The 6 best travel credit cards

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The 6 best travel credit cards


Traveling comes with lots of joys: sleeping in (or waking up early to go sightseeing), trying new foods and ... racking up serious credit card rewards?

We spoke to Beverly Harzog, credit card expert and author of "The Debt Escape Plan," for advice on how to choose the right travel rewards card. She recommends considering the following when making a decision:

  • Decide which rewards you care about most. For example, would you rather concentrate on hotel earnings, airfare or cash back?
  • Consider rates and fees. Harzog says if you plan to carry a balance, you might not want to get a rewards card -- you'd probably be better off with a low-APR card.
  • Explore your options. There are many great cards out there, so you may not want to settle on the first card you see.

Then, we combed through dozens of travel credit cards to find our favorites and help you find yours.

All the cards below offer standard purchase protections and have no foreign transaction fees -- important factors when you're off traveling the world. Many also offer global concierge services, which means that someone can help you book flights and accommodations and research travel questions when you're on the go.

On to our top picks!

No annual fee

Discover it® Miles

This card returns 1.5 miles on the dollar, and each mile is worth one cent. Unlike some other cards, you have the freedom to redeem for cash, rather than being restricted to using points on airfare or other travel expenses. And for new cardholders, at the end of your first year, your mileage will be matched. This means that at the end of your first year, if you've earned 20,000 miles, Discover will match it and you'll get 40,000 miles.

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card

This card gives you 1.5 points per dollar; a point is worth one cent on travel, but is only worth 0.6 cents if you want to redeem for cash. You'll also get a 20,000-point bonus (worth $200 if you redeem it on travel) if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. If you're only going to use this card to pay for travel and are a relatively low spender, it might be your best bet.

The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card could be even more worthwhile if you have an active Bank of America checking or savings account, as you'll receive an extra 10 percent on your point earnings, meaning you'd receive 1.65 percent back for use on travel instead of the regular 1.5 percent. Even better, if you're a Preferred Rewards client, you could increase that bonus to up to 75 percent.

Overall high rewards

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

This card charges an annual fee of $89 after the first year, but you can earn two miles for every dollar you spend and a 5 percent miles bonus to use toward your next redemption -- every time you redeem. You can also earn 50,000 bonus miles (worth $500) if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® card

With this card, which has an annual fee of $95 after the first year, each travel or restaurant expenditure garners you two points per dollar, whereas all other purchases are worth one point per dollar.

This card is most worthwhile if you book your travel through Chase's Ultimate Rewards® system. That's because each point is worth one cent if you redeem for cash back, but 1.25 cents if you redeem for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® system (and 2.5 percent back on travel expenses).

This card offers 50,000 bonus points, worth $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, if you spend $4,000 in the first three months. You can also earn 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user to your account within the first three months.

Best of hotel cards

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Carrying an annual fee of $95 after the first year, this is our top pick because of its flexibility, since you have the option to convert your points into airline miles (typically one-to-one) with nearly 30 airline frequent-flier programs. If you do so, it's probably best to wait until you're ready to transfer 20,000 points, since that'll score you a bonus of 5,000 points.

With the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, you earn one point for each dollar you spend on most purchases, and up to five points per dollar spent at participating Starwood hotels. You can also nab 25,000 bonus points for spending $3,000 in the first three months, which could come out to roughly $800 back, depending on how you redeem.

Hyatt Credit Card

This card is mostly valuable if you're loyal to Hyatt, as it's less flexible in how you redeem points. As a sign-up bonus for spending $1,000 in the first three months, you'll receive two free nights at any Hyatt worldwide, which could be worth as much as $2,000.

Every year after that, you'll receive one free night at designated Hyatt properties. You'll earn one point per dollar on most regular purchases; two points per dollar on restaurants, car rentals and airline tickets purchased directly from the airline; and three points per dollar that you spend at any Hyatt property. You'll also get 5,000 bonus points when you add an authorized user to your account.

You'll probably find it most advantageous to redeem points for Hyatt expenses. A standard room at the lowest-tier Hyatt hotel costs 5,000 points, making the value about three cents per point, or 3 percent back on regular purchases. It's important to note that Hyatt points aren't transferrable to any other rewards programs.

The card charges an annual fee of $75 after the first year.

Bottom line

At the end of the day, there is no single "best" travel credit card, because each traveler is unique. Do you care more about upgrades or cash back? Do you feel strongly that you don't want to pay an annual fee? Are you loyal to one particular airline? As you read through your options, let that be your lodestar: What really matters to you?

About the author: Allison Kade is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications including Bloomberg, Travel + Leisure, Forbes, Real Simple, Business Insider, TheStreet, BoingBoing, Fox Business News and more. When she isn't writing about personal finance, she's probably still writing fiction. Or traveling. Or solving -- or creating -- puzzles. Follow her on Twitter.

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