If you’re a frequent traveler, you may be considering a travel credit card to get rewarded for all your flights and hotel stays. Travel credit cards let you earn points for every dollar you spend, and you can use them to pay for flights, hotels, rental cars, and other travel-related expenses.
What’s a travel credit card and how does it work?
Travel credit cards are designed for frequent travelers who want to save money on future trips. Every credit card company designs its program a bit differently, but in general, you earn points for every dollar spent on your credit card. Spending on eligible purchases such as airline tickets, hotels, and other travel expenses typically earns you extra points.
When you’re ready to redeem all those points, you may be able to apply them directly toward an airline ticket or hotel stay, transfer the points to a partner hotel or airline rewards program or get a statement credit to cover travel expenses you’ve already made on your card. Your travel and spending can effectively build up to a free trip.
Types of travel credit cards
You’ll find several different kinds of travel rewards credit cards, and the best credit card for you will depend on your travel habits.
- Airline credit cards — Airline cards are co-branded by an airline and a credit card issuer. Money you spend can earn you points or miles to be redeemed for free flights on that airline, and you may also get travel perks like priority boarding, booking travel with no blackout dates, waived baggage fees or access to airport lounges. If you typically fly with a single airline, these can be a good option.
- Hotel credit cards — These cards are co-branded by a hotel chain and credit card company. Points add up to free stays, and perks can include late check-outs, free breakfast or room upgrades. If you’re brand-loyal to a particular hotel, these might work for you.
- General travel cards — These cards are issued by a bank or credit card company and aren’t tied to any particular airline or hotel. You’ll earn points that you can redeem for travel expenses with any airline, hotel, or other travel providers. You may also get travel perks like Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. If you find yourself using different airlines and hotels, you might choose a general travel card.
How to find the best travel credit cards
As you hunt for the best travel credit card for you, pay attention to these factors.
Annual fee — Some travel credit cards don’t charge an annual fee, but some may have a fee of $95 to as much as $550. Cards with annual fees typically have better perks and may earn you rewards faster, but you’ll want to be sure you’ll be able to take advantage of them to make the fee worth it. If you’re an infrequent traveler, consider a travel card with no annual fee.
Sign-up bonus — A travel rewards card will often get you started faster with a certain number of points or credits that you’ll earn if you meet a minimum spending threshold in the first few months of account opening. A more generous sign-up bonus may help you pay for that upcoming trip.
Reward rates — Different cards offer different rewards programs or ways to earn bonus points for travel expenses, like double points or triple points. A card’s rewards might also include points for non-travel-related bonus categories, like dining purchases or grocery store purchases. You’ll want to evaluate your spending habits and pick a program that fits you best.
Elite status — Airline or hotel cards, in particular, may offer cardholders entry into elite programs that offer perks like seat upgrades or lounge access.
Travel protections — Cards may offer benefits like trip cancellation or interruption insurance, or even rental car insurance.
Foreign transaction fees — Many travel credit cards don’t charge fees for transactions in other countries. If you travel overseas, make sure the card you choose has this benefit.
Other perks and benefits — Travel credit cards come with a long list of other perks and premium rewards that vary by card, so see if any pique your interest.
5 travel credit cards to consider
While eligibility requirements vary, here are five Credible partner travel credit cards you may consider. None of these cards charge foreign transaction fees, and they all offer bonuses on travel-related purchases. Some have no annual fee, and several will give you statement credits to cover some of your hotel stays or airline fees.
Pros and cons of travel credit cards
Pros of travel credit cards
- Earn rewards for your purchases. Travel credit cards can come with generous rewards programs, earning you free travel or hotel stays for purchases you already make.
- Save money on foreign purchases. Most travel cards don’t charge foreign transaction fees, so you’ll save money on overseas travel.
- You may get VIP treatment. Some travel cards offer elite or VIP status at airlines or hotels, making it more likely you’ll get upgrades, airport lounge access, and special treatment.
Cons of travel credit cards
- You may face fees. Many travel credit cards come with annual fees, though you may be able to make up for the cost through the card’s benefits.
- Your rewards may be limited to travel expenses. Other credit cards may have cashback programs, but many travel credit cards only offer travel-related rewards. If you don’t travel often, these cards may not be right for you.
- You may be locked into one brand. The card you choose may only offer benefits for one particular airline or hotel brand.
Is a travel credit card right for me?
This is a decision only you can make. If you’re a frequent traveler — or if you’d like to be — a travel credit card can cover some of the costs of the airline tickets and hotel stays you already pay for, or help you save money on your next trip. A travel card co-branded with an airline or hotel may also be a good fit if you use that company on a regular basis or belong to any hotel loyalty programs.
But be sure to consider your financial goals and spending habits. If you’re not sure you’ll be traveling in the near future, or if you’d rather have more flexibility in your rewards program, you may consider a more general cash back credit card. Many travel cards also charge annual fees, and it may be better for you to find a card without a fee. Look carefully at the annual fees each card charges, and compare them to the benefits they offer. If you don’t think you’ll be able to take advantage of the perks, don’t apply for the card.