Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Written By Jeff Hindenach
Last updated December 7, 2020

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August 12, 2017

Simple. Thrifty. Living.


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If you like to travel, using a travel rewards card can give you a way to earn the best credit card perks and points that you can spend on travel. From hotel reservations to car rentals and even airline tickets, you can earn it all just by making normal purchases using a credit card that includes a travel rewards program. If you spend enough during the year, you might find your entire vacation subsidized by your travel rewards program. Some programs even offer big points bonuses for opening an account and meeting some purchase requirements.

Many travel rewards programs operate on a points system. For every dollar you spend, you earn one, two, three or even four points, depending on the rewards program. Other systems use travel miles that you can convert for use with airlines or other travel perks. As you build up miles, you can use them to purchase longer flights or upgrade out of economy while flying. You might even get free alcoholic beverages during your flight depending on the type of the rewards.

Travel rewards cards come in two basic formats: generic and branded. Branded rewards offer points or miles through a specific hotel chain, airline or other travel brand. Generic travel rewards do not go with a specific chain. Instead, they can be used through a list of possible partners without the hassle of converting the points first. With branded rewards programs, you may earn rewards faster with the brand. For example, a specific airline might offer a rewards credit card that lets you wrack up the airline points/miles quickly. By contrast, with a generic card, you might earn rewards more slowly but they can usually be used at more locations.

With some travel cards, one of the biggest perks for frequent international travelers is the lack of a foreign transaction fee. Credit cards that do charge a foreign transaction fee can result in a one to three percent add-on to any transaction. When you’re traveling, the last thing you want to do is pay more than you have to for anything. After all, the more you keep in your pocket, the more fun you can have while on the road. With travel rewards cards, you can often avoid foreign currency transaction fees entirely. That means you don’t have to worry about getting travelers checks, visiting somewhere to convert your existing cash or anything else. Instead, you can simply swipe your card or insert it into a chip reader and pay for what you need.

There are some pretty awesome perks out there for the frequent traveler. You can use rewards to pay for everything from a car rental to a round-trip flight. Some of the highest-ticket travel items can be entirely paid for using rewards points. Some of the most common perks include:

  • Bonus points on travel expenses. Any dollar spent on hotels, airfare, gas, restaurants or similar should come with extra points.
  • A microprocessor chip that allows you to use your card at overseas locations where the technology is standard.
  • Travel insurance, so if you need to cancel a trip, you don’t have to worry about losing your deposit.

The best travel rewards usually come from travel credit cards that require a good or excellent credit score. If your credit score isn’t the best but you still want to take advantage of the best travel rewards, look at simple ways you can raise your credit score or reach out to a trusted credit repair company to see if they can help. You can also find out what is the best credit card for your credit score.

The most common travel perks are things you probably use all of the time, but there is a ton of other perks you might not be aware of. Here are some of the most unusual perks that can come along with your travel rewards card.

  • Rental car insurance. No one enjoys the idea of paying an extra $15-20 per day when renting a car. When you have the extra insurance, you don’t need to worry about theft or damage to the vehicle that you would otherwise have to pay for out of pocket.
  • Travel lounges. Some airports have travel lounges that are only available to travelers that have a card or business perk that gives them access. These lounges contain places to rest, often have charging stations, might offer free munchies or coffee, and some even have free massage chairs.
  • Avoid airline charges. Remember those nickel-and-dime fees like extra baggage fees or charges for booking close to your departure date? Those are no more. In fact, you might even get things like fare specials not available to the general public.
  • Free upgrades. With co-branded cards, you might even be able to upgrade a hotel room or flight, all at no charge.
  • Concierge services. Some of the most elite cards even have white glove services like private car service or special events. Of course, they also tend to carry the highest annual fees.

Travel rewards cards can help with everything from finding a hotel room during a very busy weekend to paying for you to get your pre-check completed so you can get through security faster. Even with a fairly hefty annual fee, you may find that just a couple of flights will pay the cost of the card, especially when you can save on baggage fees.

About the Author

Jeff Hindenach

Jeff Hindenach is the co-founder of Simple. Thrifty. Living. He graduated from Bowling Green State University with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. He has a long history of financial journalism, with a background writing for newspapers such as the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Examiner, as well as writing on personal finance for The Huffington Post, New York Times, Business Insider, CNBC, Newsday and The Street. He believes in giving readers the tools they need to get out of debt.

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