How to pick the right travel card
Updated: Jul 23
There are plenty of credit cards out there with different levels of benefits, some with annual fees, others with foreign transaction fees, and ones that may be excellent starter cards, but you've outgrown. Before starting any applications, consider these four questions to find the right card for you.
What's your highest spend category?
If you spend most of the week picking up meals and eating out, go for a card that rewards dining. The Chase Freedom Unlimited card offers 3% cash back on dining & drugstores, and 1.5% on everything else. Groceries, gas, and travel are other popular spend categories that can quickly earn you your next vacation.
The credit or debit card you already use categorizes these purchases for you, so log onto your mobile banking app to quickly find the answer to this question.
Can you leverage bonus offers?
Most cards offer a welcome bonus when you apply. The Chase Freedom Unlimited card linked above rewards you with a $200 bonus after spending $500 within 3 months of account opening. Discover it Miles, a great card for students, matches all miles earned within the first year. Use this link to earn a statement credit of $100 after you make your first purchase (and I'll earn one too). Every purchase you make with the Discover card will earn 1.5x miles that can be redeemed for cash, a statement credit, or towards travel. I used my $600 worth of Discover miles to purchase a roundtrip flight to Europe in 2021!
Another attractive bonus is one from the Citi Premier card; spend $4,000 in the first 3 months and receive 60,000 bonus points, which can be redeemed for gift cards or travel rewards through thankyou.com. To reap the benefits from Citi, there is a higher spend requirement and an annual fee of $95, but better payout. With bonus points equivalent to $600, this card pays for itself (literally, for 6 years). Cardholders also receive $100 off a $500 hotel stay per calendar year, when booked through Citi's travel site.
How do you want to use your points?
If you're reading this, I'm going to assume you'd like to use your credit card points for travel. Most cards have specific ways in which you can redeem your points, whether it's through gift cards, a statement credit, or booking travel through the card's site. Some cards even let you transfer points so you can book flights or hotels directly with the provider. As a Citi Premier cardholder, you can transfer points to loyalty programs like JetBlue TrueBlue, ALL - Accor Live Limitless, Emirates Skywards, Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club, and Wyndham Rewards, and more!
There are also cards like Amex's Hilton Honors or IHG Rewards Premier that highly benefit those who frequently use the brand. IHG Rewards Premier cardholders can earn up to 26X points at IHG Hotels & Resorts. There is a $99 annual fee but the 140,000 bonus points and extensive benefits make it well worth it.
Are the card benefits valuable to you?
Aside from cash back and bonus points, many cards come with additional benefits you can use in your daily life. The IHG Rewards Premier currently offers an annual complimentary DashPass membership, a $100 statement credit for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, or Nexus application fees, as well as trip interruption/cancellation and baggage loss insurance.
If you don't travel much, TSA PreCheck may not be useful to you, but other benefits like grocery delivery memberships or a free streaming subscription might be. Before choosing a card, ask yourself if you can take advantage of the benefits it offers.
Submit an application
Once you've answered these questions, it's time to pick a card and apply! All cards are not created equal, so make sure you read the fine print before submitting an application. Finally, continue making your everyday purchases using your brand new card to start earning your rewards.