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How to choose a credit card to earn travel points

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    If you have a case of wanderlust, you may be looking to get a credit card that earns travel rewards points to help contribute to your adventures. When trying to choose the right option for you, you may find it helpful to understand exactly how travel points work and what things you should take into consideration when choosing.

    How do travel points work?

    Travel points are a type of credit card reward that you can put toward travel expenses like flights, hotel stays and rental cars. The specific expenses you can use your travel points for will depend on your card and issuer.

    How to earn travel points

    You typically earn travel points by making eligible purchases on your credit card. Some cards may have specific bonus categories that earn more points than others.

    How to use credit card points for travel

    Once you've earned points, how do those travel points work? That will depend on your card and issuer. Options for redeeming those points may include booking through a travel portal, transferring points to travel partners (i.e., airlines, hotel chains, rental car companies) or redeeming points for cash back to cover travel expenses.

    Additionally, the value of your points may differ depending on how you redeem them.

    How to choose a travel points credit card

    Choosing a credit card for travel points is a personal decision that may hinge on what types of benefits, perks and protections are important to you. Some of the things you may want to consider include:

    • Bonus categories: Some cards offer bonus categories, such as dining or grocery stores. You may want to look at which bonus categories different cards offer to see which one most closely aligns with your normal spending. You may find this helps you rack up points faster.
    • Benefits: Some cards may offer bigger rewards or perks in certain areas. For instance, if you plan to fly often, you may want a card that offers substantial airport lounge access or reimbursement for programs like TSA PreCheck®, Global Entry or NEXUS. If hotel stays are something you enjoy, you may want to find a card that provides room upgrades or complimentary breakfasts.
    • Protections: Some cards may offer better travel protections than others. This could include things like trip cancellation or interruption insurance, auto rental coverage, lost or delayed baggage protection and emergency medical benefits.
    • Fees: It's not unusual for rewards credit cards to have annual fees — they're one of the ways issuers are able to offer rewards. However, those fees can vary greatly. When you're choosing a travel credit card, you may want to be aware of the annual fee and decide if you'll get enough out of the card to make it worth it.

    Co-branded vs. general

    One of the big decisions you'll want to make when choosing a travel card is whether you want a general travel card or a co-branded one.

    General cards that you may use for travel are ones like the Chase Sapphire cards, where you earn points in a rewards system that can be applied to a variety of things. This may be a good option for people who desire flexibility when booking travel.

    A co-branded credit card is a card that is partnered with a specific brand, such as an airline or hotel chain, such as the United Explorer Card.

    Co-branded cards may be a good option for people who are loyal to a particular favorite airline or hotel chain, as you'll be earning points within their rewards systems. You may also earn on-brand perks, such as free checked bags, priority boarding or a complimentary night at a hotel.

    In summary

    Travel points from credit cards offer a variety of ways to earn rewards that help you travel more. When you're trying to choose the right travel credit card for you, consider what benefits are offered, which bonus categories you spend most in, which travel protections are important to you and whether you have a reliable favorite when it comes to airlines and hotels or whether you want to have more flexibility when booking. Credit card travel points can be used in a variety of ways, so it may help to keep your own habits and desires in mind when choosing one.

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