Travel is something that many people would like to do, but many people don’t because it’s just so darn expensive! If you’re a frequent reader of this site, one of your main goals may be FIRE, so you may think that something as expensive as travel would derail this goal.
The truth is that there are some tricks that you could use to greatly minimize travel costs. Some tricks are more involved than others, but just about anyone could save money on travel.
Credit cards may seem like a dirty phrase to say when you’re trying to stay within your budget, but they could be extremely lucrative if you use them wisely. Many of the travel credit cards available offer a slew of benefits that could save you money on your future trip. As mentioned, some card benefits are pretty straightforward to use, while others provide immense value with a little bit of work.
Let’s review some credit cards that could help you have your cake and eat it too! Here is our list of the best credit cards to maximize travel rewards so you can take that vacation you've always wanted.
Note: The credit card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which The College Investor receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). The College Investor does not include all credit card companies or all credit card offers available in the marketplace.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
A true gem of a credit card in the travel world is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Don’t let the $550 annual fee scare you. The benefits it offers more than offset the annual fee if used right. The card offers a 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points signup bonus after spending $4,000 within the first three months of card ownership and does not have any foreign transaction fees. It offers a $300 annual statement credit that automatically kicks in to cover charges coded as travel, such as hotels and airfare.
The card earns 3 points per dollar on dining and travel and 1 point per dollar everywhere else (note: The 3x on travel doesn’t kick in until after using the full travel credit). It also offers up to a $100 statement credit every four years towards Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fees. On top of that, for being a cardholder you could enjoy Priority Pass lounges worldwide for you and your travel companions.
This card is the best of both worlds! You could enjoy the $300 travel credit, similar to what the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card, but you get the credit annually as opposed to just a one time bonus. The Ultimate Rewards points earned can also be transferred to travel partners for some amazing value!
After meeting the minimum spending requirements for this card you’d have at least 54,000 Ultimate Rewards points. With the signup bonus alone, you could transfer the points to Korean Airlines and fly TWO people roundtrip from the US to Hawaii on Delta Airlines! Now we’re talking! If you’d rather use your points for hotels, you could transfer 45,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt and spend 3 nights at the Andaz Papagayo Resort in Costa Rica. You have several possibilities with this card which is great. The more options the better.
Annual Fee: $550
Rewards: 3X on travel and dining. 1X on all other purchases.
Signup Rewards: 50k points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. Get 50% more value when redeeming points through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Additional Features: $300 travel credit per year, $100 statement credit towards Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every 4 years.
Credit Level: Excellent
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Still one of the most popular travel rewards cards available. It does carry a fee but offers a number of features and rewards. One such feature is the ability to transfer airline miles and hotel points at a 1:1 ratio.
Compare cards here >>.
Annual Fee: $95 (fee is no longer waived in the first year)
Rewards: 2X on travel and dining. 1X on all other purchases.
Signup Rewards: 60k points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. Get 25% more value when redeeming points through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Additional Feature: 1:1 point transfer, no foreign transaction fee, travel and purchase coverage.
Credit Level: Good to Excellent
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
This Venture card is not to be confused with the VentureOne card. The Venture card offers more rewards and perks than the VentureOne card. Check out the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year and $95 thereafter.
Rewards: 2X miles per dollar on every purchase.
Signup Rewards: 50k miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.
Additional Feature: Receive up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre fee.
Credit Level: Excellent. Excellent credit is stated as, "I've never declared bankruptcy or defaulted on a loan; I haven't been more than 60 days late on any credit card, medical bill, or loan in the last year; I've had a loan or credit card for 3 years or more with a credit limit above $5,000.”
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
You can think of the VentureOne card as the little brother or sister to the Venture card. It does not have an annual fee but also doesn’t have as many features and rewards. One thing it has that the Venture card doesn’t is a generous 0% APR promotional offer.
Annual Fee: $0.
Rewards: Earn 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.
Signup Rewards: 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.
Additional Feature: 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases. After that, a variable of 13.49% to 23.49% APR will apply.
Credit Level: Good to Excellent
Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
A straight forward rewards program that offers great value.
Annual Fee: $0 for first year and $89 annual thereafter.
Rewards: 2X miles on all purchases.
Signup Rewards: 70k miles after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months.
Additional Features: 0% APR for 12 months on balance transfers. 5% miles back on all redemptions. Miles don’t expire. $0 fraud liability protection. No foreign transaction fees. Concierge service.
Credit Level: Good to Excellent
While many absolutely abhor credit cards due to the trouble one may get into with them, if you use them like your debit card you won’t have any problems with taking on debt.
There are many perks and benefits to using travel credit cards that can drastically reduce your overall costs on your trip. Working towards being financially independent and retiring early doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the journey while getting there. You can travel while working towards your goal without getting off course. So pack your bags because you’re closer to your next trip than you think!
What's your favorite travel rewards credit card?
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.