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- If you’re planning to open a travel credit card to help you earn enough points and miles to travel at a steep discount – or even free – there are countless credit cards to choose from.
- The most valuable travel credit cards earn transferable points, so you can move the points around to different airlines and hotel chains as you need them.
- You’ll also want to look at the annual fee (is it outweighed by the benefits?) and the sign-up bonus, as well as its policy for authorized users and its annual and travel benefits.
- Some of the most flexible travel cards available are the Platinum Card® from American Express, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
It’s important to comparison shop when looking for a new travel rewards credit card. Each card offers a different set of benefits, has different rewards programs, and oftentimes a different set of associated fees.
And while it’s impossible to compare every travel card in one article, you can keep a few pieces of criteria in mind when on the hunt for a new card.
Keeping these criteria in mind will ensure you get a travel credit card that best fits your needs.
1. How powerful are the card’s points?
Not all credit card and airline points are created equal. Look at the points that your travel credit card earns on purchases, and make sure that you can use them for your redemptions of choice.
Give priority to cards that earn transferable points. This includes cards like the Platinum Card® from American Express, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, and Citi Prestige Card. You can transfer these points to a number of different airlines, giving you flexibility in how you redeem.
2. What’s the annual fee?
Always check the annual fee before you apply for a credit card. Some cards have low or no annual fee, while many of the more premium cards have fees over $400. Compare the cost of the card to the benefits it offers, and see if it’s right for you.
Even if a card has a high annual fee, don’t dismiss it right away. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, with its $450 annual fee, are chock-full of great benefits that can easily save you money in the long run. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with trip delay and cancellation insurance, baggage delay and lost baggage insurance, and rental car insurance.
If you regularly travel or rent cars, these benefits can easily save you money from purchasing separate travel insurance policies for each trip or come in handy when your trip doesn’t go as planned even if you wouldn’t normally have purchased insurance.
3. Is its sign-up bonus worthwhile?
When you apply for a new card, chances are it has some kind of sign-up or welcome bonus. Make sure that the welcome bonus is worth paying the first year’s annual fee – for example, a 60,000 AmEx Platinum bonus (after you spend $5,000 in the first three months) is worth far more than the $550 annual fee.
Also do your research to make sure that you’re getting the best sign-up bonus available as bonuses do change from time to time, and different sources may even have access to different bonuses.
4. Does it offer lounge access?
If you fly frequently, having lounge access can be a huge benefit. The airport lounge is a great place to grab a cup of coffee and a snack before you take off – and if that’s something you’d otherwise do at the airport Starbucks – you can save a real chunk of change.
Also be sure that the lounge access aligns with your flying habits. For example, the United MileagePlus Club Card from Chase offers United lounge access, but that’s largely worthless if you don’t fly on United.
Prioritize cards that give you access to multiple lounge networks. For example, the AmEx Platinum gives you access to Delta Airlines, Airspace, Priority Pass, American Express Centurion, and even select Lufthansa lounges – pretty awesome, right?
5. Does it give you free checked bags or other airline benefits?
If you’re looking for a cobranded airline card, such as the United Explorer Card, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, or the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, look at what type of airline benefits the card offers.
Some popular benefits include free checked bags, priority boarding, and a free lounge pass. Of course, these benefits will only do you good when you’re flying with that specific airline.
6. Do you get an annual benefit?
Some cards offer free nights or an annual points bonus so long as your card is open. Check if you can use the benefit, and ensure that the value properly offsets the annual fee.
For example, some hotel credit cards give you a free night each year, which might cancel out the cost of the annual fee.
Be wary of cards that offer a free companion ticket. Oftentimes, these tickets have fare class requirements and other stipulations that make them hard to use.
7. Does it offer purchase and travel protection?
Read through the fine print on your credit cards and see if they offer travel and purchase protection.
Travel protection protects you in case of long delays, and baggage protection will cover the contents of your bag if it’s lost, stolen, or delayed. Two of my favorite cards with great travel protections are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred. The Chase Sapphire Reserve’s trip delay coverage kicks in with a delay of six hours, or overnight, while the Sapphire Preferred requires a delay of 12 hours or overnight to offer coverage.
Taking a step back from travel, also check if your credit card has purchase protections. This will protect purchases from damage and theft for a certain amount of time after making the purchase. This is super important when making big-ticket purchases like computers, TVs, and smartphones.
Three of the best cards with purchase protection are the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Platinum Card from American Express, and the American Express® Gold Card. Many other American Express and Chase cards also offer some form of purchase protection as well.
Speaking of smartphones, some credit cards offer complimentary mobile phone insurance. Most require that you pay your cell phone bill each month with your credit card, so read your cardholder agreements to be sure that you’re getting the protection. A couple of cards to consider if you’re interested in this benefit are the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card and the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card.
8. Do authorized users get benefits, too?
Look at what benefits are passed on to your card’s authorized users. Some cards give full benefits like lounge access, and others limit the main benefits of the card to the primary cardholder only.
And if the benefits are passed down, you’ll want to check the cost of adding an authorized user to your credit card. Some cards will let you add them for free, while others will charge an annual fee.
For example, if you have the Platinum Card from American Express, you can add up to three authorized users for a cost of $175 per year (even if you add just one the price will be the same) and all authorized users will get lounge access benefits but will not receive the airline incidental fee credit.
With the Ritz-Carlton Credit Card, there is no fee to add authorized users and they also will be able to access lounges, but will not receive the airline incidental fee.
Depending on what lounges you want access to, it might not be worth saving on the fee and getting the Ritz-Carlton card as it only will give you access to Priority Pass lounges while the AmEx Platinum card will also give you access to AmEx Centurion Lounges and to Delta Clubs when flying Delta.
9. Does it offer an annual travel credit?
Cards with high annual fees will often offer an airline incidental or travel credit. Some cards will automatically apply the credit to your first however many dollars spent on travel in the year, and others will only apply the credit to change fees, lounge passes, and other “incidentals.” Some cards require that you call in to apply your annual travel credit, so don’t forget to do that if needed.
Keep the amount of travel credit and what you can use the travel credit for in mind when picking a new premium travel credit card. Some cards that include this benefit are the AmEx Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, among others.
Picking the right card will not only help you earn the points for your next vacation, but its perks will make the process of getting there even more enjoyable.