Credit Cards – how to make the most of travel reward cards!

Tempted by all those credit card offers at the airport or in the travel magazines, promising “free flights” or “free stays”? But have a hard time to figure out if the offers are too good to be true or make sense for you? I have leveraged credit cards for a lot of great travel experiences and saved a lot of money in the process – but there are pitfalls, so read on to find out how to make the most out of travel reward cards!

One of the biggest pitfalls is the risk of high interest charges on credit card debt, so you should only consider reward cards, if you don’t have credit card debt and pay off your balance in full every month – read how we evaluate credit cards to get started!
There are really two groups of benefits from travel reward cards to you can read about a lot: First, there are points and miles you can earn with sign-up bonuses and through purchases made with the credit card! They get lots of digital ink from travel bloggers – and rightly so – but the waters get muddied by the high referral fees the credit card issuers pay to many bloggers (I’m not one of them!). The second benefit are the perks of elite membership some credit cards bestow on their holders in the affiliated programs. While these don’t get as much news, I think they are a great reason to hold some credit cards – because many (infrequent) travelers won’t be able to achieve elite levels through travel and the value of the perks can provide significant savings on your travels!

Unfortunately, you won’t find a recommendation for “The Best Credit Card” on this blog – I don’t think there is a “best” card that works for everybody, just the right card for you! If you live in a United hub, a Delta-branded credit card will do you little good and if you want to use your hotel points and perks off the beaten track, your Starwood or Hyatt points are not going to help you much!
So, to find the right card for you, I recommend to first figure out which airline and hotel work best for you with my airline comparison and hotel comparison charts! If there are some clear favorites, it can narrow down your credit card search. If there isn’t, a credit card earning universal points like the Citibank Prestige, Chase Sapphire Preferred or Barclay’s Arrival might work best.

Once you know a little more, how and where you want to use your points and miles, check out the table of credit cards I have reviewed below. I have listed them in order of my personal preference and what I think might work for people in the US without a strict airline or hotel brand loyalty who want to travel internationally.
You can find my review of the best Citibank Philippines cards here!

Reward Pts Reward cts Sign-up pt/$ An/FC fee An Bonus Status Other Benefits
IHG Rewards MC 1/2/5 0.7/1.4/3.5 60,000/$420 $49/0% 1 night/y IHG Platinum 10% Rewards Discount
Citi Prestige MC 1/2/3 1.7/3.4/5.1 50,000/$850 $450/0% no PriorityPass, $250 credit
Citi Hilton Reserve Visa 3/5/10 1.2/2/4 2 nights/$860 $95/0% spend based Hilton Gold
Club Carlson Visa 5/5/10 1.5/1.5/3 85,000/$255 $75/3% 40,000 CC Gold
Hilton Amex 3/5/7 1.2/2/2.8 40,000/$160 $0/2.7% Hilton Silver
United MP Explorer 1/1/2 1.5/1.5/3 30,000/$450 $95/0% PrioBoard, luggage, club pass
Hilton Amex Surpass 3/6/12 0.4/1.2/4.8 60,000/$240 $75/2.7% Hilton Gold
Citi Hilton 2/3/6 0.8/1.2/2.4 75,000/$300 $0/3% Hilton Silver

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