Travel 101: Best Credit Cards for Travelers
Part of being a savvy traveler is making sure you have the right credit card to maximize your travel rewards. Of course, there are a ton of travel credit cards for you to choose from. So, what’s the best piece of plastic for you?
Ultimately, it boils down to your travel behaviors—and marrying how you spend money traveling with a credit card’s rewards program. “I always recommend having a redemption goal in mind before you set off to earn points and miles,” says Zach Honig, editor-at-large at The Points Guy. “Those 100,000 Alaska miles you racked up with credit card sign-up bonuses won’t do you much good if you don’t plan to fly Alaska or any of its partners.”
If you’re eyeing an airline rewards card, “make sure the miles you’ll earn can get you where you need to go,” Honig says. Likewise, if you’re focused on earning hotel points, “make sure there’s actually a participating property at your intended destination,” Honig advises.
International travelers should look for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, says Bill Hardekopf, a credit expert at LowCards.com. Why? Because some cards charge up to a 3% fee on foreign transactions, which can effectively negate whatever rewards points, dollars, or miles you’d earn using the card.
Granted, a travel rewards credit card isn’t right for everyone. For one thing, rewards credit cards typically have higher interest rates than non-rewards cards. Consequently, “you shouldn’t have a rewards card unless you’re going to pay off the balance each month,” Hardekopf says. Also, because some rewards cards have high annual fees (like the Visa Black Card, with its whopping $495 annual fee), having one may not make sense for infrequent travelers.
That being said, many consumers can save big bucks with a travel rewards credit card—that is, assuming you remember to redeem your rewards. (A recent Bankrate.com report found that three in 10 credit cardholders have never redeemed their credit card rewards.)
Still, it begs the question: what are the best credit cards for travelers?
Focusing on credit cards with not only generous rewards but also low fees and convenient redemption options, we spoke to Honig and Hardekopf for their top recommendations. One of these five cards could be a great addition to your wallet.
Chase Sapphire Preferred card: If you’re looking for a credit card that earns points that you can transfer to hotel and airline partners with ease, this is the card for you, Honig says. If you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, you’ll earn a 50,000-point sign-up bonus that will get you two free round-trip domestic flights or multiple nights at a high-end hotel. In addition, the card offers rental car insurance and has no foreign transaction fees. The card, however, has a $95 annual fee after the first year.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard: This rewards card has been around for a while, but it’s still one of the best rewards cards for airline miles, Hardekopf says. The card has a nice sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days—enough to redeem a $400 credit toward an eligible travel purchase. You earn 2 miles on all purchases (a solid payout compared to other miles rewards cards) and get 5% of your miles back every time you redeem them. The card has no foreign transaction fees, but there is an $89 annual fee after the first year.
Citi ThankYou Premier card: You earn 3 points on travel for a range of expenses, including gas, airfare, hotels, cruises, car rental agencies, travel agencies, railways, public transportation, tolls, taxis, and parking. (Translation: there are plenty of opportunities to accrue points with this card.) This is also a great all-around rewards card, says Honig, since you earn 2 points on restaurants and entertainment and 1 point on all other purchases. It has a $95 annual fee after the first year.
United MileagePlus Explorer card: If you’re looking for an airline carrier-specific credit card, this one earns top marks, Honig says. Similar to the Barclaycard, you earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. You earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. You also get nice perks, such as priority boarding and one free checked bag for you and a companion traveling on your reservation. The card has a $95 annual fee after the first year but no foreign transaction fees.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: LowCards.com rated this card 5 out of 5 stars for several reasons. First, you can get a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles if you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. You also earn unlimited 1.25 miles per $1 spent on all purchases. The best part? Redeeming your rewards is a piece of cake. “You can fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime,” Hardekopf says. And, unlike the other cards on this list, this card has no annual fee.
Post-Storm Caribbean Travel Updates
The Caribbean is open for business. Some travelers are surprised to learn that most Caribbean destinations are open, including Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. Other islands, including St. Barth's and Turks & Caicos, are making swift comebacks from serious hurricane damage. But some islands will take weeks or even months to recover. Barbuda, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, and both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands are putting most tourism on hold for now. What to do if you have travel reservations in a damaged destination. If you have plane tickets, check in with your airline to see if your flight has been postponed. Airlines have been offering more and more flexibility in the face of natural disasters, and they may waive fees for cancellation or changes in reservations. Check with cruise lines and hotels to find out how to cancel or revise your reservations. To learn more, read “When a Hurricane or Wildfire Damages Your Destination.” Travel insurance 101. Most people prefer not to think about travel insurance -- they hope for the best instead of planning for the worst -- until disaster strikes. We do recommend a “cancel for any reason” policy when you are planning a trip to the Caribbean. But first check with your credit card company -- you might already have built-in trip insurance. To learn more, read “Travel 101: Read This Before You Buy Trip Insurance.” How you can help. According to FEMA, those hoping to participate in Hurricane Irma and Maria relief and recovery operations should volunteer with local or nationally known organizations—you can find one that suits your abilities, or register as interested and organizations will reach out if you fit their needs. (Sign up here for volunteer efforts in Puerto Rico and here for the U.S. Virgin Islands.) But as much as you might want to drop everything and go asap, please don’t—unexpected arrivals in affected communities can create an additional burden for first responders whose attention is better focused on those who need immediate assistance, so be patient. In the aftermath of a disaster, it’s often easy to forget that these conditions won’t be alleviated overnight—the survivors will need help for months and even years to come. A few options: All Hands Volunteers’ immediate response team is operating in the USVI after Hurricane Maria, and the organization should be accepting applications for volunteers once the most pressing concerns have been addressed. CARAS, based in Puerto Rico, runs regular group-service trips, and AmeriCares offers a database of disaster-relief volunteer opportunities.
Emotional Support Animals Take to the Skies
Can flying with your pet ease anxiety? As any nervous flyer knows, there are a few tried-and-true methods for dealing with pre-trip panic—and no, self-medicating at the airport bar probably isn’t the best strategy. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends a list of concrete steps to overcome a fear of flying, skills learned in cognitive behavioral therapy can help manage anxiety, and prescription meds can be a lifesaver, but there’s an additional option to consider, and it’s a warm, fuzzy one. Thanks to a 2003 update to the Department of Transportation’s policy regarding service animals, pets that offer emotional support to people with disabilities are cleared for takeoff, and more travelers than ever are looking to furry friends for in-flight comfort and support. Though airline policies differ, all emotional support animals (ESAs) must be well-behaved (pigs that defecate in the aisles are decidedly unwelcome) and accompanied by recent documentation from a medical professional (companies such as ESA Doctors will provide this service for a fee). As conditions vary, check airline websites before you book, and be sure to consider the requirements for your destination—places like Hawaii, the U.K, Japan, and New Zealand have restrictions on entry and exit. Here’s what to expect from the big six: American Airlines allows emotional support animals at no charge, as long as they fit on your lap, at your feet, or under the seat, and don’t block the aisle. Forget about that extra legroom, though: For security reasons, you won’t be able to sit in an exit row with a service animal in tow. You’ll need to submit an authorization form or provide a doctor’s letter to reservations at least 48 hours before your flight—if the airline can’t validate your documentation, your companion may have to fly in a kennel. Delta welcomes ESAs in the cabin, but that doesn’t mean your trip will turn into a Noah’s ark reenactment: The airline bans hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, spiders, sugar gliders, reptiles, non-household birds such as chickens, dirty or smelly animals, and anything with a tusk or a hoof. And even if you’re alone in your row, flight attendants will expect your animal to travel in the space below you—pets aren’t allowed in seats designed for human cargo. Passengers with disabilities are entitled to seating accommodations, so make sure you get your assignment when you book; you’ll have to present documentation on letterhead from a licensed medical or mental-health professional upon check-in (a digital version is ok, as long as the pertinent details can be verified), and you’ll be entitled to preboarding if you meet the requirements and give the gate agent the heads-up first. Because of public health and safety concerns, JetBlue will also deny boarding to passengers with unusual animals such as snakes, rodents, and birds with unclipped wings, but as long as your ESA doesn’t fall in those categories, and you call and advise customer service of your animal before flying, you should be in the clear. JetBlue airport personnel can request your documentation at any time, though, so keep it on hand—a hard copy on your doctor’s letterhead and an electronic version in a non-editable format (like a PDF) are both fine, but email or Word documents won’t be accepted. If you’re booking a Southwest flight online, you can alert the airline of your intention to travel with an ESA via the site’s traveler-info page; you can also notify customer service after the fact with a quick call or click. Along with the usual suspects mentioned above, Southwest won’t accept therapy dogs for transportation, and all animals must be positioned so they don’t block evacuation paths in the event of an emergency—so, either on the floor or on your lap, but definitely not in the exit row. (Note: If you plan to travel with your ESA on your lap, it must meet the somewhat ambiguous requirement of being smaller than a two-year-old kid.) Bring current documentation on your doctor’s letterhead, and brace for a few fact-finding questions at the airport—though employees can’t ask about the specifics of your disability, they can and probably will enquire as to what assistance your animal provides. As long as they sit at your feet without sticking out in the aisle, ESAs with the proper documentation are accepted on United flights. At a minimum, you’ll want to give the airline 48 hours advance notice, but it’d be wise to allow more time—the airline’s accessibility desk has to receive and validate your documentation prior to travel, including contacting your mental health professional for verification, and if they can’t validate, you’ll have to transport your animal as a pet and pay the relevant fees. Virgin also requires recent documentation, such as a letter from a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker, to substantiate disability-related claims for an onboard ESA. Service animals don’t have to be in a pet carrier, but they do have to be confined to your own space and can’t be in a seat or obstruct aisles. And as always, leave the pet snake at home—no reptiles, rodents, or other animals that present health risks are allowed onboard.
That's How She Rolls: Rashida Jones Designs a Cute Luggage Collection You'll Love
Rashida Jones knows a thing or two about globe-trotting. In addition to fulfilling the press-junket duties required of an in-demand actor, writer, and Emmy-nominated producer, the Angie Tribeca star serves as a voice for the International Rescue Committee, visiting refugees in camps in Lebanon and Thailand and in cities such as San Diego and New York as they put down roots. Her time on the road inspired a desire to design luggage that would help relieve the pressures of traveling—and add a measure of whimsy to the process. “Anybody that’s been to a major international airport in the last five years can attest to the fact that it can be really grueling to travel,” she says. “I loved the idea of being able to bring some magic into something banal.” Enter: her new collaboration with Away, the minimalist brand beloved by models, actors, and social-media darlings alike for its lightweight, tough-shelled, stylish suitcases. (Perhaps the ubiquitous millennial-pink edition popped up in your Instagram feed?) Cleared to fit the overhead bins of all major airlines’ planes, each Away carry-on comes equipped with USB ports powered by a rechargeable, removable, FAA-, TSA-, and DOT-approved battery; the suitcase’s polycarbonate exterior, here available in a trio of muted pastels, also comes standard. As batteries aren’t allowed in checked baggage, the bigger versions have other perks—namely, an interior compression system, a built-in lock, and, Jones’s favorite, a removable laundry bag. Rounding out the line are flexible packing cubes in coordinating colors (Marie Kondo disciples, rejoice!) and, perhaps the star of the show, a vegan tote that can slip over the handle of a carry-on when you’re not wearing it crossbody. Jones personally designed the bag for easy access to the necessities, from water bottle to plane ticket. “I wanted to create the perfect tote that was just big enough to fit the smallest computer, but not so big that it was going to break your back when you picked it up, or fall off your luggage when placed on top,” she says. “It was about completing the experience of having an efficient travel day.” At $225 for the basic carry-on, this luggage doesn’t come cheap, but Away delivers value by eliminating retailers’ markup and selling directly to consumers, backing its “unbreakable” promise with a lifetime guarantee (batteries not included—those are subject to a two-year warranty). For Jones, whose bucket list currently includes South America and Australia, the collab provides a comprehensive travel experience. “I love that you can use everything in the collection in several different ways,” she says. “For me, it’s just about having enough components that you can put together so that you feel like you’re being taken care of during your trip.” Sounds like a bargain.
When a Hurricane or Wildfire Damages Your Vacation Destination
We have watched in disbelief as hurricanes have battered the Gulf Coast, Florida, and much of the Caribbean, and wildfires have ravaged the Columbia River Gorge, Glacier National Park, and parts of Los Angeles. While reporting on those disasters in detail is beyond our mission, we can share a few pieces of advice for those who have flights, lodgings, or cruises booked in the areas hardest hit: Contact your airline via phone, email, or Twitter. Airlines are stepping up with more flexible policies in the face of natural disasters, sometimes including waived change/cancellation fees, waived fare differences for changed flights, or refunds for canceled flights. We have found that airline customer service can be especially responsive to private messages on Twitter. What to ask: Is my flight still scheduled? What options do I have to cancel or postpone? Contact cruise lines and package tour companies after reviewing your trip-cancellation policy. Often, cruise lines and package tour companies offer the option of at “cancel for any reason” policy, which can simplify your decision-making. What to ask: Is my cruise or tour still scheduled to go forward? Do I have a "cancel for any reason" policy? Check on hotel status via social media or by calling directly. Hotel staff will have first-hand information about conditions on the ground. But bear in mind that in the days directly following a natural disaster, customer service may have to take a back seat to survival and repair. What to ask: Will the hotel be open on the dates I’m scheduled to stay? What can I expect when I arrive? What options do I have to cancel or postpone? (For hotels, of course, canceling is usually not a problem unless your reservation is within a few days.)