The Best Travel Cards for the Infrequent Flyer
According to a recent study, the average American travels 2.1 times per year. That’s not a lot. But when you consider that most of us only receive an average of 10 vacation days each year, we do our best to make the most of the time we get.
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Where do you fall on the travel scale? If you find you don’t get out of town frequently enough for some well-deserved rest and relaxation, that needs to change. And what better way than doing it for nearly no cost. If you were thinking credit card rewards, then you’re right.
So, why would someone want to use a rewards credit card? It’s simple: Travel cards can help you reduce — and in many cases, eliminate — the cost of traveling.
With a combination of generous sign-up bonuses and the rewards you can earn on each purchase, cardholders can quickly rack up enough miles or points to pay for airfare, hotels or both. That alone can make it easy to see why a travel credit card can be perfect even for someone who might not travel more than once or twice per year.
Best Travel Cards for Infrequent Flyers
Are you ready to pick out a new travel credit card for your wallet? We’ve taken some time researching all the different options available. Here are our favorites.
Chase Sapphire Preferred®
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of the best travel cards available. The reason is simple. Not only does it offer a generous signup bonus and the ability to earn bonus points on purchases, but you also have flexible redemption options.
When you sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card you will receive 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. That is worth $750 when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. When you use the Sapphire Preferred card, you will earn 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining and select streaming services and online grocery purchases, and 2x points on all other travel purchases. All other purchases will earn 1X points.
This card is perfect for the infrequent traveler because of the options you have for redemption. You could choose to use your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards® where you’ll receive a 25% bonus. That would make each point worth 1.25 cents. You could also transfer your points to one of the several transfer partners available at 1:1 ratio. These transfer partners include the following:
- Aer Lingus AerClub
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue
- British Airways Executive Club
- Emirates Skywards
- Iberia Plus
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®
- United MileagePlus
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- IHG® Rewards Club
- Marriott Bonvoy™
- World of Hyatt
With both airline and hotel transfer partners, there is something for just about everyone.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® card comes with a $95 annual fee, but there are no foreign transaction fees if you plan to use the card outside the United States.
Capital One Venture Rewards Card
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is another great card for infrequent flyers because of the flexibility you have with the rewards you earn. After signing up for the Venture Rewards card, you will receive 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases during the first three months. This is worth $750 in travel.
What’s nice about Capital One Venture miles is that you’re not locked into any airline or hotel. Instead you can redeem your miles toward any travel purchase you make. Just book your travel with the Capital One Venture Rewards card. Then go into your online account and apply your miles toward the transaction. Once you have done that it will appear as a statement credit.
This card will come with no foreign transaction fees when used outside the United States. You can also receive up to a $100 credit toward the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. The card also provides two complimentary visits per year to Capital One Lounges or to the over 100 Plaza Premium Lounges. The card comes with a $95 annual fee.
Citi Double Cash
If you aren’t a frequent traveler, then you might not see the value in having a travel credit card. Another option would be to use a cash back card. Once you have earned cash back, you can move it to a travel fund which will cover any future travel expenses.
One of the best cash back cards right now is the Citi® Double Cash Card from Citi, a Credit Cards House advertiser. With this card you earn cash back twice on every purchase you make. You earn 1% cash back when you buy something, and you earn another 1% back once you pay for those purchases.
The card comes with no annual fee. However, because it comes with a 3% foreign transaction fee, you’ll want to keep it at home if you are planning to travel outside the United States.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is another great cash back card, but it comes with a little twist. When you sign up for this card, for the first year you will receive an additional 1.5% cash back on all purchases (on up to $20,000 spend in the first year). During the first year introductory offer, you can earn 6.5% cash back on travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. You also earn 4.5% cash back on purchases at drugstores, dining, takeout and eligible delivery services, and 3% on all other purchases. After your first year with the card (or $20,000 spent), you will earn 5% on travel purchased through the Chase travel portal, 3% back at restaurants and drugstores and 1.5% cash back on every other purchase you make.
Where this card throws a curveball is if you have another Chase credit card that earns Ultimate Reward points. This would include the Chase Sapphire Preferred®, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Chase Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card or Chase Ink Plus (no longer available). When you have one of these cards and you also have the Freedom Unlimited, the cash back you earn can be converted to Ultimate Reward points. That means 1.5% cash back will become 1.5 Ultimate Reward points. Then, just like the Chase Sapphire Preferred mentioned above, those points can be transferred to the different travel partners or used to book travel through Ultimate Rewards.
There is no annual fee with the Chase Freedom Unlimited, but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.
Even though you might not spend a majority of your time traveling, there are credit cards available to help you travel for less. Each of the cards mentioned gives you the flexibility to redeem your rewards for many different travel experiences. It might be for flights, hotels, rental cars or another travel expense.
Frequently Asked Questions/Tips
Answers to common travel credit card questions.
How Do You Choose a Rewards/Travel Card?
When it’s time to choose a new rewards credit card, there is so much to consider. You need to decide if you want cash back, hotel points, airline miles, or a mixture of both. But once you’ve made a decision, you then have to pick between hundreds of different possible cards.
So where do you start when it’s time to pick out a card? There are a few things to consider. First you should probably decide if you’re willing to pay an annual fee. Most of the top reward cards will charge a fee anywhere from $95 all the way up to $550. Typically, the higher the fee, the more perks you will receive. However, there are also great reward cards that come without an annual fee.
You’re also going to want to look at the reward earning potential. Does the card come with a signup bonus? If it does, you’re probably going to be required to spend a certain amount of money over the first few months before you earn it. Make sure you’re comfortably able to meet the spending requirements without overextending yourself. The last thing you ever want to do is spend money you can’t pay off before the end of your statement period.
You’ll also want to look at the rewards you can earn on purchases. By analyzing your spending habits, you’ll be able to understand where you are spending your money each month. You can then use this information and find a card that offers a category bonus that is a good match.
Let’s assume a large chunk of your budget is spent on groceries. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, a Credit Cards House advertiser, might be a great fit since it offers 6% cash back on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each year. You can apply the cash back to offset your travel expenses.
Finally, make sure you also check out the other benefits that come with each card. If the card you’re considering has an annual fee, then it should have some other perks that provide you value.
Benefits of a Travel Card
Some of the secondary benefits that a rewards credit card offers can be just as valuable as a large signup bonus or big category bonuses. Some of the best benefits will give you the protection you need while you’re traveling. Let’s take a look at a few of the key benefits that you should look for with your next travel rewards card.
Trip cancellation/interruption insurance
Things can happen that delay or even cancel travel plans. Winter weather can cause flights to get shut down; mechanical issues can ground a plane. When things like this happen, you could be out money if you have non-refundable travel plans. However, if you used a credit card that came with trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance, you might be able to receive compensation for those nonrefundable expenses.
Car rental insurance
Whenever you rent a car, the rental agency always asks if you would like to purchase their collision protection plan. If you used a credit card that comes with car rental insurance, you will be able to save some money and decline coverage.
There are two different types of car rental insurance that you can receive through a credit card. The more common, but less valuable, is secondary insurance. With secondary insurance, your card issuer will pay out on a claim only after you have filed a claim with your primary insurance company.
The other type of insurance is primary insurance. This will pay out on any claim from the start and there is no need to file a claim with your insurance company. Primary car rental insurance comes on higher end travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred®, Chase Sapphire Reserve® or the Platinum Card® from American Express (a Credit Cards House advertiser. Terms apply).
No foreign transaction fees
If you ever travel outside the United States, make sure you have a card with no foreign transaction fees. Some cards will charge you a percentage of each transaction made abroad. There is no point in paying more than you should, so pick a card that doesn’t include the fee.
Lost baggage insurance
Let’s be honest, things can happen when traveling. Occasionally you’re going to arrive at your destination, and your baggage won’t be there. Having lost baggage insurance through your credit card will help keep you going without missing a step. This perk will help compensate your expenses, so you can go out and purchase the items you need to get you through until your bags arrive.
Is a Travel Credit Card the Right Choice?
Not everyone has the opportunity to spend months on the road traveling each year. Instead, you might enjoy the occasional vacation. It gives you the chance to unwind and spend some quality time with friends and family. But is a travel credit card the right choice for you? It really depends on your goals. There are credit cards available where the sign-up bonus alone can cover your round-trip flights or a weeklong hotel stay. You just need to decide if the value you’re receiving from the credit card perks are worth the fee you might be charged.
What other options do you have? As you noticed above, in addition to the travel credit cards recommended, there are also a couple of cash back cards. Cash back cards are not going to include a lot of the added travel benefits, but they are going to give you the chance to boost your travel fund. The cash back you earn each month can go directly into a savings account you have for your next adventure. Use this to pay for your flights, hotels and all your other travel expenses.
Combine your points and miles with your family members'
If you’re married or travel with a significant other, you might consider combining the credit card rewards you’ve earned. This will help you achieve your travel goals a little faster.
To give you an example of how this could be beneficial, let’s assume you need 40,000 miles to book a round-trip flight to Europe. Unfortunately, your account only has 36,000 miles. If you were able to combine miles with the 50,000 in your wife's account, you’d have enough to book two tickets.
Some of the programs that allow you to combine your points and miles include:
- British Airways
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Citi ThankYou
- Marriott Bonvoy (Merged Marriott-Starwood Program)
Stick with flexible spending programs
If you don’t travel very often, then it’s important to have plenty of choices available when it comes time to book a trip. Using a credit card that is part of a flexible rewards program will be helpful. These programs include:
- American Express Membership Rewards
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Citi ThankYou
- Marriott Bonvoy (Merged Marriott-Starwood Program)
By having points in one of these programs, you’re going to have plenty of options available in terms of flights and hotels. Finding award flights can be difficult, especially if you are looking for business class seats for more than one person. Having multiple airlines to look into will help make the job much easier.
Editorial Note: The information related to Chase Sapphire Reserve® was collected by Credit Cards House and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this product/card. Product details may vary. Please see issuer website for current information. Credit Cards House does not receive commission for this product.
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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.