If you’ve got a bit of travel on the horizon, then you might want to maximize those credit card rewards by picking a travel credit card.
Travel credits cards often let you earn things like airline miles and hotel points, which you can use to cash in on free flights and hotel rooms.
But there’s a lot of different credit cards out there targeting travelers, so how do you find the right travel credit card for you?
Keep reading for our tips on finding the right credit card for your travel hacking adventures.
Look For No Foreign Transaction Fees
If you’ll be traveling abroad, then you need a credit card that doesn’t penalize you for spending money in a currency other than you own.
What you need to look for is a card that has no foreign transaction fees. This means that you won’t incur a fee for a foreign currency to USD conversion.
“Though many cards have excellent sign-up bonuses that can lead to thousands of points to be redeemed for travel rewards,” says Maggie Turansky of The World Was Here First, “the majority of these cards seem to charge a conversion fee when paying in a foreign currency. If you want to get the most out of your credit card while travelling abroad while also saving as much money as possible, then finding a card that doesn’t charge these fees is absolutely essential.”
Tim White of Mile Pro also agrees. He says, “As a frequent International traveler, being able to use my card anywhere in the world without paying astronomical conversion fees is very important. “
“One of the most important features for a travel credit card is to have no foreign transaction fees,” says David Leiter of The World Travel Guy.
Gene Daniels of Learning CBD Oil echoes the same sentiment. “A lot of card users may not be aware of foreign transaction fees since they don’t happen when you’re using your card in the United States (i.e. domestically), but as soon as you go to a different country and start using your card you’ll get dinged for a fee — usually 3 percent on top of your purchase!”
“My #1 tip on picking the right travel credit card is to search for cards that come with no international fees, says Brian Wills of Nuts About Coffee. “Many banks offer credit cards that are specifically designed for international use and they don’t charge for use abroad. This is hugely beneficial because you can rest assured that you won’t get a surprise bill full of fees when you get home.”
What Are Your Spending Habits?
“You also need to identify your top credit card spending habits, as you will often be rewarded for things like gas and grocery purchases to name a few. For my family,” says Petra Amara of Rowing Crazy, “we make many large ticket purchases for our family business, so we have been able to capitalize on additional rewards points as a result.”
“Once you have identified your travel and spending habits, you will easily be able to narrow down which travel credit card will benefit you the most in the long run,” recommends Gracey Young of House Fragrance.
“Apart from zero international transaction fees, get a travel card that is geared to your purchase lifestyle,” says Sam Lepak of New Rich Nomads.
“For example, if you fly then get one with points for flying. Or if you dine out, then get one towards dining. Don’t change your purchase behavior for the credit card and don’t pay unnecessary fees.”
Know What Type Of Rewards You Want
“Travelers need to decide whether they want simple points that have a fixed value, or more complicated points that have a variable value,” says Andrew D’Amours of Fly Trippers. “That’s the most important. “
“Whether the rewards program belongs to a bank, a hotel chain, or an airline is secondary contrary to the popular myth,” D’Amours goes on to say.
“What matters is to decide which type of point system to dive into. Simple is great for beginners, but more complicated offers potential for unlimited value and outsized value if you learn how to use them.”
“I like to use cards that either give me cash back on every purchase or where I earn non-branded rewards that I can use on anything,” says Rolf Hansen of Luxury Cars A to Z.
“For instance, when I’m traveling within the United States I like to use my American Express Gold card because it gives me Membership Rewards points that I can use for everything from hotel stays to restaurant gift cards to free flights.
Determine If You Want Other Perks
“If you want premium travel perks, like airport lounge access or expedited airport screening, it makes sense to go with a premium travel card,” says Garth Adams of I Know The Pilot.
“This could include cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and The Platinum Card from American Express.”
“If you don’t take advantage of airline lounges,” says John Taylor Garner of Card Curator, “there’s no need to pay the hefty annual fees of the AMEX Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve card. If you do like lounges, they can save you a lot of money.”
“Some travel credit cards offer perks like money back when you use Uber,” says David Douek of Beeco Green. “That’s why I love the Platinum Card from American Express because it earns me Uber credits each year.”
Plan The Trip And Then Pick The Credit Card
The #1 tip for picking the right card for travel is to start planning a trip, and then pick your credit card based on what can get you to that trip the fastest, says Alex Miller of Upgraded Points.
“Is it a certain kind of points you need to accumulate to get there? A specific hotel brand in that city or country that you can transfer points to?”
“Does the card provide lounge access for flights while you travel there? If you work backwards, and start by looking at your trip first, it’s much easier to select a card based on that vs the other way around.”
“I like to look for credit card offers that come with a big sign up bonus, like enough air miles to fly for free,” says Kenneth Byrd of Curl Centric.
“Of course, this is ideal if I’m not set on flying at a certain time. Then, I just wait for offers that meet my needs and book the trip after getting that offer. That’s how I’ve been able to fly to Hawaii for free in the past.”
Do You Want To Pay An Annual Fee?
“If you only travel occasionally, a credit card with lower annual fees that can earn bonus rewards on everyday purchases might be a better fit than a card with a high annual fee,” says Thomas Kanze of Nomadific.
“This way you’re able to earn valuable points or miles to help cover the costs of airfare or hotel stays for your one or two trips each year.”
“Annual fees vary on the cards, and some are more worth it than others,” says Spiro Koulouris of Gout and You. “My Chase Marriott card has a low annual fee, but I also get a free hotel night each year that’s worth more than the annual fee.”
Is A Co-Branded Card A Good Option?
You may want to consider if the card is co-branded or general purpose, like a Marriott Visa card or a generic Chase credit card.
“Co-branded cards narrow your options,” says Sharon Gourlay of Tasmania Explorer, “but since they are issued in collaboration with an airline or hotel, they can have additional benefits such as free checked luggage or accommodation upgrades.”
“Do you find yourself using the same airline or airline alliance (SkyTeam, Oneworld, etc.) for the majority of your flights? If this is the case,” says Tanya Brothen of Travel Upgraded, “it’s worth it to invest in that airline’s most rewards-heavy credit card.”
“For example, when a work assignment had me flying Delta and other SkyTeam airlines multiple times per year, I signed up for the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card. It gave me access to Delta’s Sky Club lounges, priority boarding, bonus miles on Delta purchases, and other Delta perks.”
How Is The Interest Rate?
“You might think it would be relatively simple to find the card with the lowest interest rate, no (or lower) annual fee, the most generous signing bonus, and the best reward;” says Michelle Henry of Outdoor Dog Fun, “unfortunately, this is not the case.”
“You definitely want the lowest interest rate. However, if you can repay the expenses in full each month, the interest rate is not a problem because the interest rate only applies to the balance after each month’s maturity date.”
“Since most credit cards have a low introductory rate, it’s important to pay attention to the true interest rate,” recommends Tauraus Sinkus of 21 Day Hero. “Because when that intro rate is up, you’ll be on the line for the higher rate for any balances that you carry.”
The Top Travel Credit Cards As Recommended By Frequent Travelers
1. Barclays Arrivals+ Card
The Barclays Arrivals+ card is my favorite credit card to use for travel, says Steven Evans of Air Fryer Bro. You earn points for all purchases, with some purchases (like travel) earning extra points. Then, you cash in the points for a statement credit and you earn more points back if you put that credit towards travel expenses. Plus, no foreign transaction fees!
Connor Brown of After School Finance agrees. My everyday credit card is the Barclay Arrivals, says Brown, which is hands down the best card for travel. You get points back on all purchases and then you can use those points for pretty much anything, but it’s a better deal for you to apply those points as payment toward your travel.
2. Capital One Venture card
I like the Capital One Venture card, says Michael Barnett of Performer Life. I earn back on everything, so I use it for all my purchases and then enjoy the rewards of travel.
Since I’m always grabbing lunch out, the Capital One Venture card is my most-used credit card, says Michael Fayard of Fayard Law. I love that my lunch expenses and every day expense earn me free or discounted travel.
3. Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card
I do a lot of domestic travel for work and always fly on Delta, which makes the Delta Skymiles Gold card from American Express my top pick for a travel credit card, says Alex Griffin of Oxford Gold Group. It’s got a great signup bonus too.
4. Capital One Quicksilver card
The Capital One Quicksilver card is definitely one of the best rewards travel credit cards, says Tommy Gallagher of Top Mobile Banks. You get 1.5% back on everything and you get $200 cash back after spending $500 in the first 3 months. There is also no annual fee.
Jenny Muscolo of Connection Copilot also recommends the Capital one Quicksilver card for earning rewards for every day purchases.
5. Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Sapphire Reserve comes with a super easy-to-use $300 travel credit, notes Hafiz Muhammad Ali of Omnicore Agency, which effectively reduces the annual fee to $250.
People routinely scoff at the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $550 annual fee, but you can easily make a profit on that card, says Andy Medearis, of Deals Points.
You can then get more than the $250 annual fee in value by utilizing the card’s airport lounge access, including restaurants and spas, $120 Peloton credit, $60 DoorDash credit, primary rental car insurance, trip delay insurance, and purchase protection, adds Medearis.
Personally, the trip delay insurance has saved me a lot of money.
For example, my wife and I missed our connecting flight in Chicago due to snow. While everyone on the plane was freaking out, I was booking a room at the Park Hyatt, dinner reservations at an upscale sushi restaurant, and transportation because I knew that Chase would cover my $500+ in expenses due to the delay.