As much as we all love to travel, the cost of flights, hotel rooms, restaurants, and attractions are enough to ground even the most avid globetrotter.
But with a little help from our own wallets, that Caribbean cruise or cross-country flight can seem much less daunting.
Several credit cards offer special discounts on travel, but deciding which one is right for you can be intimidating. Here’s the skinny on some of the best travel rewards credit cards.
Although the American Express Gold card doesn't focus exclusively on travel, it is backed by the celebrated American Express travel rewards program. Cardholders earn one point for each dollar spent, and two points for each dollar spent on the American Express Travel website.
You can use your points to fly any time (no blackout dates), or you can transfer your rewards to up to 20 different frequent flyer and frequent guest programs. Another Gold Card perk is the no pre-set spending limit. However, you can expect to see a bulky $125 fee tacked on to your bill each year (waived for the first 12 months after activation).
The American Express Gold Card is a great option for people who charge purchases frequently. But if you're looking for a program that's more travel-oriented, you might consider the Starwood Preferred Guest Card or the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards Card instead.
During the first year of card membership, you'll earn two AAdvantage miles for every dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, plus one mile for every dollar spent otherwise. (After 12 months, you'll earn one mile for every dollar.) If you charge $750 within the first four months of activation, you'll receive 30,000 bonus miles, and 10,000 extra miles if you make $5,000 worth of purchases within the first six months of membership.
Note that 40,000 miles is more than enough for a free round-trip domestic flight, and there are no blackout dates if you fly American Airlines or one of its regional carriers.
However, your points may expire if you don't earn rewards on American Airlines purchases or if you fail to redeem them at least once every 18 months. Cardholders will also face an $85 annual charge (waived the first year) and a 15.24 annual percentage rate (APR). For lower fees, consider the Citi Gold / AAdvantage World MasterCard.
Tired of waiting months to rack up enough points to make a rewards program worth your time? American Express came up with a solution: With the Blue Sky Preferred card, 7,500 points earns you a $100 account credit that can be used to lower the out-of-pocket cost of flights, hotels, and more.
You can earn two points for every dollar spent at eligible hotels, restaurants, and car rental agencies. And you can accrue one point for every dollar charged on non-eligible purchases, which can be applied toward discounts on airfare, cruise lines, commuter trains, hotels, and travel agencies. Blue Sky Preferred points never expire, and airline blackout dates don't apply.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind when considering the Blue Sky program. First, you may only redeem your points in increments of 7,500. Second, the card comes with an annual fee of $75, and a fairly high APR that ranges from 17.24 to 22.24.
This card does not include an annual fee, but you will have to pay the same high APR, and you'll only earn one point per every dollar spent (even on travel).
If you're looking for a clear-cut program, consider the Escape by Discover card. Unlike other Discover cards that distribute points based on a tier system, Escape awards two miles for every dollar spent on the card, no matter what you purchase. Plus, for every month you use the card, you'll earn an extra 1,000 bonus miles This bonus offer is capped at 25,000 miles.
You can cash in your miles for free flights, cruises, hotel stays, and car rentals, which you can book through any airline, travel agent, or online travel site. As an added benefit, you will receive a zero per cent APR on both purchases and balance transfers for the first six months after activation, although there is a 10.99 to 15.99 APR that will kick in during month seven.
The card comes with a $60 annual fee.
American Express is known for its extensive rewards programs, and the Starwood Preferred Guest card is no exception. With every dollar spent on this card, you will earn one 'Starpoint,' plus up to five Starpoints for every dollar you charge at any Starwood Preferred Guest hotel or resort.
You can redeem your points for free nights at more than 1,000 participating hotels in 100 countries.
You can also use your points to save on flights with more than 350 airlines without having to worry about blackout dates. You'll rack up 10,000 Starpoints with any first purchase, and you can earn an additional 15,000 points--enough for two free nights at a luxury hotel--if you spend $5,000 on your card in six months or less.
There is no charge for the first year of usage, but you can expect a hefty $65 fee tacked on to your bill for each subsequent year that you stick with the program, plus a 15.24 to 19.24 APR.
There's been a lot of buzz surrounding the Chase Sapphire card, particularly about its travel rewards.
For every dollar charged, you'll earn one point that can be applied toward both airfare and hotels, as well as merchandise, gift cards, and even cash. You'll also earn an additional point for each dollar spent on eligible airfare purchases made online, and you'll get 10,000 bonus points if you charge $500 in the first three months of membership.
Tt here are no earning restrictions or expiration date. When it comes to managing your account and your rewards, Chase makes things easy by providing access to Blueprint, a free service that helps you keep your card in check by tracking your spending and allowing you to set up a payment plan for large purchases.
The best part: no annual fee.
In 2010, Money magazine named the Capital One Venture card the best program for racking up airline miles. But while this card--like the others mentioned in this list--can help you get to where you want to go, the Capital One Venture card is the only one that will take care of you once you arrive.
If you're travelling outside the United States, you can use this card without accruing any foreign transaction fees. And because Capital One is a Visa, you can also cash in on extras like travel accident insurance and lost luggage reimbursement.
As far as points go, the Capital One Venture card is straightforward: You will earn two miles for every dollar, and if you charge at least $1,000 within the first three months, you'll earn 10,000 bonus travel miles. Points can be applied toward hotel rooms, flights, and even car rentals, and they never expire. Keep in mind that the annual $59 fee is waived during the first year, although you will have an 11.9 to 19.9 variable APR.
When it comes to earning rewards, you can't do better than the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express card. Not only will you earn points to put toward your next vacation, you'll actually earn extra points for travelling.
Every flight booked with a PenFed card earns a whopping five points per dollar. And if you charge $650 within the first three months of activation, you'll automatically receive 20,000 bonus points (enough for a round-trip flight to many domestic destinations).
Here's the catch: To join this program, you must be a member or family member of the U.S. Military or a military association, a U.S. government employee, or an employee or volunteer at the American Red Cross.
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