The Best Credit Cards for Digital Nomads and Long-Term Travel
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Having the right travel credit card is important for any trip, as it can earn valuable points or miles as well as provide valuable trip protections. TPG has a guide to the best travel rewards credit cards. But what about if you’re traveling longer-term, perhaps as a digital nomad?
My husband JT and I just reached the one-year milestone of living on the road as digital nomads. As digital nomads, we work remotely online while traveling with no permanent home base. So, I’m writing this piece from personal experience. However, each traveler values the benefits offered by credit cards differently — so our credit card choices won’t necessarily make the best sense for others. With this in mind, this guide considers some credit cards that can be a good fit for long-term travelers and digital nomads.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Based on TPG’s latest valuations, this bonus is worth $1,050.
Standout Benefits: Earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining; 1x on all other purchases. You can redeem points directly through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal at a rate of 1.5 cents apiece or transfer points to one of 13 airline or hotel partners. $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass Select lounge access, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years and no foreign transaction fees. The best travel protections offered by any of the premier travel rewards credit cards after Citi’s changes go into effect on July 29. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $450
Why it’s worth it: The Chase Sapphire Reserve is my go-to card on the road due to its 3x earning on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining and its travel protections. These travel protections include everything from reimbursements for expenses related to travel delays and delayed baggage to an emergency medical and dental benefit. Although the annual fee is $450, the $300 annual travel credit, strong earning on travel and dining purchases and travel protections more than make up for it for those of us who are on the road all the time. Plus as a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder I can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned on all my Chase cards for 1.5 cents apiece through the Chase travel portal — which boosts the value of my Chase Freedom (5x on rotating categories up to $1,500) and Chase Freedom Unlimited (1.5x on all purchases).
Standout Benefits: Earn 3x ThankYou points on air travel and hotels; 2x on dining and entertainment; 1x on all other purchases. Redeem points directly for airfare at a rate of 1.25 cents per point or transfer points to one of 15 airline partners. $250 airfare credit, Priority Pass Select lounge access, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit every five years and no foreign transaction fees. 4th Night Free benefit. The best shopping protection and roadside assistance benefits offered by any of the premier travel rewards credit cards. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $450
Why it’s worth it: Although I’m disappointed that the Citi Prestige is no longer my go-to card for booking flights, it certainly still earns a place in my wallet. The $450 annual fee is easily justified for me due to the $250 airfare credit, 4th Night Free benefit, shopping protections and roadside assistance benefit. The 4th Night Free benefit alone saved JT and me $1,964 in the last year, easily justifying the annual fee. Plus, the 24-month extended warranty benefit can certainly come in handy, as life on the road tends to be hard on electronics and other gear.
Current Bonus: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in the first three months (worth $1,140 based on TPG’s most recent valuations), though be sure to check the CardMatch Tool to see if you’re targeted for a 100,000-point offer.
Standout Benefits: Earn 5x Membership Rewards points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and on prepaid hotels booked directly through Amex; 1x on all other purchases. Transfer points to one of 21 airline or hotel partners. $200 annual airline fee credit, up to $200 in annual Uber credits, Priority Pass Select lounge access, access to Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta (guests are $29 each), access to Centurion Lounges, a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years, SPG Gold status, Hilton Honors Gold status, complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi access and no foreign transaction fees. Roadside assistance at no cost up to four times per year. Emergency medical evacuation benefit regardless of whether the trip was paid for using the card. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $550 (See Rates & Fees)
Why it’s worth it: The $200 annual airline fee credit and $200 annual Uber credit effectively bring the annual fee to $150, although those of us who spend a lot of time outside the US may have trouble using the Uber credit since it’s a monthly credit that’s only good in the US. Lounge access — especially to the Centurion Lounges — and hotel elite status at SPG (soon to be the new Marriott program) and Hilton can be especially valuable to those living on the road. However, the primary reason I believe the Platinum Card is worth it for long-term travelers and digital nomads: the emergency medical evacuation benefit that’s provided just by being a Platinum Card cardmember.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Current Bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. Since the miles are worth $0.01 each, the bonus is worth $500 in travel.
Standout Benefits: Earn 10x Capital One Venture miles at hotels when you use the card to book hotels at Hotels.com using a special link (until Jan. 31, 2020); 2x miles on all other purchases. A Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years and no foreign transaction fees. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
Why it’s worth it: This card is great for flat-rate, hassle-free rewards and Hotels.com bookings. If you live on the road — and are willing to book through Hotels.com and potentially forgo elite status earning and benefits — the 10x miles on Hotels.com purchases and 2x on all other purchases can make this card a good choice. Plus, the miles earned by this card are easily redeemed as statement credits to offset travel purchases made in the last 90 days so you don’t need to worry about maximizing your redemptions.
Current Bonus: Earn 60,000 ThankYou points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. Based on TPG’s valuations, that bonus is worth $1020.
Standout Benefits: Earn 3x Citi ThankYou points on travel including (most) gas stations; 2x on dining and entertainment; 1x on all other purchases. Redeem points directly for airfare at a rate of 1.25 cents per point or transfer points to one of 15 airline partners. Solid shopping protections, various travel protections and no foreign transaction fees. Read the full card review here.
Annual Fee: $95
Why it’s worth it: This card offers 3x points on all travel purchases including gas purchases, making it a great choice if you’re traveling long-term by car or recreational vehicle. Like the Citi Prestige, this card also features Citi Price Rewind and a 24-month extended warranty benefit. The extended warranty benefit can be especially useful when living on the road, as nomadic life can take a toll on electronics and other gear. Plus, the travel protections are respectable considering the card’s low annual fee. Travel protections include trip cancellation/interruption coverage as well as benefits for lost baggage, delayed baggage and trip delay.
Airline and Hotel Credit Cards
If you frequently fly a particular airline or stay at a particular hotel brand, it may make sense to carry a co-branded credit card for that particular airline or hotel brand. Having such a card can provide many benefits, which can range from free checked bags to extra award availability to bonus earning to elite status.
Take a look at TPG’s guide to airline credit cards to see if the benefits provided by any of the co-branded credit cards make sense for your travel. Many of the cards provide a free checked baggage, which can save you big time when you’re flying frequently. One example: The United Explorer Card provides one free checked bag when you purchase your flight with the card, priority boarding, two United Club one-time passes per year and — perhaps the best benefit for those with ample United miles or Chase Ultimate Rewards points — access to additional award space on United flights.
Check out TPG’s guide to hotel credit cards to see if signing up for a hotel co-branded credit card makes sense for your travel style. Personally, I’ve gotten excellent value from the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card (and its predecessor the IHG Rewards Select Credit Card). Since I often stay at IHG hotels, the benefits that come with this card easily make up for the $89 annual fee. Notable benefits include 10x earning at IHG properties, a free night at a 40,000 points or less IHG property after each account anniversary, automatic Platinum elite status and a fourth night free on award stays. Honestly, the free night alone is worth the $89 annual fee for most long-term travelers, although the fourth night free on award stays is also a very useful benefit.
Business Credit Cards
Many long-term travelers and digital nomads have businesses that they’re running from the road. As such, these travelers may find it useful to have a business card or two as well. TPG has a excellent guide covering the best business credit cards for many different categories.
One business card that’s particularly well suited to long-term travelers and digital nomads: the Chase Ink Business Preferred Card. This $95 annual fee card currently has a welcome bonus of 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening; TPG’s most recent valuations value this bonus at $1,680. Earn 3x points on the first $150,000 spent on travel, shipping, social media advertising and internet/cable/phone services each account anniversary year, plus 1x on everything else. The card offers cell phone insurance, primary rental car insurance on business-related rentals and no foreign transaction fees. Read the full card review here.
Cash-Back, No Annual Fee Trifecta
Although most of us at The Points Guy enjoy maximizing redemptions and can accept paying annual fees when the benefits outweigh the fee, some travelers prefer cash-back rewards and simply refuse to pay any annual fees. If you’re in this camp, and can’t be convinced that even one annual fee card is worthwhile, then the following cash-back, no annual fee trifecta may be right for you:
- Citi® Double Cash Card: up to 2% back on all purchases (1% when you buy and 1% when you pay) but has foreign transaction fees
- Discover it® Cash Back: Enroll every quarter to earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases made in various categories throughout the year. Discover will match all cash back earned at the end of your first year. Plus, 1% cash back on all other purchases.
- Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card: 1.5% back on all purchases with no foreign transaction fees
This trifecta works best for those who also have independent travel insurance and medical insurance that works abroad, as none of these cards offer adequate travel, medical or evacuation protections for long-term travelers.
What Card is Best for Your Travel Style?
Long-term travelers and digital nomads tend to rack up a lot of travel and dining expenses, stay in hotels or hostels for four or more nights and have many opportunities to utilize travel protections. These characteristics make the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige staples for many long-term travelers and digital nomads even with their lofty annual fees.
Although adding a third high annual fee card to your wallet may not make sense for all long-term travelers, the The Platinum Card® from American Express does have many exceptional benefits for cardmembers. On top of earning 5x Membership Rewards points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and on prepaid hotels booked directly through Amex, cardmembers gain multiple types of lounge access, elite status with SPG and Hilton and emergency medical evacuation benefit just by being a cardmember.
Some long-term travelers and digital nomads may also get value from the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card if they’ll book hotels at Hotels.com using a special link. The Citi Premier Card is valuable for RVers and those who purchase gas frequently, as well as those who want similar earning and shopping benefits to the Citi Prestige Card but with a lower annual fee.
Finally, for long-term travelers and digital nomads who simply won’t pay any annual fees and prefer the simplicity of cash back rewards, there’s the “Cash-back, No Annual Fee Trifecta” of the Discover it® Cash Back for use on spending in quarterly bonus categories (5% cash back; 1% cash back on all other purchases), the Citi® Double Cash Card for use domestically on other spending (2% cash back; 1% on your purchases and 1% as you pay for them) and the Capital One Quicksilver Card for use abroad on other spending (1.5% cash back).
For rates and fees of the Platinum Card, please click here.