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Best Travel Credit Cards for 2020: Get Upgrades, Free Flights, and More

The best travel credit card for you can help you to earn travel perks like free bonus miles, hotel credits for suite upgrades, and elite status with an airline. Making your travels and adventures that much more comfortable and enjoyable. These travel credit card offers discounts when you shop through their portals on airfares, hotel stays, rental cars, and other travel expenses

In a Nutshell: What are the Best Travel Credit Cards for 2020?

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • American Express Platinum Card
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve® Visa card
  • Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students

To qualify for these credit card you need to have a good credit score. Many  travel rewards credit cards have intro offers like a welcome bonus or bonus miles that can feel like quick cash back.  Beware there could be annual fees associated with these credit cards that are waved for the first year. These annual fees could be as high as $550 but can be offset if there are statement credits as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account. 

How Do Travel Credit Cards Work?

A travel credit card or travel rewards card allows the cardholder to earn rewards points or frequent flyer miles. Depending on the card, you can redeem these points or miles for flights, increased status on your preferred airline, or for statement credit. For regular travelers, these cards can be a great boon with additional perks like free checked bags, extended trip cancellation, priority pass, free wi-fi, and annual travel credit towards TSA Precheck or Global Entry.

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Travel Credit Card?

Using a travel credit card to pay for your traveling expenses (and some day-to-day things too) can land you with some awesome perks. For example, airport lounge access, hotel suite upgrades, free flights. If you do spend a big portion of your monthly budget on travel and accommodation, the points:dollar ratio swings in your favor. Travel credit cards tend to have a higher annual percentage rate (APR) than non-specific credit cards. So never carry a balance if you can. Redemption values and rewards rates will vary so you’ll have to research the point per dollar value from each program.  While travel benefits can sometimes be applied to hotel and airline partners, often loyalty programs and their rewards are fixed to a handful of brands for redemption.

What Are the Types of Travel Credit Cards?

There are two kinds of travel credit cards. General and co-branded. General travel credit cards give you flexible rewards. You can exchange these points or miles for flights, accommodation, or car rental. A credit card that is specific to a hotel or an airline (i.e. co-branded) will limit you in where you redeem your points. However, if you are a brand loyalist and like the idea of fast-tracking to elite status. Then, this is the way to go.

What Is the Best Travel Credit Card for a Sign-up Bonus?

If you are looking for a quick turn-around and points in a hurry, then you will want to look out for the card with the highest sign-up bonus. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a great example. Spend $4000 in the first 3 months of signing up and you get a bonus of 60 000 miles! Other aspects of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card:

  • Earn 2 points to the dollar for travel and worldwide dining.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar spent on other eligible purchases.
  • For approval, you need good to excellent credit.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • The annual fee is $95.

What Is the Best Travel Credit Card For First-Class Travel?

Do you enjoy the finer things in life? The American Express Platinum Card is your travel credit card of choice. The annual fee of $550 is steep, but this card boasts some awesome perks. You earn 5 points to the dollar for flights booked directly with the airlines or through amextravel.com. In addition, 5 rewards points for every dollar spent booking hotel accommodation on the American Express travel site. And, how do you like the sound of:

  • Airport lounge access.
  • Up to $200 airline fee credits.
  • Elite status at hotel accommodations.
  • 60 000 membership rewards points if you use your American Express Platinum Card to make purchases to the value of $5000 within the first 3 months.

What Is the Best Travel Credit Card for Premium Travel Rewards?

Another one of the best travel credit cards for high-spenders to consider is the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Visa card. This is what you’re looking at:

  • 3 x points for spending on travel
  • 3 x points for restaurants
  • 1 x point on all other purchases

The hefty annual fee of $550 is made sweeter by the sign-up bonus of 50 000 points if you can spend $4000 in the first three months. If you use these points through the Chase Rewards site, it is the equivalent of $750. Not bad.

What is the Best Travel Credit for International Travel?

If you are choosing a travel credit card over a different kind of credit card, it would be safe to say that you will be doing a fair bit of traveling. If most of that travel is overseas, then you will want to select a travel credit card with zero or exceptionally low foreign transaction fees. 

Another thing to look out for is airport lounge access. If you are a deal savvy traveler, you might opt for the most affordable flights. The problem with this is that you often have long layovers. The best way to pass the time is to catch a nap or a bite to eat in a travel lounge.

What Is the Best Travel Credit Card for Students?

As a globetrotting student, you will want to look out for a travel credit card:

  • with low to zero annual fees
  • that doesn’t require well-established credit history
  • gives you a favorable points:dollars ratio

The Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students offers 1.5 x points for every dollar spent on eligible purchases. You pay no foreign transaction fees on purchases in other currencies, and no annual fee.

How Do I Choose the Best Travel Credit Card For Me?

Here are some things to consider when making your decision about which travel credit card is the best for me:

  1. Know your spending habits. Don’t sign up for that card that promises 80 000 bonus points for spending $5000 that you know you can’t and shouldn’t spend in three months.
  2. Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t opt for the card with the sign-up bonus. Just be sure that it is within your reach to achieve. If you are clever about it, the right sign-up bonus could be a huge benefit.
  3. Look for a card that offers perks such as travel protection, 24/7 travel assistance, baggage insurance, and car rental coverage.
  4. Are you a brand loyalist or would you prefer the flexibility offered by a general travel credit card?
  5. Visa or Amex? American Express and Discover cards are not as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard credit cards. If you only want to carry one travel card, American Express might not be your best choice.
  6. If you plan on doing a lot of international travel, you will want to look at foreign transaction fees charged on the card.
  7. Cards with an annual fee usually have greater perks. What you need to do is weigh up whether that annual fee is worth the perks for you. And if the amount of money that you are going to spend on the card in a year is even going to get you to a points balance that will give you the most benefits.

How Do I Make the Most of My Travel Credit Card?

  1. Make use of the bonus categories for optimizing your points earnings.
  2. To maximize the value of your points, use the card’s online shopping portal or travel site (e.g. Chase Ultimate Rewards®) where you can.
  3. Use your travel credit card for day-to-day purchases too. The points:dollar ratio might not be as high, but points are points.
  4. Always look to the travel partners affiliated with your travel credit card when making bookings for your flights and accommodation. They might be slightly more expensive. However, the rewards points that you earn might outweigh the few dollars that you would have saved.
  5. It is never a good idea to carry a balance on a credit card. Even more so on a travel credit card where they APRs can be considerably higher than generic credit cards.

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