Best Credit Cards for Summer Travel
Now that the heat is here, it's not too late to sign up for a rewards credit card for summer travel. The right card can offer you not just rewards but valuable benefits that you can make use of during your trip.
The Three Things that Make Any Travel Rewards Credit Card Great
No matter what time of year you’ll be traveling, there are three essentials for a travel rewards credit card.
First, the best cards will start you off with a generous sign-up bonus that you can make use of as soon as you earn it. These days, a competitive sign-up bonus will offer enough airline points or miles for at least two round-trip domestic tickets in economy class, but preferably a bit more. Likewise, your typical hotel rewards credit card should offer enough points for two award nights in a mid-level hotel in a medium or large city, and hopefully even enough for award nights in an expensive market like New York or London.
Next, you should earn valuable points or miles towards your next award trip. You should look at the bonus you get for making purchases with the co-branded airline or hotel partner, as well as any other bonus points for other purchases. You also need to consider the value of the points and miles earned for the majority of your purchases that won’t qualify for any bonus.
Finally, a great credit card for your trip will include numerous travel benefits. These benefits can include perks when you fly with the co-branded airline or stay with the hotel chain, such as priority boarding or free room Wi-Fi. Other valuable perks can include credits towards airline fees as well as travel insurance policies.
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Why Summer Travel is Different than Travel at Other Times of the Year
Summer is a peak season for travel, especially for families whose children are out of school. In fact, you’ll find that the northern hemisphere’s summer is a peak travel season all over the world, even in the southern hemisphere where many countries have a winter break. When you are looking for a rewards card for summer travel, you want to find one that makes it very easy to redeem your points or miles during peak travel periods. And if you are a family traveler, then you want to make extra sure that the rewards you earn can be easily used for multiple travelers.
Finding a Credit Card for Summer Airline Travel
Most airline credit cards will offer you miles that you can redeem for award flights. The problem is that few airlines will make many of their award seats available at reasonable prices to popular destinations during the peak summer travel season. Therefore, the best credit cards for summer travel will do one of three things:
First, it can offer points or miles that are worth a relatively fixed amount towards flights, which allows you to book as many seats as you want for a reasonable amount. Airlines that have programs that work this way include Southwest and JetBlue.
Otherwise, you can try to find a credit card that offers you points or miles that can be redeemed directly for travel reservations on most airlines. There are many credit cards now that offer miles that can be redeemed for statement credits towards travel reservations on any airline. Other cards allow you to redeem your rewards for reservations booked on any airline through their in-house travel agency.
Finally, there are credit cards that offer points that can be transferred to multiple different airline or hotel programs. This allows you the flexibility you need to find flights during the summer travel season.
Finding a Credit Card for Summer Hotels
Thankfully, it’s a lot easier to find a hotel credit card that allows you to earn free nights during the summer. While most airlines severely restrict the number of seats they make available at the lowest mileage levels, the hotel programs often let you book any available, unsold standard room for free using your points. This means that until their standard rooms are sold out, you should be able to use your points to book an award night, even if it’s the last room available. Hotel programs with this policy include Hyatt, Hilton and Wyndham. Sadly, some individually owned properties attempt to circumvent this by labeling most of their rooms non-standard in some way, such as those having a “garden view” or “city view.”
Beyond award nights, the best credit cards for summer travel will offer you valuable benefits when staying at the hotel. For example, many hotel credit cards offer you basic elite status and credit towards mid-level or even top-tier elite status. Depending on the program, having elite status can offer you points bonuses, priority service, room upgrades, late checkouts and even free breakfasts.
Choosing a Rewards Credit Card for International Travel
When you are dreaming of a trip outside of the United States, you’ll want to find a credit card that offers you rewards that can be used to reach your destination. For example, airlines like JetBlue and Southwest offer some service to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, but nothing to Europe. But while Alaska Airlines doesn’t fly overseas, it’s partnered with many other airlines that do, and you can redeem your miles for their flights.
When you are looking to use your credit card outside of the United States, you’ll want to make sure that you aren’t being charged foreign transaction fees. Many credit cards still impose a 3% charge on all transactions processed outside of the United States. Thankfully, this unnecessary fee is being removed from an increasing number of travel rewards credit cards, but you may still find it on some entry level travel cards with no annual fee.
Choosing a Rewards Credit Card for Road Trips
With all of the popularity of airline credit cards, it can be easy to forget that many Americans prefer to avoid the hassle and expense of airline travel and travel by car instead. The right credit card for a road trip will offer savings on gas and at restaurants. You might also prefer a hotel rewards credit card that favors smaller rural, local hotels and motels over larger urban properties.
The Best Credit Cards for Summer Travel
Here are some of the best credit cards for summer travel.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is ideal for summer travel as it offers a strong sign-up bonus, bonus rewards for travel spending, and excellent benefits. New cardholders can earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening. This card also features double points on all travel and dining purchases, with no limits.
Points are earned in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, which offers numerous ways to redeem your points during the peak summer travel period. First, you can use your points to book travel reservations directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel center, just like any other travel agency. When you book airfare, hotels, rental cars, and activities this way, your points are worth 1.25 cents each.
Next, you can transfer your points to airline miles with seven different frequent flyer programs including United, Southwest, British Airways, Singapore, and Air France/KLM. When you are able to use your miles for expensive last-minute reservations, or seats in business or first class, then it's often possible to receive several cents in value per point redeemed. Finally, Ultimate Rewards points can also be transferred to hotel points in four different programs, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and IHG.
The Sapphire Preferred also comes with extensive travel insurance benefits including trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage, a primary auto rental collision damage waiver policy, and travel and emergency assistance services. There's a $95 annual fee for this card that's waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
Here’s a great addition to your summer travel plans as you can redeem your miles for any travel that you purchase with your card. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® offers new applicants 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 within 90 days of account opening. Miles are worth one cent each as statement credits towards travel purchases and you receive a 5% refund of the miles you redeemed However, points can only be redeemed for charges above $100 and only within 120 days of purchase. There’s an $89 annual fee for this card that is waived for the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
If you are looking to take a road trip this summer, and you prefer cash back to airline miles and hotel points, then the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, a Credit Cards House advertiser, is the card for you. First, you earn $200 cash back after spending $1,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. You also earn unlimited 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations. You’ll also earn 6% back at U.S. supermarkets on your first $6,000 spent annually (then 1%). These are places that you’ll be sure to be spending money on you trip. It also offers 3% cash back at U.S. department stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Finally, this card offers you 12 months of 0% APR introductory financing on both new purchases and balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee. After the introductory rate ends a then a variable rate, currently 18.49% to 29.49% applies. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, but don’t use it over the border because it unfortunately has a 2.7% foreign transaction fee.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card makes a great card for summer travel because you can redeem these rewards for any flight, hotel room, rental car or cruise. With this card, you earn double miles on all purchases, with no limits. New cardholders can also earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. Capital One even offers 10x miles on lodging expenses booked through Hotels.com (through January 31, 2020).
Capital One miles are worth one cent each as statement credits towards travel purchases. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year, and like all Capital One cards, it has no foreign transaction fees.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers reward points in Southwest’s frequent flyer program, called Rapid Rewards. The beauty of this program is that you can use points to book any available flight, no matter how many people you are traveling with. And although summer travel might cost more than other times of the year, you won’t have to look for the scarce “saver” awards offered by other airlines.
New applicants can earn 40,000 points after spending just $1,000 on their card within three months of account opening. Like most other airline credit cards, the Rapid Rewards Premier card offers you one point per dollar spent on most purchases and double points on all Southwest purchases. You get double points on not just airfare, but also for any fees you pay such as any early boarding or overweight/oversized baggage fees. You also receive 6,000 bonus points each year on your account anniversary. Finally, these points, including the initial sign-up bonus, count towards the 110,000 points needed to earn a Companion Pass. When you have a Companion Pass, you can add a designated person to all of your itineraries, and only pay taxes. Once you earn the pass, it’s valid for travel until the end of the following year. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
JetBlue Plus Card from Barclays
The JetBlue Plus Card is another card that’s ideal for summer travel, since you can use your points for any flight. In fact, JetBlue’s True Blue frequent flyer program lets you pool points between family members, which few other programs allow.
With this card, you earn 6x points on all JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. New accounts can also receive 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on new purchases within 90 days of account opening. You also earn 5,000 points each year on your account anniversary. Other benefits include a free checked bag, 10% of your redeemed miles back, a 50% savings on inflight purchases and the ability to earn Mosaic elite status after spending $50,000 on your card in a year. There’s a $99 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Frontier Airlines World Mastercard® from Barclays
Frontier Airlines has become successful by offering extremely low airfares while charging extra for options such as seat assignments and carry-on bags. But when you have the new Frontier Airlines World Mastercard® credit card, you have the chance to take an ultra-low cost summer trip without having to pay the additional fees.
New applicants can earn 40,000 miles after using their card to spend $500 within three months of their account opening, enough for two round-trip award tickets. This card also offers you 5x miles on Frontier purchases, 3x miles at restaurants and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere. Finally, you can earn a $100 flight voucher each account anniversary after you use your card to spend $2,500 or more.
Furthermore, this credit card allows you to earn elite status with an airline, all by itself. When you use your card to spend $20,000 in a calendar year, you can earn Elite 20k status in their FRONTIER Miles frequent flyer program. For each dollar spent on this card or each mile flown, you’ll earn one qualifying mile toward elite status, which starts at 20,000 miles. Once you’ve earned Elite 20k status, you don't have to pay a fee to receive a seat assignment or to carry on a standard sized bag.
Other travel benefits include priority boarding and a waived award redemption fee, which can be up to $75 per ticket. Frontier credit card users will also be able to pool their miles with up to eight family members, which can be anyone you choose to include. Cardholders also receive trip cancellation insurance, baggage delay coverage and a free monthly FICO score. There's a $79 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card from Chase
Kick off your summer travel plans with enough points for several free nights at Hyatt hotels. The new World of Hyatt Credit Card offers you 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening, and another 20,000 points after you spend a total of $6,000 within six months of account opening. This is a tremendous amount of points considering that many Hyatt Place hotels are only 5,000 or 8,000 points a night, and some luxury properties are just 15,000 points per night.
You also earn 4x points at Hyatt hotels, 2x points at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, local transit and commuting as well as fitness club and gym memberships, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Finally, this card offers you automatic Discoverist status plus five qualifying night credits towards your next tier status every year. You also earn an additional two qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every time you spend $5,000 on your card. Finally, you can earn another free night each year at a Category 1-4 Hyatt and another free night if you spend $15,000 in an account year. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card
The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card from Citi, a Credit Cards House advertiser, is another card that offers you the flexibility you need for your summer travel plans. This card offers you 3x ThankYou® Points for travel purchases, which includes gas, parking, tolls and public transportation. 2x points are earned from dining, and you receive one point per dollar spent elsewhere You can transfer points to several airline partners or points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeeming rewards for airfare booked through the ThankYou® Travel Center. There is a $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express, a Credit Cards House advertiser, is a great choice for summer travel because of both its rewards and benefits. New applicants can earn up to 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in purchases within your first three months of account opening. You also earn 5x points for flights booked with the airlines or with American Express Travel, and 5x for hotels booked on Amextravel.co. You earn one point per dollar spent elsewhere, and points can be transferred to miles with 17 different frequent flyer programs.
But beyond rewards, you’ll appreciate all the other benefits including an airport lounge membership with the Delta SkyClubs, Priority Pass Select and the American Express Centurion lounges. You also receive an annual $200 airline fee credit and a $100 fee credit towards the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, so you won’t have to endure the long lines in the airport this summer.
Its latest benefit is up to a $50 credit at Saks Fifth Avenue that you can use twice a year. Other cardholder benefits include extended warranty coverage, return protection and coverage against accidental theft and damage. This card even comes with a roadside assistance policy that will give you a jump start, change a tire, or tow your car short distances up to four times a year. Finally, you also receive Gold status with Hilton and Marriott hotels as well as elite status with Avis, Hertz and National car rentals. There’s a $550 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
Editorial Note: The information related to Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express has been collected by Credit Cards House and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
This new premium rewards card arrives just in-time for summer. With the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, a Credit Cards House advertiser, you begin with 100,000 Honors points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening. You also earn a substantial 14X Hilton Honors Bonus points when you use the card at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide. Receive 7X Hilton Honors Bonus points when you use your card to pay for flights booked directly with airlines, at amextravel.com, or on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies, and when dining and at U.S. restaurants. Finally, you earn three points per dollar spent on other purchases.
With this card, you’ll immediately receive complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status, which is the highest level offered. Other benefits include a weekend night reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio each year, and a second weekend night reward after spending $60,000 on your card in a calendar year.
Another benefit is unlimited Priority Pass™ airport lounge access to over 1,000 facilities around the world. This card also comes with a $250 annual airline incidental fee statement credit, a $250 annual Hilton resort statement credit and a $100 on-property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts when you book an exclusive Aspire Card package. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What’s the most valuable kind of rewards for summer travel?
The value of the credit card rewards you earn will depend on how you use them and how much money you saved. For example, it can be possible to realize several cents in value per point or miles when you book business class international flights or luxury hotels. However, unless you were going to pay cash for these kind of reservations, then you can’t really say that you “saved” that money. Instead, you consider what you would have actually paid for what you received; perhaps a bit more than less luxurious travel reservations, but not the full retail price.
For some, hotel rewards are easier to find value in, because they have fewer restrictions when it comes time to redeem them. Others might prefer to save money on airfare and stay in a budget hotel or a vacation rental instead of using travel rewards for hotel nights. However, those that earn fixed value points or miles in a credit card program never have to worry about this since they always receive the same value from their rewards, regardless of how they are redeemed.
2. When is the best time to use credit card rewards for summer travel?
As with most credit card rewards, you’ll often find the best value when you redeem your rewards as far in advance as possible. That means that this summer it’s not too early to start thinking about redeeming your rewards for travel next summer. However, you can still find value with many of the points and miles that have a fixed value, or that are redeemed in hotel programs without restrictions. Just keep in mind that some popular summer destinations can sell out altogether, even if you are paying with cash.
3. Will it hurt my credit score to use these kind of credit cards to earn rewards?
Travel rewards can be so attractive that it often feels like there must be a catch. And certainly, it would never be worthwhile to earn rewards while hurting your credit. Thankfully, there is nothing to worry about when you use reward credit cards responsibly.
Editorial Note: The information related to The World of Hyatt Credit Card has been collected by Credit Cards House and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
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Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.