According to the U.S Travel Association, Americans plan three of every four domestic trips for leisure purposes. That means big changes at airports, where airlines have replaced swanky lounges with extra departure gates. Even the best credit cards for frequent travelers have evolved, offering more rewards for leisure travel and easier ways to earn flights.
Best credit cards for frequent fliers
Though many of us now book our airline tickets by picking the cheapest fare from a discount travel website, regular travelers can still find plenty of reasons to commit to a single carrier. Two of the airline industry's best credit cards offer money-saving opportunities on every flight, along with opportunities to earn miles to redeem toward airfares:
- Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. Having completed its merger with Northwest, Delta now serves destinations around the world. Its extensive global partnerships gives SkyMiles members access to travel almost anywhere. This American Express airline credit card offers check your first bag free. Cardmembers enjoy priority boarding, along with the ability to pay for portions of tickets with points. That's a fast pass to free, convenient travel. Terms and restrictions apply.
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card With integration with AirTran, Southwest appeals to frugal travelers throughout most of the United States. Because Southwest offers first and second checked bags fee, weight and size limits apply, doesn't charge to change tickets, this airline credit card adds even more value with every flight.
When choosing a frequent flier program, check the route map from your preferred airport. Even the best credit card won't make you happy if it's tough to redeem your rewards.
Best credit cards for flexible travel rewards
Over the past few years, lenders have developed a class of travel rewards credit cards that don't require your loyalty to a single airline. If you frequently snag last-minute deals on bargain travel booking websites, you'll love the flexibility of this featured credit card:
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. If you prefer the flexibility of booking various carries through various websites, this Capital One credit card awards two miles for every purchase toward flights on any airline. Book your travel with your Venture card, then use the Capital One Purchase Eraser tool within 90 days to "erase" your travel charge from your statement.
Finding the best credit card for your travel style means doing some math. Rewards credit cards often carry higher annual fees and finance charges than typical accounts. Project the rewards you'll earn if you funnel as much of your spending as possible through a single card. Don't pay more for an annual fee than the value of your rewards.
Best credit cards for unique experiences
Instead of just collecting rebates and gift cards with your rewards points, consider saving up for an experience that's usually only available to the extremely wealthy or well-connected.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred. Chase's Ultimate Rewards program holds points auctions for unique experiences, such as a golf clinic with a pro and intimate tasting events hosted by master chefs. Other rewards include skydiving and scuba adventures, sunset cruises, and VIP golf events. Earn two points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining at restaurants, and you'll enjoy these unusual rewards more often.
- Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card. Citi Private Pass offers exclusive pre-sales opportunities, VIP packages, and preferred seating packages to some of the country's hottest tours and sporting events. This card carries no annual fee.
Today's best credit cards also include access to around-the-clock concierge teams that can help you skip the lines some of the country's most exclusive restaurants, clubs, and attractions. Even if you pay a modest annual fee, be sure you make the most of your card's bonus travel features, especially if your lender offers rental car protection or trip cancellation insurance.
About the Author
Curtis Arnold, a nationally recognized consumer educator and advocate, has been educating consumers about credit cards since 1998. New! Curtis is the author of 'How You Can Profit from Credit Cards: Using Credit to Improve Your Financial Life and Bottom Line' (FT Press, 2008). He is also the co-author of the upcoming Complete Idiot's Guide to Person-to-Person Lending (Alpha Books/Pengiun Group USA, April 2009), a contribitor to The Ultimate Allowance (InnerWealth Publishing, 2008) and is extensively featured in 42 RulesTM for Driving Success With Books (Super Star Press, January 2009).