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Author: Barry Bridges | email@example.com
A guide to choosing the best travel credit card
Both beginner travelers and seasoned road warriors can benefit from the rewards and perks that come with a travel credit card. With a little planning and careful budgeting, you can easily use your points or miles to help cover some of the costs of your next getaway in 2020.
Best Travel Credit Cards
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Why we rate it best for overall travel
The Capital One Venture offers a winning combination of generous rewards, sign-up bonus, benefits and perks. In a category with some formidable competitors, this card manages to stand apart in terms of sheer value and the versatility of its airline transfer program.
You can pair this card with the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card. Use the Savor for dining and entertainment purchases and the Venture for everything else. Use the cash back you earn from the Savor to cover travel expenses that your Venture rewards doesn’t cover.
Read the review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
Why we rate it best for flexible travel
The VentureOne offers 1.25X miles per dollar spent to the Venture’s 2X miles per dollar spent but mirrors it’s sister card in flexible travel redemptions- any airline, any hotel, anytime. Although the sign-up bonus and rewards rate on general purchases are smaller, the lack of an annual fee helps compensate.
The Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card could be a good companion for the VentureOne. It’s essentially the same matchup as the Venture/Savor, but without the annual fees. You’ll still earn some impressive rewards, just not at the same rate. If you one day decide the annual fees are worth it, you can always call Capital One to request an upgrade.
Read the review and apply on Capital One’s secure website.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Why we rate it best for your first travel card
If you’ve never had a travel rewards credit card, earning 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide with the Chase Sapphire Preferred could make the experience both easy and rewarding. Don’t forget that you can maximize your rewards with a 25% boost in points value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal.
Combining the Chase Sapphire Preferred with the Chase Freedom Unlimited® could be a rewards bonanza for beginner travelers. You can transfer points to your Chase Sapphire Preferred for maximum value when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Read the review and apply on Chase’s secure website.
Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Why we rate it the best airline card with no annual fee
The Blue Delta SkyMiles offers a scaled-down version of many of the benefits you’d enjoy with a premium airline card, only without the accompanying annual fee. The card earns a respectable 2X miles at U.S. restaurants, 2X miles on purchases made directly with Delta and 1X miles per dollar on everything else. Plus, you get purchase protection, extended warranty on eligible purchases and other American Express perks. For casual flyers who make Delta their first option, it’s a useful alternative to a high-fee card.
This card charges a 2.7% foreign transaction fee. If any of your Delta flights take you overseas, consider packing a second card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee and use it for general non-travel purchases.
Read the full review and apply on the American Express secure website.
Discover it® Miles
Why we rate it best for first-year bonus
Thanks to the Unlimited Bonus feature, Discover will match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. If you make the Discover it Miles your go-to card over the first 12 months, the Unlimited Bonus could help set you up with enough miles to redeem for several hundred dollars toward travel after your one-year anniversary as a cardholder.
If you frequently use a particular hotel chain or airline, consider pairing the Discover it Miles with a co-branded hotel card or airline card that matches your preference. You can still apply your Miles to help pay for eligible travel purchases, including hotel stays and airfare, and you’ll probably get additional points value for the rewards you earn through a hotel or airline loyalty program.
Read the review and apply on Discover’s secure website.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card
Why we rate it best for travel with no annual fee
It can be tough to find a quality travel card that doesn’t charge an annual fee, but the Bank of America Travel Rewards Visa is an exception. The card offers even more value to Bank of America Preferred Rewards clients, with rewards point bonuses of 25%-75%. You could even take the money you save on annual fees and put it into a qualifying BofA account.
You could go all in with BofA and pair this travel card with the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Visa® credit card. You can earn the same Preferred Rewards bonus with both cards if you have an eligible account, and you can also use points earned with the Premium Rewards Visa on purchases at the Bank of America Travel Center portal.
Read the review and apply on Bank of America’s secure website.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Why we rate it the best for international travel
Traveling internationally means spending a lot of time in the air, and in terminals. You can use this card’s Airline Fee Credit of up to $200 each year to cover the cost of checked bags, in-flight Wi-Fi, flight-change fees and other expenses to improve your travel experience. The annual credit, up to $200, is larger than many of the Platinum Card’s competitors.
Check the terms and conditions to see which benefits require activation or enrollment. For instance, make sure to activate the Airline Fee Credit on the American Express website.
Also, you’ll need to enroll online or call Platinum® Life Offers at +44 (0) 1-273-576-454 to take advantage of complimentary elite status at Hilton and Marriott properties.
Read the review and apply on the American Express secure website.
American Express® Gold Card
Why we rate it best for travel rewards on dining
The rewards rate of 4X Membership Rewards points per $1 on dining at restaurants worldwide is unusually generous. At the same time, the card also has the potential for big rewards at U.S. supermarkets (4X on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X) and on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com (3X).
You don’t get lounge access included with the American Express Gold Card, although you can buy passes. If this feature is a must-have for you, consider getting a card that offers airport lounge access as a standard feature or pairing the Gold Card with a card that does.
Read the review and apply on the American Express secure website.
Summary of the best travel credit cards of 2020
Research methodology: How we chose the best travel cards
The Bankrate scoring system evaluates credit cards on a five-point system devised to take into account various attributes, such as annual fees, APR, rewards value and sign-up bonuses/welcome offers. With travel rewards cards, our experts pay particular attention to:
Rewards structure. The best travel card for you will allow you to earn the most rewards for your specific spending habits. The cards in our lineup cover a variety of programs geared toward hotel lodging, dining, air travel costs and other factors.
Travel perks. The top travel rewards cards offer a lot of travel-specific benefits, including trip insurance, checked bag discounts, airport lounge access and airline credits.
Fees. A prime example is the foreign transaction fee, which tacks on extra cost for purchases made overseas. International travelers in particular should lean toward cards that don’t charge this fee.
What is a travel credit card?
Travel credit cards allow cardholders to earn points or miles on a variety of purchases (typically travel-related) that can then be redeemed in the form of travel bookings, statement credits, gift cards, and more.
The best travel credit cards won’t just help you foot the bill for your next flight — they’ll also offer perks to transform your entire travel experience. Trip insurance, annual travel credits, concierge services and lounge access are all common benefits. Airline and hotel co-branded credit cards sometimes offer specific discounts and perks for loyalty customers.
How do miles work on travel credit cards?
Miles work the same way as credit card points. When you use miles to book travel directly through an airline or travel portal, the airline or issuer will assign a set number of award miles to each ticket. Some airlines have established award charts that give you insight into what each flight would cost in miles, but many have switched to a dynamic pricing model that bases award pricing on multiple factors, including seasonality and route popularity.
When you’re redeeming miles as a statement credit, they’re assigned a monetary value (typically 1 cent per point, though that isn’t the case with all issuers). If you want to stay updated on the value of your points and miles, ThePointsGuy tracks valuations on a monthly basis.
Speaking of keeping track, be aware that miles and points can expire. A recent Bankrate survey found that almost half of travel loyalty program members have let airline and hotel rewards expire at some point.
Make a point of knowing your card issuer’s policy on expirations and checking your online dashboard or printed monthly statement on a regular basis. If you don’t use your rewards before they expire, you’re essentially forfeiting money.
Survey finds a great deal of travel rewards are left on the table
If you’re not utilizing your travel rewards credit card to the fullest, you’re probably forfeiting travel rewards that could be worth hundreds of dollars every year.
That’s one of the conclusions from a recent Bankrate.com survey on American consumers’ preferred payment methods. Overall, the survey found that 55 percent of rewards credit cardholders who pay their bills in full each month are missing out on rewards.
Consumers who fail to pay for travel expenses with their travel rewards cards are missing the most obvious opportunity to earn rewards. However, a number of travel credit cards also earn rewards for purchases that aren’t travel-related. Owners of those cards who choose a different payment method for purchases such as for groceries, gas and dining are losing out on additional chances to earn valuable travel rewards.
Travel rewards you could be earning
Here’s an example using two popular no-annual-fee travel cards:
- The Discover it® Miles card earns unlimited 1.5X Miles for every $1 spent on any eligible purchases. Discover will match the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year as a cardholder, effectively giving the card a 3X per $1 earning rate for that initial 12 months (then 1.5X).
- The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card earns 3X rewards points on dining, travel and gas station purchases, along with 1X points for all other purchases.
The survey assigns a dollar value of 1 cent per travel mile/reward point. Based on that value, a typical cardholder who spent the national average* on groceries, gas and dining in addition to travel using these cards, while paying off their balance on time in full each month, could expect these yearly earnings:
|Discover it Miles
|Wells Fargo Propel
*As determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
**$350 with first-year Miles match, $175 thereafter
Unfortunately, the study finds that many rewards cardholders who don’t carry a monthly balance fail to use their cards to pay for purchases that could be earning travel rewards:
||Paid with debit card/cash
“It’s disappointing how many people are missing out on earning rewards for purchases they would have made anyway,” said Bankrate.com analyst Ted Rossman. “As long as you’re avoiding credit card debt and refraining from overspending, you should be using a rewards credit card for everything as it can make a big difference.”
Stay tuned for more on the survey
More details about the new survey will be available on Jan. 23. In the meantime, check out Bankrate’s Credit Card Rewards Program Guides to get more information on making the most of your travel rewards.
The information about the Wells Fargo Propel American Express card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.
How to budget and save using a travel credit card
Travel means a lot more than vacations. Many people travel for business, and even some family trips serve a dual purpose (parents and their college-bound teens checking out campuses, for example).
What do these types of travel have in common? Regardless of your destination or itinerary, the right travel rewards credit card can help make your trip a more economical and more pleasant experience.
Card rewards might not cover the entire bill, but with strategic budgeting and planning, they can help offset the costs of travel. Plus, travel card perks and benefits provide a layer of protection against the unexpected, such as lost luggage or flight cancellations and delays.
Here are some money-saving tips for travelers:
Calculate your travel budget
One of the greatest barriers to taking time off is money. A Bankrate survey found that only 52 percent of Americans said they were definitely taking a vacation in 2019. Most people who planned to take a pass on a vacation cited affordability as the number one reason. More specifically, day-to-day bills and paying down debt were the most common financial roadblocks to affording a getaway.
For starters, you can crunch the numbers on all the projected factors to see how much you need to save. This includes transportation (airfare, gas, tolls, etc.), hotels/lodging, various excursions, food and souvenirs. Once you have a rough calculation of how much you could end up paying, you can then adjust or scale back as needed if it’s too expensive.
Getting in the habit of budgeting your everyday (and major) expenses might help you save in the long run. Bankrate’s Home Budget Calculator can help you gain a better understanding of where the majority of your heftiest expenses lie, and mobile apps like Digit, Dobot and others can make sticking to your budget less of a hassle.
Maximize sign-up bonuses/welcome offers
Depending on your budget and needs, knowing how to spend with a travel credit card can make paying for your next trip less daunting. If you utilize the introductory bonus and spend the required amount to reach, say, a 50,000-mile offer, it could bring you several hundred dollars’ worth of rewards that you can put toward transportation, lodging or whatever the card allows.
Know when to book
Using your travel credit card to book flights or hotels in advance can also help you save money. According to CheapAir.com’s 2019 Airfare study, Tuesday is the cheapest day to fly, with costs coming in at about $85 cheaper than the most expensive day of the week (typically on a weekend). Fall — otherwise known as a “shoulder season” — is also a more affordable time to travel. The average domestic fare in the fall costs $342 compared to peak summer season at $365, according to the study.
Who should get a travel credit card?
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually have to be a frequent jet setter to reap all the benefits a travel credit card has to offer. There is a travel card out there for every type of traveler. Once you have a better understanding of the type of traveler you are, you can seek cards with perks that will best benefit your situation.
In short, travel credit cards are worth it for:
If you’re new to traveling, it might be best to start out with a card that offers simple yet flexible rewards. If you’re learning the ins and outs of points and miles, the last thing you need is a complicated rewards structure and redemption process. If you’re just starting out, a luxury card with a steep annual fee might not be the best for your current situation.
Some people like to fly with the same airline whenever possible or stay at the same hotel brand wherever they go. If you are the same way, a brand-specific card will probably provide you with the best value. Most of the time, brand-specific cards have brand-related purchases as a bonus category and other perks for loyal customers.
Some of the most valuable travel credit cards are business cards. Whether you are a freelancer who travels a lot to meet new clients or the CEO of a Fortune 500, the right travel credit card can help you reap the rewards of everyday business purchases while helping you keep your personal and business expenses organized.
If you travel out of the country for business or leisure frequently, consider opting for a card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. And if you hate waiting in line at airport security or customs, there are a lot of travel cards that will provide reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, including the Capital One Venture card and others.
If you’re really looking for a luxury travel experience, you need a top-tier travel card. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a well-rounded selection of perks and The Platinum Card® from American Express includes access to Centurion Lounges. While top-tier cards also tend to charge annual fees, you can compensate for the cost if you take full advantage of the trip insurance, travel credits and other perks.
Find out more about rewards cards for travelers
Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, personal loans, mortgages and other personal finance products since 2017. Before joining Bankrate, he was an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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