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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – United MileagePlus Explorer Card, The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, Citi Prestige Card, Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele discusses a variety of travel rewards cards that can help make your summer travels both more affordable and more rewarding.
You’ve earned the miles and booked the trip, and as you prepare to embark on your summer vacation, the question is which credit card (or cards) do you plan to bring along for the ride? In this post I’ll explain which benefits and other factors to consider when you’re deciding which cards to use, and I’ll look at a number of cards that you might find highly useful once you hit the road.
What to Look for in a Travel Card
When I decide which credit cards to travel with, my first consideration is where I’m going. For a domestic trip, I want primary car rental coverage so I don’t have to rely on my personal insurance if my rental is damaged. When traveling outside of the United States, I want a card with an EMV chip (preferably one with Chip and PIN compatibility) and no foreign transaction fees.
If I’m renting a car in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica or New Zealand (or any other country that’s excluded from most credit card rental insurance policies), I need to be extra careful to find a card that covers me so I don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for additional insurance.
I like to bring any co-branded cards from airlines I’ll be flying or hotels I’ll be staying with on my trip. Many airline cards waive fees for checked baggage when you use your card to pay for your flight (or some portion of it, such as taxes). While you generally don’t need to have the card in hand to receive benefits, I’ve found that presenting it in person can quickly resolve any dispute.
Finally, no matter where I go, I’m always looking to earn the most valuable rewards from common travel expenses like airfare, gas, and entertainment purchases. With that in mind, here are my picks for the 10 best cards to travel with this summer.
Top 10 Cards for Summer Travel
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
- Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
- Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card
- Amex Everyday Preferred Credit Card
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
- Citi Prestige Card
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
- United MileagePlus Explorer Card
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express
1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
Current Bonus: Earn 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months, and another 5,000 bonus points when you add a second cardholder and make a purchase within the same time period.
Benefits: Earn 2x points on travel and dining, and Chase has a broad view of what counts as a travel purchase. Other benefits include no foreign transaction fees, primary auto rental insurance, and the ability to transfer points to 11 transfer partners, including British Airways, Southwest, United, Hyatt and Marriott.
Annual Fee: $95 (waived the first year)
Why it makes sense for summer travel: This card offers primary rental car insurance instead of the usual secondary coverage, which charges your personal insurance first. Internationally, this card is ideal since it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and comes with a standard EMV smart chip. No matter where you go, you can enjoy category bonuses on travel and dining to earn valuable Ultimate Rewards points.
For more information on the card and the Ultimate Rewards program, check out these posts:
- Redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for Maximum Value
- Ways to Maximize Each Ultimate Rewards Partner
- Sapphire Preferred vs. Arrival Plus for International Travel
- Chase Sapphire Preferred First Friday – 3x Points on Dining
- Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Amex Premier Rewards Gold
2. Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
Current Bonus: Citi is offering 75,000 AAdvantage miles when you spend $7,500 in the first three months. The usual bonus is 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 in three months, so while this offer has a higher spending requirement, it’s much more rewarding.
Benefits: Full Admirals Club membership, which allows you (and immediate family or up to two guests) to access lounges even when you’re not flying on American Airlines. $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Priority check-in, security and boarding on American Airlines and US Airways. One free checked bag for you and up to eight companions. 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases.
Earn 2 points per dollar on American Airlines and US Airways purchases, and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Also, earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles when you spend $40,000 in a year.
Annual Fee: $450
Why it makes sense for summer travel: Citi offers worldwide car rental coverage with no territorial exclusions unlike many cards that don’t cover you in some popular destinations. The insurance isn’t primary, but that’s not an issue when you’re overseas, where your personal coverage won’t apply anyway. This card also comes with an EMV chip, and charges no foreign transaction fees. Finally, I love being able to visit the Admiral’s Club with my whole family, even if I’m not flying on American Airlines. Yes, this card is a little pricey, but I think it’s a premium product that’s worth the high annual fee, especially given the current sign-up bonus.
Current Bonus: Earn 25,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months, (although some people have received targeted offers for as much as 50,000 points through the CardMatch tool.)
Benefits: Earn 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines, 2 points at US gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, as well as 1 point elsewhere. Receive a $100 airline fee credit each calendar year, and pay no foreign transaction fees.
Annual Fee: $195 (waived the first year)
Why it makes sense for summer travel: 2x points on gas and dining can be very valuable when you’re on the road, and you can burn through the $100 airline fee credit in a hurry. This card also has the standard EMV chip and no foreign transaction fees, making it great for use overseas. Even though the car insurance isn’t primary, I tend to pay for optional American Express coverage with no deductible when I’m in a high-risk location, or when I’m renting an exotic car that isn’t covered by the standard policy.
For more information, check out these posts:
- When Should I Get the Amex Premier Rewards Gold
- Amex Premier Rewards Gold New Benefits and Increased Fee
- 10 Ways to Use the Amex Premier Rewards Gold Sign-Up Bonus
- Saving with the Hotel Collection and Amex Premier Rewards Gold
- Using the Amex Premier Rewards Gold Airline Fee Credit for Gift Cards
4. Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card
Current Bonus: 20,000 online bonus points after spending $1,000 or more in the first 90 days.
Benefits: Earn 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases; points are worth 1 cent apiece as statement credits toward travel rewards. This card comes with an EMV smart chip and no foreign transaction fees.
Annual fee: $0
Why it makes sense for summer travel: If you’re on a budget, this is a solid option among travel rewards cards with no annual fee. Not only does it come with an EMV chip, but it also charges no foreign transaction fees and has a competitive rewards program for a no-fee card.
5. Amex Everyday Preferred Credit Card
Current Bonus: 15,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 in three months.
Benefits: Earn 3 points per dollar at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases), 2 points at US gas stations and 1 point elsewhere. Get a 50% points bonus when you charge 30 or more purchases in a statement period, offering you as much as 4.5 and 3 points per dollar in bonus categories.
Annual fee: $95
Why it makes sense for summer travel: If you’re taking a road trip, this is the card I would use for gas. Assuming you achieve the 50% points bonus, you’ll earn 3x rewards on gas purchases and 1.5x rewards on general spending. Considering that Membership Rewards points are worth 2 cents apiece in TPG’s latest monthly valuations, this is an exceptional 6% rate of return. Finally, the chance to earn 1.5x on all your purchases is very valuable — just be sure to understand the complicated way that Amex awards its points.
Current Bonus: Two complimentary nights at any Tier 1-4 property after spending $4,000 within three months.
Benefits: Lounge Club airport lounge membership. $300 annual air travel credit. 10% annual points bonus. No foreign transaction fees. Earn 5 points per dollar at Ritz-Carlton; 2 points per dollar on airline, car rental and restaurant purchases; and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Get three annual upgrades to club level on stays of up to 7 nights. Automatic Gold Elite status for your first year (you can extend that by spending $10,000 each account year).
Annual fee: $450
Why it makes sense for summer travel: Once you factor in the $300 air travel credit, you’re looking at just $150 in net costs for this card, which is an inexpensive way to access the hundreds of Lounge Club lounges around the world. You also get two free nights as a sign-up bonus, which is an extremely valuable offer. Finally, this card does have an EMV chip and no foreign transaction fees, so it makes sense for use outside of the US.
7. Citi Prestige Card
Current Bonus: Earn 40,000 ThankYou points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.
Benefits: No foreign transaction fees and an EMV smart chip. Receive a $250 air travel credit each year for airfare, baggage fees, lounge access and some in-flight purchases. You also get Admirals Club access and Priority Pass Select lounge membership, the latter of which is good for both you and a guest. Get your fourth night free at hotels with no black-out dates when you book four consecutive nights at any hotel via a personal travel adviser designated by Mastercard. $100 Global Entry application fee credit.
Earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent on air travel and hotel purchases, 2 points per dollar on dining and entertainment and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. Redeem your points for air travel at a rate of 1.33 cents apiece, or 1.6 cents apiece on American Airlines and US Airways. Citi ThankYou Rewards also now has 12 transfer partners, including Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Virgin Atlantic and Hilton HHonors.
Annual Fee: $450
Why it makes sense for summer travel: This card offers plenty of lounge access both domestically and internationally. You also get rental car coverage without the territorial restrictions, an EMV smart chip and no foreign transaction fees. In addition, this card offers plenty of bonus categories, including 3x for airfare and hotels, and 2x for dining and entertainment. Finally, the fourth night free hotel benefit can easily cover the annual fee on its own.
Current Bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months (although you might receive a targeted offer with a larger bonus).
Benefits: $200 annual air travel credit. $100 Global Entry application fee credit. Complimentary access to Delta SkyClub, Priority Pass and Amex Centurion lounges. EMV smart chip, no foreign transaction fees and several travel insurance policies. This card only earns 1 Membership Rewards point per dollar spent, but those points transfer to 16 different airlines and 4 hotel partners. (Note that the transfer ratio to British Airways will decrease starting in October.)
Annual Fee: $550
Why it makes sense for summer travel: This is another great card to have if you’re looking for lounge access all over the world (albeit just for yourself in many cases). The Platinum card also backs you up with numerous travel insurance policies, as well as support from American Express travel. With no foreign transaction fees and an EMV smart chip, it now makes sense for use during both domestic and international trips.
9. United MileagePlus Explorer Card
Current Bonus: 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases within three months, plus 5,000 bonus miles after you add an authorized user who makes a purchase within the first three months.
Benefits: Primary rental car insurance, EMV smart chip, no foreign transaction fees. 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $25,000 on purchases in a calendar year. 2 free United Club passes each year. Priority boarding and a free checked bag on United Airlines flights.
Annual fee: $95
Why it makes sense for summer travel: This card offers primary rental car insurance, an EMV smart chip and no foreign transaction fees, so it makes sense when renting a car domestically, and is also great for use in foreign countries.
10. Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card from American Express
Current Bonus: 35,000 bonus miles plus 5,000 MQMs after you spend $1,000 on purchases within three months, plus a $100 statement credit after you charge a Delta purchase to your card within the first three months.
Benefits: Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases, and 1 mile per dollar elsewhere. Earn 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 on the card in a calendar year, and another 10,000 MQMs after spending $50,000 on the card in a calendar year. Get a domestic Main Cabin companion certificate each year upon card renewal. Get Zone 1 priority boarding and a free checked bag.
Annual fee: $195
Why it makes sense for summer travel: You get a free checked bag (worth $25 on a round-trip), an annual companion certificate (which you can use for free summer travel next year) and discounted Delta Sky Club access ($29 per person). You also get priority boarding, car rental insurance, roadside assistance and baggage insurance. This card is a must-have for Delta frequent flyers. You earn miles after meeting an initial spending requirement, but you also have an opportunity to earn up to 20,000 additional Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) throughout the year.
Which cards are you bringing with you on your summer travels? The Points Guy Assessment: The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.
The Points Guy Assessment:
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great pick for the beginner and the frequent traveler. The CSP has superb travel benefits, double points on certain purchases, and a 50,000 point sign up bonus. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year so this puts it as one of the less expensive cards, while still allowing you to earn one of the most valuable point currencies.