Updated on 05.25.17

Best Travel Credit Cards of 2017

Earn more travel rewards with the right card. by
Mike Jelinek
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Our favorite cards from our partners and the marketplace. This post contains references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to these products. Opinions expressed here are ours alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. Please visit our Advertiser Disclosure to view our partners and for additional details.

You need your travel rewards to be ready when you are. That’s why the best travel rewards credit cards help you earn points toward a free trip faster. The top travel cards also help you enjoy a no-hassle experience by making it easy to redeem your points for the essentials — airfare, lodging, car rentals and more. And when you’re traveling abroad, cards with no foreign transaction fees are invaluable. We’ve compared the best travel credit cards so you can choose the option that has what you need — and apply online in minutes.

Our Favorite Travel Credit Cards in 2017

Best overall

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Reward details2X points on travel and restaurants; 1X on other purchases Terms apply
Redeem for...Airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Signup bonus50,000 points
Annual Fee$95 (waived first year)
Highlights Provided by Chase Show Highlights
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Our two cents

Who should get it

With flexible rewards you can use worldwide and no foreign transaction fees, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is an ideal travel companion for those who like to venture abroad. Redeeming points is easy thanks to no travel restrictions or blackout dates, and you can also transfer points to several airline and hotel rewards programs at a 1:1 rate. Don’t forget the generous signup bonus: it’s worth $625 toward travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards℠.

How to use it
  • Use it before your trip to earn points (1 point per dollar on everyday purchases) and during your trip to earn even more points (2 points per dollar on travel and dining worldwide).
  • Pair it with a card that features rotating bonus categories like Chase Freedom®. Points are transferrable between the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Freedom, so you can really make your points work for you.
  • Redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards℠ for a 25% points bonus.
Consider this

The annual fee is waived for the first year, but for every year thereafter it’s $95. You may feel that the card’s signup bonus, earning potential, and flexibility balance out the fee. Otherwise, the Discover it® Miles card is a good option for those who consider annual fees a deal-breaker. Discover it® Miles offers unlimited 1.5X miles on every purchase, every day for considerable rewards potential both at home and on the road.

Why you'll love it

Travel can be expensive and inconvenient, especially when you travel outside the country, but cards of this caliber can help make the experience easier. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can redeem your rewards points with considerable flexibility, save on transportation and lodging, and enjoy some relief from the annoyance of foreign transaction fees.

Start your application now
Learn More on Bank of America's secure website.

Flexible Travel Rewards

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card
Reward detailsUnlimited 1.5 points per $1 on all purchases
Redeem for...Statement credit toward travel purchases

Signup bonus20,000 bonus points
Annual Fee$0
Highlights Provided by Bank of America Show Highlights
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire
  • 20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days - that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want – you’re not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
  • Comes with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases, then 15.74% - 23.74% Variable APR
  • Get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% - 75%

Our two cents

Who should get it

We recommend the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card for Bank of America account holders looking to earn free travel. (If you have an active Bank of America checking or savings account, you’ll get a 10% customer points bonus on every purchase.). The card offers you the flexibility to redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, rental cars and more, with no blackout dates and no seat restrictions. Other benefits include a 20,000-point signup bonus and no annual fee, not to mention the fact that your points don’t expire.

How to use it
  • Use this card as often as possible to earn unlimited 1.5 points for each dollar you spend.
  • Redeem points for a travel statement credit to reimburse yourself after booking. Eligible purchases include that you can use for flights, hotels, rental cars or baggage fees, plus cruises and vacation packages.
  • Combine this card with a Bank of America checking or savings account to earn an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase. For Preferred Rewards clients, the bonus can increase to 25% to 75%.
Consider this

To maximize the benefits of this card, you’ll also need to be a Bank of America account holder. Customers of other banks may prefer another option. Consider the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, which offers a more robust signup bonus, 2X miles per dollar, a 5% redemption bonus and fixed rewards rate.

Why you'll love it

If you’re a loyal Bank of America customer, the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card offers you the chance to keep your banking and your travel rewards under one roof, so to speak, while earning bonus points as a BofA customer. Benefits and versatility compare favorably with similar cards in the flexible travel rewards category.

Start your application now

Best no annual fee travel card

Discover it® Miles
Reward details1.5 miles for every $1 spent
Redeem for...Travel credit; statement credit

Signup bonusFirst year mile-for-mile match
Annual Fee$0
Highlights Provided by Discover Show Highlights
Card Highlights Provided by Discover:
  • Bonus Miles - For example, if you earn 20,000 Miles, you get 40,000 Miles. We'll match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year.
  • Unlimited 1.5x Miles per dollar on all purchases, every day, with no annual fee.
  • No Blackout Dates - fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
  • Redeem your rewards in any amount for cash or a travel credit.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Discover Match® details & other information.

Our two cents

Who should get it

Discover it® Miles will appeal to consumers who put a premium on value (no annual fee, no late fee on the first late payment) and flexibility (rewards redeemable for a travel statement credit). Benefits also include $0 foreign transaction fees and no blackout dates on rewards redemption. For the security-minded cardholder, you can use an online “on/off switch” to freeze your account and prevent new purchases in the event of loss or theft.

How to use it
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every $1 spent on all purchases.
  • At the end of your first year, you receive an automatic match of all the Miles you’ve earned.
  • Consider booking through a discount travel site to make the most of every Mile you’ve earned! Then reimburse yourself with a travel statement credit. Eligible purchases include airline, hotel, rental car, and other travel purchases.
Consider this

Waiting one year to receive your bonus Miles will require you to take the long view. The flat rate of 1.5 Miles should be easier to manage than having to keep track of points categories, although it may limit your earning potential on items such as travel and dining. Options like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card might offer an opportunity to earn more robust rewards on travel-related purchases.

Why you'll love it

Discover it® Miles is a low-maintenance travel rewards card with no annual fee. Its generous first-year bonus will effectively double the Miles you earn, so you can earn a free trip sooner. Security features not available from some competitors offer added peace of mind, as well.

Start your application now

Best fixed-value travel card

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
Reward detailsEarn 2X miles on all purchases
Redeem for...Travel credit; statement credit; gift cards and merchandise

Signup bonus50,000 bonus points
Annual Fee$89 - Waived first year
Highlights Provided by Barclaycard Show Highlights
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days - that's enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Redeem for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise. Redemption values vary
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Miles don't expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 16.74%, 20.74% or 23.74%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Please note, there is a fee for balance transfers

Our two cents

Who should get it

Providing 2X miles per dollar on all purchases puts the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® in the upper echelon of fixed-value travel cards. Also, it doubles as a travel rewards card and a balance transfer card. Benefits include a 50,000-point signup bonus, a fixed rate of 2X miles, no foreign transaction fees and a waiver on the $89 annual fee for your first year.

How to use it
  • Use for all purchases to earn 2X miles per dollar.
  • Redeem your miles for travel statement credits starting at 10,000 miles.
  • Transfer balances from high-APR cards to take advantage of 0% introductory APR.
Consider this

Each balance transfer (if you choose to make one) carries a fee of $5 or 3% of the amount transferred, which is hardly unusual but still something to keep in mind. While 2X miles on every purchase offers strong rewards potential, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card still comes out on top if you travel often: it offers a 25% points bonus when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards℠.

Why you'll love it

The The versatility of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® will appeal to travelers looking for strong travel rewards and 0% intro APR on balance transfers. Use this card to earn 2X miles per dollar on every purchase — and free up money for travel that would’ve otherwise gone to paying interest!

Start your application now

Best airline card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
Reward details2X points on Southwest® & eligible Rapid Rewards® purchases; 1X points on all other purchases
Redeem for...Travel with Southwest Airlines or other partners

Signup bonus40,000 points
Annual Fee$69
Highlights Provided by Chase Show Highlights
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open
  • Earn unlimited points that don't expire as long as your account is open
  • 3,000 points after your Cardmember anniversary every year
  • 2 points/$1 spent on Southwest® and participating Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental partners purchases
  • 1 point/$1 spent on all other purchases
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Bags fly free®
  • No change fees

Our two cents

Who should get it

If you frequently fly Southwest Airlines or you’re planning to make it your go-to carrier, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card could make a handy addition to your wallet. Benefits include a 40,000-point signup bonus — which you can earn rapidly after spending just $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months — and no blackout dates or seat restrictions. Your points don’t expire as long as your account is open, and you can avoid fees for flight changes and on your first and second checked bags.

How to use it
  • Fly with Southwest and book with your card to earn 2X points per dollar.
  • Redeem travel rewards for flights with Southwest, plus hotel stays and car rentals with Rapid Rewards® partners.
  • Earn 3,000 bonus points on your one-year anniversary as a Cardmember.
Consider this

A 3% foreign transaction fee applies, so this card works best for travel within the United States. If you often travel abroad, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to avoid foreign transaction fees.

Why you'll love it

Loyalty earns rewards for dedicated customers of Southwest Airlines and Rapid Rewards partners such as Best Western® Hotels & Resorts and Avis®. If you’ve made Southwest your main air travel choice and frequently use any of the hotel and transportation partners, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card is an excellent choice.

Start your application now
Apply Now on American Express's secure website.

Best hotel card

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
See Rates & Fees
Reward details2 Starpoints® on purchases at SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels; 1 Starpoint for all other purchases Terms apply
Redeem for...Hotel and resort stays; flights

Signup bonus25,000 bonus Starpoints®
Annual Fee$95 (waived first year)
Highlights Provided by American Express Show Highlights
  • Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent on the Card at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on International purchases.
  • Redeem Starpoints® at over 1,300 participating hotels and resorts in over 100 countries and for flights on more than 150 airlines with SPG flights, all with no blackout dates.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees

Our two cents

Who should get it

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express benefits frequent travelers who are also frequent guests at Starwood hotels and resorts, including Westin and Sheraton. Since Starwood has properties in more than 100 countries, $0 foreign transaction fees will come in handy for international travelers.

How to use it
  • Stay at Starwood hotels and resorts when you travel to earn 2X Starpoints® per dollar. (Cardmembers who are also SPG members can earn up to 5X Starpoints® at participating properties!)
  • Redeem Starpoints® for stays at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels and resorts or when booking flights with participating airlines.
Consider this

Cards issued by American Express may not be accepted in as many places as those issued by Mastercard or Visa. Consider the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card, a widely accepted card with no annual fee, as a possible alternative. To earn rewards points even faster, consider pairing this card with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express so that you can transfer Starpoints® and Skymiles® using the Crossover Rewards™ program.

Why you'll love it

If you enjoy the accommodations at Starwood properties, earning travel rewards for your patronage will be a pleasant — not to mention useful — bonus. The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers another example of travelers earning extra rewards for brand loyalty.

Start your application now

Our Favorite Travel Credit Cards: Summed Up

Research the 42 Best Travel Credit Cards

Below is a directory of the most popular travel credit cards. I used this directory as a starting point for my research and analysis on travel cards. The directory is updated weekly to reflect any new changes, to add new cards, and to remove expired cards. The travel credit cards directory is a sub-directory of rewards credit cards. This directory highlights the most important features specific to travel cards and displays all important information about each card.

Travel Credit Cards Directory

The travel rewards credit card directory lists every travel credit card and high level information for each of the cards, so you can make quick comparisons. In order to rank and value each of these cards, certain features were weighted accordingly based on overall importance to the prospective cardholder. Sort, filter, or search for what matters most to find the best travel credit card for you.
Sort By Card Name
Perks Tier Level
Sign up Bonus Tier Level
Rewards Tier Level
Common Filters Good Signup Bonus
Great Ongoing Rewards
Great Perks
No Annual Fee
No Foreign Transaction Fee
Search Do you know of a card that is not in our directory? Suggest a Card Here
Credit Card
Annual Fee
Perks Tier Level
Sign up Bonus Tier Level
Apply Online
Credit Card
Annual Fee
Perks Tier Level
Sign up Bonus Tier Level
Apply Online
Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95
Excellent
Excellent
* (?)
$0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $49
None
None
* (?)
$495
Good
* (?)
Excellent
* (?)

Rating Methodology

To develop an overall rating for each travel credit card, we used the features and corresponding data from the directory above. To better describe the ratings of each card, there were a number of elements to consider. Some of the valuable information is displayed in the directory, while additional information is outlined below.

Rewards Rate

Rewards Rate refers to the actual rate at which you can earn rewards using the travel rewards card. This rate, typically 2% or higher, will usually be highest on travel-related purchases. Travel credit cards usually have a base rate of at least 1% which enables you to earn points on everyday purchases as well. The very best travel credit cards will have an incentive to book travel through their own travel portals. Some of the best rewards rates are on hotel, airline, or travel site cards. These cards try to entice you to only use that specific hotel, airline, or travel site. If you travel often and prefer one brand over others, this approach is fine. Others who prefer flexibility in how they travel will want to consider a more general rewards program that still carries a generous Rewards Rate on travel.

Rewards Categories

Rewards Categories are the spending categories in which your travel card earns greater than 1%. Most travel cards offer better Rewards Rates in certain categories. The more ways you can earn greater than 1% in rewards, the better a card will score in Rewards Categories. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers 2% rewards on travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards platforms and 2% for dining out. The card earns 1% on all other purchases. The Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® has the same structure — 2% rewards on travel booked through Barclaycard and 2% on dining.

Sign-up Bonus

Sign-up Bonus is the amount of extra points each card offers to a new cardmember when signing up. Sign-up Bonuses can be very lucrative on travel cards, with the best travel cards offering around 40,000 bonus points. That translates to at least $400 of cold-hard cash to spend on travel. If you’re strategic about redeeming the points, you can turn those points into much more. The important thing to note about Sign-up Bonuses is that there are usually certain spending requirements to make before you actually earn the points. It’s common for credit card issuers to require you to spend $4,000 in the first three months you have the card before you get your Sign-up Bonus. Sign-up Bonus carries a high importance rating because it’s a quick way to grab a large chunk of points to use for an upcoming travel adventure.

Redemption Options

The best travel rewards cards give you a number of ways to redeem your lucrative points. These Redemption Options can dramatically impact how much your points are worth. Top cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card use the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform to help you book travel. When you redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel, your points are worth 25% more. For example, you can redeem 40,000 points for $500 in airfare instead of the usual $400. Most cards also allow you to redeem points for non-travel. You may redeem points for gift cards and merchandise, but this is not recommended because points on the best travel credit cards are usually more valuable when used for travel. Your third option on several of the best travel credit cards is to transfer your points to a partner airline, hotel, or other partner. This is where the point geeks go crazy to maximize and hunt for last-minute point deals. American Express allows point transfers to many partners as does Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Benefits

There are some additional benefits of owning a travel credit card that become important when you’re actually traveling. A huge benefit for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders is that foreign transaction fees are waived. The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express offers priority boarding, and free checked bags. Additional benefits of top cards include 24/7 customer service, car rental insurance, and emergency travel assistance. Benefits are of medium importance when compared to how points can be accumulated by the card, but Benefits can often swing a decision between two comparable cards.

Ongoing APR

APRs on travel credit cards are of low importance, mainly because we always recommend paying off your balance each month. Interest charges negate point accumulation, so it never makes sense to have a travel credit card if you plan to carry a balance. Travel cards have ongoing APRs that range as low as 10.99% and go beyond 20%. The key determinant of your ongoing APR is usually your credit score and history. If you have good credit, the APR rate for you will be on the lower end. If you need a low-interest rate card, consider one of the best balance transfer cards on the market today.

Resources for Frequent Travelers

Once you master the art of credit card rewards, you might be tempted to trot all over the globe and never look back. However, it’s crucial that you understand not only how credit card rewards work, but how to protect yourself while you travel. The following resources can help you maximize travel rewards while also protecting yourself from financial losses.

Using a Travel Credit Card to Save Money

Not only do travel credit cards offer perks that can help make travel easier and safer, but most offer certain types of rewards that you can redeem for free hotel stays, airfare, or cash back. And that’s what most people have trouble understanding. If you know how to use them, travel credit cards can actually save you money. Here are some features of travel credit cards that help you save money:
  • Opportunities to earn points you can use to pay for travel
  • Flexible choices for redeeming points across travel networks
  • Travel insurance and extra protections
  • Concierge services
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Large sign-up bonus incentives

5 Steps to Use Credit Cards to Save Money on Travel

Step 1: Learn about the different types of travel credit cards available. The good news is, you’re in the right place to start your research. Cards and their benefits differ, so you need a good comparison site. For instance, if you’re more interested in free hotel stays than airfare, look for a hotel credit card that offers rewards specific to a hotel loyalty program at a chain you like. Or if you want more flexibility with your rewards, look into cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Make sure you understand how the rewards program works before you choose to sign up. Step 2: Meet the minimum spending requirement. Most travel rewards cards offer a sign-up bonus to customers who can meet a minimum spending requirement during a specific timeframe, usually around three months. A typical sign-up bonus is worth $300-$500, and a typical minimum spending requirement is between $1,500 and $3,000 within the first three-month period. For most families, this is attainable — and even if you never charge another dollar after this, you’ll still receive the bonus. Step 3: Use your card for everyday spending. In order to earn as many rewards as possible, you’ll want to use your card for all of your everyday expenses. Use it for groceries, gas, insurance, miscellaneous expenses, and anything else that you would be purchasing anyway. No matter what, always pay your balance in full in order to avoid paying interest. Step 4: Use your rewards to pay for travel you were going to book anyway. Here’s where the savings come into play. Once you’ve earned a considerable amount of rewards, use them to book travel you planned to book regardless. Using your points for free hotel stays or airfare helps you save on the total cost of your trip. Step 5: When traveling abroad, use a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Most credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee, usually around 3%, on purchases made in another country. However, the best travel cards waive this fee, and this feature can save a considerable amount of money when you travel internationally. If you want to save as much money on travel as possible, it helps to have a rough idea of where you plan to go ahead of time. That way you can tailor your strategy to your ideal itinerary. And, as I mentioned above, it is crucial that you never pay interest on your purchases if your goal is saving money. When you choose to carry a balance, the interest you will inevitably pay will likely cancel out any rewards you receive.

How Credit Cards Protect You While You Travel

Decades ago, people used a combination of cash and traveler’s checks when traveling abroad. Unfortunately, carrying around a ton of cash comes with certain risks, and exchanging currencies in each new country can be a huge pain. Modern travelers still carry some cash, but as more of a novelty than anything else. Instead, they make the majority of their international purchases with travel credit cards that not only reward them for making purchases, but also protect them from fraudulent charges and other pitfalls. Here’s how credit cards can protect you (and save you money) while you travel:
  • Use a card that offers no liability for unauthorized purchases. When traveling abroad, you want to make sure you use a credit card that won’t hold you accountable if someone gets ahold of your card and starts making purchases. The Discover it® Miles card, for example, comes with no liability for unauthorized purchases and no foreign transaction fee, making it a good option. Just make sure the country you’re traveling to is prone to accept Discover since international acceptance varies.
  • Carry your credit card contact information separately from your card. Most credit cards let you call collect from anywhere in the world if your card is lost or stolen. Obviously, you won’t have access to their number if you no longer have your card, which is why most experts suggest keeping these important contact numbers separate from your credit cards in case of loss or theft.
  • Choose a card with free travel insurance. If you want to take advantage of free travel insurance, make sure to book the major components of your itinerary with a credit card that offers excellent travel and trip cancellation insurance, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Doing so can mean getting reimbursed if your trip is cancelled due to flight interruptions, a natural disaster, or other unexpected events.

Do You Need Additional Travel Insurance?

Although it’s easy to brush off travel insurance as an unnecessary expense, you should always give it a second look. With all the upheavals that can unravel your travel plans, not to mention your own personal health, you might be wise to purchase a simple travel insurance plan – or at least pay for your trip with a credit card that offers this benefit for free. For starters, you should determine whether your health insurance will cover you if you need to see a doctor abroad. Since many policies do not cover doctor or hospital visits outside of the country, a medical travel insurance policy might be a good bet. It’s also important to note that Medicare doesn’t cover health care expenses outside of the U.S., although some Medigap policies might. Before you go anywhere, you should always verify whether or not you will have coverage and consider purchasing a policy for your trip if you do not. Outside of major medical, you may not need to purchase comprehensive travel insurance at all. That’s because certain type of travel credit cards offer certain travel benefits to cardholders. Take the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card card, for example. Premium travel insurance, including trip cancellation, is included as a card member benefit. If you wanted to take advantage of this perk, all you would need to do is use your card to purchase your airfare and accommodation. Other types of travel insurance your credit card might offer include trip interruption insurance, which can reimburse you for nonrefundable travel expenses if you end up getting sick before your trip or it gets cancelled for almost any other reason. Different cards offer different versions of trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance, so make sure you understand your card’s policy before you count on it for coverage. You can usually buy travel insurance at the same time you purchase airfare or book your hotel. If you want to compare travel insurance policies, check out our post on the best travel insurance options currently available. Just remember, travel insurance only seems frivolous until you need it. If your trip gets cancelled, travel insurance could protect you from thousands of dollars in losses. Some common events that are covered with various types of travel insurance include personal illness or illness of a family member, natural disaster, emergency evacuations, or even lost or stolen baggage or belongings. Obviously, none of those events are ones you can plan for ahead of time, so it’s best to be adequately insured instead.

10 Questions to Ask Yourself When Buying Travel Insurance

Before you hit “buy,” on your next travel insurance plan, ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Is the region I plan to visit considered “high-risk?” Potential issues can vary depending on where you are going. And if you’re visiting an area deemed “high-risk,” your travel insurance policy may deny coverage altogether. Before you set sail or get on that plane, check your travel insurance policy to see if your intended destination is, in fact, covered. Also check for travel advisories that might alert you to any upcoming safety concerns you need to be aware of.
  2. Do I travel often enough to consider a long-term policy? If you travel more than once or twice per year, you may be better off buying a more comprehensive, multi-trip plan. This type of coverage is great for families who travel or vacation often, those planning multi-country or extended trips, last-minute travelers, or those who travel often for business.
  3. What will my current health insurance cover if I become injured or get sick abroad? Assuming that your health insurance will provide coverage overseas is always a mistake. The fact is, many health insurance plans don’t provide comprehensive coverage outside of your home country or territory. Medicare, for example, never provides coverage overseas. If you want to ensure that you’re covered, a travel insurance plan that includes major medical is always a good bet.
  4. Do I have any pre-existing conditions that might flare up? If you do purchase a travel insurance plan that includes medical coverage, it’s important to note that pre-existing conditions are rarely covered. If you have a medical condition that is prone to act up, your trip abroad might pose a greater risk than you realized.
  5. Do I plan on bringing anything expensive with me? Baggage insurance protects you from financial loss if your valuable items become lost or stolen. If you plan on bringing expensive items with you, it might be a good idea to buy travel insurance that includes this perk. Likewise, if you aren’t bringing anything valuable with you, you might consider opting out of this specific coverage.
  6. How likely is it that I will need to cancel my trip? When you’re traveling with kids or aging parents, the likelihood of a trip cancellation due to illness or injury increases. However, the risk still exists when you leave those same loved ones at home. If something happened, you might need to cancel your trip to take care of them. Trip cancellation/interruption insurance can help mitigate those risks for you.
  7. Do I want to be able to cancel my trip for “any reason?” Some types of trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance require you to prove your cancellation was due to unforeseen circumstances such as an illness, a death in the family, or a job loss. Meanwhile, other policies let you cancel for “any reason” — even if you just changed your mind. Make sure you know the difference, and buy a policy that offers terms you can live with.
  8. Will I be driving a rental car? Some travel insurance policies offer either collision coverage on rental cars or other types of rental car coverage. However, others do not. If you plan on driving during your stay and don’t have coverage otherwise, you might want to seek out a travel insurance policy that offers this perk.
  9. Do I plan on doing anything risky? If your trip involves any adventurous activity such as rock climbing, cross-country biking, or skiing, you need to ensure that your travel insurance provides coverage for those activities. Never assume it does, and always check to make sure.
  10. Do I already have life insurance? Some travel insurance policies offer extra coverage that basically amounts to life insurance that pays out only if you die. If you already have life insurance (as you should), you may not need this additional coverage and may not want to pay extra for it.

Strategies to Maximize Travel Rewards

When I was younger, I didn’t travel that much. My job didn’t require it and, aside from the occasional vacation, I was usually too busy to explore the world. I could always afford a single round trip ticket, so I was never looking to “earn” my occasional travel. Now that I have kids, the prospect of $1,000 (coach) airfare + car rental + hotel every time I want to take my family somewhere had me scrambling to learn the ins and outs of travel rewards maximization. This guide is meant to bring a travel rewards novice into the 21st century world of travel rewards so that you can start being more strategic about accumulating and using your travel points.

Strategy #1: Start By Earning Points Everyday

Experienced business travelers already know their preferred airline, hotel, and rental car agency, and they stick with these to earn maximum points on their travel. But what if you’re just starting to increase your travel? Where should you start?

Find the Best Travel Credit Card

Getting a really good travel rewards credit card is your first step to accumulating points to use for travel. Only the best travel rewards card lets you start racking up points for everyday purchases and earn more when you finally do travel. The best travel credit cards have a base rate of 1% and the opportunity to earn at least 2% on travel. Many of these cards also have point and redemption bonuses to enhance your earnings power. Use the guide above to research the best travel credit cards. The guide goes into great detail on each of the best travel credit cards. Use it to get an idea of which card might be best for you. Here are a few other tips to help you decide:
Tip #1: Pick One Card
Expert travelers often recommend having all sorts of cards and combining points in the most efficient manner. We want to work you up to that level, but the best starting point is to pick just one card. The main reason is that most travel cards charge an annual fee and you don’t know how much you’ll be traveling yet. Using a secondary card to earn more points in different categories seems like a good idea, but paying two annual fees might not make sense. If you were to pay two $95 annual fees that equals $190 per year, that wipes out 19,000 points! You’d better be a big spender to justify carrying the additional card. That’s why starting with one card is important. Any annual fee card will beat out a no annual fee card when it comes to rewards. That’s why, if you’re going to go for one card, my top pick is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. If you must have a no annual fee card, a good choice is the Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard®.
Tip #2: Go for Flexibility
I often hear about people signing up for an airline miles credit card they received on a flight. For anyone other than expert flyers, these offers are usually not optimal because the opportunity to earn good travel points is usually confined to purchases on that airline. Options for redeeming points are also limited. You may be able to transfer your points to partner airlines or hotels but at less desirable transfer rates. If you’re unlikely to have an alliance to any one airline or hotel chain, find a travel card with flexible earning and redemption programs. My absolute favorite right now is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card because it comes with the ultra-flexible Ultimate Rewards program from Chase. Through Ultimate Rewards, you can book any airline and, when you do, your points are worth 25% more and it’s NOT dependent on which airline you choose. Also, through Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can transfer your points to any one of its partner airline frequent-flyer programs at a 1-to-1 ratio. This is a unique feature the pros take advantage of all the time.
Tip #3: Make sure your points never expire
Working hard to accumulate points is only valuable if the points are there for you to use when you want to travel. Many frequent-flyer programs and frequent-guest programs have points that expire, blackout dates, or other restrictions on usage. If you were to solely rely on frequent-flyer or frequent-guest programs for your travel rewards, you will surely find some of your points expiring at the end of each year. The best travel credit cards, on the other hand, usually have points that never expire so they’re always there when you need them. Some cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card let you transfer points to frequent-flyer partners. This can be done to keep the balance of your frequent-flyer points fresh.

Strategy #2: Get Familiar With Loyalty Programs

Your next strategy for getting your frequent traveler training wheels off is to get familiar with loyalty programs and alliances. Frequent-flyer/guest programs are opportunities for you to double dip on points. The pros know the ins and outs of each program, where and when you can transfer points, and what the best programs are for their frequent routes and dream travel destinations. Every airline and hotel chain has their own program. When you travel on an airline or stay at a hotel, you earn points and other perks you can use in the future. Here are some common ones:
  • Starwood Hotels Starpoints
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • United MileagePlus
  • Hilton Honors Rewards
Additionally, many of the large airlines are part of travel alliances. These alliances allow you to transfer points to other partners more easily. Below are two of the largest programs and their partners.

Oneworld Partners (and Affiliates)

Airberlin (NIKI)
American Airlines (AmericanConnection, American Eagle®, US Airways, and US Airways Express)
British Airways (BA Cityflyer, British Airways (BA) Limited, Comair, OpenSkies, and SUN-AIR of Scandinavia)
Cathay Pacific (Dragonair)
Finnair (Flybe Finland)
Iberia (Iberia Regional Air Nostrum, and Iberia Express)
Japan Airlines (JAL Express, J-AIR, and Japan Transocean Air)
LAN (LAN Argentina, LAN Colombia, LAN Ecuador, LAN Express, and LAN Peru)
Malaysia Airlines
Quantas (QantasLink and Jetconnect)
Qatar Airlines
Royal Jordanian
S7 Airlines (Globus, LLC)
TAM

Star Alliance Partners

Adria Airways
Aegean Airlines
Air Canada
Air China
Air New Zealand
ANA
Asiana Airlines
Austrian
Avianca
Brussels Airlines
Croatia Airlines
Copa Airlines
EGYPTAIR
Ethiopian Airlines
EVA Air
LOT Polish Airlines
Lufthansa
Scandinavian Airlines
Shenzhen Airlines
Singapore Airlines
South African Airways
SWISS
TAP Portugal
THAI
Turkish Airlines
United

Strategy #3: Upgrade or Add a Card As Needed

Once you travel a few times and get a handle on how you spend your travel dollars, you’ll have a much better feel for you preferred airlines, hotels, and some of the tricks of the trade. You can use this information to add a second travel rewards card to your arsenal. You have two objectives with a secondary travel rewards card:
  • Capitalize on other spending categories your current card does not max out.
  • Capitalize on carrier-specific deals with airline or hotel credit cards you use exclusively for your travels.

Cover Your Spending Categories

Travel credit cards do a great job of earning points on travel but are usually limited when earning rewards in other spending categories. For instance, my top pick, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, earns 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide. You could earn much more travel rewards if you find another card that earns in different categories like gas or groceries too.
Personal + Business Cards
A great strategy is to open a business credit card. Many people are self-employed, but you don’t need to own a business to qualify for a business credit card; you simply use your Social Security number. I use the Chase Ink® line of cards to supplement my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card spending. The Ink Plus® card earns 5X on cable/Internet, landline, and cell phone bills and at office supply stores. It also earns 2X on gas and hotel stays. This combination of cards maps well to my spending categories so I’m able to max out my non-travel related points and sock them away for my next trip. The best part of this strategy is that both cards use the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, so my points can be combined and used together, netting me a 25% savings when I redeem them for travel.

Combine General Travel Rewards With Carrier-Specific Cards

You also have an opportunity to combine your general travel rewards with more targeted travel cards that airlines and hotels offer. These cards often have upgrades like first-class boarding or room upgrades, which can make travel more pleasant. These cards also let you earn much more for purchases on their airlines or at their hotel properties. Two great programs are:
  • Delta Skymiles
  • Starwood
Starwood offers up to 5 points per dollar spent on Starwood properties, which include Westin and W Hotels. I have already pointed out how you can double dip between Delta and Starwood. Several airline cards are perfect to combine with Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card because you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points 1:1 to airline miles programs like British Airways, United and Southwest.

Add a No Annual Fee Card

As I said before, the main reason not to add multiple cards when you first start out is because most travel credit cards carry an annual fee, and having multiple fees can knock out a lot of points. A notable exception is the Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard®. This card does not have an annual fee and earns 2X points on travel and dining just like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. I do not use this card because Chase Ultimate Rewards points are much more flexible and worth more when redeemed for travel. However, if you already have a carrier-specific card such as a Starwood Hotel card, adding the Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard® with no annual fee is a great option to boost your rewards with no additional cost or commitment.

Bringing It All Together

If you take anything from this guide of tips, take this: The travel rewards landscape is difficult to understand, so you need to be armed with a strategy and then learn as you go. The best way to avoid getting travel credit cards you don’t use, or committing to an airline you will come to hate, is to do the following:
  1. Start earning travel points with the most flexible travel rewards card
  2. Learn about loyalty programs and find your preferred airlines and hotels
  3. Add a more targeted travel credit card using what you’ve learned
By keeping it simple and taking it slow, you’ll graduate from being a novice traveler in no time, and you’ll soon be experiencing first-class travel for less — just like the pros!

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