A Guide to Travel Credit Cards: Making the Most of Your Rewards Miles and Points

FT Contributor
Various travel rewards cards falling out of the sky, one of them says "air miles."

If you dream of traveling the world, travel rewards cards can be an easy and efficient way to rack up points, reap rewards, and finance your travels. Travel rewards cards are a type of credit card that offers special rewards and benefits specifically related to travel. With enough points or miles on your card, you can use them to purchase flights, book hotel rooms, and save money when you travel.

There are a variety of travel rewards cards available, and each comes with different perks and benefits. Is a travel rewards card right for you? Read on to find out.

Table of Contents

What Is a Travel Rewards Card?

A travel rewards card offers perks such as points or miles that the user can earn for making purchases with the card. Consumers can then cash these perks in on a variety of travel-related expenses, including flights, hotel rooms, and concierge services.

The more you spend on the card, the more points you rack up, which incentivizes consumers to use the card more often in order to reap the most travel-related rewards. Some travel rewards cards also come with additional perks, such as signing bonuses, free checked bags, and potential flight upgrades.

Travel Rewards Credit Cards vs. Airline Credit Cards

While travel rewards credit cards and airline credit cards may offer many similar benefits, there are some important differences between the two. General travel rewards cards allow you to earn rewards or points for making many different kinds of purchases, travel-related or otherwise. You’re able to redeem these rewards on any travel-related expenses, including flights, hotel stays, and more.

Airline credit cards, on the other hand, tend to offer more lucrative rewards for purchases made with that particular airline, and less lucrative rewards on everyday purchases.

Sometimes also called frequent flyer cards, airline credit cards earn rewards that can only be redeemed on specific purchases, such as flights with the airline that issued the card. However, airline credit cards may come with other advantages, such as free checked bags, priority boarding, potential flight upgrades, and other perks.

Examples of Travel Rewards Cards

There are a variety of different travel rewards cards out there, and each comes with different associated perks and rewards systems. The right travel rewards card depends on your specific situation, including your spending habits and how often you travel.

Some people even open a variety of different travel rewards cards for a short period of time to take advantage of their many perks, in a practice known as credit card churning. Some popular travel rewards cards include:

  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card;
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card;
  • Bank of America Travel Rewards Visa Credit Card;
  • Discover It Miles;

Fixed Value Point Cards

As the name implies, fixed value points cards offer a fixed value per point or mile. This type of card offers the benefit of ease and flexibility, as these points or miles can be redeemed for a wide variety of travel expenses. However, savvy travelers may be able to get a better deal using other kinds of travel rewards cards, as fixed value point cards may sometimes give you less value than other types of rewards.

Transferable Point Cards

Transferable point cards are another popular travel rewards card option. These cards allow cardholders to redeem points and rewards either within the program itself or with a variety of established travel partners.

Popular transferable point cards include Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Transferable point cards offer a lot of flexibility while still allowing you to cash in on deals and savings with eligible partners. Unlike fixed value point cards, you can only redeem points with travel companies with which the card has partnerships.

Co-branded Cards

Co-branded cards are cards that are issued by a specific brand. In particular, these cards are often issued by airlines and hotels. Examples of co-branded cards include the World of Hyatt Credit Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, and the United Explorer Card.

Unlike other types of travel rewards cards, these cards earn rewards you can only redeem with the specific brand associated with the card. If you earn points on a Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, for example, you’ll only be able to redeem those rewards with Delta. Co-branded cards are a great choice if you frequently use the same airline or hotel, and often offer additional perks, such as free checked bags or flight upgrades.

How to Maximize Travel Rewards Benefits

If you’re interested in making the most of a travel rewards card, there are a few strategies you can use in order to maximize your benefits.

  • Take advantage of signing bonuses — Many travel rewards cards offer signing bonuses, often after you spend a certain amount of money within a given period of time. These signing bonuses can amount to hundreds of dollars in rewards, so they’re a perk you don’t want to miss out on.
  • Use credit cards for everyday spending — In order to rack up as many rewards as possible, you can shift all of your normal, everyday expenses to credit cards. You can use credit cards to finance groceries, meals, gas, and sometimes even recurring bills such as rent and utilities. Remember to pay off the balance each month in order to avoid being charged interest.
  • Take advantage of rewards categories — Many rewards cards offer additional rewards for spending in certain categories, such as travel, dining, gas, and groceries.
  • Use cards for business travel — If you travel frequently for work, you can use your travel rewards cards to rack up points even faster. Make sure your employer will reimburse you for travel-related expenses.
  • Negotiate rewards — While it may seem like credit card policies are set in stone, the reality is that you can often negotiate for better rewards, particularly if you’re a loyal customer with good credit history.
  • Look for benefits that fit your lifestyle — While some travel rewards cards offer premium and exclusive benefits, they also often require annual fees. When choosing a travel rewards card, make sure to weigh the perks of different cards, and make sure to choose a card that has benefits you’ll actually use.

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