Beginner’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Travel Credit Card

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Whether you love traveling for vacations or have a job that keeps you hopping between cities, the right travel credit card can be helpful to maximize the perks. The problem is that there are so many travel credit cards on the market, and they aren’t all right for everyone. If you’re new to the world of travel credit cards, you might wonder which is actually best for you. Fortunately, it’s possible to figure it out. Here’s a quick beginner’s guide on how to choose the best travel credit card.

Who Needs a Travel Credit Card?

Technically, no one “needs” a travel credit card. However, if you’re looking for the right type of credit card for you, there are situations where they might be a good fit.

Generally, you should look into travel credit cards for beginners if one of two situations applies. If you:

  1. Already travel extensively for work or pleasure, a travel credit card could be beneficial. 
  2. Enjoy traveling but often can’t afford it outright; going with one of the best travel credit cards around could make it more accessible.

The reason travel credit cards are great fits in those situations is that the perks tend to focus on travel-related services, amenities, and protections. In some cases, they improve the traveling experience, making them a solid choice for those frequently bouncing between cities. In others, they offer pathways for free or discounted travel, improving affordability.

What to Consider Before Applying

As with any credit card, it’s wise to examine a few key points before considering completing an application. 

Often, you’ll want to start with the fundamentals. Regardless of any travel perks, interest rates and annual fees are a critical part of the equation. If they’re too high, you’ll offset any benefits you get from using the card. Fortunately, you can find out about any annual fees and interest rate ranges before you complete an application, allowing you to assess that factor early in the process.

Additionally, some options have harder-to-access perks. Usually, the best travel credit cards for beginners make accessing cashback or spending points simple and intuitive. If there are too many restrictions – like blackout dates – or high booking fees, you’re losing potential value.

Finally, it’s critical to remember that opening a new credit card impacts your credit report and score. In some cases, it’s for the better. However, it can also be for the worse, mainly because it lowers your average account age, increases your total number of open accounts, and results in a hard inquiry.

Travel Credit Card Perks

The world of travel credit cards is vast, and each issuer controls the perks it offers. As a result, each option will have different benefits and drawbacks. However, by understanding what kinds of travel credit card perks are available, you’ll have an easier time finding a potential match. Some of the most common travel credit card perks are:

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  • No foreign transaction fees. While you may still end up with unfavorable exchange rates, the lack of a foreign transaction fee keeps the total cost a bit lower.
  • TSA pre-check/global entry. This is another benefit you might get with some of the best travel credit cards. That can speed up your airport experience, making flying far less stressful. Plus, you might get access to free trip insurance, allowing you to recoup spent funds if the unexpected happens and you need to cancel or reschedule.
  • Airline-specific rewards: With airline credit cards, you often get airline-specific rewards, too. That can include access to lounges, free checked bags, no-cost seat upgrades, and early boarding. Plus, it may decrease your odds of getting bumped if a flight is overbooked.
  • Cashback: With cashback travel credit cards, you may earn general cashback that reduces your balance owed. The percentage may be flat, applying to all purchase types, or variable, with certain spending categories leading to more cashback.
  • Points: With points-based travel credit cards for beginners, the accrual is also based on spending activity. Some cards offer a set number of points per dollar, while others provide higher accrual rates in specific spending categories. Once you acquire enough points, you can cash them in for travel-related products or services. That could include airline tickets, rental cars, free checked bags, seat upgrades, luggage, and more, depending on the program.

Using Travel Credit Cards Wisely

One issue with travel credit cards – and rewards credit cards, in general – is that they may encourage you to use the card more often than you otherwise would. Usually, any travel perks are offset if you carry a higher balance, causing you to spend more than if you just paid for your travel outright.

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As with all credit cards, you get the most out of the best travel credit cards for beginners if you pay the debt in full every month. That way, you get access to all of the perks without paying any interest.

Additionally, you need to use the credit card to make certain purchases to access various perks. For example, if your card offers free checked bags or travel insurance, you usually have to purchase airline tickets using the credit card. Otherwise, you won’t get the associated benefit.

Knowing how you tap into the perks allows you to make wiser choices about using the travel credit card. Then, by ensuring you don’t carry a balance, you get all the benefits without the pain of paying interest.

While each person may have different needs for a travel credit card, exploring some of the most popular travel credit cards for beginners isn’t a bad idea. It lets you learn more about what’s available, making it easier to find an option that works for you.

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Here is a list of some of the most popular travel credit cards:

  • Capital One Venture
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited
  • Bank of America Travel Rewards
  • American Express Platinum
  • Discover It Miles
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • US Bank Altitude Connect

If you mainly travel by air and prefer a specific airline, exploring that airline’s credit card is also wise. Here are just some of the available options:

  • JetBlue Plus
  • Delta SkyMiles Gold AMEX
  • Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
  • United Quest

Just make sure you review the annual fees, interest rates, and available perks. That way, you can genuinely find the best travel credit card for you.

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