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A guide to choosing the best travel credit card
Updated: October 16, 2019
Among travel credit cards' best perks are rewards toward your fall trips, whether it's relaxing in San Diego, driving up New England to see the changing leaves or exploring Yosemite. The best travel credit cards can point you toward rewards that you can redeem through travel reservations including airfare, hotels, rental cars and more.
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.
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 hotel rewards - If you want to really max out on rewards for hotel stays, this card's partnership with Hotels.com/venture will get you there. Through January 2020, earn 10X miles for hotel stays booked and paid for through the Hotels.com/venture site.
Card overview - This general-purpose travel card was already a solid, straightforward product, not only offering excellent rewards benefits, but providing no foreign transaction fee – perfect for sightseeing and shopping overseas this fall. 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).
Travel perks – Travel accident insurance; extended warranty; car rental insurance; virtual card numbers for online shopping; roadside assistance
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.
Travel perks – Trip cancellation/interruption insurance; auto rental collision damage waiver; baggage delay insurance; purchase protection; extended warranty protection
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.
Travel perks – Travel accident insurance; car rental insurance; extended warranty; virtual card numbers
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.
Travel perks – No late fee on first payment; no penalty APR; free FICO credit score; price protection; free social security number alerts
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 (then 16.74% - 24.74% variable after that).
Travel perks – Car rental insurance; add PIN for international travel
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.
Travel perks – Car rental insurance; free roadside assistance; purchase protection; return protection; baggage insurance
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 sign-up bonus (after a $4,500 spend within the first 3 months of card membership), 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).
Travel perks – Year-end account summaries; Quickbook downloads; Visa SavingsEdge; car rental insurance
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.
Travel perks – Trip delay reimbursement; trip cancellation or interruption protection; baggage delay insurance; lost luggage reimbursement; rental car insurance; emergency evacuation and transportation coverage; purchase security; return protection; extended warranty; roadside dispatch
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.
Travel perks – Trip cancellation and interruption insurance; lost luggage insurance; purchase protection; return protection; extended warranty
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.
Travel perks – Car rental insurance; baggage delay insurance; lost luggage reimbursement; roadside dispatch; travel accident insurance; travel and emergency assistance services; extended warranty protection; purchase protection
Summary of the best travel credit cards of 2019
|Credit Card||Best For||Travel Rewards Rate||Average Yearly Rewards Value*||CreditCards.com Rating|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||Hotel rewards||10X miles on hotels stays booked at hotels.com/venture||$447||4.2 / 5|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Sign-up bonus||2X points on travel and dining||$412||3.9 / 5|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||No annual fee||10X miles on hotels stays booked at hotels.com/venture||$293||3.5 / 5|
|Discover it® Miles||Earning miles||1.5X miles||$318||4.0 / 5|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||No foreign transaction fee||1.5X points||$322||3.4 / 5|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||Annual travel credits||5X Membership Rewards Points on flights and hotels booked through amextravel.com||$1,847**||4.5 / 5|
|Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business||Business travel||2X miles||$318||4.5 / 5|
|Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card||TSA precheck||2X points on travel and dining||$428||3.9 / 5|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||Lounge access||3X points on travel||$2,001**||4.6 / 5|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card||Airline rewards||2X points on various categories||$293||3.7 / 5|
*$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
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
These kinds of products might have multiple partners, such as the Venture Rewards, or simply the option of a statement credit for redemptions, such as the Discover it Miles. While known for flexibility, keep in mind that cash back cards also offer flexibility and may be a better choice for some consumers.
- Pros: With these cards, you are rewarded for broad categories, then you redeem in a portal hosted by the card issuer. General travel cards typically don't have blackout dates or expirations for points or miles, and rewards are quite easy to manage.
- Cons: You may not find rewards to be as lucrative with these cards, so if you are willing to work a little, a co-branded card might be worth your while.
Airline credit cards
These are co-branded cards, meaning a card issuer partners with an airline, rewarding you for loyalty to that company. For example, you can earn boosted rewards with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express when spending directly with that airline.
To get the right airline travel card, know your airline hubs. Delta, for example, uses Salt Lake City as a hub, giving consumers who live in the area or travel to Utah for fall hiking an abundance of Delta routes to choose from, making a co-branded Delta card a good choice. See a full list of the best airline credit cards.
- Pros: With co-branded airline credit cards, you are rewarded for your loyalty both with superior points or miles for travel on that carrier and with such benefits as free checked baggage and priority boarding.
- Cons: It doesn't make sense to pick an airline card if it isn't a brand you often use, and watch out for expiration of points. Also, airline cards take a little work to maximize, so if you don't want to think about your redemptions, this type of card may not be the best choice.
Hotel credit cards
Like airline cards, hotel co-branded cards reward you for loyalty. However, while a hotel card may appear to have a rich sign-up offer, those points may not be worth as much as they appear. 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 That said, point valuation varies widely, so check the program you are eyeing to see if it's worth your while.
- Pros: With hotel cards, you can land free nights, late check-out and other benefits. Also, hotel cards are easier to maneuver when it comes to redemptions than airline cards.
- Cons: If you find yourself often staying with family or friends or the hotel affiliated with the card you are looking at isn't available in the areas where you travel, this type of card isn't a good choice.
Luxury travel credit cards
While they often come with a hefty price tag, there are myriad advantages to luxury products. For example, they often come with an abundance of travel and purchase insurance features such as travel insurance, rental car insurance and extended warranties.
- Pros: From exclusive airport lounges and 24/7 concierge to personal gifts and travel credits, these cards are for the frequent traveler who doesn't love the hassle of airports. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card, for example, offers free lounge visits for the cardholder and up to 2 guests.
- Cons: With crazy-high annual fees, you want to make sure this is a card you will often take advantage of or you risk wasting your money.
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. Additionally, the Venture Rewards offers 10X miles on every dollar spent at hotels.com/venture. 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, because its car rental insurance is primary, meaning that it covers you even before your personal auto insurance.
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||Hotels||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*$2k*1.25X=$25+||1X*$500*12 mths*1.25X=$75+||$95||$905|
|Capital One Venture Rewards||50k pts/$3k spend in 3 mths=$500||2X*$500*12 mths=$120||10X*$2k=$200^||2X*$500*12 mths=$120||$95, waived first yr||$940|
+When used toward booking travel on Chase Ultimate Rewards
^When booked and paid at hotels.com/venture through January 2020
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
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."
Maximizing 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.
Keep your options open
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.
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. 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.
Watch out for schedule changes
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 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.
Travel rewards programs from card issuers
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 and Citi ThankYou.
Some 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.
Popular redemptions from travel rewards
With the fall season upon us, now's a great time to redeem rewards for a long weekend to San Diego, a jaunt to Japan, or enjoying the off-season in the Caribbean. That can mean redemptions for a hotel stay in your favorite town; business class on an international flight; or a trip to the Bahamas.
Here are a few examples of trips you might opt for and how to maximize those redemptions:
Jaunt on a couple's long weekend
You and your significant other want to take a long weekend to San Diego using your Chase Ultimate Rewards points from your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. First, you can book through Chase Ultimate Rewards and earn a 1.25 cents boost, or transfer your points to airline partners such as American, which flies into San Diego. American MileSAAver awards are available for as low as 7,500 miles each way plus any applicable taxes and carrier-imposed fees points or miles, and if you opt for Southwest Airlines, remember, there are no blackout dates with Southwest's Rapid Rewards.
When it comes to using your credit card rewards for free hotel stays, you could transfer points to Hyatt's loyalty program, called World of Hyatt, where free night stays are often available for 12,000 points a night at Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina. Or splurge and stay 30 miles north at Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club and Spa at 20,000 points a night.
Fly international business class
You've decided to take a trip to Japan, and want to use your credit card rewards to travel in business class. You have miles in the American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flyer program that you received from your personal and business travel, as well as miles from your credit card. While you don't have the 125,000 miles American requires for a business-class flight to Japan, you have hotel points in the Hilton Honors program. By transferring some of your hotel points to American Airlines miles, you'll have enough miles for this award. You find the award seats on American's partner, Japan Airlines, and ask American to hold the award, which it will do for up to five days, at no charge. Then you transfer some of your Hilton points to American miles and ticket the award.
Escape for a holiday in the Caribbean
Say you and your family of four want to get away to the Bahamas. You choose to earn miles with the Discover it Miles because of its easy redemption options. You'll get unlimited 1.5X miles on all purchases plus double that at the end of your first year of card membership. You can then use your credit card rewards to receive statement credits to offset the cost. By the time you take the trip, you've earned even more miles, which you are able to use to pay for your rental car and some of your activities.
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 doing a summer home renovation. 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.
Jason Steele is a credit card journalist and a leading expert in the personal finance industry. He specializes in award travel and is a Senior Points and Miles Contributor at The Points Guy. His work has been featured on Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, and Business Insider. You can reach Jason by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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