The Best Credit Cards for Solo Travelers
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Solo travel is becoming increasingly popular, especially with millennials. It can be an extremely rewarding experience, you need to be properly prepared. In addition to packing the basics, it’s wise to pack your wallet with a credit card or two that offer a strong set of travel benefits and protections.
There’s no question that having perks like emergency medical and dental benefits are crucial for traveling abroad, but it’s also important to have access to a travel assistance hotline for when you need help finding reputable medical care in a foreign country. You should also consider earning rates for the card you choose so you’re maximizing your spending. With all this in mind, here’s a look at the best credit cards to carry when traveling alone.
The Best Credit Cards for Solo Travelers in 2019:
- Best for earning rates and travel protections: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Best for Hotels.com bookings: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Best for freelancers and small-business owners: Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
- Best for travel assistance hotline and Hilton perks: Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Reserve and the lower-cost Chase Sapphire Preferred sit at the top of our list because they offer excellent travel protections and lucrative earning structures. The Reserve has a $550 annual fee and offers 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on all travel and dining purchases (a 6% return based on TPG’s valuations), while the Preferred has a $95 annual fee and offers 2 points per dollar (a 4% return).
On the protections side, both cards offer primary car rental coverage, trip delay protection, baggage delay protection, lost/damaged baggage protection, travel accident insurance and trip cancellation/interruption protection.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes out ahead by also offering a medical evacuation benefit, emergency medical and dental benefit, and free roadside assistance. The card also has fewer restrictions attached to its primary car rental insurance, and higher trip cancellation and travel accident insurance. Regardless of which card you go with, in most cases award travel is covered as long you use your card to pay for some portion of the trip.
The Reserve offers 50,000 points (worth $1,000 based on TPG’s latest valuations) after you spend $4,000 on your card within three months of account opening, while the Preferred offers 60,000 points (worth $1,200) for the same minimum spend. Perks like a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee credit, an annual $300 travel fee credit and Priority Pass lounge access make it easy to justify the higher price tag of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card shines for its incredible return at Hotels.com. The card earns a whopping 10 miles for every dollar spent on hotel bookings made through hotels.com/venture (a 14% return or 24% when stacked with the Hotels.com Rewards program). (Offer ends Jan. 31, 2020) The card earns 2 miles per dollar on everything else (a 2.8% return).
Something to keep in mind as a solo traveler is that in addition to hotels, there are many other types of accommodations you can book through Hotels.com, such as hostels and apartments. Although not as comprehensive as other cards here, the Venture Rewards card also offers a suite of Visa Signature travel benefits, including travel accident insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and secondary auto rental coverage.
The Venture card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of opening the account. That equals $500 worth of travel if you redeem the miles toward statement credits, or potentially more if you transfer points to one of Capital One’s 14 airline partners. The card carries a $95 annual fee (waived the first year), and comes with a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit that’s worth $100.
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
If you’re a solo traveler who freelances or owns a small side business, you’ll want to look into the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. It provides similar travel protections as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but it offers better travel earning in the form of 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on all travel (a 6% return), along with 3 points per dollar spent on shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines.
Travel protections do not require the trip to be for business. Plus, the card comes with cell phone protection, which covers your phone against theft or damage for up to $600 per claim when you pay your monthly phone bill with the card.
The Ink Business Preferred card has a $95 annual fee and offers a hefty welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. That’s the highest welcome bonus of any Ultimate Rewards card, including the ultra-premium Sapphire Reserve.
Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card
While its travel protections aren’t that exciting, the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card offers several other perks that can be valuable for solo travelers. For example, the card comes with a Priority Pass Select membership that provides 10 free lounge visits every year, with additional passes at $32. This is a great perk for those who don’t need lounge guest privileges and don’t want to pay a big annual fee for a premium travel rewards credit card that offers similar benefits.
Another highly valuable perk of the card is that it provides access to Amex’s Global Assist Hotline, which can help with unexpected issues during your trip, such as arranging emergency medical transportation and medical prescription replacement. The Global Assist Hotline was tremendously helpful for TPG reader Joseph when he was in New Zealand and both of his children got sick.
Note that anything the hotline coordinates will be at your expense though, so you’ll still want to hold on to a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which will reimburse medical costs. The card also comes with complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status (and an upgrade to Diamond when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year), and a complimentary weekend night reward after you spend $15,000 on purchases on your card in a calendar year.
The Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card carries a $95 annual fee (see rates & fees) and a lucrative welcome bonus of 125,000 points after you spend $2,000 in purchases with your new card in the first three months. As you might expect, the card offers a strong return on Hilton spending, as well as a solid return on other purchases. You’ll earn 12 points per dollar spent on stays (a 7.2% return), 6 points per dollar spent at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations (a 3.6% return), and 3 points per dollar spent on all other purchases (a 1.8% return).
Benefits like travel accident insurance and a travel assistance hotline can be lifesavers when you’re traveling alone and things go wrong. You don’t necessarily need to spend hundreds of dollars in annual fees to get these benefits. Every card has its own set of perks, so the best option might be to have more than one on hand. For instance, you could get the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card for its excellent travel protections and earning structure, and get the Hilton Ascend for its Priority Pass lounge visits and access to the Global Assist Hotline. Or pick any other combination that works for you.
Featured photo by franckreporter / Getty Images.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex Ascend, click here.