Whether you are planning one special trip or travel frequently for work or pleasure, you can find a rewards credit card that matches your vacation style. Some credit cards offer rebates and rewards for gas and restaurant expenditures, which can be beneficial if you plan an extended road trip. If you fly often on the same airline, you may want to look for a credit card tied to your favored carrier. Otherwise, a travel rewards card that can build flexible frequent miles and points to use at a variety of hotels may be best. For those who travel overseas, a credit card without foreign transaction fees is best.
SEE: 10 Reasons To Use Your Credit Card
Before you choose a travel rewards credit card, you need to carefully compare how quickly you can earn rewards and how easy they are to redeem. You should also compare the annual fees on these cards because you could significantly reduce the benefit of the rewards with a high fee. Travel rewards cards are often best used by consumers who won't be carrying a balance, because the interest charges on a balance are typically more than the value of the rewards. Here are some of the best travel credit cards for 2012 identified by credit card experts.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
This credit card offers 40,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months. Those bonus points are equal to $500 in airfare or hotel accommodations. Other benefits include no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee for the first year. However, after that, the annual fee is $95.
Capital One Venture Rewards Visa
You can earn two points per dollar spent on this card on all purchases, unlike some cards that only give rewards for spending in particular categories. If you spend $1,000 in the first three months, you can earn 10,000 bonus points, equal to $100 in travel. You can redeem points for flights, hotels and other travel rewards. This card waives all foreign transaction fees. In the first year, cardholders are exempt from an annual fee, which is $59 per year after that.
Blue Cash Preferred American Express
American Express has long been associated with the travel business and this card gets high marks for its rewards program and access to the 24/7 Global Assist Hotline when traveling. Unlimited rewards can be earned on a tiered basis depending on where you make a purchase. For example, you'll earn 6% cash back in grocery stores, 3% for gas and department store purchases, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. The downside of this credit card is that American Express charges 2.7% on foreign transactions and charges a $75 annual fee.
Discover Open Road
This credit card is particularly geared to drivers, since you get 2% cash back at gas stations and for restaurant purchases up to $250 per billing statement. There's no annual fee for this card and you earn as much as 20% cash back if you make purchases through the credit card website.
Escape by Discover
The introductory bonus on this credit card lasts for 25 months, during which you can earn a bonus of 1,000 miles during each month that you make a purchase. You'll also earn two miles per dollar spent on any purchase made with the card. The miles can be redeemed for travel rewards of 10,000 miles or $100 at a time. This credit card has an annual fee of $60.
PenFed Platinum Rewards
You must belong to the Pentagon Federal Credit Union to qualify for this credit card, which has no annual fee. This credit card is best for those who drive often because you can earn five rewards points per $1 spent on gas. You can also earn three rewards points per $1 spent on supermarket purchases and one point per $1 on all other purchases. If you spend $1,000 in the first three months, you will earn a bonus of 20,000 points for your spending and 5,000 points for your first use.
PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express
This card is great for frequent fliers, who will earn five points per $1 spent on airfare and one point per $1 for all other spending. You can also earn a sign up bonus of 20,000 points after you spend just $650 in the first three months. This card had no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee, but you must be a member of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union.
SEE: 10 Reasons To Use Your Credit Card
The Bottom Line
A wide variety of credit cards are available that are tied to specific airlines or specific hotel companies. If you are brand loyal, you may want to check out those options and compare them to the more generic rewards programs offered by the above credit cards. Choose your best travel rewards credit card based on your individual pattern of both credit card use and vacations.
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