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The Best Credit Cards for Any Kind of Traveler

By Kelsy Chauvin
September 29, 2021
A man books a trip on a computer with his credit card. A toy airplane sits on a passport in the foreground
© Ivan Kruk | Dreamstime.com
The “exclusive, one-time” offers keep rolling in, but which credit cards are really right for your travel style?

It seems like every day more credit-card offers pile up in our mailboxes and inboxes. All these benefits and bonus points may feel too good to be true, but as airlines keep adjusting their loyalty programs and finding new ways to skimp on travelers’ miles, the right travel-rewards card can help pick up the slack – and even deliver perks you’d never earn through miles flown alone.

Travel Credit Card Basics

Among the standard benefits to look for in a credit card (like decent interest rates, late fees, annual fees, etc.), there are a few basics that can make a travel-centric card right for you. For example, when opening a new account, go with a card that will grant you hefty bonus points – just look closely at the spending threshold to secure those points.

Another bonus, if you don’t already have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, is a card that will credit you for the cost of enrolling in one of those secure-traveler programs. (If you take more than three international flights per year, go with Global Entry.)

There also can be key differences in benefits between an airline-branded credit card vs. a bank-issued card, like airport-lounge access, free checked baggage, and priority boarding. Plus, some cards may offer free airline companion tickets, though often that comes after the card’s renewal and annual-fee payment.

Even the most seasoned globetrotters and points earners get confused by all the deals and details floating around. Here’s a rundown of a few of the best cards for different sorts of travelers.

Frequent Flyers

If you book plane tickets at least five times a year, versatile rewards may be the way to go. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a favorite, because it earns three times the points (points = dollars spent) on travel and dining worldwide. Granted, the card comes with a $450 annual fee, but you’ll automatically receive $300 in credits toward any travel purchases, which is a low figure for frequent travelers. This card also comes with free access to Priority Pass Select lounges in more than 1,000 airports around the world. Here’s the full deal:

  • $450 annual fee
  • 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • 3X the points on dining and travel worldwide (for non-travel purchases, earn 1 point for every dollar spent)
  • Complimentary access to 1,000+ airport lounges
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Enhanced travel protection benefits
  • Booking travel through Chase Rewards and affiliate sites bring greater redemption rewards
  • 1 Reserve Card point transfers as 1 point to select airline and hotel loyalty programs

Regular-Route Commuters

Let’s say visit your family regularly, and there’s only one airline with a direct route between your home city and theirs. Consider getting a credit card devoted to that airline, so every dollar charged becomes a mile banked for a future flight. Many cards even come with a multiplier to earn extra points (or miles) for every dollar spent on their airline’s tickets, upgrades, and in-flight purchases.

Because of Delta Airlines’ extensive network of direct routes, it’s a favorite for many U.S. travelers who can rack up SkyMiles through spending, then buy flights with those miles. (Plus redemption is easy thanks to Delta’s excellent website and smartphone app.) The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card by American Express is a smart way to go, and will survive some of the lost benefits that 2020 will introduce to the Gold Delta card – which involves changes to how “Medallion Qualification” miles and dollars (MQMs and MQDs) are earned. The Platinum card’s annual fee is rising to $250, but the sign-up bonus softens the blow, and upon renewal you’ll get a free companion ticket; and this card can lead you to elite “status” perks sooner. Here are other benefits:

  • $250 annual fee
  • 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
  • $100 statement credit and 5,000 MQMs after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within the first three months
  • Earn two miles per dollar on Delta purchases; earn one mile per eligible dollar spent on non-Delta purchases
  • Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate upon renewal of your Card
  • First checked bag free on Delta flights
  • Main Cabin 1 priority boarding on Delta flights
  • 20 percent in-flight savings
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $39 per-person Delta Sky Club access for you and up to 2 guests when traveling on a Delta flight

Occasional Travelers

Maybe you love travel but can only sneak away a few precious times each year. A flexible card like Venture Rewards from Capital One could be right for you, since you’ll get a big welcome bonus, earn two times the miles on every purchase, and as long as you keep the card, your miles never expire. Better still, Venture card purchases come with added benefits like travel-accident insurance, car-rental coverage, 24-hour travel assistance, and extended warranties on some products. You can redeem your earned miles for travel rewards booked through Capital One’s website, or for cash back or statement credits. Here are the perks to expect:

  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; then $95/year
  • One-time welcome bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months from account opening (equal to $500 in travel)
  • Earn 2X the miles on every purchase
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus you can transfer your miles to more than a dozen leading travel loyalty programs.
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn

Weekend Warriors

If shorter getaways are just the ticket for your travel style, there are good options to save money with the right credit card. Train trips are perfect for mini-breaks from many big U.S. cities, so you may consider two Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercards (one with no annual fee, one with a $79/year fee) that will earn you bonus points, rebates, upgrades, free companion coupons, and “tier status” for even more perks.

If you prefer road trips, consider the no-fee Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card, which can rack up points for gas buying. The card lets you choose a category to earn three percent cash back—including gas at any station, or travel, dining, etc. Plus you’ll earn two percent at grocery and wholesale stores, and one percent on all other purchases. (You can redeem your cash rewards with statement credits or BOA account deposits.) The card also comes with a cash-reward welcome bonus, and zero interest for the first 15 months on purchases or balance transfers (just beware the three percent fee for that transfer).

No matter your travel style, paying with plastic can serve up cash back, free flights, comped hotel rooms, upgrades, and all sorts of other perks. Just remember to read the fine print, and once your card has arrived, adhere to the rules to maximize rewards on every dollar spent.

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Travel Tips

10 Ways to Avoid Baggage Fees

Baggage fees are never welcomed and most of the time unexpected. Airline fees like these can quickly add up and derail the work you put in to find the most cost-conscious flight. Here are some tips and tricks for avoiding pesky fees, because most airlines charge for checked luggage. In fact, Southwest is the only major airline in the United States to not charge fees to check up to two bags per passenger. Pack Light This should be obvious; alas packing less is not as easy as it sounds. We want to feel secure when we’re traveling and be prepared for any situation. So, unless you’re going to the tundra, opt for light clothes. Consider cotton and other lightweight options instead of denim. Look for brands that cater to traveler – Arc’teryx is one apparel brand for men and women designed for travelers and is super lightweight. Enroll in an Airline Credit Card One great airline credit card perk is they waive baggage fees if you book your flight with that card. 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Bring a simple black shift dress (or other solid neutral color) or a button-down shirt you can dress up or down – they will appear to be several different outfits but will only take up a small amount of space. There are also many reversible shorts, pants and shirts on the market for travelers. Get creative! Do Laundry Doing laundry is a simple solution to having to pack seven of everything for a weeklong trip. While fees for laundry service at a hotel can be high, you can always make a trip to the local laundromat. Hey, you may even meet a local doing their laundry and get some travel tips for the area, like where to get the best tacos. The other option is to stay in a rental or hostel offering washing machines and dryers for guests. Carry-On Ideas You may have to pay for your luggage carry-on item on some flights these days, but you still can fly with a backpack, messenger bag or carryall bag at no extra cost. 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Buy After You Fly This is one of my travel commandments for stressing about forgetting something when I’m traveling. Just buy it when you arrive at your destination. But it also makes sense as a way to avoid baggage fees. I’m not saying you should buy your winter coat when you arrive or anything hard to purchase. Things like liquids are one of the heaviest items in luggage and most of the time they’re the easiest things you can find to buy. Take Time to Pack Don’t pack at the last minute because you won’t have time to plan your outfits. Give yourself time to pack. Make a packing list you can use every time you travel. Or open your suitcase a week before your flight date and begin throwing things in when you think of them. Dinner, dancing, hiking and swimming? Plan, plan, plan! If you do, there’s no way you can over-pack and get hit with those sneaky baggage fees. Also, consider getting a home luggage scale if you’re a constant over-packer. Ship It If you have a few heavy bags, shipping your luggage pre-travel may be a good option for saving money on extra baggage fees. Delivery services like DHL, FedEx and UPS are all options when shipping luggage or larger items. This decision may take a little more effort but in the end, it may be the most economical choice when traveling with a lot of gear or a large family.

Travel Tips

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Travel Tips

When is the best time to book a flight for your trip?

So often these days, travelers feel captive to the whims of the airlines. Flight prices, what’s included with your ticket, what’s considered an add-on, even whether or not you can bring a carry-on – it can be confusing and frustrating. Qtrip aims to simplify this process for travelers, and one way we can help is to be transparent and provide insights into the best time to buy an airline ticket.The Qtrip Airfare Study analyzed more than 917 million airfares across 8,000 markets to uncover insights and provide advice so that travelers can make informed choices when they plan. How far in advance should you book a flight? Based on data from the past year, Qtrip found that the average best day to buy a flight is 77 days in advance of your travel date (for domestic U.S. travel). This is an average finding, so it’s best to think of a range of dates.Qtrip classified the range of dates in which you can buy an airline ticket, called Booking Zones. There are 6 Airfare Booking Zones: First Dibs 315 to 202 days in advance (Approximately 10 to 6.5 months) If you are a traveler who appreciates having the most options, you’ll likely find the First Dibs zone ideal. The most choice in seats, specific flight times, and even classes of service occur when you buy early. If you buy in this early bird zone, you’ll spend around $50 more than if you wait to buy in the “Prime Booking Window.” It’s money well spent, if you prefer to have all the choices. Peace of Mind 201 to 128 days in advance (Approximately 6.5 to 4 months) The Peace of Mind zone is best for travelers who like to keep a balance between choice and value. It’s early enough that you’ll still have options, and it’s not quite as expensive as First Dibs (you’ll save about $30 on average compared to First Dibs). Prime Booking Window 127 to 21 days in advance (Approximately 4 months to 3 weeks) This is where you want to be if budget takes precedence in your decision-making. Year over year, this prime booking zone consistently yields the lowest prices for travelers (within 5% of the lowest ticket price). You’re likely going to trade in some of that choice we mentioned earlier, but if cost is the main consideration, there is no better zone for you. Push Your Luck 20 to 14 days in advance (Approximately 3 – 2 weeks) Here’s where things can get dicey. Inside of 3 weeks, the odds are prices will go up, and choice gets limited. This is a zone best left to gamblers, Sometimes you can find a great deal in the Push Your Luck zone, but it’s not a sure thing. Playing with Fire 13 to 7 days in advance (2 weeks to 1 week) Real risk takers dwell in the Playing with Fire zone – these are travelers who can’t help but wait until nearly the last minute to buy tickets. The truth is that playing with fire will often leave singe marks on your wallet. There’s usually much less choice and the prices are even higher. Hail Mary 6 to 0 days in advance (Less than a week) Most people find themselves in the “Hail Mary” zone out of necessity (family emergency or unexpected trip), rather than a premeditated choice. If you hope to save money OR like choice, there’s little to recommend buying here. If you have to do so, you’ll likely pay about $200 more, on average, than you would if you shopped in the Prime Booking Window. Should you find yourself here, you do have options. Qtrip offers monthly payments for travelers.

Travel Tips

How to Decide On Accommodations as a Young Solo Traveler

Being a young solo traveler is an incredible experience, but not one that you can simply Google a how-to guide for. Deciding on accommodations as a young solo traveler can be especially tricky on your few trips. Do you choose a Couchsurfing experience for the local, authenticity factor? An Airbnb for the privacy? A hostel for the communal aspect? Read this and then decide what’s best for you and the trip you want to have! 3 Things to Think About Before you jump into anything I suggest you think about 1.) what type of trip you’re hoping to have, 2.) what type of traveler you are, and 3.) your budget. If you having almost no funds, are adventurous, and want an extremely local experience, I suggest... Couchsurfing Couchsurfing is a completely free way to travel where you stay at a local’s residence with no obligation of payment or work. Locals might host Couchsurfers because they might like to make new friends or meet people of different cultures. As a woman, I do believe there is an element of danger in staying solo at a person’s home without legal or implied protections like at more official accommodation. If you have almost no funds, are adventurous, and are looking to volunteer or work while you are abroad, I suggest... Homestay A homestay is an arrangement when visitors share a residence with a local of the city to which they are traveling. Organizations such as WWOOF, WorldPackers, WorkAway, and HelpStay help connect willing and able workers with farms, hostels, and private citizens. I’ve done a WorkAway in Italy at a doctor’s home working in her garden in exchange for a place to stay and meals. In this environment, you will be surrounded by people, other workers or the hosts, but not people you know closely. So this is a good option for both introverts and extrovert travelers! If you have a slight/moderate budget, privacy is important to you, and you want to cook for yourself, I suggest… Airbnb An Airbnb or other short-term often allow you all the luxuries of living at home—privacy, a kitchen, laundry, etc.—at a reasonable price. On the other side, there are luxury Airbnbs that can give you the feeling of a 5* resort for a much more expensive price! But staying in your own apartment might get a bit lonely if you don’t have friends in the area. Consider using travel Facebook groups as a way to meet likeminded young travelers to adventure with during your travels. If you have minimal funds and are an extrovert seeking a sense of community, I suggest... Hostel Hostels are the absolute best location if you’re an extremely budget traveler whose priority is meeting other young travel friends. By staying in a hostel you’ll never be alone (for better or worse) and will be surrounded by hustle and bustle. They make it easy to find people to do group activities with every day and explore destinations with. However, the lack of privacy might be a concern for those who are traveling with a lot of valuables, so if you’re traveling with an expensive laptop or camera be wary. If you have a moderate budget and want to worry about as little as possible in terms of cleaning or safety, I suggest... Hotel Finally, the most common option—a good old-fashioned hotel. Most often the most expensive choice for a lot of reasons. With hotels you can pay for your stay with a credit card or reward points, you have daily cleaning staff, hotel security, and a lot more perks and support than any of the other accommodation options. The point of traveling solo is to do whatever makes you happiest. We’re young and traveling the world, we’re supposed to be completely selfish! And don’t listen to anyone who tells you you “should” or “shouldn’t” do something. Do your research and do whatever fits you and your adventures best. Gabby Beckford is a Gen Z travel and lifestyle entrepreneur who runs the blog Packs Light.