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The holidays are fast approaching, which means you’ll likely soon be headed off to visit your family members and loved ones for your annual celebrations. The way you choose to pay for your trip, however, could make all the difference in the world when it comes to saving money. Even if you’ve worked for the better part of your life and have plenty of retirement savings to allow for trips in your golden years, you may want to consider using a credit card to book your travel. In fact, with the right card and a little strategic planning, your hard-earned vacations can actually be free. Read on for our top picks when it comes to the best credit cards for travel.
How to Earn Travel Points
In order to get your travel paid for, you’ll need to rack up enough travel points, which you can earn by signing up for credit cards or when you spend money on your credit card purchases. That doesn’t mean you should spend more to get them, however! Acquiring points won’t require you to change your spending habits — just your strategy. By putting your regular monthly charges on one of our recommended cards and paying it off in cash by the end of the month, you can start reaping the benefits of those fast-accruing points. If you’re someone that’s less than organized, you may need to set up reminders for yourself to set money aside for the purchases you’d normally be paying for with your debit card or cash, so you’ll be prepared when your larger-than-normal credit card bill comes in the mail. Protect your money and stretch it to its limits!
The Best Credit Cards for Travel
In addition to altering the way you’ll be spending money on your credit card, you want to make sure you’re spending it on the right credit card — aka one that will earn you the most amount of points for your hard-earned cash. We’ve rounded up four of the best credit cards around for netting you maximum points ahead of your holiday travel. Read on to find out what they are!
1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
This card is known as one of the best travel cards around. While there’s an annual fee of $95 to contend with, the rewards more than offset the cost.
For starters, when you spend $4,000 in three months, you’ll get a 60,000 point signup bonus when you become a cardholder — that’s equivalent to $750 in travel costs! Plus, you’ll get 2x points on travel (including mass transit, parking, and tolls) and dining purchases. Since points are already worth 1.25 cents each, that’s at least 2.5 cents earned toward future trips, which you can book through the Chase portal. Customers will also earn 1x points for purchases made in other categories.
But that’s not all! Travelers who book with this card will receive $100 per day for any bags that are delayed by six hours or more (up to $500), up to $500 per ticket if flights are delayed by 12 hours or more, and rental car insurance should something happen to your ride.
With this card, you’ll also be covered by cancellation and interruption insurance benefits up to $10,000 if you need to forgo travel due to an illness or injury, severe weather, or a change in military orders.
Did we mention there’s also no foreign transaction fees?
The Chase Sapphire Preferred does have one of the more hefty minimum spends, however, so if you wouldn’t normally spend $4,000 in three months, one of the cards below may be a better fit.
2. Southwest Cards
Southwest Airlines has something of a cult following — and for good reason! In addition to the two free checked bags that come standard with each flight, Southwest card customers that earn 110,000 qualifying points on one of the airline’s three Southwest credit cards (Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier, or Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus), or take 100 one-way Southwest flights per year, will earn something known as the Southwest Companion Pass.
This little beauty entitles you to a complimentary second ticket on unlimited Southwest flights for one year — you'll just be responsible for fees and taxes. That means you can choose one friend or family member to travel with you nearly free of charge for a whopping 365 days of travel. You can even change your companion up to four times per year!
Each of the cards above has an annual fee between $69 and $149 and a sign-up bonus of 40,000 Southwest points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months which can be used toward the 110,000 goal (125,000 points will be required come January). It’s worth noting that Southwest also frequently offers elevated signup bonuses, often to the tune of 30,000 bonus points, so it will be easier than you might think to get to Companion Pass status. As of January, your points never expire, either, so you can accrue them over time.
3. American Express Gold Delta Skymiles
Not a Southwest person? We’ve got you covered! The American Express Gold Delta Skymiles card will help you rack up those frequent flyer miles quickly, since it earns you 2x bonus points on Delta purchases (1x on everything else). You’ll also get 30,000 bonus miles upon membership welcome when you spend $1,000 in the first three months and a $50 statement credit when you make a Delta purchase with your card within the same time frame.
Better yet, priority boarding and one checked bag will be free to you and any others on your reservation (up to nine people). At $30 each, that’s up to $270 per flight! The annual fee on this card will be waived for the first year.
4. Capital One Venture
The Capital One® Venture® card (learn more) has higher credit standards than many comparable cards on the market, but if you qualify, the perks are awesome. For starters, you’ll get 10x miles on all Hotels.com reservations through January. Those savings can also be combined with Hotels.com’s loyalty program, which allows for one free night for every 10 nights of stay booked through the website.
Customers who book their travel, including hotel stays, flights, train and bus tickets, and more, on the Venture card can also choose to use their miles to cover their purchases with the card’s “purchaser eraser” function.
As if that wasn’t cool enough, you’ll also get $500 worth of travel (50,000 miles) when you spend $3,000 within the first three three months, making this card a great option for those who often stay in hotels to avoid putting the family out with a packed house for the holidays.
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FIRST for Women has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. FIRST for Women and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.