit for these programs.
- Special card issuer reward boosts: As we mentioned, a few cards such as the Sapphire cards offer an increase in redemptions for booking travel through their travel portals.
Disadvantages of general travel credit cards
If you like the idea of maxing out on your travel redemptions or you are fascinated by the perks a co-branded card can give you, then airline and hotel cards may be a better choice.
- Limited redemption value: You might get more points valuation with an airline card, and hotel cards are packed with perks you may not see with these cards.
- Limited travel and purchase benefits: Some of these cards have benefits like car rental insurance and travel accident insurance, but other cards’ benefits are scanty, such as those of the Discover it Miles or the Venture products.
Airline credit cards
What is an airline credit card?
An airline credit card, also called a co-branded card, is a product that partners a bank with an airline and encourages loyalty through rewards earned by favoring the brand.
How does an airline credit card work?
Typically, you earn boosted miles by spending on specific items, such as plane tickets, in-flight purchases, and sometimes such expenditures as restaurants, gas stations and even grocery stores. Heads up that redemption values can be at a lower rate when you choose to redeem for merchandise, donations to charities or gift cards. Instead, opt for redeeming for flights and other airline-specific purchases.
Who are airline credit cards best for?
If you are loyal to a specific brand or you live near a hub of a specific airline, airline cards can be a good choice. Also, if you enjoy the idea of looking for ways to max on your rewards and redemptions, these cards can get you what you are looking for. Finally, there are unique benefits to many of these cards.
Benefits of airline credit cards
- Airport lounges: If you travel often but don’t love time spent in airports, this is an excellent benefit for you.
- Travel and purchase benefits: Although card issuers are increasingly opting out of offering travel and purchase benefits, travel cards will often still offer such features as travel insurance and extended warranties.
- Free checked bag: This is a favorite feature among Delta travel cards.
- Priority boarding: Cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card give priority boarding in the main cabin.
- Companion fares: Airlines will sometimes offer benefits such as the British Airways Visa Signature® Card‘s Travel Together Ticket, which you can earn each calendar year that you make $30,000 in purchases on the card.
- Global Entry or TSA PreCheck: An increasingly popular feature, you can sometimes receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees.
- Elite status: Luxury cards like the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card include miles toward earning elite status built into your welcome offer.
- In-flight discounts: This is another feature on Delta cards.
Disadvantages of airline credit cards
If you don’t have set patterns in your traveling, such as frequenting certain airports, these cards may not be a good option. Also, weigh the pros and cons of an annual fee.
- Blackout dates: Airline cards are notorious for having blackout dates and requiring more miles during peak periods, although the Southwest Rapid Rewards cards offer no blackout period and no seating restrictions.
- Miles may expire: While SkyMiles don’t expire, other airlines’ programs may, so do your research and keep your account active.
- Limits to redemptions:While an airline program may allow redemptions for merchandise and gift cards, it’s usually best to redeem for airline purchases.
Hotel credit cards
What is a hotel credit card?
Like an airline card, a hotel credit card encourages loyalty to a specific hotel brand, whether through using a favored credit card or choosing the brand’s properties for stays.
How does a hotel credit card work?
With a hotel card, you can enjoy specific perks for staying at that brand’s locations while earning points for making purchases. In exchange, you can enjoy free nights and other benefits with your award points.
Who are general hotel credit cards best for?
Like airline cards, a hotel card best serves the cardholder who favors that brand or travels to a certain area. The reason is two-fold: You get better deals on your points and perks specific to the chain and you can then redeem the points you’ve earned at the brand you’ve chosen.
Benefits of hotel credit cards
- Use any time: Blackout dates are less of an issue with hotel rewards programs, although there may be limited available rooms during a peak period, as in the case of Marriott Bonvoy.
- Free breakfast for two: If you tend to stay at mid-range or higher end properties that don’t offer free breakfast, there are other ways to get the most important meal of the day. For example, through the Hilton Honors Gold and Diamond tiers, breakfast is free for two (or you can opt for a set of points instead).
- Free nights: In addition to nights earned through hotel rewards programs, there are free nights opportunities through select hotel cards.
- Early check-in/late check-out: Cards such as the Hilton Honors American Express offer express check-out and late check-out. Others offer early check-in as well.
- Upgrades and status boost: Some cards like the Hilton Honors American Express also offer automatic elevated status, giving you additional upgrades. For example, the Hilton Honors card offers automatic Silver status.
Disadvantages of hotel credit cards
While a hotel card may appear to have a rich sign-up offer, those points may not be worth as much as they appear. That said, point valuation varies widely, so check the program you are eyeing to see if it’s worth your while. Also, if you are a free spirit and find yourself traveling without planning out your stays, a hotel card may be more of a hassle than it’s worth.
- Points valuation may be poor: For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ offers 30,000 points after a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership, which seems to compete nicely with many airline cards. However, the Marriott Bonvoy points only come to 0.8 cent, according to the TPG Point Valuation system.
- Confusing opportunities: Hotel rewards programs will usually have multiple tiers, each with their own perks, making it potentially tough to understand what you qualify for.
- Limited locations: With the larger chains, such as Marriott and Hilton, there are thousands of locations worldwide, but you may not find a location in the neighborhood or small town that you are going to.
- Annual fee: This charge may be waived the first year, but plan on it appearing on your statement every year thereafter. You’ll want to weigh the perks and free nights with the annual fee before making a decision.
How to compare two travel credit card offers
When looking at travel cards, you may be tempted to avoid a card with an annual fee, and there’s something to be said for that. But there’s a lot more to a travel card than just the annual fee. Here, we look at the different factors, including the sign-up bonus, ongoing rewards, benefits and other features.
Step 1: Choose the type of travel card
As you know, the choices can seem overwhelming, but exciting, with hotel and airline cards, as well as cards that partner with multiple brands. Co-branded cards are good for the loyalist, while general-purpose travel cards are good for the travel shopper.
We’re going to look at a general-purpose card, the Capital One Venture Rewards, and one of our favorites, the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Step 2: Assess rewards redemption options
With the exceptions of Delta and United, airline cards may have blackout dates and other restrictions, although our top 10 travel cards, including the Sapphire Preferred and the Venture Rewards, may have no blackout dates, and no expiration dates and no point or mile limits.
Step 3: Compare the sign-up bonus and ongoing rewards
While the Venture Rewards sign-up bonus is 50,000 miles after a $3,000 spend within the first 3 months, the Sapphire Preferred offers a higher 60,000 points after a $4,000 spend within the first 3 months. Both allow transfers with multiple travel partners. Meanwhile, when you book through Chase Ultimate Rewards with the Sapphire Preferred, you get a 25% bonus on points. Finally, while the Venture card rewards 2X miles on all purchases, the Sapphire Preferred only rewards with 2X points on worldwide travel and restaurants and 1X point on everything else.
Step 4: Look at benefits
Most of the best travel cards offer travel and shopping benefits, such as travel insurance, rental car insurance and extended warranties. If, for example, you often rent rental cars, the Chase Sapphire Preferred may be the best card for you.
Step 5: Traveling internationally? Avoid foreign transaction fees
“Foreign transaction fees have fallen sharply in recent years as card issuers sought to attract the kinds of affluent customers who travel internationally,” says CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman. In 2015, 77% of the cards that we surveyed charged foreign transaction fees. Today, that number is 46%, with 54 out of 100 cards surveyed in 2019 having waived foreign transaction fees. “This is great news for consumers, although I fear the trend could reverse as issuers look to compensate for the lost revenue attributable to the recent Fed rate cuts,” says Rossman.
Step 6: Consider multiple cards
Finally, consider a travel rewards strategy that includes multiple cards. For example, you might have an airline credit card primarily to enjoy priority boarding and to receive a free checked bag. At the same time, you might also have a general travel rewards card that you use for most of your spending. In fact, frequent travelers may carry an airline card, a hotel card and one or more general travel rewards cards, to realize the unique benefits offered by each. Consider using a general travel rewards card for your everyday spending while you stay close to home, such as the Capital One Venture Rewards.
Make sure your credit matches the required score for the cards you are looking at and be sure to pay in full each and every month so that you don’t pay interest charges.
||Chase Sapphire Preferred
|Capital One Venture Rewards
||60k pts/$4k spend in 3 mths*1.25X=
|50k miles/$3k spend in 3 mths=
, waived first yr
+When used toward booking travel on Chase Ultimate Rewards
How to maximize travel rewards
Here, we offer tips and tricks for how to maximize your travel rewards, whether it’s by taking full advantage of your card issuer’s travel programs or mapping out how to best use your airline card.
Getting the most value from your general-purpose travel credit card
Some card issuers offer travel programs with boosted rewards for using partner brands and other benefits. If it has a card that works for you, the issuer’s travel program could get you rewards and redemptions well worth the effort. Here are some of the top programs.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Amex Membership Rewards
- Citi ThankYou Rewards
Getting the most value from your airline miles
- Plan ahead: Most airlines will open their flights to new reservations about 11 months in advance, and if you’re able to book your travel then, you’ll have one of the best opportunities to find available award seats on the flights you want.
- Stay flexible: Consider different dates, times and destinations, rather than just hoping to find a specific award flight available on a certain day. You can also consider alternate departure and arrival airports near your destination.
- Keep your options open: Most carriers are part of one of the three major international airline alliances: SkyTeam, Oneworld and the Star Alliance. These airlines allow you to redeem your miles on flights operated by their partners, as well as some partners that are not part of the alliance.
- Turn to the professionals: Alternatively, you could consider hiring an award booking service, such as Expert Flyer.
- Watch out for schedule changes: This is your opportunity to contact the airline and request alternate flights that are more ideal for your schedule, even if there isn’t award availability.
Getting the most value from hotel points
Many of the major hotel loyalty programs have a policy of allowing customers to redeem their points for any unsold standard room. Companies with this policy include Marriott, Hilton, Wyndham and Hyatt. To receive exceptional value from your points, you can redeem them for award nights during peak travel periods such as holidays and special events. And if you find that a hotel has rooms for sale, but you can’t redeem your points, it can help to contact the property directly, or reach out to their corporate headquarters to ensure that the property is following the program’s policy.
Is an annual fee ever worth it?
One of the primary disadvantages of travel credit cards is that most come with an annual fee. While some credit card users will always refuse to pay an annual fee, many have found these fees to be worth it to receive these benefits. To decide if a fee is worth it, you must first consider the net cost of the card, after any fee credits. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $550 annual fee, but it also has a $300 annual travel credit, making its net cost $250 per year, so long as you use the credit.
Next, consider the added value of the benefits and rewards you receive, compared to the best available alternative with a lower annual fee or none. If the value of these rewards and benefits comfortably exceeds the difference in annual fees, then the card will be worth it for your needs. Nevertheless, it’s important to re-evaluate the card each year before paying the annual fee. Heads up that we’ve found that consumers have had good luck with getting the annual fee waived when they asked, so that’s an option.
Travel cards with annual fees
We found that of 100 cards we reviewed last year, 26 had an annual fee. The cards with annual fees were overwhelmingly travel cards:
Breakdown of cards with annual fees…
- Travel cards
- 19 cards
- Credit-builder cards
- 5 cards
- Cash back cards
- 2 cards
Source: Creditcards.com 2019 research
Of the cards we studied, 6 travel cards have waived annual fees the first year; 1 of the credit-builder cards has a waived annual fee the first year; and 1 of the cash back cards has a waived annual fee the first year. These are the travel cards we found to have waived annual fees the first year:
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
||$95, waived first year
|CitiBusiness®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®
||$99, waived first 12 months
|FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Visa Signature®*
||$49, waived first 12 months
|Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
||$99, $0 intro annual fee
|SunTrust Travel Rewards Credit Card*
||$89, waived first year
|United℠ Explorer Card
||$95, waived first year
Source: CreditCards.com research
*Research for this card was conducted by our staff and was not reviewed by the card issuer.
“Some travel cards that charge annual fees offer valuable perks that far outweigh the annual fee, so run the numbers for your particular circumstances,” says CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman. “For example, an airline card that charges a $95 annual fee but waives checked baggage fees could pay for itself in a hurry. Free airport lounge access is another potentially lucrative benefit among travel cards that assess annual fees.”
Finally, there are some credit card users who simply aren’t excited about travel rewards. This can include those who rarely travel and others who just drive to their destinations and stay with friends and family, and have no need for award flights or hotel stays. Also, there are consumers who prefer to spend their vacation time at home, perhaps entertaining over the holidays. These types of consumers would be better served by foregoing points and miles and using a cash back credit card instead.
However, if you are one of those consumers always on the go, you aren’t alone. We found that Millennials were by far the age group most likely to travel this last winter holiday/Thanksgiving, and they were most likely to take advantage of points or miles for travel, we learned in our September 2019 travel survey.
Related Travel and Rewards Card Categories:
Laura is an editor and writer at CreditCards.com. She has written extensively on all things credit cards and works to bring you the most up-to-date analysis and advice. Laura’s work has been cited in such publications as the New York Times and Associated Press. You can reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.
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