Figuring out which travel card is right for you may require more work than you think.
Choosing a card based on the APR (annual percentage rate) or perks is great, but before you dive into that part, take some time to analyze your spending habits and travel patterns.
While it isn't necessary to set up a detailed budget just to figure out which card is right for you, it is important to know how where you are spending your hard-earned dollars on a regular basis.
Credit card rewards, in general, are mainly based on categories.
For instance, if each month you spend upwards of $600 in groceries for your household, a card that has supermarket benefits such as 3% cash back would be a great fit.
Another example is if you love to eat out at restaurants several times a week, a card that gives points or cash back for spending at certain eateries is beneficial to use -- one perfect example is Chase Sapphire; they offer 2 points per $1 spent at certain restaurants.
If you don't know where your money is going, take thirty minutes to sit down and check your recent credit card, bank statements or receipts and write it down or create a simple spreadsheet.
You can use popular personal finance management tools like Mint.com or Pageonce.com, since those sites automatically do the categorization part for you.
The next thing to tackle is your travel habits. The obvious question is: how often do you travel? It's also helpful to figure out why you travel.
Do you live to travel and save up just to jet set around the country or globe as often as you can?
Do you book flights for family and friend obligations, like that time you flew to Miami for the bachelorette party or went to Grandma's for Christmas last year?
Look through your calendar and mark the times you've gone out of town in the last 12 months.
Also think about future plans that are looming -- your best friend is planning his wedding in Hawaii, your cousin's baby shower is coming up quickly -- and be sure to factor those in when you decide which card is right for you.
Airline Card Worth the Annual Fee?
Branded travel cards are an effort to attract and reward consumers who remain loyal to a company. Airline credit cards are a great example.
When you use an airline credit card, you’re going to get special perks that are not typically available to other credit card users. And, the more you fly with that airline, the greater the value you’ll get from picking an airline credit card.
But, if you look at the airline credit cards that are available, you’ll notice that nearly all of them come with an annual fee of at least about $100.
To some people, paying any annual fee is a bad move. With an airline card that matches your travel patterns, the annual fee may well be worth it.
Airline credit cards tend to offer free checked bags, priority boarding and airport lounge passes.
If you add up the individual costs of these perks, you would have recouped the value of the annual fee. Then, there’s also the bonus miles that you earn when you purchase tickets through the airline with their branded credit card.
So, how do you know whether or not an airline credit card is right for you?
1. Compare the card’s annual fee to the card’s quantifiable benefits
The costs of the first free checked bag and lounge passes can easily be determined by asking the airline. Although you may not get unlimited lounge passes, you’re likely to get unlimited fee waivers for the first check bag.
2. Look back at your previous flights to see if you could’ve taken advantage of these card perks
If the card benefits would’ve saved you a little money and provide a better travel experience, an airline card is going to look better and better.
3. Think about the upcoming flights that you’ll take in the next six months to a year
Will you fly with this particular airline and use the airline card’s perks during these trips? You should estimate whether the value of the perks used that year will exceed the cost of the card’s annual fee.
If all signs tells you that an airline credit card is appropriate for you, get one! (Always remember that it is unwise to carry a balance on any type of rewards credit card. Make sure you are able to pay off the balance every month.)
The same approach can be used to evaluate whether or not hotel and other travel-branded credit cards are worth it.
Not picky about any specific airline, hotel or travel company? Read on and learn about other travel rewards credit cards.
Other Travel Rewards Cards?
If brand-specific credit cards do not fit your travel habits, consider travel credit cards that are more flexible with their rewards.
They may not offer perks like free checked bags, priority boarding and other amenities, but they have the advantage of not limiting you to a particular airline or travel company.
Like airline cards, they come with annual fees. For that cost, you tend to get an attractive rewards program.
The Chase Sapphire Preferredcard offers a neat feature that allows cardmembers to transfer their points to participating travel programs.
After saving up a large amount of points, cardmembers can choose to move these points to an airline/hotel program that they prefer or one that offers the best value for their points.
These cards also offer discounts on travel when you use your miles/points to redeem for travel (may require that you book travel through special online booking portals).
Because these travel rewards credit cards do not have easily calculable perks, it’s more difficult to determine whether or not their annual fees are worth it.
Without a doubt, the more you spend on these cards, the greater the benefits of having a higher-than-average rewards program.
If your past travel patterns show that you don’t pick airlines and hotels based on brands, such travel rewards credit cards will better for you, compared to brand-specific cards.
This may be the case if you're the type to visit discount travel websites to book your trips.