Travel credit cards that offer rewards are everywhere. You can't escape the fliers, emails, and commercials touting “exclusive perks,” and with so many options, finding a credit card that is right for you can be overwhelming. Here are four questions you should ask yourself that will help you choose the right one.
What do I want from my reward card?
Everyone wants rewards, but rewards come in many forms. Some people want points for free stuff, while others are looking for elite status and exclusive perks. If you're new to rewards cards, only travel a few times a year, and don't want to deal with the hassles associated with some cards, start with a card that has no annual membership fee, like the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card. This card is great because it has no foreign transaction fees for purchases made overseas, and it requires very little effort to reap rewards—you'll earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make.
How often do I travel?
No one wants to pay an annual membership fee for a credit card, but if you travel often, many membership fees pay for themselves. A great all-around reward card for frequent travelers is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. There is no annual fee for the first year (after which you will pay $95 annually), but the rewards make the fee worth it. Cardholders get two points for every dollar spent on travel and restaurants, and one point per dollar everywhere else. On top of that, users always get 20% off travel when they redeem points for airfare, hotel stays, car rentals, and cruises through Chase's online tool, where prices are equivalent to booking through other third-party sites (i.e. Expedia). Users can also transfer points to participating frequent travel programs (i.e. United MileagePlus, Marriott Rewards) at full value. With no foreign transaction fees, this card is hard to beat.
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How do I travel?
There is a co-branded reward credit card for almost every mode of transportation and hotel chain out there. If you don't stick with one particular airline or hotel when you travel, a card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is right for you. But for brand loyal travelers, using a co-branded credit card may be the best option. For example, if you stay at Starwood Hotel properties frequently while traveling, consider the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. Cardholders receive up to five Starpoints for every dollar spent at SPG hotels and earn their way to other perks quickly. There is a card out there that fits every preference—whether you travel via Amtrak, stay at Marriott properties, or fly Southwest airlines.
Do I travel internationally?
While an annual fee can pay off, foreign transaction fees will never be worth it if you travel extensively outside the U.S., so make sure you have a card that does not charge you for purchases abroad. It's also helpful to have a card that is chip-and-PIN enabled. If you're not familiar with chip-and-PIN technology, check out our recent recent post on why this feature is important.
Insider Tip: Even if you know what card you want, shop around. Many credit cards offer great signup bonuses that vary depending on how you apply, whether through the card's site, an online ad, or with a code sent via email. Search the card name online, then wait a few days and you'll likely start seeing ads touting signup bonuses.