There are certain types of credit cards that every serious traveler should at least consider getting. Some of these cards allow you to tap in to more travel rewards and others provide meaningful benefits that make your travel experience more comfortable and luxurious (and also less stressful). In this article, I will breakdown seven different types of credit cards that you should consider getting.
1. Versatile points earning card (with high welcome bonus)
If you’re serious about getting maximum value for your credit card rewards, then you need to invest in a card that will earn you points that can be transferred out to various travel partners (airlines and hotels) and that will start you off with a hefty rewards balance. This provides you with the ultimate amount of flexibility that will help you quickly maximize rewards for outsized value.
By jumping on great bonus offers, I’ve been able to earn enough points to book multiple round the world trips and fly in over ten amazing first class products.The value I’ve received from those redemptions was insane and the ability to transfer points out to so many different partners made booking many of them relatively easy.
For many people, the “go-to” card for versatile points is the Chase Sapphire Preferred since it has a low annual fee, earns bonus points on dining and travel, and allows you to transfer points out to partners like United, Southwest, Singapore, Hyatt, and more. It also has a high sign-up bonus of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months that will start you off right.
If you don’t mind the higher annual fee, you can go with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Two of the strongest benefits include a $300 travel credit along with the ability to earn 3X on dining and travel. The card also comes with Priority Pass and the ability to redeem points at 1.5 cents per point through Chase Travel Portal.
Tip: After picking up a Chase Ultimate Rewards earning card, turn to American Express and/or Citi (and don’t forget about Capital One).
2. Business credit cards (that don’t report to your credit report)
Now that banks are clamping down so heavily on getting welcome offers and new cards, the need for jumping on small business credit cards for points is more important than ever since small business credit cards create many new (and lucrative) earning opportunities.
Just about any side-hustle you do can qualify for a business, including selling items on eBay, CraigsList, etc. or even things like tutoring, consulting, etc. In short, it’s not difficult to qualify for a small business credit card.
Two great business cards worth looking at (that don’t report to your personal credit report) are: 1) The Chase Ink Preferred and 2) The Chase Ink Cash. Both are subject to the Chase 5/24 rule so they are also some of the first credit cards you’d want to pick-up.
The Chase Ink Cash comes with a great sign-up bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after you spend $3,000 in the first three months along with a 0% APR period and has no annual fee. It also earns 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases each account anniversary year at:
- Phone services
- Office supply stores
And it also earns 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases each year at:
- Gas stations
The Chase Ink Preferred has a very high sign-up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. The card also earns 3X per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on all of the following categories:
- Travel, including airfare, hotels, rental cars, train tickets and taxis
- Shipping purchases
- Advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines
- Internet, cable and phone services
By picking up business cards you’ll be able to earn more rewards over the long-run and preserve your credit score since they shouldn’t show up on your personal credit report.
3. Credit Cards with meaningful hotel status
It’s not that hard to find a card that offers hotel status. You’ve got a lot of options with the major hotel brands like Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Hilton. But it’s a little harder to find a card that provides you with meaningful hotel status. And by meaningful, I mean benefits you’ll actually use on your stay like free breakfast or even hotel lounge access.
One of the best cards for hotel elite status is the Platinum Card from American Express. The Platinum will offer you Marriott Gold and Hilton Gold elite status. Marriott Gold is so-so but Hilton Gold provides you with free breakfast and sometimes even lounge access. It is one of my favorite mid-tier statuses. The Platinum Card also has the best luxury hotel program that also offers you elite-like benefits. Find out more about this card here!
If you want to stick with the co-branded credit cards for a hotel elite status then I would also look into other Hilton cards, such as the Hilton Surpass for Hilton Gold or Hilton Aspire for Hilton Diamond.
And finally, if you are trying to build up elite status via high spending the Chase World of Hyatt Card is a great option since you:
- Receive 5 qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every year
- Earn 2 additional qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every time you spend $5,000 on your card
4. Cards with the best lounge access (for you)
Airport lounge access has transformed my life in airports. When I first started traveling a lot back in 2014, I spent countless hours bored and uncomfortable while waiting at boarding gates, often struggling to get a decent Wi-Fi connection. But then I discovered lounge life. Now my experience at airports is way more pleasant because I’m almost always able to find a quiet lounge to relax in.
Lounge access has exploded over the past few years and there are many different ways you can get it. My preferred method is with the American Express Platinum Card, which offers the best overall lounge access out of any card. With the Platinum Card you can get access to the following lounges:
- Amex Centurion Lounges
- Priority Pass lounge access
- Delta Sky Clubs
- Plaza Premium Lounges
- Airspace lounges
- Escape Lounges
The American Express Platinum Card also earns 5X on airfare and 5X on certain hotel purchases so it can be an extremely valuable travel rewards card. Find out more about this card here!
Now that the Platinum Card is losing restaurant access with Priority Pass, you might be need to look at some alternative options like the Chase Sapphire Reserve if you frequent airports with Priority Pass restaurants. Also, if you only need a couple of lounge visits per year, a card like the Hilton Ascend (soon to be Surpass) could be good for you since it doesn’t offer unlimited visits.
5. Cards with complete travel protections
Earning a lot of miles and points is a lot of fun but something that is often overlooked with credit cards is travel protections. In many cases, these protections can completely offset the annual fee for a credit card with just one single use. And more importantly, they can alleviate a lot of stress and anxiety that certain unexpected situations would normally cause.
But you don’t just want a card that offers you a few protections or weaker protections like secondary rental car coverage. You want complete travel protections. Some of the travel protection you want to lookout for are:
- Rental car coverage (CDW)
- Lost or damaged luggage
- Trip interruption
- Trip delay reimbursement
- Baggage delay reimbursement
- Travel accident insurance
- Roadside assistance
The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve are once again great options for solid travel protections. The Sapphire Reserve will offer higher limits for some protections but both come with a great core set of travel protections. American Express cards have some built in benefits but you have to pay extra for travel insurance so they don’t have as much coverage built-in as these Chase cards.
Tip: Be aware that Citi Cards will lose many of these protections in September, 2019, so I would try to avoid using those in future.
6. Cards with optimized bonus categories
If you or trying to maximize travel rewards, then you want to make sure that you have a card that will earn the maximum amount of points for the categories that you primarily spend in (or least close to it). For many people, that these categories are:
If you are like me, and spend a good amount on these each month then you absolutely need to have cards offering you bonus points on those categories. For earning flexible points on dining and travel, the Chase Sapphire Preferred (2X) and Chase Sapphire Reserve (3X) are extremely popular.
For groceries and dining, the American Express Gold Card is very popular with its 4X potential. The new Citi Prestige earns a whopping 5X on dining but with it losing benefits and protections lately I’m not the biggest fan of it.
The Chase Freedom will earn you 5% back on rotating categories each quarter up to $1,500 in spend. Some of the categories that we’ve seen in the past include:
- Department stores (including WalMart)
- Gas stations
- Chase Pay
- Local commuter transportation
- Movie theaters
- Theme parks
It shouldn’t be hard to find two to three cards that cover a broad spectrum of your spending, especially if you’re talking about things like dining, groceries, gas, and travel.
7. Top-earners for everyday spend
A lot of your spend won’t trigger special bonus earning for dining, groceries, or other types of categories. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still maximize rewards. Yes, some cards offer 1.5X or 2% back on all purchases, which are good, but I recommend getting at least one card that offers top-earning potential, even if it’s only for limited amount of spend.
One of my favorite cards for this is the American Express Blue Business Plus. This card earns 2X Membership Rewards on all purchases up to $50,000 per year. It is one of the few cards that earn enough rewards on spending to offset transaction fees of around 2-3% you get with many payment services. Find out more about this card here!
The Chase Freedom Unlimited is another good option because it earns 3% cash back on all purchases in your first year up to $20,000 spent. After that, you’ll earn unlimited 1.5% cash back. The new offer does lose out on the $150 sign-up bonus but earning 3% back on all purchases up to $20,000 is more lucrative than the standard offer if you put a lot of spend on that Freedom Card.
There are some other options out there as well but my point is to not get complacent with non-bonused spend, regardless of which issuer you use.
If you or able to get these seven different types of credit cards you will be in good shape to maximize your travel rewards in many different areas.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.