The best travel credit cards will help you earn discounted flights, hotel bookings, and travel packages. And, you're getting extra benefits like a personal concierge, extra upgrades, and travel assistance. These rewards don't just help you save money on travel. They can help you have the best possible travel experience.
The first step is choosing the travel rewards credit cards that will pay you for the spending that's going happen anyway. In our opinion, these are the top travel credit cards out there right now:
Best for Free Flights Through Multiple Airlines
If you're looking for the best travel rewards credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® is the option, offering a highly flexible rewards program. For example, you can transfer your points to travel partner airline and hotel loyalty programs.
To get this card, you do have to pay an annual fee. However, this fee is waived for the first year. As long as you earn more in rewards than you spend on the annual fee, then this annual fee can be well worth it.
Best Card for Trips to Europe
Citi Prestige® offers numerous advantages for European travelers. For example, you and a guest receive access to the airport lounges of the American Airlines Admiral's Club and the Priority Pass Select network, which has extensive locations in European airports.
Then, there is a long list of cost-savings travel credits and perks that help make up for the annual fee of this card. Another notable benefit is the complimentary fourth night for any hotel stay hotels booked through Citi Prestige® Concierge.
Best Travel Rewards Card for Budget Travelers
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is great for those how don't want to deal with travel restrictions or complex rewards programs. With this card, you can get 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchase. Each mile is worth 1 cent for travel, to be redeemed as a statement credit.
So, book any trip on your own and just use the miles to "erase" the charge(s) on your card. This card has an annual fee, which is waived for the first year.
How to Turn Credit Card Rewards Into Free Travel
Different travel credit cards offer different kinds of rewards programs. Some create partnerships with travel brands, including airlines and hotels. These partnerships enable you to transfer points your points to eligible travel loyalty programs. What does that mean for you? Freedom to redeem your points through various travel programs - all from one card.
There's one caveat: before you redeem, make sure those partners offer the best deals. It's always worth shopping around. The loyalty program you prefer may not always have the best deal. Timing can play a big part in your options.
Also, the points-transfer rate may vary among the credit card’s rewards partners. That means it is possible that your transferred points will lose value if you transfer. In these cases, the points are better off redeemed for something of greater value.
Statements Credits for Simpler Travel Rewards
Rewards programs can vary from card to card. For example, many airline credit cards only give free flights to their airline.
Similarly, other credit cards might only provide travel rewards from partnered brands. That's why it matters so much which card you choose. Some of the best out there allow you to redeem rewards for statement credits or rewards that work with any travel providers.
A statement credit is more or less like a refund (or partial refund) on your credit card balance. The end result is that your balance is reduced with the help of your rewards. However, your card may require your credit to be applied only to a certain type of purchase, such as travel.
Travel Rewards Credit Cards Tend to Have Big Sign-Up Bonuses
As if you couldn't already earn a lot of rewards through travel credit cards, some even offer sign-up bonuses. These bonuses can amount to massive amounts of extra travel points and miles.
It's not uncommon for there to be a required amount of minimum spending to qualify. Typically, those purchases have to happen in the first few months of opening the card. Therefore, if you're planning on making any large purchases, hold off. If you can make that purchase with your new travel rewards card, you can boost your rewards.
Travel Rewards Credit Cards Also Have Many Travel Perks
There's a long list of travel benefits that can come with a travel rewards credit card. Not only can these benefits create a more enjoyable experience, they can also help save you time and money.
Just some of the perks you might get:
- Personal concierge
- Car rental insurance (primary coverage)
- No foreign transaction fees
- Complimentary travel upgrades and amenities
Personal concierge service is like having a personal assistant. Many credit cards provide this as a complimentary benefit to their customers.
Concierge agents can look up travel requests, book restaurant reservations, locate shopping items, and more. Depending on the difficulty of the request, agents may need a few days to respond. It's important to note that concierge agents will not use your credit card information to make purchases. They simply provide you the information you need and you do the rest.
Another perk to look for in a travel credit card is the lack of foreign transaction fees. Whenever you make a purchase internationally, you're subject to a fee of up to 3%. That's called a foreign transaction fee. And it can add up surprisingly fast.
How to Make the Most of Your Travel Rewards
1. Earn More With a Higher Status as a Frequent Flyer
To start earning bonuses, you have to earn a higher status as a frequent flyer. Typically, that means you have to fly a certain number miles with one carrier in a given period. Reaching a higher mile tier could enable you to score perks and first class upgrades. Higher reward rates may also be available, depending on the program.
To make the most of your travel, pick one airline carrier and stick with them to build status. If you’re planning on booking a number of international flights, check out which airlines partner with the carrier you choose.
2. Earn More by Combining with Hotel and Car Rental and Other Miles
If you want to get serious about racking up frequent flyer miles, take a look at your options and develop a strategy.
Many hotels and car rental companies offer programs that allow you to earn free nights. Lower your travel expenses even more by getting into these programs. Then stick with as few hotel networks to maximize bonuses and offers as possible. That way you can build them up in one place instead of scattering the points among several.
3. Save More by Finding the Lowest Cost-Per-Mile Flights
The trick to booking mileage runs is to find the lowest cost-per-mile flights.
The most dedicated mileage junkies will take long flights from the airport to the airport over a period of several days. Sometimes, these trips involve short layovers so that the flyer can rack up as many miles over several days as possible. If spending a lot of time in airports doesn’t appeal to you, this may not be a good idea.
Others frequent flyers will use a long, discounted flight to take a short visit to a distant place. For example, it could be a trip to Alaska for East Coasters or an island in the Caribbean for West Coasters. This way, travelers get to enjoy a destination (even if briefly) on top of earning additional miles.
4. Save More by Booking Flights with Layovers
When taking regular trips, booking the longest trip possible is the way to go. Gone are the days of non-stop flights for most mileage junkies. This is usually only possible for long, international routes. If you have some patience and know how to keep yourself entertained, you can earn a lot of additional miles by taking an out of the way route to and from your destination.
Of course, this kind of journey is only for those who don’t mind sitting in the same seat for a very long time. These flights can be more than 20 total hours in duration.
5. Don't Forget to Jump on Bonus Times
While it’s hard to predict if airline carriers will continue to do so, some carriers have been known to offer double miles on certain flights to help fill seats. Many mileage junkies will book these flights to get the most miles for their ticketing dollars, regardless of the destination. As soon as you know of your travel plans, look around for bonus times like these to see if they can help you quickly increase your miles for that dream trip.
The Credit Scores Needed for a Travel Credit Card
Travel credit cards can offer a long list of benefits. And when a credit card offers more rewards and perks, it tends to require a better credit score of its cardholders.
For a premium travel rewards credit card (usually those with high annual fees), credit card issuers will likely require good to excellent credit for approval. So, if you're credit isn't at this level, you may not be able to obtain a top-tier travel credit card. Or, if you do get approved, the interest rate will be on the higher end of the APR range.
When it comes to credit scores, the one most commonly used by more than 90% of major U.S. lenders is the FICO score. Its exact formula is top-secret that is based on the data in your personal credit reports but there are 5 major factors that go into the calculation, which we do know:
For the best chances of qualifying for travel rewards credit card, you should have a FICO score of at least 700.
Ways to Improve Your Credit
If your credit score is not in the optimal range to get approved for a travel card, there are ways that you can improve your credit in a relatively short period of time.
- Pay down debt. This is an obvious method of increasing your credit score. When you reduce the balances on your loans and credit lines, your "debt-utilization" ratio decreases and it makes you look like you're borrowing less than what you're capable of borrowing. (The ratio is calculated by the total debt divided total combined credit limits.)
- Dispute any credit report errors. Any inaccurate information on your credit reports can hurt your credit score. Therefore, it is best to have any errors removed from your file, especially credit lines that don't belong to you.
- Increase credit limits. This tactic goes back to the debt-utilization ratio. When you raise your credit limits, you'll appear to be using less of your borrowing potential -- that is, you're not desperately living through credit. With your existing credit cards and lines of credit, you may request an increase in your limits.
Once you've made these changes, you should wait at least 30 days before you apply for a travel credit card because that usually how long it will take for your credit report to be updated.