How to Choose a Travel Credit Card (There Are 50+ Amazing Options, After All!)

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How to Choose a Travel Credit Card (There Are 50+ Amazing Options, After All!)

Erin LizzoHow to Choose a Travel Credit Card (There Are 50+ Amazing Options, After All!)Million Mile Secrets Team

Signing-up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

There are so many different types of travel credit cards out there…  That’s why we devote so much time to talking and writing about them! 🙂

But with options come difficult decisions.  We can’t make that decision for you, but we can give some advice on how to think about what you’re looking for in a card.

The goal of this article is to help you figure out your travel profile by asking a few questions that you might not have really considered.  Then, once you know what your priorities are as a traveler, it will be easy for you to identify the card that makes the most sense for your own situation.

I’m a big fan of making lists, so this might be a good exercise for you as you’re reading along.  Take notes.  See what answers you come up with.  This is the time to really think through what you’re looking for and focus on when you travel.  You might be surprised!

My Husband Surprised me With a Birthday Trip to Visit Friends and Family in Seattle!  He Booked Our Flights With Miles, and Paid Just $15 in Taxes and Fees!

Getting Started With the Process – Why Do You Want a New Credit Card?

Let’s begin by thinking about your strategy and level of experience with the hobby of collecting points for free travel.  Is this your first travel card?  Or are you looking to open another card that has an amazing welcome bonus so you can pay for that next flight with miles?  This is an important question and a great place to start because it outlines your motivation and your experience.

Opening a Card for the First Time?

We are so glad you’re here!  This is a great place to get started, and we have tons of resources and information for those who are looking to open their first credit card.

Before you open your new card, come up with a game plan.  Start small with just one card.  Look for an offer that makes sense for you (more on that below) and figure out how much you’ll need to charge to make the card worth it.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening the card.  That’s worth at LEAST $750 in travel.  If you want this bonus, play it safe and save the $4,000 before you open the card.  That way you know you’ll have a safety net of cash reserves to pay off your balance for the first 3 months and get the bonus.

Experienced in the Points and Miles Hobby?

You’ve been around the block once or twice, you have a few cards in your wallet (or maybe more!).  You feel confident in how this system works, you know you’re able to pay off the balance of your card in full every month, and you understand when to use which card for what.  You’ve probably flown for free frequently or paid for a stay in a nice hotel with points.  You’re hooked.  I get it.  I am too, and it kind of feels like a secret club, doesn’t it?

So your strategy at this point is a little bit different.  When you think about opening a new card, first take inventory on the cards you already have.  Where are the gaps in your travel profile?  Are you heavy on airline cards, but lacking hotel cards?  Do you travel for work a lot and spend money on gas frequently?  If so, maybe a cash back card is the right call.

Think about your perfect vacation – how will you get there for free?  Then work backward and figure out which card(s) will help round out your travel profile.

What’s Your Travel Type?

I have some friends who live pretty modestly, but when they travel they love to go big.  Specifically, they love to stay at fancy hotels.  So they are a big fan of  The World Of Hyatt Credit Card. They just got back from a trip to Aspen where they were able to stay in a luxury room that would have cost $600 per night by using Hyatt points.  That means they got a room worth $600 by simply using their credit card for normal purchases, like gas and groceries, and were able to stay at a beautiful place they loved.

This Cozy Outdoor Lounge in Aspen Is Reason Enough to Apply for The World Of Hyatt Credit Card

On the other hand, some people (like me) prefer to stay at an Airbnb when visiting a new place.  I can’t use hotel points to cover an Airbnb stay, so I need a different strategy.

When you’re looking to open a new card, it’s first important to figure out your travel priorities and your travel type.  I’ve outlined a few of the common travel types we see, but there’s a chance you don’t fit into this list.  It’s still a good starting point to review some of the cards we’d suggest for different travelers.

Total Newbie

You’re new to the hobby of collecting rewards points and want to start out with a card that is straightforward and doesn’t have a high annual fee.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is our go-to card for anyone new to the hobby.  We like this card for LOTS of reasons.  It comes with fabulous travel insurance benefits (trip delay insurance, primary rental car insurance, SUPER valuable points, bonus points for travel and restaurants purchases, etc.)

But there’s a low annual fee of just $95, making it seem like less of a commitment than other premium travel-related cards with higher annual fees.

Check out our review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred here.

Keep It Simple Traveler

You’ve got better things to do than search through tons of different travel offers.  You don’t want to spend 100 hours researching how to squeeze every nano-penny from miles & points.  It can be a deep, deep wormhole, trust me.

You probably found this out at one point and decided to just keep it simple when you travel.  You’ll want to look into cards that have fixed value points that are easy to redeem like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®, and the U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card.  We like these cards because they offer an easy way to both earn and spend miles and points.

Another good option is any card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve.  That’s because you can “buy” travel through their portal with the points you’ve earned at a fixed value.  It’s nice when you don’t want to spend a ton of time researching how to max out your points.

Family Traveler

Traveling with your family (kids, specifically) is a whole different game (so I’ve heard from my friends who have young children).

If you travel with family, you might be looking for a hotel with things like:

  • A pool
  • Free breakfast
  • Oversized rooms

We’re a big fan of hotels like Choice and Hilton.  Many of these will offer a free breakfast, spacious rooms, and often they have a pool on site.  Plus, they’re just about EVERYWHERE.  Some hotels, especially Hyatt, only have hotels in more popular cities.  You can find a Choice hotel in just about any small town.

It makes sense to look for great hotel credit cards that earn points at family-friendly hotels.  Check out the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card.  You’ll earn 12X Hilton points per $1 spent at Hilton and a huge welcome offer of 125,000 Hilton points when you spend $2,000 on purchases in first 3 months of opening your account.  Plus, the card comes with automatic Hilton Gold status, which gives you free breakfast at Hilton hotels!

Family travelers will also want an airline that keeps family needs in mind.  Southwest has very family-friendly policies.  Two free checked bags per person can be super important when you’re toting around supplies and clothing for you plus one (and one and one).  Southwest also allows for free-of-charge ticket changes – that’s practically unheard of these days, and very helpful when you’re juggling a busy family schedule.  SOMETHING is bound to conflict your plans, and you may need to reschedule your flights.

I’d recommend signing-up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card.  It’s got a very low $69 annual fee, and comes with 40,000 Southwest points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening the account.  Southwest points are generally worth 1.5 cents each, so you’re getting $600 in free airfare.

Plus, if you earn 110,000 Southwest points in a calendar year, you’ll receive the Southwest Companion Pass, the ULTIMATE family travel benefit.  With the Companion Pass, you can take with you 1 family member (or friend, or whoever you want, really) for just the cost of taxes & fees every single time you fly Southwest, for up to 2 years.  Read all about the Southwest Companion Pass here!

Fancy Pants Traveler

Are you a total Louis-Vuitton-carry-on-wielding jet-setter?  This is what I aspire to be, but usually I’m the one trying to pack everything into the smallest bag I own standing in line wearing the most comfortable outfit that is acceptable for going out in public.  Life goals though…

Two things I consider to be a luxury when traveling are:

Business or First Class Seats

Business and First Class seats are nuts expensive when you pay cash.  But they’re easy to earn with a few travel credit card bonuses!

For example, you can fly from the US to Europe on United Airlines for just 60,000 United Airlines miles in Business Class.  The United℠ Explorer Business Card comes with 50,000 United Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account.  So if you meet this card’s minimum spend requirement, you’ll have nearly enough miles for your flight!

Same with other airlines.  American Airlines flies to Europe for as little as 57,500 American Airlines miles in Business Class.  You can earn more than that by opening a single credit card!

Check out our top airline credit card picks here.

Also, I’m going to throw in my recommendation for the British Airways Visa Signature® Card simply because any seat on British Airways seems somewhat fancy (the food!).

Priority Pass Airport Lounge Pass

What is better than completely disappearing from the airport into a high-class world of free snacks and (usually) free alcohol?  To me, that’s the ultimate in fanciness.  That’s why I love any card that includes a Priority Pass airport lounge membership.

Here are a few of our favorite cards to gain access to airport lounges:

Check out this post for more details on the best credit cards for airport lounge access.

A High-End Hotel

Be like my fancy friends who stayed at the 5-star Hyatt in Aspen for free by booking with points they accumulated on their The World Of Hyatt Credit Card.  It’s the best card for both value and comfort.

A super helpful perk of Hyatt points is that you don’t have to worry about blackout dates.  If there’s a standard room available, you can reserve it with points.

This card also gives you 1 free night each anniversary year at a category 1 to 4 Hyatt hotel or resort.  That easily offsets the annual fee.  Scott has kept his Hyatt card for years because of this.

Here are our favorite hotel credit cards.

Business Traveler

In my opinion, business travel is the ultimate opportunity to build up rewards points quickly without spending any money.  Booking a flight, hotel, hiring Ubers, spending money out at restaurants – these all are prime activities for earning points.  Better yet, if you open a new card and charge your business trip expenses, you’ll be that much closer to hitting your initial spending requirement while someone else completely reimburses you!

That said, if you’re running your own business, there are some really valuable offers from various business cards.  Think about what you’d like to receive back from a card before you commit.  Are you looking for more cash back to invest into your business?  Are you looking for a miles card that will help cut down the expense of flights?  Or a combination of cash back and miles?

In our opinion, the best options for business cards are also those that earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points such as the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit CardChase Ultimate Rewards are so flexible, you can book travel across multiple airlines and hotels that are connected to the program.

Check out our guide to Chase Ultimate Rewards points here!

Bottom Line

When I went through the process of figuring out a new card (actually, I’m still going through it, and this exercise helped!), I realized that I’d never considered hotel or cash back credit cards before.

Since my husband has a few different airline cards, I’m now thinking about how to diversify.  Did you find this thought process helpful?  What type of traveler are you?  Do you aspire to be a different type of traveler?  What card do you think is best for you?  Let me know what you found out in the comments section below!

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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

More Info

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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