Comparing Travel Rewards Credit Card Offers
Updated: June 15, 2018
There are few credit card rewards that are as appealing as the opportunity to take a free vacation. The best travel rewards cards can offer you points or miles that you can redeem toward travel reservations including airfare, hotels, rental cars, cruises and tours. With so many travel reward credit cards offered, you need to consider many features to choose the best one for your needs. Thankfully, the experts at CreditCards.com have come up with the best rewards cards on the market, along with all the information that you need to make the right decision.
Whether you are trying to figure out the types of travel cards available or how to choose a card, we can help.
Expert picks and ratings: Best travel credit cards of 2018
We analyzed 300 travel credit card offers to give you the best recommendations possible. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card tops our list for its strong rewards rate for hotel bookings and easy redemptions. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is also one of our favorites for its flexible redemptions and valuable Ultimate Rewards points.
|Credit Card||Best For:||CreditCards.com Rating||Annual Fee||Average Yearly Rewards Value*|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Hotels.com purchases||4.3 / 5||$0 first year, then $95||$447|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Sign-up bonus||4.0 / 5||$0 first year, then $95||$412|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||No annual fee||3.6 / 5||$0||$293|
|Discover it® Miles||Flat-rate earning||3.6 / 5||$0||$318|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card||Easy to hit sign-up bonus||3.4 / 5||$0||$305|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||Pairing with Sapphire product||3.3 / 5||$0||$296|
|Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard®||Heavy spenders||3.6 / 5||$150||$318|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||Lounge access||4.8 / 5||$450||$2,001**|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Airline fee credit||2.8 / 5||$550||$1,156|
|Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card||Existing Bank of America customers||3.8 / 5||$95||$328|
*$1,325 in monthly spend
**$75,000 in annual spend
Research methodology: how we chose the best 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
Details on our picks for the best travel credit cards
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Best for: Hotels.com purchases
This is a great "no fuss" travel rewards card - flat-rate mile rewards for every purchase, no foreign transaction fees, and a simple 1 cent per point value for each mile you earn. The Venture Card gets really valuable when you have to book hotels often - you get 10x miles for booking and paying at hotels.com/venture.
- Large sign-up bonus
- Unlimited 2x miles on all purchases
- Unbeatable for booking stays on hotels.com
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Best for: Sign-up bonus
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® is one of the best all-around travel cards out there. The sign-up bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points alone is worth $625 towards travel (after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months). You get 2x points on travel and dining purchases, which are worth over 2 cents per point according to The Points Guy. With the annual fee waived the first year, this card is a no brainer.
- Earn valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Great sign-up bonus
- Several ways to earn bonus Ultimate Rewards points throughout the year
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
Best for: No annual fee
This card is great for people who want travel rewards without the annual fee. The VentureOne® card has the same great rewards rate (10x miles) as the Venture card on hotels.com/venture bookings, no annual fee, and no foreign transaction fee.
- No annual fee
- Same unbeatable rewards as the Venture Card for booking stays on hotels.com
- 1.25x miles on all purchases
Discover it® Miles
Best for: Flat-rate earning
The Discover it® Miles is another great no-fuss travel rewards card that doesn't have the hassle of an annual fee. You get 1.5x miles for every dollar you spend and at the end of your first year, Discover will match all of the miles you've earned. Discover also has a great set of account features like a Credit Scorecard, SSN alerts, and the ability to freeze your account in seconds from their mobile app or website.
- Miles match at the end of your first year
- Easy redemptions
- Great account and customer support features
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
Best for: Easy to hit sign-up bonus
This card is another solid no annual fee travel credit card where you don't have to worry about remembering your bonus categories - you get 1.5 points for every dollar on every purchase. It comes with no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, and has a 10% bonus for Bank of America checking or savings account customers (with an even bigger bonus for their Preferred Rewards clients).
- Easy to hit sign-up bonus
- Extra benefits for Bank of America banking customers
- Flat-rate miles rewards
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Best for: Pairing with Sapphire card
The Chase Freedom Unimited® is not a typical travel credit card, but can be paired with a Chase Sapphire product to redeem cash back for Ultimate Rewards points - and that's why it's on our list. This card is a great one-two punch with either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve.
- 1.5% cash back on everything
- No annual fee
- $150 sign-up bonus that's easy to earn with only $500 in required spend
Barclays Arrival® Premier World Elite Mastercard®
Best for: Heavy spenders
The Barclays Arrival Premier's rewards structure is set up quite differently than other travel rewards cards. Whether this unique credit card is worth it will depend on your spending habits. Specifically, it is geared towards heavy spenders who are willing to charge a large sum of expenses to one card.
- 75,000 miles per year after $25,000 in purchases
- Statement credit for Global Entry application every 5 years
- No foreign transaction fees
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Best for: Lounge access
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is royalty in the world of travel cards. The initial sign-up bonus plus the annual travel credit and Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit add up to $1,150 in value in the first year. On top of that, the airport lounge access is a total gamechanger for the frequent traveler.
From Lisa Gerstner (independent journalist): "For travelers who want to cash in points for a variety of hotel and airline bookings, Chase Sapphire Reserve takes the cake. You can transfer points at a 1:1 ratio to several programs, including Southwest Airline Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, Marriott Rewards and IHG Rewards Club. Or redeem points at an outstanding rate of 1.5 cents apiece for travel bookings through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal."
From Holly Johnson (travel writer, ClubThrifty.com): "The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the top travel card among all rewards card issuers, and it's not even close. It has a great sign-up bonus and so much flexibility in how you use your points. Not only can you transfer 1:1 to popular loyalty programs like Southwest, Marriott, Hyatt, British Airways, and United MileagePlus, but you can use your points to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal at a 50 percent discount when you book with points."
From Matt Schulz (senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com): "Even with the high annual fee, it's really hard to beat the value you get with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It's my main go-to card because of the triple points on dining and travel, the $300 annual travel credit and the flexibility of Chase's Ultimate Rewards points."
- Large sign-up bonus
- Airport lounge access
- $300 annual travel credit
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Best for: Airline fee credit
The Platinum Card exacts a high annual fee of $550 but with that comes extraodinary value. The welcome bonus offer stands tall at 60,000 points and airline and hotel bookings earn a sizeable 5x rewards rate when purchased through American Express Travel. Airport lounge access, a TSA Precheck credit, annual credits for airline fees and Uber rides are just a few of the bevy of luxury perks.
- $200 airline fee credit
- $200 Uber credit
- Huge welcome offer
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card
Best for: Bank of America customers
If you're loyal to Bank of America and want good travel rewards, their Premium Rewards card is a great option. It boasts a hefty sign-up bonus worth $500 (after $3,000 spend in first 90 days of account opening) and unlimited 2x points on travel and dining purchases (1.5x for everything else). If you're a Preferred Rewards customer with them, you can get anywhere from a 25% to 75% bonus on every purchase.
- Good sign-up bonus
- Extra benefits for Bank of America customers
- Flat-rate points earning
What are travel credit cards and how do they work?
Everybody would love to use their credit cards to earn a free vacation, but it’s rarely that simple. Before you apply for a travel rewards credit card, there are several things that you need to understand, including:
- What type of points or miles does this card offer?
- Are you earning rewards in a program run by the card issuer, or by a co-branded partner such as an airline or hotel chain?
- Most importantly, how much value can you receive per point or mile redeemed?
What is a travel credit card?
A travel credit card is one whose rewards are best redeemed for travel reservations. Many credit cards offer rewards that can be redeemed in many ways, including for travel reservations. A true travel rewards card will offer the most value when its points or miles are used for travel reservations, as opposed to other options such as cash back, gift cards or merchandise. A travel rewards credit card is also more likely to offer travel-specific benefits such as travel insurance or priority service and other perks when using the card’s co-branded partner.
How do travel credit cards work?
Travel rewards cards offer points or miles that can be redeemed for travel reservations. These rewards primarily come in two ways. First, these cards may offer new applicants a sign-up bonus, typically after meeting a minimum amount of spending in a certain amount of time. For example, an airline credit card might offer new accounts 50,000 frequent flyer miles after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening. Also, a travel rewards card will offer rewards for spending, often including a bonus for purchases from the airline or hotel partner, or for purchases from certain categories of merchants.
Once your account gains enough rewards, you may redeem them for award travel reservations. These might be awards made directly with hotel or airline partners, reservations booked through a designated travel agent or statement credits that reimburse you for travel reservations you’ve already booked.
Placing a value on your travel rewards points or miles
The most difficult part of evaluating a travel credit card can be estimating the value of the rewards that you’ll earn. For example, many travel rewards cards offer frequent flyer miles or hotel points, but the value of these rewards can vary. Furthermore, airlines and hotels are free to change the value of their points and miles at any time, and often with no advance notice. On the other hand, some programs have a very clear value for each point redeemed, with several simply offering one cent in value per point or mile.
Types of travel cards
There are two major types of travel rewards cards:
- Those that offer rewards in a program operated by the card issuer.
- Those that offer points or miles with a travel provider.
Reward programs offered by card issuers
You’ll find several types of cards with reward programs, operated by the card issuers.
- Some are general-purpose cards that award points and miles that can be redeemed for travel reservations through a designated travel agent.
- Other times, bank-operated programs allow cardholders to redeem their rewards as statement credits toward travel reservations.
- Then there are bank programs that allow you to transfer your rewards to airline miles or hotel points.
- Finally, some bank-operated travel reward cards give you multiple options to redeem your points or miles.
Some of these cards can be luxury products that offer valuable travel perks and benefits, but with a high annual fee. Also, there are general travel rewards cards that are offered to small-business owners.
Reward cards that offer points through co-brand partners
Alternatively, there are many travel rewards cards that offer points or miles in programs operated by a co-brand partner. The two major types of partner cards are airline cards and hotel cards, although there are some affiliated with an online travel agency. When you use one of these cards, you’ll earn points and miles with the travel provider or travel agency, and the use of your rewards will be subject to the terms and conditions of its loyalty program. However, the card issuer is still setting rates and fees, issuing statements and processing your monthly payments.
As with the general travel rewards cards, there are partner cards considered premium or luxury products. These cards will typically offer extensive benefits when traveling with the co-branded airline or staying with the affiliated hotel chain. Finally, there are also co-branded cards for small business use co-branded airline and hotel partners.
Pros and cons of travel cards
Travel cards are just one of many types of cards, including cash back cards, balance transfer cards, low interest cards, and those for fair or poor credit. Before selecting a travel rewards card, you should examine their advantages and drawbacks.
The advantages of travel cards
The most obvious benefit of a travel credit card is the ability to redeem your points or miles for award travel. Not only can award travel reservations be very valuable, but many cardholders really enjoy the chance to use their rewards to treat themselves to a vacation.
Beyond travel rewards, a good travel card can offer you travel perks just for having the account. For example, an airline credit card will often give you a free checked bag and priority boarding, while a hotel credit card user will receive elite status that can offer room upgrades, late checkouts and even free breakfast. Other travel cards can offer you statement credits toward airline fees or toward the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
Finally, the right travel card can have plenty of travel insurance policies, to cover you when your trip doesn’t go as planned. For example, many cards come with lost or delayed baggage insurance and trip delay, trip interruption and trip cancellation coverage.
The drawbacks of travel cards
With all the attractive rewards and benefits that travel cards offer, it’s easy to lose sight of some of their disadvantages. First, most travel reward cards are designed for those with good or excellent credit. If you’ve had significant credit problems in the past, then you may not qualify for a competitive travel card. Next, consider the costs of a travel rewards credit card. Like other kinds of reward credit cards, travel cards will typically have a higher standard interest rate than similar, nonreward cards. If you tend to carry a balance on your credit card, you may still want to hold a travel card for its benefits, but you’ll likely pay less interest on charges made to a card with no rewards. Also, many of the most competitive travel rewards credit cards will have an annual fee, which isn’t the case with most cash back credit cards and retailer reward cards.
Many travel cardholders can find these reward programs to be complicated and confusing. The frequent flyer programs and hotel loyalty programs usually have many pages of terms and conditions, and members can sometimes be disappointed when a program doesn’t live up to their expectations.
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 many frequent business travelers who prefer to spend their vacation time at home. These types of travelers would be better served by foregoing points and miles and using a cash back credit card instead.
Is it worth it?
With travel credit cards offering so many advantages and drawbacks, they are not the best choice for all credit card users. How can you tell if a travel credit card for you? Try asking yourself these questions:
Are you avoiding interest charges by paying your statement balance in full each month? According to the National Center for Credit Counseling, 39 percent of Americans carry credit card debt each month. Since travel and other reward credit cards will have higher interest rates than similar, nonreward cards, they are best used by those who make a habit of paying their statements in full and avoiding interest charges. However, it may be worth carrying a travel card for its benefits, but using another card for most of your charges.
Will you be redeeming your rewards? According to a 2017 Bankrate survey, 3 in 10 have never redeemed their rewards. If you’re finding it to complicated or inconvenient to redeem your travel credit card rewards, then perhaps you should consider switching to a cash back card that automatically gives you a statement credit.
Will you be satisfied with a travel credit card? While travel cards can make travel dreams possible, they’re not for everyone. Some can find the reward programs too confusing, that eligible rooms or flights are hard to find or that the value of rewards can change – and not always for the better. On the other hand, there appears to be very high satisfaction with some of the latest travel reward cards. For example, Chase reported that more than 90 percent of those who received its premium Sapphire Reserve card renewed it after the first year.
When is annual fee 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 $450 annual fee, but it also has a $300 annual travel credit, making its net cost $150 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.
Choosing a card based on travel tendencies
Once you decide to open a new travel rewards credit card, you should take into consideration your travel habits when choosing the right card for you.
Choosing an airline card
When selecting an airline rewards credit card, the most important travel tendency to consider is how often you’ll be using the co-branded airline. All of these cards will offer you more points or miles for purchases made from the co-branded airline, so it makes sense for frequent travelers to have a card affiliated with the airline they use the most. Frequent flyer cards will also offer you benefits when traveling on the airline, such as priority service, discounts on inflight purchase and checked baggage fee waivers. This is another reason why you’ll want to consider a card from the airline that you use the most.
One important tip: To get the right travel card, know your airline hubs. Delta, for example, uses Atlanta as a hub, giving consumers who live in the area an abundance of Delta routes to choose from. So if you live near Atlanta, or travel there frequently, you’ll want to consider the co-branded Delta cards.
Finally, you’ll want to find a card that will let you redeem your reward points or miles for flights to where you want to go. For example, if you are dreaming of using your airline rewards for a trip to Paris, then you won’t want to earn points with Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t offer any overseas flights. However, you should always consider if a frequent flyer program has any airline partners that offer service to where you want to go. For instance, Alaska Airlines doesn’t fly to Paris either, but you can redeem its miles for award flights on several of its partners that offer overseas service.
Choosing a hotel card
When it comes to choosing a hotel card, there are other travel tendencies that you need to think about. First, consider your travel budget. An economy traveler will not have much use for the benefits offered by the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card, since it can cost hundreds of dollars per night to stay at one of its properties. Likewise, there’s no point in using a credit card from a budget chain when you prefer to stay at midrange or luxury hotels.
You also need to look at the geographic regions where you normally stay, and if the card’s hotel chain has many properties there. For example, hotel companies such as Choice and Wyndham tend to have properties in small towns and rural areas, while you’ll find most Hyatt and Starwood hotels to be in midsized to large cities. And if you are an international traveler, make sure that the hotel credit card you are using offers a sufficient selection of properties in the countries that you commonly travel to.
Choosing a general-purpose travel card
With a general-purpose travel card, your travel tendencies won’t mean as much. That is because with these cards, you are typically able to redeem your rewards for statement credits toward any travel reservation. Or, you’ll be able to make reservations directly with the card issuer’s designated travel agent, which will allow you make reservations with most airlines and hotels.
However, there can be one thing to think about with a general travel rewards card. Some allow you to transfer your rewards to airline miles or hotel points with several different programs. If you are a traveler skilled at redeeming points and miles, you’ll often find it possible to realize exceptional value from each point or mile. This is especially true when you’re able to redeem your airline miles for expensive flights in business or first class, or last-minute reservations. You can also receive tremendous value from your hotel points when you are able to redeem them for stays at some luxury properties or for stays during high-demand periods.
Choosing a luxury travel card
With a luxury travel card, one of the primary benefits will be the airport lounge services offered. When selecting one of these cards, you’ll need to look at what lounges are part of this program, and compare them to your travel habits. For example, both the Citi Prestige and the Chase Sapphire Reserve offer you a membership in the Priority Pass Select airport lounge program. And while this program features more than 1,000 lounges around the world, the vast majority is outside of the United States, and there may not be a lounge at your home airport. Or, there may be a lounge at your home airport, but it might be in a different terminal than the airline you use most often.
You also need to examine the terms and conditions of the lounge membership. Some, such as the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card from American Express, offer free access to just the cardholder, while others allow complimentary visits by a limited number of guests or family members. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card, for example, offers free lounge visits for the cardholder and an unlimited number of guests.
Also, many luxury travel cards affiliate with an airline or hotel reward program. These cards offer extensive benefits when you travel with that airline or stay with a member hotel. These benefits are only beneficial if they align with your travel habits.
Choosing a business travel card
Business travel cards are much like their consumer-focused counterparts, however, they tend to offer better rewards for common business purchases such as office supplies, advertising and telecommunications services. And when it comes to your travel tendencies, you’ll need to look at how you’ll benefit from the card’s program.
If you’ll only be charging your business travel to your small business card, then you’ll want to make sure you have a card from an airline or hotel that meets your business needs. But at the same time, you’ll still want those rewards to be valuable to you when it comes time to redeem them for your personal travel needs.
How to maximize your travel rewards
How you spend your travel rewards is at least as important as how you earn them. Airlines and hotels are making it easier to earn rewards from their travel credit cards, but it can be an ever-increasing challenge to find the most value when the time comes to redeem the points and miles that you earned.
Maximizing frequent flyer miles
If your travel rewards credit card offers you points or miles with an airline or hotel program, then you’ll have to work especially hard to get the most value per point or mile redeemed. With many airline frequent flyer programs, you’ll realize the most value by redeeming your miles for expensive, last-minute flights, or for seats in business or first class. However, it can be very difficult to find available award seats on these flights.
Thankfully, there are several ways to increase your chances of success when looking for award seats. First, you’ll want to plan your award trip as far in advance as possible. Most airlines will open their flights to new reservations about 11 months in advance, and if you’re able to book your travel then, then you’ll have one of the best opportunities to find available award seats on the flights you want. However, you may also find the seats you need later, as some airlines will vary their airline award seat availability.
Another suggestion is to be as flexible as possible by considering 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. Furthermore, the fewer award seats that you need on the same flight, the more likely you are to find them on a single flight. Therefore, a family of four will have a lot better chance of finding award flights if they are willing to “split the team” and divide their reservations between two different flights.
Another important way to maximize the value of your frequent flyer miles is be sure to consider all available airline partners. 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. These partners can offer award seats to your destination, and most airlines will price their partner awards at the lowest mileage levels. Also, these partner awards sometimes don’t appear on the airline’s website, so you’ll have to call to book these awards.
Alternatively, you could consider hiring an award booking service. There are several enterprising award travel enthusiasts that use special tools to find award availability and have extensive experience doing so. While it will cost about $200 per person to hire an award booking service, this could be money well spent when you are able to use the lowest possible number of miles to book business or first-class award reservations that can be worth thousands of dollars.
Finally, you may find that after you’ve made your reservation, the airline could make a schedule change. 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. So long as the alternative flights are operated by the airline whose miles you redeemed, not a partner, it will be able to open up award space in response to a schedule change that affected your reservations.
Getting the most value from hotel points
It’s a lot easier to redeem hotel points than airline miles. 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 Starwood, 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.
Finding the best use for award programs operated by travel card issuers
When it comes to the travel rewards programs offered by card issuers, it can be easier to redeem your rewards for the most value. When your points or miles are worth a fixed amount toward statement credits or travel reservations, then it doesn’t really matter how you redeem them. However, some of these programs give you the choice of redeeming your points for travel reservations, or transferring them to airline miles or hotel points. Programs with this feature include American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou points and the Starwood Preferred Guest program.
Transferring your rewards to airline miles or hotel points can offer you the most value, but only when you can find the award seats you want, or a great hotel award stay. You want to examine all the different frequent flyer programs that you can transfer your points to, including which airline partners you can book flights with. Often, this can be a complicated task. To ensure that you are getting the best value, you should compare the number of points needed to book a flight or hotel directly, with the number of frequent flyer miles or hotel points you would need to transfer.
Popular redemptions from travel rewards
When redeeming travel rewards, there are many popular options. For example, you could redeem your frequent flyer miles for a weekend getaway, a long vacation or a trip to visit friends and relatives. Due to the scarcity of airline award seats, these kinds of trips are more popular than taking vacations over the holidays. This is also why it’s a lot easier to use frequent flyer miles to book travel as an individual or couple than as a group or family. However, when you earn reward points that can be redeemed for travel statement credits, or directly for travel reservations, then holiday and group travel with your credit card rewards becomes a lot easier. You can even use your general travel rewards card to book a Caribbean cruise.
Example: A weekend getaway
A couple wants to a take a long weekend to visit a major city using their Chase Ultimate Rewards points. First, they look for award flights with airline partners including United and Southwest. They can also consider British Airways, since it’s partnered with American and Alaska Airlines, and even Korean, since it’s partnered with Delta. Transferring 50,000 points to miles is typically enough for two round-trip, domestic flights in economy class.
When it comes to using their credit card rewards for free hotel stays, the couple could transfer their points to Hyatt’s loyalty program, called World of Hyatt, where free night stays are often available for 8,000 to 15,000 points a night. Finally, the couple may also book a rental car or airport transfers by using their points directly at the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center. When they do this, their points will be worth 1.25 or 1.5 cents each, depending on which Chase credit cards they hold. In fact, it would make sense for the couple to look for discounted airfare and hotel stays before transferring their points.
Example: An international business-class trip
An individual has decided to take a trip to Europe, and wants to use her credit card rewards to travel in business class. She holds miles in the American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flyer program that she received from her personal and business travel, as well as miles she earned from her American Airlines credit card. While she lacks the 125,000 miles American requires for a business-class flight to Japan, she also has hotel points in the Starwood Preferred Guest program. By transferring some of her hotel points to American Airlines miles she’ll have enough miles for this award. She finds the award seats on American’s partner, Japan Airlines, and asks American to hold the award, which it will do for up to five days, at no charge. Then she transfers some of her Starwood points to American miles and tickets the award. Since this ticket normally costs $5,000, she is receiving four cents in value per point and mile redeemed.
Example: A family vacation
A family of four is taking a holiday vacation over winter break. Realizing that this would be the most difficult way to redeem traditional airline miles, they chose to earn miles with the Capital One Venture rewards card. These miles are worth one cent each as statement credits toward any travel reservations. Knowing their children’s school schedule far in advance, they were able to book discounted airfare and hotel reservations the previous spring. They were then able to use their credit card rewards to receive statement credits to offset the cost. By the time they took the trip, they earned even more miles, which they were able to use to pay for their rental car and some of their activities.
Other benefits that often go with travel cards
Beyond the rewards you can earn from spending, there are three other types of travel benefits these cards can offer.
Many credit cards offer some form of travel insurance, but travel rewards cards tend to offer the strongest set of policies. The most common is travel accident insurance, which will offer you a benefit if you are injured or killed in an accident on a common carrier, such as an airline, train, bus or cruise. Another form of travel insurance found on most credit cards is rental car insurance, which can replace the costly policies that you would buy from the rental car company.
Travel rewards credit cards are likely to carry trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage, which will compensate you if you are unable to take or complete a trip to due illness or a variety of other covered reasons. Trip delay insurance will cover your expenses if a flight is delayed or canceled, causing you to incur unexpected costs for meals, hotels or alternate transportation. Also, baggage loss and delay insurance can supplement any compensation provided by the airline. Finally, there are some premium travel cards that will offer you medical evacuation insurance, that will fly you home for treatment if you become sick or injured in a foreign country.
Partner travel benefits
A travel credit card may also come with a variety of benefits with its partners. If the card is co-branded with an airline or a hotel chain, then you should expect benefits with flying or staying with that company. For example, most airline cards will offer priority boarding, a free checked bag and discounts on in-flight purchases, while premium cards will give you an airport lounge membership. A hotel card will offer you elite status which typically grants you priority service, room upgrades and late checkouts.
And regardless of whether a card has a co-brand partner, it might feature a variety of other benefits from third parties. For example, the Visa Signature and World Elite Mastercard programs offer many travel and shopping discounts. And a premium credit card may offer airport lounge access through a lounge network not associated with an airline, such as Priority Pass Select or the American Express Centurion lounges.
A newer credit card benefit that’s growing in popularity are fee credits that can lower the cost of travel. For example, several credit cards offer statement credits toward the $85 application fee for the TSA PreCheck program or the $100 application fee of the Global Entry Program, which includes TSA PreCheck. Other cards offer hundreds of dollars in statement credits toward any travel related expense, while others offer credits toward airline’s fees.
How to compare two travel credit cards
When looking at two different credit cards, it’s important to consider the card’s rewards, benefits and terms. First, look at the rewards offered, including the sign-up bonus, the standard rewards for spending and any bonus categories. Using your approximate annual purchases, try to estimate how many reward points or miles you might earn in a typical year, and what their value will be to you. You may also wish to consider how these rewards will fit into your overall travel strategy. For example, your travel credit card should offer rewards that supplement or complement any rewards you normally earn for travel. Otherwise, there’s no sense in using a travel card to earn a small amount rewards that won’t be enough to redeem for the travel reservations you want.
Next consider the card’s benefits and their value to you, including travel insurance, partner benefits and statement credits. Also, evaluate the card’s annual fee as well as any other important fees such as those for foreign transactions or additional authorized cardholders.
Finally, consider a travel rewards strategy that includes multiple cards. For example, you might have an airline credit 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.
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