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Whether you’re just beginning to research travel credit cards or have a ton of knowledge, comparing travel cards can be overwhelming, but we’re going to make your life easier by covering the basics of how to choose the best travel credit card for you. Each card has its own set of unique benefits, rewards earning schemes, travel related perks and to further confuse you- annual fees vary hugely. Of course it makes sense to analyze how the credit card will benefit you for travel specifically and the types of award redemptions you’d like to make in the near future.
How do you choose which one to get? Let’s look at some of the most sought after and valuable perks of travel credit cards and how you should go about deciding which credit card is right for your travel needs.
Choose the Best Travel Credit Card in 6 Easy Steps!
You probably spend money each and every day, the key to award travel is to earn the biggest return possible on that spend i.e. maximizing rewards and luckily there are many avenues to increase your return for award travel purposes. There are also things like the value of sign up bonuses and travel benefits to consider.
When choosing the Best travel credit card for you consider the following factors:
- Bonus spending categories- What cards offer the best earn rates in the categories you spend the most money on
- What perks are most important to you
- Welcome offer value
- Annual fees
- Transfer partners with your preferred loyalty programs
- Personal travel style- the right card for you often depends on the type and frequency of your travel. For example- If you love to stay at the same hotel program every time you travel, you’re probably best off seeing if they have a co-branded card.
Certain credit cards earn what we call “transferable” or “flexible” point currencies including American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points and Capital One Miles. These cards earn points that you can transfer to many travel partners such as hotels and airlines and they are therefore a great way to get the most value from your rewards. Flexible points cards give you more flexibility, and help you avoid being too narrowly restricted to earning points or miles only with only one loyalty program.
Credit Card Benefits and Perks
Banks can also differentiate credit cards by offering perks and benefits that make travel easier and more affordable. There will be a variety of benefits depending on which card you have. Mid-tier and no-annual-fee cards (those that cost $100 or less annually) offer fewer perks. Let’s look at an example from Amex to illustrate this point. The Amex Green Card has an annual fee of $150 per year and it’s most notable travel perks are a $100 credit for both lounge buddy and Clear. Contrast this withe Amex Platinum card whose fee is a whopping $695 but offers a $200 credit for airline incidentals, a $200 credit for hotels, a $200 Uber credit each year and free Clear and lounge memberships.
Benefits and perks are only valuable to you if you can make use of them, otherwise they should count for very little in your analysis. One example of a valuable benefit is the free Clear membership that comes with the Amex Platinum Card, but if you already have Clear or have more than one Platinum Card- the benefit is useless to you and should be excluded from the value of the card for you. Another example of a useless benefit for me is the GoPuff credit that comes with all Chase credit cards- unfortunately GoPuff is only available in a few select markets so for many of use we won’t be able to use the credit and therefore you shouldn’t consider it when. making your decision. Sidenote- before they pulled $10 gift cards from GoPuff I stocked up, so when they do deliver to me- I’ll be ready.
Welcome Offer Value
Banks entice customers to get credit cards by offering huge one time bonuses when you sign up for a new card and meet the minimum spend. Amounts for welcome bonuses vary widely but they generally consist of a one time bonus in the form of points or cashback that you receive after making sufficient purchases with your card within a certain time period. Offers range from nothing to 200,000 points and since point values vary it’s important to consider the value of the points, not just the number of points.
Bonus Earning Point Categories
The best way to earn points is to use the right credit card when making purchases. This is why the credit card’s bonus categories are so important when deciding which credit card to get. In my case I spend most of my money on Uber Eats, pet related stuff and online beauty/skincare purchases. So it’s important for me to have a card that earns bonus points on online retail purchases and food delivery. You can go as crazy as you want with this concept by having a ton of cards to cover all different kinds of purchases or keep it simple and get a card that earns a flat amount on all purchases.
While there are so many no fee travel credit cards, the ones with the richest perks often come with fees that can range from $49-$695 in most cases. Before you even consider travel related benefits, you should decide whether you’re willing to pay an annual fee and if so, how much. The Amex Platinum Card is crazy expensive at $695 per year, but it’s a very popular card because it offers a ton of valuable perks. Then there are mid tier cards like the Amex Gold Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred which offer decent awards earnings and useful points.
Current Credit Card Portfolio
Sometimes it makes sense to consider which credit cards you already have because many credit cards work well together for maximizing your earnings and redeeming your travel rewards. A great example of this is the Chase Ultimate Rewards Trifecta which basically means you combine 3 different Chase rewards cards to earn the most points possible on your spend and then combine those points into the Card account that allows you to redeem them for maximum value. For example, if you have a Chase Freedom card you can earn 5x points on certain categories each quarter, Chase allows you to combine those points into one account like the Chase Sapphire Reserve which allows you to redeem those points for 1.5 cents a piece on certain purchases or transfer those to travel partners like Hyatt and United Airlines.
Another example of cards that work well together are the Chase and Amex Marriott credit cards. If you hold a business and a personal Marriott co branded credit card you will get double the elite night credits each year- giving you 30 nights towards elite status requirements.
Every travel credit card is different and every traveler has different needs. In order to make the right decision, you’ll need to have a general travel related goal or focus as a starting point. Once you have a general idea of what you’re trying to accomplish you can compare travel cards and decide what travel related aspects of credit cards are most important to you. It’s all about striking a balance between the fee you’re willing to pay and your subjective value of the benefits, bonus points and the welcome offer. Last, consider your personal travel style- Are you a frequent flyer? Do you have a favorite airline or always check bags when flying? Maybe a cobranded airline card makes the most sense. Are you a hotel loyalist? Then it might make sense to get a hotel card.