How to Use a Travel Credit Card

Please note: Throughout this article I reference two particular travel credit cards. As of the time of writing, they are the two that had features I knew best and that were good. This is not an endorsement of those cards now or in the future, as their features could change at any moment. This is a good article to reference for updated information.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll remember that I recently wrote a post about travel planning. Continuing onward, let’s talk about how to fund travel for less. Travel credit cards have been a big deal over the last few years, and they continue to provide a good deal of value. Let’s talk about when is a good time to get a travel credit card, what to look for in one, and how to use the rewards in the future.

When to Get a Travel Credit Card

Ironically the time to explore getting a travel card is well before you need to travel! Make sure that you first have a good financial foundation and a decent credit score. You will then want to time the acquisition of your travel credit card with a large purchase you are planning on making, as many of the travel credit cards with good rewards also have a sign-on bonus if you load up the card when you acquire it. Most of the bonuses require you to spend at least $4,000 on the card in the first three months you have it, so time it with a trip you’re already planning on paying for or with another large purchase – car repairs, wedding vendors, or other significant things. The extra $750 or so that you’ll receive in rewards points should help subsidize your next trip!

What To Look For In A Travel Credit Card

Make sure your travel card does two things – gives you solid, usable rewards and doesn’t cost too much per year. Two of the leading cards – Capital One’s Venture Card and Chase’s Sapphire Preferred meet this criteria. They have generous sign-on bonuses, they have additional features you will probably want, and they have a $95 annual fee. The upgraded versions of these cards may give better rewards, but unless you’re a credit card power user, you’ll want to avoid them. The fees are too high!

Compare similar cards, such as the two above. Different travel credit cards will almost always offer comparable dollar values in rewards, but they will focus those rewards in different spaces. For instance, the Venture card gives you a credit toward TSA Precheck or Global Entry while the Sapphire Preferred card gives you DashPass. You’ll want to tailor your card selection toward the one you will use more. They also give different point values for purchases, so make sure to compare all of those features!

How to Use Your Travel Credit Card

In short: Buy things on it and pay it off.

Make sure to keep your credit card paid off as interest rates on them are really nasty! Otherwise, the cards will give you plenty of rewards toward your next trip. You can use these reward points to either book travel directly through the card’s website, to pay off travel expenses, or you can transfer them to airlines or hotels when special deals require direct booking. Sometimes these points transfer for a higher number of miles at airlines, for instance!

Remember to use the card specifically when you travel internationally. Cards that aren’t designed for travel may charge foreign transaction fees for use. Your travel credit card should not, so it will save you money in that way.

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