New year, new travel possibilities. What’s more, it’s entirely possible to travel for cheaper by maximizing your credit card strategy with the right travel cards in hand.
Whether you’re starting from scratch or pondering what card deserves a spot in your wallet, this guide will point you in the right direction so you can travel more for less in 2024. Keep reading to learn how to unlock hundreds of dollars in potential value for your next trip.
Get a general travel rewards card
There are droves of rewards cards to choose from, so it can be hard to choose the right one for you. Should you get an airline card that offers miles and other airline-specific perks? Perhaps a hotel card to help you rack up free stays throughout the year?
For many travelers, a one-punch solution is a better fit. We’re talking about general travel credit cards, which earn rewards through a bank like American Express, Capital One, Chase, or Citi and don’t tie you to a specific airline or hotel program. Instead, the cardholder has the choice to redeem their earnings how they please toward any travel purchase.
Below, we’ll provide an overview of the two best credit cards that can help you travel for less.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
If you’re a traveler who wants elevated travel perks in the new year, the $695-annual-fee The Platinum Card® from American Express (terms apply, rates & fees) is worth considering. With access to more than 1,400 airport lounges worldwide — including its proprietary Amex Centurion lounges — and more than $1,500 in travel and lifestyle and statement credits, the Amex Platinum card is the gift that keeps on giving for those looking to travel in style.
This card earns Amex Membership Rewards® points, which can be redeemed via the Amex Travel portal or transferred to nearly two dozen airline and hotel loyalty programs, including Delta Air Lines and Hilton Honors. And this card’s welcome offer allows you to earn 80,000 Membership Rewards Points after spending $8,000 on purchases in the first six months of card membership — giving you a headstart as you prepare to book travel in 2024.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Earn 5 Membership Rewards® Points per $1 on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel and on flights booked directly with airlines or AMEX travel. The airline benefit is limited to the first $500K in purchases per calendar year. Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on other eligible purchases.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Time and time again, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of our top recommendations thanks to its flexible yet valuable travel rewards currency known as Chase Ultimate Rewards® points. The card also comes with valuable travel perks, including a $50 annual hotel credit for bookings made through Ultimate Rewards, no foreign transaction fees, and even complimentary travel insurance benefits, making the $95 annual fee easily worth its weight.
The first step to unlock cheaper travel is earning a sizable welcome offer, providing a significant boost to your rewards balances. Currently, new applicants of the Chase Sapphire Preferred can earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Once you hit that spending minimum, your points can take up to eight weeks to show up. So, if you’re strategizing for a few trips in the new year, giving yourself plenty of time to apply is crucial.
This welcome offer is worth several hundred dollars since cardholders can book flights, hotels, and other travel purchases through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal with a 25% bonus. But there’s potential for even greater value when leveraging the issuer’s airline and hotel transfer partners that will appeal to many, including familiar faces like Marriott Bonvoy, Southwest Rapid Rewards and United MileagePlus.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
On Chase Bank USA, NA’s Secure Website
Earn 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x points on dining and 2x points on all other travel purchases, plus more.
Rack up even more rewards with a secondary card
Once you’ve picked your go-to travel card, you’ll want to search for its sidekick. For example, if you picked the Amex Platinum card as your go-to travel card, you can double down on your earnings by picking another Amex card that scores Membership Rewards points.
Similarly, if you’ve opted for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll want a secondary card that earns rewards you can pool with your Sapphire Preferred. Below are a couple cards worth considering.
American Express® Gold Card
Case in point: the Amex Platinum card earns 5 Membership Rewards points per $1 for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel on up to $500,000 per calendar year, 5 points per $1 on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel and 1 point per $1 on other purchases. By setting your sights on a card like the American Express® Gold Card (terms apply, rates & fees), you can earn significantly more points on your everyday purchases when you’re not on the go.
The Amex Gold card earns 4 Membership Rewards points per $1 at restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., 4 points per $1 at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1 point), 3 points per $1 on flights booked directly with airlines or through American Express travel and 1 point per $1 on other eligible purchases.
Where the Gold card shines is its generous rewards rate at U.S. supermarkets (up to the annual spending cap) and restaurants worldwide. This multiplier is a game-changer if you want to earn as many Membership Rewards points as possible for your next trip — and your rewards are automatically pooled together on your online Amex account. The card comes with a $250 annual fee.
Finally, you can earn an additional welcome offer when applying for the Amex Gold card. New applicants can earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 on eligible purchases in the first six months of card membership.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
If you picked the Chase Sapphire Preferred card as your primary travel card, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a terrific companion card. With no annual fee, it’s virtually a no-brainer to apply for this card to multiply your earnings of Ultimate Rewards points.
Even though the Freedom Unlimited is marketed as a cash-back card, it can be a very useful card to have for people seeking award travel. You’ll still earn Ultimate Rewards points with the card — and these rewards can be combined with your Sapphire Preferred account to redeem at the Sapphire Preferred’s 25% elevated redemption rate when used for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, or to transfer to partners. Here’s a look at the earning rates of each card side by side:
For any spending that isn’t in an elevated rewards category on either card, you’ll want to use the Freedom Unlimited, to take advantage of that card’s robust base earning rate.
New cardholders with the Freedom Unlimited can earn the following welcome offer: Chase will automatically match all the cash back earned at the end of the first cardmember year.
Temporary Chase Freedom Unlimited boosted welcome offer: Rewards so nice, you’ll get them twice (the first year)
Best travel rewards cards to consider
The team at USA TODAY Blueprint is continually evaluating the best travel cards to help you make the best decision for you and your wallet. In addition to the cards we’ve highlighted throughout the article, we’ve handpicked some other top contenders that can help you travel for
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
You’ll want to apply for a credit card that earns travel rewards — such as airline miles, hotel points, or flexible travel points — which can then be redeemed for flights, hotel stays and more. Such cards often come with sizable welcome offers and ongoing bonus categories to help you earn travel rewards on everyday purchases.
Note that your travel may not be 100% free, as taxes and fees may still apply. But you can certainly use credit card rewards to make travel much more attainable.
Yes! As long as you use your rewards credit card responsibly, you can earn bonus points on your purchases when traveling. If you’re going abroad, you’ll want to use a credit card that waives foreign transaction fees — which can tack on around 1% to 3% extra on each transaction made in a non-U.S. currency country.
Travel credit cards earn points or miles that can be redeemed for flights, hotels, rental cars and more, helping you subsidize the cost of your trip expenses. Beyond earning rewards, some cards even come with airport lounge access or credits to offset your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.
While the exact number of points required will vary greatly, depending on the time, location and duration of the trip, many domestic flights can start at just 6,500 to 7,500 miles. And, based on these numbers, a card with a 75,000-point welcome offer might get you as many as 10 domestic flights.
For rates and fees for The Platinum Card® from American Express please visit this page.
For rates and fees for the American Express® Gold Card please visit this page.
For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply.
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