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A guide to choosing the best travel credit card
Updated: December 4, 2019
A travel rewards credit card – a lending product that offers points and miles for traveling, including for airline, hotel, restaurant and transportation categories – can be your ticket this winter to sandy beaches, powdery ski slopes or that trip to Japan you've long dreamed of.
Whether you're on the hunt for a general travel rewards card like the Venture Rewards or a business travel credit card such as the Capital One Spark Miles for Business, points and miles await.
But how to choose? Here, we arm you with the tools you'll need to choose the best rewards card for your lifestyle, both as a spender and an earner. We'll talk about the different types of travel cards, how to choose and ways to spend and redeem.
Whether you are trying to figure out the types of travel cards available or how to choose a card, we can help.
Best Travel Credit Cards
Why this is the best travel credit card for international travel – Not only does the Venture Rewards offer up to $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, there's no foreign transaction fee – perfect for sightseeing in London this holiday.
Card overview – 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 – The Venture Rewards offers a number of travel benefits, including travel accident insurance, in which you can get automatic insurance for a covered loss at no extra charge when you purchase the entire airfare with your credit card.
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.
Card overview – There are no blackout dates with this card, and you can redeem miles for statement credits or even cash. Also, there are Discover-wide features such as freezing your account within seconds and a free FICO Score. However, Discover cards do not have a robust worldwide reach, making the Discover it Miles card better for domestic travel.
Best travel perk – Perhaps the greatest benefits value of the Discover it Miles is that you can get free Social Security Number alerts when you sign up, meaning that you'll discover when Discover's service learns that your number has been found on the Dark Web, handy for when you're on the go.
Why this is the best travel credit card for no annual fee - If you are looking for a travel card for occasional use, the VentureOne Rewards is a fine option in part because of its no annual fee. Just think – maximize rewards while avoiding an annual fee.
Card overview – With a nice little sign-up bonus of 20,000 miles after only a $1,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership, this card is a great starter travel card. Also, there are more than a dozen travel partners. However, the ongoing rewards are not the most lucrative, making this card best for the occasional user. 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 – While technically not a travel benefit, the extended warranty on the VentureOne Rewards is a great find: You’ll get additional warranty protection at no charge on eligible items that are purchased with your credit card.
Why this is the best travel credit card for sign-up bonus - With the Sapphire Preferred, your 60,000 bonus points (after $4,000 spend within the first 3 months) can become $750 in travel when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, compared to other travel cards.
Card overview – 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.
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.
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.
Card overview – 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 – Some U.S.-issued credit cards offer the option to have a PIN assigned to your account, allowing you to use international kiosks that require these secure numbers, which are typically 4 digits. Bank of America Travel Rewards is one of those cards. You may request your PIN via online banking, using their Mobile Banking app or by calling the number on the back of your card.
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).
Card overview – 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 – The $200 in annual Uber credits is a fantastic perk for the occasional traveler, making a nice dent in airport transportation costs.
Why this is the best travel credit card for business travel - In addition to no foreign transaction fees, you can also receive up to $100 credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. Also, fly on any airline with no blackout dates or seat restrictions.
Card overview – In addition to the 50,000 mile sign-up bonus after a $5,000 spend within the first 3 months of card membership and 150,000 miles after a $50,000 spend within 6 months, 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 18.74% (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.
Why this is the best travel credit card for lounge access - 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.
Card overview – 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 $450, and is not waived the first year.
Best travel perk – One unusual travel benefit that the Sapphire Reserve offers is lost luggage reimbursement, in which you are reimbursed for costs you incur to repair or replace checked and/or carry-on baggage damaged or lost (including theft) that happens during a covered trip on a common carrier such as airline, bus, cruise ship or train.
Why this is the best travel credit card for TSA PreCheck - One of the Bank of America Premium Rewards' benefits is well worth it for the frequent traveler – get up to $100 in an airport security statement credit toward a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee every 4 years.
Card overview – The biggest plus about this card is that the ongoing rewards for purchases other than travel and dining is 1.5X points, which beats that of the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and that's even with the CSP's Ultimate Rewards boost. This card doesn't have the points boost of the Chase Sapphire Preferred on travel bookings though, and there's an annual fee of $95, which is not waived the first year.
Best travel perk – In addition to the Bank of America Premium Rewards' up to $100 credit for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, this card has a host of travel benefits such as trip delay reimbursement in which you get up to $500 per ticket purchased for you and your eligible family members for reasonable expenses if a covered trip is delayed (due to a covered hazard) for more than 12 hours.
Why this is the best travel credit card for airline rewards - The Southwest Rapid Rewards cards has a bodacious Companion Pass offer that is without peer – points earned can go toward the 110,000 points you need to qualify for the pass (or 100 qualifying one-way tickets). This program allows you to have a companion fly for free (plus taxes and fees) the rest of the year and the following year.
Card overview – With a competitive sign-up bonus, this card also offers 2X points for Southwest purchases, as well as partner hotel and car rental purchases. This card has no blackout dates and no seat restrictions. However, the anniversary bonus of 3,000 points is lower than the Premier's, there's an annual fee of $69 that isn't waived the first year, and there's no annual travel credit.
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.
Summary of the best travel credit cards of 2019
|Credit Card||Best For||Travel Rewards Rate||Annual Fee||CreditCards.com Rating|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||International travel||2X miles per dollar on all purchases||$95, $0 first year||4.2 / 5|
|Discover it® Miles||Earning miles||1.5X miles per dollar on all purchases||$0||4.0 / 5|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||No annual fee||1.25X miles per dollar on all purchases||$0||3.5 / 5|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Sign-up bonus||2X points on travel and dining||$95||3.9 / 5|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card||No foreign transaction fee||1.5X points per dollar on all purchases||$0||3.4 / 5|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Annual travel credits||5X Membership Rewards Points on flights and hotels booked through amextravel.com||$550||4.5 / 5|
|Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business||Business travel||5X miles on hotel and rental car bookings through Capital One Travel℠||$95, $0 first year||4.5 / 5|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||Lounge access||3X points on travel||$450||4.6 / 5|
|Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Visa® credit card||TSA precheck||2X points on travel and dining||$95||3.9 / 5|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card||Airline rewards||2X points per dollar spent on Southwest® purchases||$69||3.7 / 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 to choose the best travel credit card 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.
When is a general travel credit card a bad choice?
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.
Disadvantages of general travel credit cards
- 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.
Getting the most value from general travel credit cards
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 – Played right, the Ultimate Rewards program can deliver you unmatched rewards. Here's how it works: With favored cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can earn 25% and even 50% boosts when you redeem points for travel through the portal. Also, you can transfer points from other Chase cards, such as the Freedom products, to the Sapphire cards, allowing you to further benefit from the program.
- Amex Membership Rewards – With American Express' travel program, you can redeem for merchandise, donations, travel and more. However, that doesn't mean you should do all those things. Booking through partners and upgrades can give you the opportunity to maximize your Membership Rewards points, while using the points for such things as merchandise can deflate the value.
- Citi ThankYou Rewards – ThankYou Points that you earn through spending on qualifying Citi cards can be redeemed for airfare, hotel stays, cruises, shopping and more. With the Citi Premier†, you can earn a 25% boost on your Citi ThankYou Points when booking airfare through the ThankYou Travel Center, and there are no blackout dates. The program offers more than a dozen partners, although you have to hold the Prestige or the Citi Premier to transfer points to a partner's loyalty program.
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 Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express 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 Reserve® Credit Card from American Express include miles toward earning elite status built into your welcome offer.
- In-flight discounts: This is another feature on Delta cards.
When is an airline credit card a bad choice?
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.
Disadvantages of airline credit cards
- 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.
Get 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. Furthermore, a family of four will have a lot better chance of finding award flights if they are willing to divide their reservations between two different flights.
- 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. There are several enterprising award travel enthusiasts that use special tools to find award availability and have extensive experience doing so.
- 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. 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.
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.
When is a hotel credit card a bad choice?
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.
Disadvantages of hotel credit cards
- 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.
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.
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 in the case of our examples, this is not true. Both the Sapphire Preferred and the Venture Rewards have no blackout dates, no expiration dates and no point 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? Look for foreign transaction fees
In a recent study of our sample 100 credit cards, we found that 53 actually offered no foreign transaction fees. Of the 47 that had foreign transaction fees, 8 had fees that were less than 3%. Most of those cards were either offered by U.S. Bank or American Express. Most travel rewards cards offer no foreign transaction fees, but it's important to check to make sure the card you select doesn't have the charge, which can otherwise charge a percentage of every purchase made overseas or processed through a foreign bank.
"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. The percentage has fallen steadily to 47% at present. 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."
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.
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.
Putting it all together...
|Card||Sign-up bonus||Travel, dining||Other spending||Annual fee||Total end of first yr|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||60k pts/$4k spend in 3 mths*1.25X=$750+||2X*$500*12 mths*1.25X=$150+||1X*$500*12 mths*1.25X=$75+||$95||$880|
|Capital One Venture Rewards||50k miles/$3k spend in 3 mths=$500||2X*$500*12 mths=$120||2X*$500*12 mths=$120||$95, waived first yr||$740|
+When used toward booking travel on Chase Ultimate Rewards
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 $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. 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 earlier this 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:
|Card||Terms of annual fee|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||$95, waived the first year|
|CitiBusiness® AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®||$99, waived first 12 months|
|Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express||$0 introductory annual fee first year, then $95|
|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.
CreditCards.com poll: Millennials love their points, more likely to travel this holiday season
Millennials are by far the age group most likely to travel this winter holiday/Thanksgiving, and they are most likely to take advantage of points or miles for travel, we found in our September 2019 travel survey.
Some 35% of millennials (23-38 years old) will travel over the winter holiday (Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, etc.), and 29% will travel over Thanksgiving, by far the largest group. And they love their travel points: 47% of millennials plan to use points to pay for air travel, compared to 31% for Americans 39+.
Millennials are more likely to use points for winter/Thanksgiving air travel...
- Travelers 39+
Millennials are more likely to use points for winter/Thanksgiving hotel stays...
- Travelers 39+
"I'm pleasantly surprised how many people are using rewards points to save money on holiday travel," says CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman. "If you haven’t already, check your rewards point totals to see if they can help defray your upcoming travel expenses. The same goes for other holiday costs – consider using your points for cash back, gift cards or merchandise that can help offset the most expensive time of the year."
Sizeable group of Americans will lean into incurring debt
Unfortunately, some 39% of Americans traveling this holiday season by air plan to incur credit card debt to pay their travel expenses, our poll showed. It's a little lower for holiday hotel stays, at 36%.
That's tough news to take for the consumer landscape, given that since a dip in Q2 2012 in credit card debt, that number has steadily climbed to $870 billion in Q2 of this year, according to the New York Federal Reserve. And Experian reports that the average American's card debt stands at $6,028 as of Q1 2019 (it's $4,712 for millennials).
Here are the details from our survey of how Americans plan to pay for travel.
How Americans will pay for winter holiday/Thanksgiving air travel...
- Use a credit card and pay in full
- Debit card or cash
- Rewards points
- Rely on credit card debt
How Americans will pay for winter holiday/Thanksgiving hotel stays...
- Use a credit card and pay in full
- Debit card or cash
- Rewards points
- Rely on credit card debt
"If you're able to pay your credit card balances in full, the holidays are an ideal time to score a lucrative sign-up bonus," says Rossman. "You can turn money you would have spent anyway into several hundred dollars' worth of cash back or free travel. And if you have credit card debt, signing up for a 0% balance transfer card could save you hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars."
But who are America's holiday travelers?
We also looked at how many and who will be traveling this holiday season. About 51 million Americans are planning air travel and/or a hotel stay for the winter holidays, and 40 million are doing so for Thanksgiving. Here's how they plan to spend:
How much the winter holiday traveler will spend...
- Hotel stays
How much the Thanksgiving holiday traveler will spend...
- Hotel stays
And who is the holiday traveler? In the same way that millennials love their points, they are much more likely than older adults to be preparing to hit the road:
Who will travel over the winter holiday...
- Americans 39+
Who will travel over the Thanksgiving holiday...
- Americans 39+
Administered online to members of the YouGov Plc panel of 1.2 million people who agreed to take part, this survey was conducted for CreditCards.com by YouGov Plc from Sept. 25-27, 2019. Some 2,558 U.S. adults ages 18 and older were polled. The margin of error is 2%.
Related Travel and Rewards Card Categories:
† All information about the Citi Premier has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. The Citi Premier is no longer available through CreditCards.com.
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @creditcards_lm.
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