A great travel credit card can come in handy during travel-related emergencies, earn you free trips, and comp all free while you’re overseas. These benefits alone make credit cards the perfect budget travel companion, but you need to pick the right card to maximize your awards.
There’s just one problem: there are far too many cards to choose from. All of them offer different spending tiers, welcome bonuses, and benefits that could save you money or improve the travel experience. Keep in mind that there’s no perfect card, but you can find the perfect one for you.
5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Travel Credit Card
If you’re planning to use a credit card for your travels, here are some things to consider when choosing a card. With research, you can average 64,800 points or $648 a year in travel credit.
1. Consider Your Travel Goals and Needed Card Features
Think about what you want to achieve with your credit card, such as earning rewards, saving on fees, or getting travel insurance. Then, research different credit cards and compare features and benefits to find one that meets your needs. Many cards have special travel perks to consider.
For example, you can find credit cards that offer free checked baggage, free hotel stays, lounge access, and priority boarding. Some membership cards can offer even more exclusive perks.
A Costco membership, for example, can help flyers save at least $100 on their travel packages. If you group it with their Costco Mastercard, you can earn up to 3% cash back on all purchases. Consider combining memberships and credit cards from one lender to stack your rewards.
2. Low Annual Fee and No Foreign Transaction Fees
Credit cards are nice to use overseas because you get the best possible exchange rate from them, but foreign transaction fees can hold you back. Fortunately, it’s rare to find a credit card that requests a foreign transaction fee. However, annual fees are common at all lenders.
On the SoFi credit card application, you’ll notice that their card won’t charge an annual fee. You can also use the SoFi Credit Card worldwide without incurring extra foreign transaction fees.
Keep in mind that credit card companies will only offer no annual fees if you satisfy certain conditions, such as spending a certain amount. With that said, paying a low fee ($50-$95) a year isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as fee-based cards often have better reward schemes.
3. Cash in on Welcome and Category Spending Bonuses
If you want to get a good head start, find a card with a sizable introductory bonus. Some bonuses are so large they earn you a free flight immediately. For example, the Chase Sapphire Prefered Card and American Express Gold Card can net you 60,000 points ($600) in 3 months.
But there’s a catch. To get these hefty welcome bonuses, you need to spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. Fortunately, you can find cards that offer lower rewards for lower spending conditions.
While you’re researching available welcome bonuses, check for category spending bonuses. Most credit cards offer one point for every dollar spent but will multiply your points if you spend in certain categories. For example, the Chase Ink card offers 5x points for office spending.
4. Favor Low Spending Minimums to Get More Bonuses
If you have a good credit score (700 or over), you can gain access to some of the best travel cards from lenders. These cards often have low welcome bonus spending minimums, which activates the reward faster. Don’t make the mistake of boosting your spending for a limited time.
Why? Because it could create a spending trap. You may end up buying more than you can afford, which increases your interest and makes your minimum payments unaffordable.
Only go for bonuses that activate from your normal spending habits. Use your credit solely for purchases, then use the real money in your debit account to pay off the whole card. Remember, if you’re spending more than you usually do to get travel points, then the points aren’t free.
5. Decide Between Co-Branded Cards or General Cards
During your research, you’ve likely come across co-branded cards and general travel cards. General travel credit cards are ideal for most people because they earn rewards you can use for any travel expense, either by redeeming points for credit or by using your points directly.
On the other hand, co-branded cards bear the name of a hotel or airline chain. You can only redeem these rewards at that specific airline or hotel, which limits your option and rewards.
However, if you regularly stay at a hotel chain or travel with a single airline, a co-branded card may be worth it. They typically have low spending minimums, so you could have most of your costs covered. But if you want more flexibility and choice, general cards are your best option.