The right travel rewards credit card can help you extend your vacation budget or perhaps even allow you to travel when you otherwise wouldn't have been able to. That's because the top travel rewards credit cards, such as the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and even the no-annual-fee Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card offer stellar welcome bonuses, excellent ongoing rewards earning and money-saving perks like no foreign transaction fees and more.
No one wants to spend their hard-earned vacation money on things like supplemental car insurance, extra baggage fees or trip insurance and using a travel credit card is one smart way to keep more money in your pocket for the things you love. Keep reading to learn more about how to compare travel rewards cards. Read more
When it comes to travel rewards credit cards there are two types of cards to consider: those that offer rewards in a program operated by the card issuer (program operated cards), and those that offer points or miles with a travel provider, such as airline and hotel credit cards (partner rewards cards).
Both categories of cards offer rewards that can be used toward travel or redeemed for cash or statement credits, but the perks, points, and redemption offers will vary card to card. Most often, with partner rewards cards, your points will generally be held in your frequent flyer or loyalty account. On the other hand, with program-operated cards you'll be awarded either transferable points – which are typically redeemed on a chart where points differ in value based on how/where you redeem them – and fixed valued points, which are points that are redeemed based on a fixed value.
While deciding on a travel rewards card doesn't have to be difficult, there are some steps we recommend you follow to better equip you to make your decision. While we won't be giving you a travel credit card comparison per se, the following questions and points are designed to help you compare travel rewards cards and help you better understand which travel credit card offers might be best for you.
What kind of credit card user are you?
The first step in any credit card comparison situation is to figure out exactly what kind of credit card user you are.
How is your credit? Do you want one card for all of your purchases, or are you willing to use cards strategically and rotate more than one card? Are you going to be able to offset an annual fee with the rewards your earn (and actually redeem)? Do you spend in categories that will earn you the most rewards? For example, there's no point in applying for a credit card that might earn you four points on restaurant purchases and one point on everything else, when you hardly ever dine out. High point offers always look appealing, but they're only practical if they match your spending habits. Since you're looking at information about travel rewards cards, let's assume you know that's the type of rewards card you want.
What kind of traveler are you?
Now that you've decided a travel rewards card is what you want as compared to another kind of rewards card, you'll want to think long and hard about what kind of traveler you are. We suggest doing this before you start reading all of the enticing reward offers out there and allowing yourself to be tempted into choosing a card that doesn't actually match your travel habits just because of the allure of an intro bonus.
Do you frequently travel internationally, or do you prefer to keep your trips domestic? Are you often on the go, or do you travel just once or twice a year? Do you drive or fly? Do you consider yourself a luxury or budget traveler? These are the types of questions you need to be asking yourself when considering which travel rewards cards to put on your comparison short list.
Common travel credit card features
Before we get into how to compare travel rewards credit cards, we need to break down some of the different features and perks most commonly offered with travel rewards cards so you can start considering which benefits matter to you the most.
How to compare travel rewards credit cards
Now that you've thought about the type of traveler and credit card user you are, and have learned a bit about some of the most common credit card travel perks, you're ready to review the best practices to take when comparing travel rewards cards.
When comparing cards you'll want to start by looking at the cards' rewards, benefits and terms, and then considering the following questions and factors:
Will you realistically be able to earn the welcome bonus? One of the great perks of travel rewards credit cards is the large welcome bonus opportunity that's usually offered to new cardholders. Though the amount of the offer varies from card to card, one thing that's usually pretty consistent is the amount of time you have to earn the reward: three months. Most often, the lower the welcome bonus, the lower the threshold you have to spend to receive it. Take the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, (This card is not currently available on CardRatings) for example. Though it offers a generous welcome offer to new cardholders – – you have to hit that spending to be eligible for the bonus. If you're putting every $1 you spend on your card, chances are, you'll have no trouble reaching the threshold in time. However, if you only plan to use your credit card periodically, you might be better off with something like the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card, which offers – a much lower threshold to earn the bonus.
Large welcome bonuses might be tempting, but don't choose a card specifically for the bonus, especially if you realistically can't meet the requirements to benefit from it.
Does the rewards system make sense for your spending habits? Briefly mentioned above, high point reward offers often look appealing, but are only practical if they match your spending habits. For instance, the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card sounds like a great deal with its It is a good deal, but only if you frequently stay at Marriott Rewards® or SPG® hotels. Otherwise, because of its $95 annual fee, this card doesn't make sense for everyone.
Another thing to consider is whether you are okay with being strategic with your card, or if you prefer to keep things simple. For example, certain cards, like the Citi Premier℠ Card (Citi is a CardRatings advertiser), offer different point values for different purchase categories. Often times, people hold more than one credit card, using specific cards for specific purchases to maximize point gain; however, not everyone likes to think so much when using their cards. If that's you, you might fare better with a flat-rate rewards card such as Discover it® Miles, which earns users an unlimited 1.5 miles per $1 on every purchase made, with no categories to think about or hoops to jump through.
Consider the value of the extra perks. This is where the questions you asked yourself above really come in handy. If you don't travel out of the country often, a card with no international fees might not be necessary for you. If you hardly ever fly, a card with luggage protection will probably make no difference. If you're more of a budget traveler, premium travel benefits might not be high on your priority list, etc. Naturally, credit card companies like to flaunt the greatest perks of their cards to lure you in, but don't let frilly extras that you might not ever use distract you from what you really need from a credit card.
That said, if certain perks, like supplemental car insurance or a TSA Pre✓® application fee are things you're already paying for, these are definitely things to take into consideration during your decision process, even if the card has an annual fee, which leads us to our next point.
Is the annual fee worth it? Many credit card users will pass on a card just because it has an annual fee, but sometimes, the card benefits can far outweigh the cost of the card. Let's take a look at the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card again to put things into perspective. Though there's an annual fee of $0 intro for first year; $95 after that, there's a lot of rewards that come with this card. To start, there's the one-time bonus we mentioned above, which, when redeemed for travel is worth $500.
Since there's no fee the first year of card membership and you'll benefit $500 minimum if you qualify for the welcome bonus (that doesn't even take into account your everyday rewards-earning), you could offset the annual for six full years on the welcome bonus alone (the first year fee is waived and the five years after that come in under $500 total). What's more, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card cardholders are eligible for up to a $100 application fee credit for your Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® application fee every four years, do not get charged fees when traveling internationally, are covered at the rental car counter in most countries, and receive a number of other travel and purchase protection benefits such as travel accident insurance and extended warranty protection. Many frequent travelers, especially those often traveling internationally, will likely find that the benefits of this card outweigh the cost.
On the other hand though, if you're not going to cash in on the perks of the card, you're probably better off sticking with a card that charges a lower annual fee or none at all. Again, this is where considering the value of the extra perks really comes in handy.
Consider whether the various partners and loyalty programs associated with a card are ones you'll actually use. If you always fly with American Airlines, Chase Ultimate Rewards® points won't help you much as American Airlines isn't a Chase airline partner; if you're dreaming of using your rewards points for a trip to London, earning miles with Southwest Airlines won't do you much good; if you love Marriott hotels, a Hilton credit card probably isn't for you; etc.
For airline rewards cards, be sure to consider how often you'll use that airline and its partners. Most often, these cards offer more points for purchases made directly with the airline, or with airline partners, so it makes sense for travelers to have a card affiliated with the airlines you use the most. Also be sure to pay close attention to the partner airlines. Although American Airlines doesn't fly from, say, Boston to Athens, Greece, British Airways, an American Airlines partner, does, so you'd still be able to cash in on American Airlines rewards for your next trip to the Mediterranean coast.
It's also important to consider airline hubs. Delta, for example, is headquartered in Atlanta, Ga., meaning, those flying out of Atlanta on Delta have an abundance of routes to choose from. However, if you live nowhere near Atlanta or a Delta hub, it might not make quite as much sense to hold a Delta-branded credit card.
It's the same idea with hotel rewards cards. Economy travelers likely won't have much use for benefits offered at luxury hotel chains, and likewise, there's no point in having a credit card from a budget chain when you prefer mid-range or luxury hotels. Hotel locations are also key. If you frequently travel out of the country, it's likely not worth holding a hotel rewards card that only has hotels available in the United States.
With all of that said, if you're not loyal to one particular airline brand or hotel portfolio, you might be better off with a flexible credit card that allows you to make a booking with any airline or hotel, which leads us to our final question.
Are you the kind of person who will be comfortable redeeming rewards within a credit card travel portal, or do you want flexibility to redeem wherever you want for a statement credit instead? Most often, travel rewards credit card users redeem points one of two ways: for travel by transferring points to a loyalty program, or for a statement credit.
If you're loyal to a particular airline or hotel chain, transferring points to a loyalty program makes good sense as, most often, you'll receive the best value for your points this way. Take the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, for example. With this card, users receive 25 percent more value when redeeming travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, the signup bonus of 60,000 points (after spending $4,000 in the first three months) are worth $750 towards travel when redeemed this way, versus $600 if redeemed for cash. Otherwise, points are generally transferred 1:1 to Chase's partner airline and hotel loyalty programs.
While this option is great for those loyal to certain brands, it doesn't make sense for everyone, especially those who want more freedom with how they travel. If you like to book airline tickets through discount travel websites, or if maybe you want to redeem points for unique hotel situations like a National Park cabin rental or an Airbnb booking, a credit card that allows you to redeem travel purchases for an account credit might be more useful to you.
Let's circle back to the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card for an example. If you are a Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card holder, all you have to do is click "redeem travel purchases," on your account page, which will bring you to a screen showing all of your eligible travel purchases made with the card within the past 90 days. From there, you're just two clicks away from "erasing" travel expenses from your statement using your available rewards.
Say you took a trip where you spent $600 on an Airbnb rental and $400 on a discount travel website such as Kayak.com. Since points are redeemed at a 1:1 value, as long as you have at least 100,000 miles in your account, all you have to do is click redeem next to these purchases to make them "disappear."
Another great thing about this option is you're not forced to wait until you have all of the points you need to book travel. If you are ready to book plane tickets but don't expect to have enough points to cover the trip for another month or two, you can always book now and redeem later, giving you the flexibility you need to plan your dream vacation.
Final considerations when comparing travel rewards cards
While travel credit cards certainly offer some attractive rewards and benefits, it's important to also note their disadvantages.
To start, travel rewards cards are usually available only to those with good or excellent credit, so if you've had significant credit problems, you may not be eligible for the card you're after. Furthermore, rewards credit cards often charge higher interest rates than cards with no rewards, so if you tend to carry a balance on your credit card, a travel rewards credit card is likely not an ideal choice for you; your interest charges will more than eat away any rewards you earn.
Besides for these two factors, though, we think travel rewards credit cards are a great option to hold in your wallet, especially for those frequently on the go, or for those planning their next big getaway!
So, which travel credit card is best for you?
Only you can decide! We've given you our top recommendations for how to compare travel rewards credit cards and choose the right one, now, the rest is up to you. Bon voyage!