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What's the best travel rewards card for you?

minute read

    With so many credit cards offering travel rewards as perks or built into their rewards program, deciding on the type of credit card that matches your needs can be overwhelming. By looking at the types of credit cards with travel rewards and understanding how to get the most value out of these cards, you can confidently pick a new credit card that earns you the travel rewards you want.

    Types of credit cards with travel rewards

    Airlines and hotels often partner with card issuers to build co-branded credit cards that include bonus points when you make purchases with that brand. But if you don't have a preferred hotel chain or airline, more general credit cards include similar bonuses for travel-related expenses across various hotels or airlines. Here's how they stack up.

    General travel rewards credit card

    A travel credit card likely includes a rewards point system that provides you bonus points for spending within a defined set of categories. The more rewarding cards will include points bonuses when you spend on airfare, hotels, rental cars and even dining. A general travel rewards credit card won't require you to spend within a certain brand, so you can pick an airline or hotel brand based on your preferences.

    Co-branded airline rewards credit card

    Many card issuers partner with an airline brand to create what is known as a co-branded credit card. As you might expect, the largest rewards points bonuses for these types of cards kick in when you spend directly with the brand airline or some of its affiliated travel partners. Perks may include baggage discounts, lounge access at selected airports, deals on in-flight purchases and other helpful ways to make your fly time a breeze.

    Co-branded hotel rewards credit card

    Some co-branded hotel rewards cards may include rewards programs that include additional travel partner deals for airfare or car rentals. As you add points through credit card spending, joining the partnered hotel's loyalty program will also add some perks when you stay there, like free Wi-Fi, discounts on meals or room upgrades.

    How to get the most value from traveling with your rewards credit card

    Understanding what your bonus spending categories are is the first step to maximize your rewards earnings and redemptions. Whether you're using a general travel rewards card or a co-branded rewards card, planning your spending carefully will squeeze the most points out of your card expenses. These additional tips can help you multiply the points you earn.

    Take advantage of a sign-up bonus

    If you're comparing rewards cards to sign up for, looking at the available sign-up bonuses, also known as a new cardmember bonus, can be an easy way to find a card that provides you with rewards points that you can redeem, after meeting the requirements. Typically, these sign-up bonuses require a minimum spend over a period of time after you open your card, which is why pairing a new card with a large purchase you have planned can put your spending to good use.

    Select a card with perks that matter to you

    Take a look at the perks that are offered before your trips: from room upgrades to a free checked bag to coverage for lost bags and canceled trips, evaluating which perks are included when you open the card can help you use a card that makes your travels even better.

    Enroll in a loyalty program

    If your travel rewards credit card is co-branded, joining that brand's loyalty program is a must so you can begin accruing rewards within the program. Joining a loyalty program will also add perks for in-flight or on-site perks and, combined with your spending on the rewards credit card, you can see your membership status climb.

    Even if you're using a general travel rewards credit card, adding loyalty programs to your spending expands your travel redemption options. Many travel rewards credit cards offer the opportunity to transfer your points and redeem them for flights and hotel stays. Through The Chase Ultimate Rewards Program®, you can transfer these points to any airline and hotel partners at full 1:1 value with select cards.

    Make your next big purchase count

    When you know a big spend is coming up for you or your family, using a rewards credit card — either paired with a sign-up bonus or within one of your bonus categories — can build enough points to turn in for a reward.

    Look for rewards portal bonuses​

    Some reward programs include bonuses when you redeem within their preferred redemption areas. When you book through Chase Ultimate Rewards, you get perks that you may not have gotten if you booked through other travel booking services.

    Add an authorized user

    Adding an authorized user to your account should up the spend on your travel rewards credit card, which will drive your points higher and go to the primary cardmember with each purchase. Of course, be sure to speak with your authorized user about appropriate charges.

    How to pick the best travel rewards credit card for you

    Once you know how travel rewards credit cards work, you can compare your options and pick the card that aligns with your travel and with your reward preferences.

    1. Choose the type of travel rewards credit card: co-branded or general

    If you make 10 or more hotel night stays at the same hotel each year, a travel rewards credit card partnered with a hotel brand will make the most sense for you since you can earn miles and rewards at accelerated rates. If you plan on flying three or more times with one airline this year, a co-branded airline travel rewards credit card will earn you points and perks as you fly. A general travel rewards card will likely make the most sense if your travel spans many hotel and airline brands. Keep in mind that travel credit cards may or may not charge annual fees, so consider this when comparing rates and offers that work best for you.

    2. Compare perks and reward programs

    Once you know if co-branded or general travel rewards are best for you, look at specific perks and loyalty programs included with cards available to you. Co-branded cards may include high-level perks but may have loyalty programs focused on redemptions through the same brand. General travel rewards cards may not have as many on-site or in-flight perks but likely include more expansive redemption options. Review the value of the perks and redemptions, as well as the costs associated with the card.

    3. Calculate last year's points

    Now that you've looked at how the reward programs work, you can see how many points you may have earned. Pull out your credit card statements from the past year and organize spending into travel (hotel/airfare/miscellaneous) and non-travel expenses. What redemptions might you have available from those points? Sign-up bonuses may offer some valuable redemption options too.

    4. Select your best travel rewards credit card

    Take a look at the rewards and benefits, as well as the associated costs to determine the best card. Is the cost of your travel rewards credit card worth the value of your redemptions? What about when you add in the on-site, in-flight or travel protection programs that the cards offer? When you find the card that brings value to your travel dreams, arriving at the best travel rewards credit card for your destinations can be right on time.

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