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Here in the US In the US, as in much of Europe, cash is no longer king. Credit cards have stolen that title and are used by people to pay for everything from new cars to a pack of gum.
Hotel Travel Credit Union
We love credit cards in the US. You see ads for them all over town, on TV and online. Your bank is likely calling and emailing you with credit card offers all the time. I can’t count how many unsolicited card offers I get in the mail, and no matter how much I tell them to stop sending them, they keep flooding in.
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These days, there are HUNDREDS of travel rewards credit cards to choose from. With so many cards to choose from, it’s hard to know which ones are really good for travel and which ones aren’t worth it.
It can be especially confusing trying to navigate all the credit card welcome offers, loyalty programs, perks, offers, arcane rules and hidden fees.
It’s so complex that most people just pick the first thing they see and call it a day. Or, even worse, they just give up and use a debit card instead.
Travel credit cards are an amazing tool that you can use to earn free flights, travel perks and hotel stays, all without spending any extra money.
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In this article, I’m going to tell you how to easily choose the best travel credit card so you can maximize your points and earn free travel, because it’s a lot easier than you think.
Don’t want to read this entire post? well I get it. Time is important! So here is my quick list of favorites by category!
Travel credit cards offer a great opportunity to earn free points that can be redeemed for airfare, hotels or cash. In the race to win customers, credit card companies are partnering with various travel brands (or simply offering their own card) that entice consumers with a welcome offer, loyalty points, special discounts and more.
Their desire to get you, the consumer, is really your gain. By milking the system, you can get tons of free plane tickets, hotel rooms, vacations, and even cash back.
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I’ve racked up close to a million points just through welcome offers. I get so many points every year; it would take a whole book to list them.
And, as long as you can pay off your credit card each month, you’ll be able to accumulate points and miles that you can redeem for free travel.
The first thing you should know is that there is no such thing as a perfect travel card. Each card offers different benefits that will suit different lifestyles, budgets and travel goals.
I use an AMEX card to book flights (3x points per dollar spent), card_name for my everyday expenses, a different Chase card for my phone bills (5x points), and card_name for my business expenses. I have friends who just want cash back and others who just want United miles.
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Interested in brand loyalty, free rewards, or avoiding fees? Do you want to get rewards and welcome offers for free flights or just want a card that doesn’t charge you a fee to use it at that restaurant in Brazil?
Is elite status the most important advantage for you? Want points you can use for anything, like cash?
If you just want to spend points wherever you want, get the Chase or American Express cards because you can use their points with multiple travel companies. Each has its own rewards programs (Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards), and points can be transferred to various airline or hotel partners and used to book travel directly through their sites.
By focusing on what you want first, you can maximize your short-term goals and learn how to travel hack. For example, I tend to avoid hotel cards since I rarely stay in hotels.
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I don’t like cash back cards because I travel so often that the points, not the cash back, are more useful to me.
Using credit cards that get me airline miles or have good transfer bonuses to airline programs is what I go for.
Find your goal and then find the cards that match your goal and spending habits.
Comparing credit cards can be a little overwhelming. To help you stay focused and make sure you get the best card for you and your goals, here are six things I look for in a new card:
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1. A huge welcome offer — The best travel cards will give you a sizable introductory offer. You’ll need to meet a minimum spend requirement (usually in the first few months), but it’s these welcome points that kick-start your mileage account and get you closer to a free flight or hotel stay.
Sometimes these deals are big enough to get you a few free flights. Don’t sign up for a card unless it offers a great welcome offer.
As a general guide, welcome offers work like this: To receive the great launch offer, you must make a single purchase or meet a minimum spend threshold within a certain time period. After that, depending on the card, you can earn 1-5x points per dollar spent.
Typical welcome offers with travel credit cards range from 40,000 to 60,000 points, although they can sometimes go as high as 100,000. That’s why the cards are so great: you get an instant balance of thousands of points for very little work.
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If you’re not sure if you can make the minimum threshold for the welcome offer, ask to see if any friends or family are planning a big purchase. If they let you put it on your card (and then pay you cash), you can easily meet the minimum spend threshold to earn your welcome points.
2. Added category spending bonus: Most credit cards offer one point for every dollar spent. However, good credit cards will give you extra points when you shop at specific retailers or, if it’s a branded credit card, with a certain brand. This will help you earn points much faster.
I don’t want a dollar to equal just one point. I want to be able to get two or three points every time I spend a dollar.
For example, cardname earns 3x points on travel and dining, cardname earns 5x points on office expenses, and American Express® Gold Card earns 3x points on airfare. I can earn bonus points when I use a company card to book with that company (ie Delta flights with a Delta card).
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That’s what you want. Never accept one point per dollar spent. Find at least two. (Some cards offer up to 6 points per dollar spent.)
3. Low minimum spend — Unfortunately, in order to get the great bonuses these cards offer, there is usually a minimum spend required. While there are ways to temporarily increase your spend, it’s best to be able to earn the bonus using your normal day-to-day spend. I usually sign up for cards with a minimum spending requirement of $1,000 to $3,000 in a three to six month period.
Some cards only require you to make a single purchase to activate the welcome offer (these are my favorite welcome offers).
While you shouldn’t necessarily avoid high minimum spend cards since they have substantial rewards, it’s a good idea to start small because you don’t want to end up with so many cards that you can’t meet the minimum spend. Once you get the card, you cannot apply for the card again. Only apply for cards where you can meet the minimum spend to qualify for the welcome bonus.
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Managing your ability to meet the minimum spending requirements is critical because if you spend more money than you usually do just to earn these points, the points are no longer free. Just spend what you normally would and not a penny more.
If you’re looking for ways to meet your minimum spending requirements, there are plenty of creative ways to become a master travel hacker. Check out my guide for clever ways.
4. Get special travel perks – All of these travel credit cards offer great perks. Many will give you special elite loyalty status or other extra perks. Here are the advantages I prioritize:
Travel hacking isn’t just about earning points and miles, it’s what comes with the card that makes my life easier.
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5. Low annual fees: No one likes paying annual fees for credit cards. Many company credit card fees range from $50 to $95 per year. For those who travel a lot