How to Find the Perfect Travel Credit Card: The Basics

by  Tommy Burson | Feb 6, 2014
Credit card
Credit card / Phatchara Bunkhachary/iStock

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card With dozens of credit card options geared toward travelers, it can be difficult to decipher which one works best for you. Here are a few basic factors to consider when choosing a travel rewards card...

Know your travel habits: One traveler’s needs differ radically from the next. The hostel dweller might want different perks and discounts than, say, a Disney-obsessed family of four. Before picking a card — the card offering the most rewards and guaranteeing you the most appropriate rewards — it helps to think about what kind of traveler you are.

For business passengers, a credit card tied to a specific airline or hotel chain like Delta or Marriott can be ideal, because frequent stays and flights rapidly yield perks. On the other hand, a family who vacations once per year may not need a Delta Rewards Card, but rather, a credit card offering a low interest rate and bonus points towards a flight for every dollar spent at the grocery store. Ask yourself how often you travel, where you tend to go, and how you might use different kinds of rewards.

Once you've answered those, here are a few things to look for...

Large sign-up bonus with strong rewards-earning potential: Most credit card companies offer a point for every dollar spent. Ideally, you also want a card that gives you a large number of bonus points at sign-up and either two points per-dollar-spent or bonus rewards for spending at specific retailers. Imagine receiving triple points for spending at your favorite lunch spot or your local grocer. Suddenly, buying an extra hunk of Gorgonzola can help you reach Glasgow.

No foreign transaction fees: In addition to airfare, visa costs, and spending cash, the last thing you need on vacation is to get hit with dozens of foreign transaction fees. Many credit card companies reap the benefits of naive travelers by charging 3 percent per transaction, and they add up fast. By using a card that waives foreign fees, you’ll quickly save money you didn't even realize you were losing.

Low minimums: Many cards require you to spend a certain amount on your credit card before you receive your big initial bonus. It sounds obvious, but, if you’re looking to quickly accumulate points, a low spending minimum on your rewards card is a must. This will help you accrue points through normal, everyday spending habits, like going out to dinner or buying some DVDs from Amazon. Try to find a card with under $2,000 minimum spending, and you’ll quickly be journeying to your next destination.

Now that we've gone over the basics, let's look at a few of the most popular cards, and how they can benefit your jetsetting lifestyle:

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Our personal favorite, this card is perfect for travelers of all types. Card members earn 40,000 points once they spend $3,000 within the first three months of opening an account, and these points are transferable to United Airlines, Hyatt, and numerous others. Plus, there are no foreign transaction fees and it’s chip-enabled for international travel. If you've ever tried to charge a train ticket anywhere in Europe, you know just how important it is to have this chip.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card with American Express: If you’re looking to build and use points at a rapid pace, this is your card. The AmEX SPG card comes with 25,000 sign-up points. After that, you’ll earn 10,000 more points after your first purchase, and then an extra 15,000 points after spending $5,000 within the first six months. What can you get for all of those points? SPG points are redeemable at more than 1,100 hotels and 350 airlines. With no foreign transaction fees, you should probably start planning your next vacation right... about... now.

Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard: Possibly the most popular travel rewards card (and for good reason), the Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard earns members 40,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days. If you’re curious, 40,000 bonus miles equates to about $400 off your next trip. Start packing your bags because you’ll also earn double points on all purchases, and you’ll receive 10 percent miles when you redeem your points for travel, so 25,000 miles gets you 2,500 miles back.

As with all credit cards, individual terms and conditions apply, and you should consider your options carefully before choosing a card.

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