Now that April showers have given way to May flowers, it’s time to start finalizing your summer vacation plans. Unfortunately, that summer trip could be harder on your wallet than you might realize.

According to the recent Bankrate summer travel survey, more than one in three Americans are willing to go into debt to pay for their summer vacation. That’s a dangerous game to play, but thankfully there are ways to save on your summer travel if you plan ahead. By signing up for the right rewards credit card now, you can position yourself for a great getaway in a few months.

That said, the best credit card sign-up bonuses require you to spend a certain amount of money within the first few months of opening the new card to qualify for the bonus. Once you hit the spending threshold, it might take another few days or even weeks for the rewards to land in your account (and you still need to build in some time to book the trip).

None of these steps are particularly difficult, but there can be a longer lag than you’d expect between signing up for a new credit card and taking the free trip you earned in the process. That’s why it pays to start searching for the right card now, several months before the summer trip that you’re hoping to schedule.

Here are five of my favorite options on the market right now:

The Platinum Card® from American Express

This card has serious cachet among travelers, along with a myriad of everyday benefits. The Platinum Card® from American Express provides top-notch airport lounge access and hundreds of dollars in annual credits toward everything from airline fees and hotel stays to rideshares, food delivery, a Walmart+ membership, gym memberships, Saks Fifth Avenue purchases and more.

The annual fee ($695) is steep, but the Amex Platinum offers a long list of benefits and one of the most lucrative sign-up bonuses you’ll find. You can earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $8,000 in your first six months with the card. According to Bankrate points valuations, this sign-up bonus is worth about $1,600 toward high-value Amex transfer partner travel, or 2.0 cents apiece.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

A straightforward rewards structure is the primary appeal of this popular travel credit card. With the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, cardholders earn 2X miles on almost every purchase (the exceptions are hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, which earn 5X miles).

When it comes time to redeem, you can cash in your miles for 1 cent each to offset a wide variety of travel purchases, or you can transfer to Capital One’s airline and hotel partners to potentially obtain even more value. The introductory bonus is 75,000 miles after spending $4,000 in three months. That’s worth at least $750 in travel, though Bankrate estimates each mile is worth about 1.7 cents each toward transfer partner travel, which would make this bonus worth an average of $1,275 — incredible for a card with a mere $95 annual fee.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

When it was introduced in 2016, Chase Sapphire Reserve® changed the credit card rewards landscape by appealing to millennials and their affinity for experiences, namely travel and dining. A long list of benefits — such as airport lounge access, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee reimbursement, a $300 travel credit, compelling transfer partners and high-end travel and dining rewards — continues to make this one of the most popular credit cards for travelers.

Its current sign-up bonus (60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months) is well off its all-time high, but it’s still worth $900 toward travel purchased through Chase Travel— and perhaps even more if you utilize Chase transfer partners. Bankrate values each Ultimate Rewards point earned with the Sapphire Reserve at about 2.0 cents apiece toward transfer partner travel, making the bonus potentially worth a cool $1,200.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card

Co-branded credit cards such as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card* work best if you’re loyal to a particular airline or hotel chain. I generally advise people to keep their options open with a transferable points card, such as the three mentioned earlier. But since Marriott is one of the world’s largest hotel chains with more than 8,800 properties located in 139 different countries and territories, you have a ton of redemption opportunities with this card.

Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Journey Card

If earning a generous return on your travel spending without the hassle of having to use an issuer’s travel portal is more your speed, the new Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Journey Card might be the best choice for you. It offers 5X points on hotel purchases, 4X points on airline purchases, 3X points on restaurants and other travel purchases and 1X points on all other purchases. The welcome bonus of 60,000 points (worth $600 cash redemption value) after spending $4,000 in the first three months is also a nice plus.

Even better, Wells Fargo now offers a limited (but growing) number of transfer partners. If you decide not to transfer your points to a partner, this card basically acts as a cash back card with excellent rewards on travel spending. And while it doesn’t offer as many transfer partners as many of its aforementioned rivals, this card offers plenty of mainstream appeal. Cash back is Americans’ favorite credit card feature, after all.

The bottom line

The key to any good credit card rewards strategy is to pay your bills in full and avoid interest every month. As long as you can do that, rewards represent free money. Travel redemptions are often more lucrative than cash back, but they can also be more complicated. Annual fees can be well worth it for some cardholders, since they often come with premium benefits such as airport lounge access and various everyday credits. At the end of the day, it all comes down to your personal preference.

If travel rewards are what you’re looking for, consider signing up for one of the cards mentioned above to get you closer to a free (or at least discounted) summer getaway. Used properly, credit card rewards are an excellent way to travel in style while staying within your budget.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at and I’d be happy to help.

*The information about the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card has been collected independently by The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.