You might be getting ready to go on vacation and want to try your hand at the credit card point world.
Or maybe you’re a travel pro with an arsenal of credit cards, but aren’t totally sure which cards are actually worth it – and which ones you need to cut up ASAP.
And let’s face it, credit card companies don’t exactly provide you a blueprint on how to best hack their travel point system.
But that’s where we come in to help.
The truth is – some credit cards are definitely worth the hype.
In fact, we outlined our top favorite picks here.
But other credit cards… not so much.
They might seem like they have good benefits, but in reality, they just want to take your money.
So if you’re looking for a quick breakdown on whether to go with a brand-specific card (think Hilton Honors) vs. a traditional travel credit card (think Chase Sapphire) – then check out our quick tips below.
The Reality Of Airline Credit Cards
Most of us know the drill – we are on a flight and the stewardess walks down the aisle hoping to get us to sign up for an airline credit card.
You may dream of free drinks and first-class upgrades – but that’s not really how it works.
Let’s take the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Credit Card for example.
The annual fee is a whopping $195 a year.
Some of their benefits include “first checked bag free” – but as we’ve pointed out, you should never check a bag anyway, so this really isn’t a bonus.
Yeah, yeah, they have other benefits like travel accident insurance and purchase protection, but so do a lot of other travel cards – and with way better benefits.
If you fly exclusively Delta no matter what (and frequently), you could possibly justify having this card.
But if you are a budget traveler always looking for the best airline ticket price, you need to stay away from airline specific credit cards – because they keep you chained to that one airline.
In addition, if you only fly home once a year to see mom at Christmas, even though you always fly Delta, the card still isn’t worth it.
As for that first-class upgrade?
Sure you might be “eligible” – but I wouldn’t count on it. The odds are not in your favor.
They might try and sell it as a perk – but as Proud American Traveler previously reported, the era of free first-class upgrades is essentially over.
So What About Hotel Cards?
My thoughts on hotel credit cards are the same with airline loyalty cards… sure there are some benefits, but are they really worth it?
Well, it depends.
How often do you travel?
Are you the type that goes on one vacation a year? Or do you travel for work 2-3 times a month, or more.
Do you typically enjoy staying at the same hotel chain, or are you on the hunt for the best bargain?
If you do decide to go with a hotel credit card, NerdWallet recommends the Marriot Bonvoy Boundless or the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card.
The good news about these cards is you can use them all over the world – and earn free night’s stay just for having the card.
Other perks like a free carb-filled continental breakfast and late check-out could be useful at times, but I can’t justify paying the $95 annual fee.
If you are a traveler who wants the flexibility to stay wherever you want – whether in a hostel, Airbnb, or hotel – then definitely stay away from the hotel credit cards.
So What’s The Best Travel Credit Card?
Personally, I’m still a fan of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
You earn 2 points per every $1 spent on dining and travel – and your points increase by 1.25 cents when you book through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
And while you might not get the free room upgrades, this card still allows you to transfer at 1:1 rate to other loyalty programs like Marriot and Hyatt.
Other perks include 60,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months (you definitely want to make sure you get this – or the card isn’t worth it).
You also get stellar travel purchase and coverage (like being reimbursed for up to $10k for prepaid non-refundable travel expenses).
The freedom and flexibility of this card is the best of both worlds.
It’s Really Your Call
Some people are very specific when they travel. They stay at the same hotel chains and always fly the exact same airlines.
If you are that person, you might enjoy the “perks” of having loyalty credit cards.
But in the travel world, the name of the game is flexibility.
Being able to fly different airlines and stay at different places keeps you free to choose the best deals, and puts you in control of your travel.
Personally, I like the freedom to choose my own airline – and stay where I want.
And let’s be honest – not all “free rooms” at the Hilton are created equal.
So if you have a stack of brand specific cards that you are paying annual fees on, it might be time to chop ‘em up and switch to a travel credit card that can (almost) do it all.
Do you have a favorite travel credit card?
When you travel, do you typically fly the same airline and stay at the same hotel chain, or enjoy the freedom of selecting different places?
Tell us in the comments below and be sure to share this article with all your friends!
(h/t Proud American Traveler)