The list of “exclusive, one-time” services goes on and on, but which credit cards really fit your travel style?
It seems like more and more credit card offers are piling up in our mailboxes and inboxes every day. All those benefits and bonus points may feel too good to be true, but as airlines continue to tweak their loyalty programs and find new ways to save travelers miles, the right travel rewards card can help make up for it – and even offer additional perks that can’t be earned by flying miles alone.
Travel credit card basics
Among the standard benefits of credit cards (like decent interest rates, late fees, annual fees, etc.), there are a few basics that can make a travel-focused credit card for you. For example, when you open a new account, use a card that will give you a lot of points – just watch the spending thresholds carefully to earn those points.
Another added benefit is that if you don’t already have a Global Entry or TSA pre-check, then you can use a card that will offset the cost of your participation in a secure travel program. (If you fly internationally more than three times a year, then choose Global Entry.)
Airline credit cards are also very different from bank-issued credit cards in terms of benefits, such as airport lounge access, free checked bags and priority boarding. In addition, some credit cards may offer free airfare, although usually after the card has been renewed and the annual fee paid.
Even the most seasoned globetrotters and points earners can be confused by the deals and details that are bandied around. Here are some outlines of the best cards for different types of travelers.
If you book flights at least five times a year, multiple awards may be a good option. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a favorite because it earns three times as many points (points = dollars) as travel and dining around the world. Sure, the annual fee for this card is $450, but you’ll automatically earn $300 in points toward any travel purchases, which is a low number for frequent travelers. The card also gives you free access to Priority Pass lounges at over 1,000 airports worldwide. Here’s what it’s all about :
$450 annual fee
50,000 points for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening
300 travel credit per year
100 for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check
3 multiplied by dining and travel points worldwide (for non-travel purchases, 1 point for every $1 spent)
Free access to over 1,000 airport lounges
No foreign transaction fees
Enhanced travel protection benefits
Booking travel through Chase Rewards and affiliate sites will result in additional redemption rewards
1 booking card point transfer as 1 point to select airline and hotel loyalty programs
Regular route passengers
Let’s say you visit your family regularly and there’s only one airline with direct access to your hometown and theirs. Consider applying for a credit card for this airline so that every dollar becomes a deposit for a future flight. Many credit cards even come with a multiplier to earn extra points (or miles) for every dollar spent on their tickets, upgrades and in-flight purchases.
Because of Delta’s extensive network of nonstop routes, it is a favorite of many U.S. travelers who can accrue SkyMiles through spending and then use those miles to purchase flights. (It’s easy to cash in, thanks to Delta’s excellent website and smartphone app.) The Platinum Triangle SkyMiles credit card from American Express is a smart choice that will take some of the losses that will come with the Gold Triangle card in 2020 – including “Medallion Qualifying” miles and dollars (MQMs and MQDs) Changes to the way you earn them. The annual fee for the Platinum card rises to $250, but the sign-up bonus mitigates the loss, and you’ll get a free companion ticket at renewal; this card will get you into the elite category faster. Here are the other benefits:
$250 annual fee
75,000 points for spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening
100 statement credit card and 5,000 mqm card after you use your new card for Delta purchases within the first three months
Earn two miles on Delta products; earn one mile on non-Delta products
Domestic main cabin round-trip travel companion pass on your card renewal
First free checked bag on Delta flights
Priority boarding in the first main cabin on Delta flights
20% in-flight savings
No foreign transaction fees
39 per person Delta Sky Club for you and up to 2 guests on Delta travel tickets
Maybe you love to travel, but you can only sneak away for a few precious moments a year. A flexible card like the Risk Rewards from First Capital can work for you because you’ll get a big welcome bonus, earn twice as many miles per purchase, and as long as you keep the card, your miles will never expire. Even better, risky credit card purchases come with additional benefits like travel accident insurance, car rental insurance, 24-hour travel assistance, and extended warranties on some products. You can redeem earned miles for travel rewards booked through the Capital One website, or for cash back or statement credits. Here are the benefits you can expect:
Annual introductory fee of $0 for the first year, then $95/year
A one-time welcome bonus of 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases (equivalent to $500 in travel expenses) within three months of opening your account
2x miles on every purchase
No foreign transaction fees
Receive up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees
Fly any airline, stay in any hotel, any time; no blackout dates Plus, you can transfer your miles to more than a dozen major travel loyalty programs.
Miles don’t end during the life of your account, and there’s no limit to how much you can earn
If short trips are just right for your travel style, there are plenty of great options for saving money with the right credit card. Traveling by train from many major U.S. cities is the perfect little break, so you might consider two Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard (one with no annual fee and one with a $79/year fee), which will earn you points rewards, rebates, upgrades, free companion coupons, and “second tier status” with more extra perks.
If you like road trips, consider the free Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit Card, which can accrue points toward gasoline purchases. This card lets you choose a category and earn three percent cash back ーー including gas at any gas station, or travel, dining, etc. In addition, you can earn two percent at grocery and wholesale stores, and one percent on all other purchases. (You can cash in cash rewards with points or account deposits.) Credit cards also have cash rewards welcome bonuses and zero interest on purchases or balance transfers for the first 15 months (just be aware of the 3% fee on transfers).
Regardless of how you travel, paying with a credit card can offer cash back, free airfare, free hotel rooms, upgrades, and a variety of other benefits. Just remember to read the affiliate rules carefully and once your card arrives, follow the rules to maximize every dollar of rewards.