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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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!
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.
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.
5. Chase Sapphire Reserve
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.
The Sapphire Reserve comes with a super easy-to-use $300 travel credit, which effectively reduces the annual fee to $250.
You can then get more than $250 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.
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.