Travel Credit Cards

 

A major area where we stray from the sound advice of some financial experts is our use of credit cards for cheap travel. Even though we use them for the basically all our purchases, we are still able to maintain that elusive ‘zero-based budget’ thanks to independently keeping track of all our spending on Google Drive spreadsheets. The credit card travel game definitely isn’t for everyone, and I would recommend you read my post on Things To Consider before applying for your first card. Under no circumstances would it be worth it to save money on travel while maintaining a credit card balance with 20%+ interest; that would be insane.

But… if you’re organized and disciplined, credit cards are a great way to travel for cheap, or even free. These are the cards we currently use, and I’ve included the miles and points we earned for meeting our minimum spends, which may be more or less than what is currently offered. We get miles and points for certain credit card recommendations, so if you ever need a new card we’d love to refer you.

 

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature: (that is an affiliate link) 25,000 Mileage Plan miles after meeting minimum spend. Earns 3x miles on Alaska and Virgin American purchases. 1x miles on all other purchases. $99 Companion Fare every year. Free checked bag on Alaska and Virgin America flights for you and up to six other passengers on the same reservation. No foreign transaction fees. $75 annual fee.

Why we keep this card: This was Greg’s first credit card so we’ve kept his account open to maintain a good credit history with Bank of America. I keep mine open because we love Alaska’s airline partners and the companion fare is an amazing deal if you ever fly Alaska Airlines.

 

American Express Premier Rewards Gold: (that is an affiliate link) 50,000 Membership Rewards points after meeting minimum spend. Earns 3x points for flights booked directly with airlines. 2x points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and US supermarkets. 1x points on other purchases. Use MR points to book travel, or to transfer to twenty travel programs, including three hotels. $100 annual Airline Fee Credit at one airline. No foreign transaction fees. $0 annual fee for the first year, then $195.

Why we keep this card: We can transfer Membership Rewards points to AeroMexcio, Air Canada, Air France/KLM, Alitalia, All Nippon Airlines, Asia Miles, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, El Al Israel Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia, jetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and Choice Privileges, Hilton Honors, Starwood Preferred Guest. We’ve used our airline credits to fly to Vegas, New York City, and Tulsa (have you seen the Golden Driller?) and through Amex Offers we’ve received two free Sam’s Club memberships (we gave one away), bonus Membership Rewards points for paying our wireless bill online, and multiple cash back offers for online purchases, including wireless bills. The airline credit and Amex offers easily make up for the $195 annual fee and we like knowing we have to option to transfer points to all those airlines.

 

AmEx Bonvoy Brilliant

American Express Marriott Bonvoy: (this is an affiliate link) 35,000 SPG points after meeting minimum spend. This card was automatically ad when SPG merged with Marriott and is not available to new applicants. The link provided is to the new luxury (read: more expensive) card, and the only Marriott card now offered by American Express. Earns 6x points on Marriott purchases. 3x points on restaurants and airline purchases made directly with the airline. 2x points all other purchases. Automatic Gold Elite status. No foreign transaction fees. $450 annual fee. The annual fee is steep, but the card provides a $300 annual statement credit for purchases made at participating Marriott hotels, $100 property credit toward 2+ night stays at The Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis properties, an annual free night award (up to 50k Bonvoy points), and Global Entry/TSA Precheck. Plus you can receive 15,000 bonus points for every 60,000 points you transfer to participating frequent flyer programs (there are over 40 airlines you can transfer points to).

Why we keep this card: Annual free night stay! Points are easy to accrue and we like the option to transfer points to all those airline programs. Plus we regularly find 15,000 point rooms to use on our travels. 15k points is worth free breakfast alone!

 

American Expresss Hilton HHonors: (that is an affiliate link) 75,000 Hilton Honors points after meeting minimum spend. Earns 7x points on Hilton purchases. 5x points on U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations. 3x points all other purchases. Earn 500 bonus points when you use your card to book online and pay for your stay. Automatic Silver status. No foreign transaction fees. No annual fee.

Why we keep this card: No annual fee cards are the best! We’ll use these anytime we stay at a Hilton property, and to keep our points from expiring.

 

Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Mastercard: 40,000 AAdvantage miles after making first purchase and paying annual fee. We actually downgraded this card to an annual fee-free version, but the one linked here earns 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases. Earns 1x miles on all other purchases. 10% of redeemed miles back (10,000 miles maximum per calendar year). First checked bag free for the primary cardmember and up to 4 companions. Preferred boarding for the primary cardmember and up to 4 companions. 25% inflight savings on food and beverages. No foreign transaction fees. $95 annual fee.

Why we keep this card: Like I said, we have the no annual fee version because it’s an easy way to earn miles and keep our AAdvantage accounts from expiring. And it gives us good credit history with Barclays.

 

Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature: 85,000 Gold Points after meeting minimum spend. Earns 10x points on Carlson Rezidor hotels. 5x points on all other purchases. Receive 40,000 Gold points every year you keep the card. Automatic Gold status. 3% foreign transaction fee. $75 annual fee.

Why we keep this card: The 40,000 Gold points every year is enough to justify the annual fee, and we like to use the cash + points option for cheaper cash stays. Plus we get an additional 20x points for stays just for being a member, so it’s really easy to accumulate a lot of points.

 

Chase Freedom Visa: (that is an affiliate link) 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points after meeting minimum spend. Earns 5x points on quarterly bonus categories. 1x points on all other purchases. Earn even more points by shopping online with Shop Through Chase, their Ultimate Rewards portal. Redeem UR points for gift cards, cash back, or to book travel. 3% foreign transaction fees. No annual fee.

Why we keep this card: No annual fee! Plus the 5% we can get back on gas, groceries, restaurants, wholesale stores, and even Amazon, depending on the quarter. We use this card in conjunction with the Freedom Unlimited and the Sapphire Preferred to transfer UR points to different travel programs (undoubtedly its best use). If we were to start our miles and points game over, we’d only apply for this, the Chase Freedom Unlimited, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Ultimate Rewards points are our most favorite.

 

Chase Freedom Unlimited Visa: (that is an affiliate link) 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points after meeting minimum spend. Earns 1.5x points on all purchases. Earn even more points by shopping online with Shop Through Chase, their Ultimate Rewards portal. Redeem UR points for gift cards, cash back, or to book travel. 3% foreign transaction fees. No annual fee.

Why we keep this card: No annual fee! Plus the 1.5x points we can earn on every purchase. We use this card in conjunction with the original Freedom and the Sapphire Preferred to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to different travel programs.

 

Chase World of Hyatt Visa Signature: (that is an affiliate link) Two free nights worldwide after meeting minimum spend. Earns 3x points on Hyatt purchases. 2x points on restaurants, airline tickets, car rentals. 1x points on all other purchases. One free Category 1-4 night every year. Automatic Discoverist status. No foreign transaction fees. $75 annual fee.

Why we keep this card: The $75 annual fee is worth it for the free anniversary night. We can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt, which is UR’s best hotel deal. The highest Hyatt hotel categories cost just 30,000 points a night which feels like a real bargain compared to other hotel programs.

 

Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier Mastercard: (that is an affiliate link) 80,000 Rewards Club points after meeting minimum spend. Earns 10x points on IHG purchases. 2x points on gas, grocery stores, and restaurants. 1x points on all other purchases. One free hotel stay, up to 40,000 points every year. Automatic Platinum Elite status. No foreign transaction fees. $0 annual fee the first year, then $89.

Why we keep this card: Annual free night. Points are easy to accrue and award nights can go for as little as 5,000 pts/night.

 

Marriott Bonvoy BoundlessChase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless: (that is an affiliate link) 80,000 bonus points after meeting minimum spend. Earns 6x points on Marriott purchases. 2x points on all other purchases. One free night every year, up to 35,000 points. Automatic Silver Elite status. No foreign transaction fees. $95 annual fee.

Why we keep this card: Annual free night. Points are easy to accrue.

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa Signature: (that is an affiliate link) 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after meeting minimum spend. Earns 2x points on travel and restaurant purchases. 1x points on all other purchases. Earn even more points by shopping online with Shop Through Chase, their Ultimate Rewards portal. Redeem UR points for cash, gifts, or to book travel. Points are worth 25% more when use to book travel. Transfer UR points 1:1 to seven different airlines and four hotel loyalty programs. No foreign transaction fees. $0 annual fee the first year, then $95.

Why we keep this card: How much time have you got? In the past I’ve used this card for cash back, to book “free” travel, and to transfer UR points to different frequent flyer programs, which is its most lucrative use. This card provides an easy way to earn points in several programs, and to keep programs active so our miles and points don’t expire. We can transfer our UR points 1:1 to British Airways, Air France/KLM, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic. As well as IHG, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and Hyatt. Because of the major airline alliances – Oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance – we can use UR points to book award travel on just about any airline we could imagine. Plus the card itself is very pretty. 

 

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus: (that is an affiliate link) 40,000 Rapid Rewards points after meeting minimum spend. Earns 2x points on Southwest, Rapid Rewards hotels and rental car purchases. 1x points on all other purchases. Receive 3,000 bonus Rapid Rewards anniversary points every year you have the card open. 3% foreign transaction fees. $69 annual fee.

Why we keep this card: To obtain the Southwest Companion Pass.

 

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business: 60,000 Rapid Rewards points after meeting minimum spend. Earns 2x points on Southwest, Rapid Rewards hotels and rental car purchases. 1x points on all other purchases. Receive 6,000 bonus Rapid Rewards anniversary points every year you have the card open. No foreign transaction fees. $99 annual fee.

Why we keep this card: To obtain the Southwest Companion Pass.