When comparing travel credit cards, items to consider include:

1. Annual Fee

The annual fee on credit cards ranges from zero to several hundred dollars. In general, the more expensive the card, the richer the perks and rewards. It can be well worth it to pay an annual fee if you’ll use the associated benefits, but there are travel credit cards without an annual fee if you’re more comfortable with that structure.

2. Foreign Transaction Fee

If you’re traveling out of the country, be sure your travel card doesn’t carry any foreign transaction fees. This can be an additional 2% to 3% surcharge on top of the price of your purchase and makes everything you buy with a card in a foreign country more expensive than a card without this fee. Foreign transaction charges also apply to purchases made in other currencies, even if you haven’t left the U.S. The best no foreign transaction fee cards ensure you’re not paying this surcharge.

3. Sign-up Bonus

If you’re trying to decide between two similar cards, it can help to consider the welcome offer on a given card. These welcome offers ebb and flow and if a card you’re thinking about offers a particularly generous offer, it can help offset the annual fee and/or the cost of future travel.

4. Rewards Rate

When choosing a card, think about your spending patterns. If you rarely fly, it may not make sense to own a card that offers the most rewards on airline purchases.

5. International Acceptance

In some countries, all credit cards may be accepted, but that isn’t always the case. When traveling outside of the United States, Visa and Mastercard tend to be more widely accepted than American Express or other cards. Because of this, if you travel often, you may want to choose a Visa or Mastercard either in addition to or in lieu of other types of cards.

6. Travel Protections

Many travel credit cards include various forms of travel protections, such as trip interruption coverage or collision damage waivers for rental cars. These included protections could save you money compared to separately purchased policies but won’t necessarily be as comprehensive. Check with your card benefits guide to get information on your coverage terms. If you travel often, it might be worth specifically seeking out the best credit cards with travel insurance or the best credit cards for car rental insurance.

When choosing between two similar cards, it’s savvy to look for the less known credit card perks like luggage protection and travel delay insurance. These protections reimburse you up to a certain amount for lost or missing luggage and/or cover the cost of meals and lodging when your flight gets delayed more than a certain number of hours.

Yanely Espinal, Forbes Advisor Credit Cards Advisory Board Member

7. Perks

Also consider any special perks associated with cards you evaluate. These might range from airport lounge access to statement credit reimbursements for certain purchases made with specific brands or on purchases in specific categories.

Evaluating Airline Credit Cards

Airline credit cards typically earn frequent flyer miles on every purchase. Co-branded airline cards also frequently come with perks while traveling, like free checked bags, enhanced award space or lounge access. They may also help you achieve elite status more easily.

When evaluating the best airline credit cards, think about:

  • Earning rates. Many airline credit cards don’t offer elevated earnings on categories other than airline spending, so you’ll need to choose carefully if that’s important to you.
  • Perks while flying. Typically, only cards with an annual fee include benefits while flying such as priority boarding or complimentary checked bags.
  • Elite-qualifying bonuses. Some cards include bonus elite-qualifying miles when hitting spending thresholds, which can further enhance your flying experience.
  • Companion fares. Some airline cards offer the opportunity to earn a companion certificate, which allows you to bring a second traveler on your trip for a reduced price.

Additionally, redeeming frequent flyer miles can be more complicated than requesting cash back or other types of rewards. Though using miles for award flights can lead to tremendous value, you’ll need to learn the ropes of the program.

7 Ways To Earn More Airline Miles

The most common ways to earn airline miles are either through flying with the airline (or its partners) or by using a credit card that earns frequent flyer miles on every purchase. You can also earn more airline miles by:

  • Making purchases through airline shopping portals
  • Booking hotel reservations through the airline’s platform
  • Renting cars and opting in to frequent flyer miles instead of rental credits
  • Completing partner activity, which varies by airline but may include partnerships with Starbucks, Lyft or other brands you use anyway
  • Checking your account to register for promotions
  • Dining with partner restaurants
  • Transferring flexible credit card points

Pro Tip

Instead of joining every airline’s program, consolidate where possible. Many airlines partner with each other, which can give you an opportunity to earn miles in a single program instead of spreading your rewards thin—helping you achieve an award more quickly.

Evaluating Hotel Credit Cards

Hotel credit cards will earn points toward future free stays, but this is one case where the benefits can often outshine rewards. More often than not, hotel cards come with automatic elite status as well as a fast track to even higher levels of status. Plus, annual free night certificates or statement credits add to their value proposition.

Many hotel loyalty programs offer multiple co-branded cards to choose from, making it even more important to compare the characteristics of an individual card. It’s not uncommon for a single hotel brand to offer a no-annual-fee card, a mid-tier card and a premium card—each with different earning rates and benefits.

When evaluating hotel credit cards, consider:

  • Elite status offers. Generally speaking, cards with higher annual fees may automatically bump you to higher elite status levels which can be invaluable on frequent stays.
  • Free night certificates. Many, but not all, hotel cards offer free night certificates either upon renewal of your card or when hitting spending thresholds. Each certificate may come with restrictions on when or where you can redeem it, so compare fine print.
  • Earning rates. Hotel cards may offer huge multipliers on bonus categories, allowing you to earn five to 10 times on certain purchases. However, keep expectations in check: Hotel points may not be worth a full penny per point.
  • Statement credits. Some cards may include statement credits toward eligible purchases made at hotels and resorts or even on airline fees or restaurant purchases, which can be valuable, but you’ll need to actually use them.

8 Ways To Earn More Hotel Points

In addition to booking hotel stays or using a hotel-branded credit card, you can also earn hotel points through other methods such as:

  • Charging incidental purchases made at hotel properties to your account, such as spa, parking or dining expenses
  • Checking your account to register for promotions
  • Booking events or meetings at participating hotels
  • Making purchases through hotel shopping portals
  • Renting cars and opting in to hotel points instead of rental credits
  • Completing partner activity, which may include partnerships with Starbucks, Lyft or other brands you use anyway
  • Dining with partner restaurants
  • Transferring flexible credit card points to your preferred hotel program

Pro Tip

Hotel bonus points promotions can be especially fruitful, but aren’t always widely advertised. Keep an eye on these opportunities and registration or other fine print requirements.

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