Consumers lately have been favoring credit cards that give cash back over those with travel rewards.
Less than half of credit cardholders surveyed by ThePointsGuy.com recently accumulate travel points or miles, and only one in three Millennials. It’s no wonder, given that airlines have seriously devalued frequent flier miles and made it more difficult to redeem points for tickets.
“But there is still tremendous value in getting the right travel card,” says Brian Kelly founder of ThePointsGuy.com.
What to Look For
•A hefty bonus. Sign-up bonuses among the 20 most popular travel cards increased 25% this year, according to Kelly. And in some cases, he adds, just a single bonus can provide enough miles for a first-class airline ticket anywhere in the world.
•Flexible redemption options. To get the most for your spending dollar, Kelly notes, you’re likely better off skipping airline-branded cards that let you rack up miles on a particular carrier (since these limit your redemption opportunities) in favor of cards that let you transfer miles to other loyalty programs or allow you to use the rewards you’ve accumulated as cash toward any kind of travel purchases.
Most travel cardholders either aren’t don’t have such a card or don’t take advantage. ThePointsGuy.com’s survey found that, among the 42% of people who have a travel rewards card, only 19% have ever transferred rewards points or miles from their credit card to an airline’s loyalty program.
•No foreign transaction fees. These are another self-inflicted wound for consumers. According to the survey, one-quarter of all credit cardholders have to pay a fee when they buy stuff overseas (it’s typically 2% to 4%), and one-third don’t know if their card charges them extra. With so many products available that do not charge this fee, a lot of borrowers are throwing money away.
Your Best Bets
MONEY’s two Best Credit Card winners for travel offer among the heftiest bonuses in the biz with no foreign transaction fees, and neither leaves you stuck with one airline.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard offers a sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 within the first 90 days, in addition to two miles per dollar spent. You can redeem the miles as a statement credit against any kind of travel, and get 10% miles back when you do so. This means that the sign-up bonus alone will earn you $440.
Chase Sapphire Preferred‘s sign-up bonus comes in at 40,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. You receive double points for dining and travel spending, 5,000 points for adding an authorized user and a 20% discount when you book the travel through Chase. While you can apply the points as cash back for travel, you can also transfer them to a number of partner loyalty programs, including Southwest and United.
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