There are more credit card options today than ever before, and your choice of a travel card depends largely on what kind of traveler you are. Do you fly every week for business, or do you take one or two flights each year to visit the relatives? Do you stay often in a particular hotel chain when you’re on the road? Are perks such as elite status and lounge access important to you?
Let’s break down the options by category, with the understanding that more than one choice may be right for you:
Best for Frequent Flyer Miles: Virtually every major airline today has a co-branded credit card, and some of them come with impressive benefits. In some cases, there are hefty piles of miles as a signup bonus. Many cards provide some of the essential benefits of airline elite status, such as priority boarding and free checked bags. Others give cardholders perks such as car rental insurance, trip cancellation and trip delay benefits, and compensation for lost or delayed luggage.
Here are some of the most compelling airline cards right now:
- American Express has been featuring some aggressive offers for their Delta cards; while incentives change regularly, they have ranged as high as 75,000 miles. If you’re a regular Delta flyer, your best bet is probably the Platinum SkyMiles Card ($195 annual fee, or $250 after January 30), which gives you Main Cabin Priority 1 boarding, an annual companion certificate, your first checked bag free, and the opportunity to earn Medallion Qualification miles.
- American Airlines cards are issued by two different banks (Barclays and Citi), which can be a boon for consumers. The sweet spot is the Barclays’ AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard ($99 annual fee); the current offer is 60,000 miles after your first purchase, with no spending requirement. You also get preferred boarding, one free checked bag for yourself and up to four companions, double miles on American purchases, a 25% inflight discount and a suite of travel insurance protections.
- One of the best deals in the airline industry is the Southwest Companion Pass, which allows unlimited travel for a companion on both paid and award tickets. While the requirements are steep (100 segments or 110,000 points in a year), the good news is that credit card bonuses count toward the total. The current offers for the Rapid Rewards Premier personal and business cards ($99 annual fee) is 40,000 points, and the Performance Business card ($199) yields a bonus of 70,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first three months.
Best for Hotel Stays: Just as with airlines, almost every major hotel chain has a co-branded card, and some offer very attractive benefits. Here are some of the best:
- Hilton’s American Express cards have also offered some sky-high bonuses lately, and they come in a full range of options. The basic, no-fee card gives seven points per dollar for Hilton stays, five points at restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets in the U.S, and three points on everything else. With the Surpass card ($95 annual fee), the earning ration goes up to 12/6/3 and you receive Gold elite status. The Aspire ($450 annual fee) boosts earnings to 14/7/3 and bestows top-tier Diamond Status.
- The IHG Premier Rewards card ($89 annual fee) has also been dishing out record signup bonuses and comes with a host of benefits. Cardholders receive Platinum status, a free anniversary night at hotels costing 40,000 points or less, and the fourth night free on reward stays (better than Hilton or Marriott Bonvoy’s fifth night free).
- The merger of Marriott and Starwood into Marriott Bonvoy created some interesting opportunities for consumers. Both Chase and American Express now issue Bonvoy cards. The most cost-effective option is the Boundless card from Chase ($95 annual fee, formerly the Marriott Premier Rewards Plus), which comes with a solid signup bonus, an anniversary free night at properties costing 35,000 points or less, six points per dollar on Marriott stays and two points on everything else. The American Express Brilliant card ($450) adds complimentary Gold status, a $300 Marriott statement credit and a free night at hotels costing 50,000 points or less.
Best for the Occasional Traveler: If you go on vacation once or twice each year and visit out of town relatives several times, your best strategy is a card that allows you to earn transferable points. This is the most valuable currency in the points and miles world, since it gives the flexibility to transfer points to as many as several dozen airlines. Your best options include:
- The Chase Sapphire Preferred card ($95 annual fee) is currently offering a bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in purchases over the first three months. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are some of the most valuable out there, and they transfer to 10 airlines and three hotel programs.
- Any of the 10 American Express cards that earn Membership Rewards points (such as the Gold, Platinum or Blue Business cards) are a good bet, depending on your lifestyle and spending habits. They transfer to 19 airlines and three hotel programs.
- Earning points with the Marriott Bonvoy cards (mentioned above) can be extremely lucrative: although not worth as much as Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards, they transfer to a whopping 44 airline partners.
Best for Perks and Luxury Travel: The clear winner here is The Platinum Card from American Express and The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN. While not cheap ($550 and $595 respectively), they come with an unparalleled suite of perks. You receive Gold status with Hilton and Marriott Bonvoy; elite status with Avis, Hertz and National; a credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and a slew of benefits such as car rental insurance, purchase protection, baggage insurance, extended warranty and roadside assistance. The Global Lounge Collection grants entry into the Centurion lounges and Priority Pass, Airspace and Escape lounges, and Delta Sky Clubs when flying on Delta the same day. Both cards give you a $200 annual airline credit and access to the Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts program. For the upscale traveler, one of these cards is essential to have in your wallet.
Source: frugal travel guy