- Pay with a Credit Card Whenever Possible. The best credit cards for travel provide a lot of value through initial rewards bonuses and points or miles for every dollar you spend. They also give you a $0 liability guarantee for fraud and complementary rental car insurance coverage. So it’s a good idea to use one for the majority of your travel expenses.
- Choose Your Credit Card Wisely. If you’re interested in a new credit card mainly for a quick rewards score, focus on the best initial bonuses. If you’d prefer to keep the same card for a long time, place more emphasis on ongoing rewards. If you’re worried about finance charges, a 0% offer has the potential to save you more than even the best travel rewards card.
- Avoid Peak Season Prices. The most obvious vacation destinations, types of accommodations, and departure dates are naturally going to be the most popular and thus the hardest to book on a budget. So consider things like taking a mid-week flight, going to a small town, or renting a house instead booking rooms in an expensive hotel (especially if you’re traveling with a big group). You can also take advantage of free resources such as public transportation and destinations known for natural beauty.
- Mix Business with Pleasure. If you can find a way to squeeze in a few meetings, certain aspects of your trip may be tax deductible. While your travel must technically be “for business” and only your own business-related expenses are deductible, you’re allowed to tack a few recreational days onto either end of a business trip. And you can certainly brainstorm ways to include your family under the business umbrella even if they aren’t employees (e.g. piling everyone into a rental car that would ordinarily be just for you).
- Shop Around. Comparing the prices of different airlines, hotel chains and vacation packages will help you find best possible deals. You might even get a better price than what’s listed online by telling the sales rep that you’ll book immediately if they can beat a specific competitor’s offer.
- Improve Your Credit Score. You need good or excellent credit to get the very best credit cards for travel rewards. So you may need to do some work before applying. Start by checking your latest credit score for free on WalletHub. Then check out your personalized credit analysis page for advice on how to improve.
- Tell Card Issuers You’re Leaving. Credit and debit card companies may suspend your account if a bunch of transactions suddenly pop up from outside your normal spending area. You can avoid the hassle by simply telling your issuer where and when you’ll be traveling. This is especially important if you’re headed out of the country, but it could come into play for long domestic trips as well.
- Take Advantage of the Dollar’s Strength. Choosing a vacation destination based on where you’ll get the most bang for your buck is at least worth considering.
- Use Credit for Currency Conversion. Visa and Mastercard offer exchange rates that are roughly 7% lower than what banks and credit unions charge to convert hard currency, according to WalletHub’s Currency Exchange Study. Simply using your card for intentional spending will also save you about 9% compared to converting money at Travelex.
- Don’t Pay Foreign Fees. Nearly 90% of credit cards charge a premium to process transactions outside of the United States. It’s called a foreign-transaction fee. And it can range from 2% to 4%, depending on the card. You don’t actually have to be abroad to incur such a surcharge, either. Foreign fees apply whenever you make a purchase through an internationally based merchant. But as long as you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fee, which describes most of the best credit cards for travel, you won’t have to worry.
- Bring a Low-Fee Debit Card. Even the best credit cards for travel can’t pay for everything when you head abroad. So the best approach is to take a Visa or Mastercard debit card, which will allow you to take out cash as needed and benefit from low exchange rates.
- Pay in the Local Currency. Foreign merchants sometimes offer to convert prices into U.S. dollars in order to charge a high conversion rate and line their pockets.
For a personalized credit card recommendation based on your latest credit score and spending/payment habits, sign up for a free WalletHub account.
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||Good Credit|
|U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card||Excellent Credit|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Sign-up Bonus|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||Airport Lounge Access|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||Road Trip Rewards|
|JetBlue Plus Card||Airline Rewards|
|IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card||Hotel Rewards|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||No Annual Fee|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students||Students|
|Citi Premier® Card||Bonus Rewards|
|Bank of America® Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card||Bad Credit|
|Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business||Business|
Methodology for Selecting the Best Travel Credit Cards
To identify the best travel credit card offers, WalletHub’s editors regularly compare more than 1,500 credit cards based on their miles, points or cash back earning rates as well as their annual fees, foreign transaction fees, approval requirements and, to a lesser extent, their APRs. We calculate how much different types of travelers would earn over either one year or two years of use, depending on the type of travel rewards card and the manner in which it is likely to be used.
More specifically, we calculate net rewards to estimate earnings after annual fees, and we use consumer spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to construct our user profiles. For cards that offer initial rewards bonuses, we include the bonus if a cardholder would earn it by spending an average of $700 per month for up to four months. And for our heavy-spender category, we double the expected spending. Any other bonuses past the four-month mark that require spending to earn are included in calculations if the spending requirement can be met based on the standard spending assumptions we used.
These calculations, combined with analysis of the types of travel rewards cards people search for most often, lead us to the best travel credit cards in the most popular usage categories. We then repeat this exercise on a regular basis, updating our picks whenever offers change enough to warrant it.