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Best credit cards for summer vacation from our partners

By , CardRatings contributor

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Best credit cards for summer vacation

Sure, you probably don't plan your summer vacation around your credit cards, but you do pay for it with them. So somewhere in the insanity of trying to reserve a spot at the kennel for your dog and trying to get your friends or your spouse or kids excited about your idea for where you'd like to go sometime between now and Labor Day, you might be asking yourself as you plan your summer vacation - do I have the best credit card that's really going to offer me a lot of reward points?

After all, vacations aren't cheap, and if you don't have a card that offers much in the rewards department, you're paying more for your trip than you need to. Or maybe you aren't going anywhere this summer. You're still presumably going to go out and have some fun (hopefully). Maybe you'll dine out a lot, or drive out to the beach or swimming pool every chance you get. If your credit card is weak with its rewards, once again, you're paying more for your summer fun than you need to be.

So if you want to cash in on credit card perks, time is a-wasting. If you're looking for the best credit cards for summer vacation, here are some ideas - and afterwards, we'll regroup with a few credit card money saving strategies you'll want to utilize, no matter what credit card you choose.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

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Why It's Perfect For Your Summer Vacation: You know that moment you find an underground band and completely fall in love and wonder why you haven't heard of them before? That's the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®. It flies under the travel rewards radar sometimes, but you should take note.

With this card, you earn two miles per $1 spent on all your purchases, so it's a great everyday card that will help you bank rewards for your next big trip. The miles don't expire and there are no blackout dates or hotel or airline restrictions to worry about. Here's the deal: The miles are completely flexible. You simply purhcase your travel on your card and then redeem your accumulated miles for statement credit to cover those travel purchases. It couldn't be simpler, but it does get sweeter: Each time you redeem you'll receive 5 percent of your miles back to use on a future redemption. And we haven't even discussed the 40,000 bonus miles you can earn after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days - that's enough for $400 in travel statement credit.


Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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Why It's Perfect For Your Summer Vacation: Thanks to Chase's flexible Ultimate Rewards® program, this card lets you rack up significant bonus points on travel and dining purchases. You'll earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants; meanwhile, you'll get 1 point per $1 spent on any other purchases.

The sign-up bonus allows you to earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. With a moderate annual fee ($0 intro for the first year, then $95), $0 foreign transaction fees, an embedded EMV chip, and access to dedicated customer service specialists, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card provides excellent value when you're on vacation, not just when you're trying to earn a vacation. (Another thing to keep in mind if you have a spouse or perhaps a kid in college who could use some experience using a credit card; if you add an authorized user and make a purchase within the first 3 months from the account opening, you'll get 5,000 bonus points.)


British Airways Visa Signature® Card

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

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Why It's Perfect For Your Summer Vacation: Frequent flyers willing to buck the trends of flexible redemption options can lock in some substantial rewards from Chase and British Airways. The current promotional signup offer features the chance to earn up to 75,000 Avios (50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within first three months of account opening and an additional 25,000 Avios if you spend $10,000 total in the first year). That amount of points could go a LONG way to paying for a flight or two. (If are dying for another parenthetical and are puzzled by the word, "Avios," that's just another word for points or miles, using the British Airways lexicon.) Along with 3 Avios for $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for $1 spent on all other purchases, cardholders can score an annual Travel Together ticket, good for two years, after spending more than $30,000 in purchases on the card every calendar year. Cardholders must still pay taxes and fees out of pocket, but that perk can be worth a substantial amount of money when redeemed for a first-class ticket on a long-haul flight.


Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom®

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Why It's Perfect For Your Summer Vacation: Every quarter, Chase Freedom® has a new category in which you'll earn bonus rewards. In January through March 2017, for instance, you earned 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchased at gas stations and local commuter transportation if you signed up. In April through June, customers earned 5 percent cash back at grocery stores. And this July and September, the focus will be "summer fun." Details on exactly what summer fun is remain to be announced, but it sounds like you're probably covered if you're doing a lot of traveling and spending time in hotels. (And it isn't as if the card will stop being useful after the summer is over; the theme of the card from October to December is "holiday.") There's also no annual fee, and no matter what you're buying, no matter what the season, you'll always get an automatic unlimited 1 percent cash back on all of your other purchases.

EXPERT TIP: Combine Chase Freedom® with Chase Sapphire Preferred® to earn top miles in the 5 percent category with Freedom® and then 2x the points on travel and dining out with Chase Sapphire Preferred®. Plus, when you redeem all those Chase Ultimate Rewards® points through your Sapphire card, you'll receive 25 percent more value.


Discover it® Miles

Discover it® Miles

Why It's Perfect For Your Summer Vacation: This is a terrific card for anyone who spends money, but it's certainly a good card for travelers. You'll earn an unlimited 1.5x miles on every $1 spent on all purchases, whether you're buying something online or at the supermarket or staying at a hotel. But what's really incredible is that at the end of your first year, Discover will MATCH all of the miles you've earned. So if you earned 15,000 miles, you'll get 30,000 points. That basically means you earn 3 points for every $1 spent during the first year. Other noteworthy mentions: No annual fee, your miles never expire, and there are no blackout dates.


Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Discover it® - Cashback Match™

Why It's Perfect For Your Summer Vacation: There's a lot to like with this card. You'll get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back that you've earned at the end of your first year. Meanwhile, every quarter, there are rotating categories. July through September 2017, for instance, restaurants will be the bonus category, something to keep in mind if you're going on a vacation, you socialize a lot with your friends during the summer or you just like to eat a lot. If you sign up for the bonus categories, you'll earn 5 percent back on up to $1,500 spent that quarter. Some other selling points: your cash back never expires, you can use your rewards instantly at Amazon.com checkout, and there's no annual fee.


Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

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Why It's Perfect For Your Summer Vacation: If you're a Costco member and you travel a lot, especially in the United States, then this is probably a card you'd like to have. (If you're traveling internationally, there's a 3 percent foreign purchase transaction fee, except at Costcos around the world.) Why is this such a good trip for travel? If you're going on a road trip, you'll receive 4 percent cash back on eligible gas worldwide, including gas at Costco. (As for eligible gas, you'll earn 1 percent and not 4 percent cash back for gas purchased at superstores, supermarkets, convenience stores and warehouse clubs other than Costco as well as on gas purchases over $7,000 annually.) Another reason it's a solid card for the summer, or any season, really - you'll receive 3 percent cash back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases worldwide. (Most travel expenses, like hotel and airfare, are eligible; a few obscure things, like travelers checks, aren't). If you go to Costco a lot (and really, what's the point of getting this card if you aren't a member?), you'll receive 2 percent cash back on all other purchases from Costco and Costco.com and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. Also worth mentioning: There's no annual fee with your paid Costco membership. In other words, road trips, grocery trips or domestic beach trips on your agenda? This is a great option. Citi is a CardRatings advertiser


Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

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Why It's Perfect For Your Summer Vacation: If you're a fan of the Starwood brand - and they have some of the biggest hospitality brands in the world, like Sheraton and Westin - then this is probably your dream credit card (American Express is a CardRatings advertiser). After you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months, you'll receive 25,000 bonus Starpoints®, which is enough for two free nights at a Category 4 hotel. And whenever you stay at a Starwood branded hotel or a participating Marriott hotel, you'll receive 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent on the card; if you're also a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program, you'll receive an additional 2 or 3 points more depending on your tier. And those points aren't only good at Starwood hotels; Starpoints® can be transferred to more than 30 airline frequent flyer programs. Some other nice features about this card: no foreign transaction fees on international purchases, and no annual fee for the first year (after that, it's $95 a year). Terms apply.


Discover it® chrome for Students

Discover it® chrome for Students

Why It's Perfect For Your Summer Vacation: During the school year, you get cash back for good grades ($20 each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to five years). And during the summer (and all year, actually), you'll receive 2 percent cash back on gas and restaurants, up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter.

You'll also get 1 percent cash back on any other purchases. Plus, this Dsicvoer card is another that will MATCH all the cash back you earn during your first year. More reasons to look into this: There's no annual fee, and your rewards can be redeemed in any amount, and they never expire.


U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature

Why It's Perfect For Your Summer Vacation:You get to tailor this card to your summer vacation plans – even if that just means driving to and from the local pool. Each quarter you get to choose two categories from a lengthy list in which you'll earn 5 percent cash back on your first $2,000 in combined eligible net purchases.

You'll also receive an unlimited 2 percent cash back on one everyday category that changes each quarter and 1 percent cash back on your other purchases. Since the categories change every quarter, you have to stay on top of things if you really want to make the most of this card. Bottom line, if you're spending a lot and doing a lot this summer, you're always getting cash back on something. Plus, there's no annual fee.


So if you want to cash in on travel reward credit card perks, it'll help to follow one or more of these strategies:

  • Apply for a card with a huge signup bonus, then meet the qualifying spend threshold before the promotional deadline.
  • Push all your personal expenses through a branded travel credit card with a strong redemption program.
  • Build loyalty with travel industry brands that offer generous redemption options, elite status upgrades and comprehensive destination lists.

If you've got excellent credit, you can usually find significant signup bonus offers for new credit card customers. The biggest deals usually come from airline credit cards issued by major national banks. Many of these partnerships offer enough frequent flier miles or rewards points to cover one or two round trip domestic tickets.

On the other hand, if you've got enough time to play a longer game, you can turn your everyday purchases or reimbursed business expenses into discounted airfares and hotel nights. Hotel chain credit cards multiply rewards points for purchases at participating properties, speeding you toward exclusive status along the way. With many hotels adopting flexible, market-based redemption programs, picking an off-season date or a less central property for your vacation can stretch your rewards balance even further.

When searching for the best credit card that fits your needs for your summer vacation, remember that credit card companies don't set up rewards points programs just to be generous. Annual fees and finance charges on travel rewards cards tend to come in significantly higher than similar "no frills" credit cards. Squeezing maximum value from your rewards card means redeeming far more in value than the cost of your annual fee. Likewise, paying your bill in full at the close of each statement cycle can prevent high APRs from diminishing your card's rebate credits. Map out a sample reward itinerary to see just how much you'll need to spend if you want to fly, dine or lodge using your rewards.

In other words, getting the most of out of the best credit cards for summer vacation takes about as much work as you're doing to plan your summer vacation. That's the bad news. The good news is that by planning both, and really looking over the details, it should pay off. Your memories may be priceless, but that doesn't mean you have to pay a fortune for them.

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