We have 21 travel credit cards, here’s what we love about each

Travel always brightens my days, whether I’m thinking back on trips or planning future explorations. Recently I went to Santa Barbara for a student reunion. I cycled a beach cruiser along the shore, dined on fresh seafood, and reconnected with friends from long ago. I still enjoy the joy of those days away from my daily life. Soon I will be flying to Houston to visit my family. Then I go on a summer road trip to Lake Tahoe with my husband and our pup. And I’ve booked a trip to Poland and Germany for the spring of 2023 to visit WWII sites with a history teacher. Every time I travel, near or far, my life is enriched.

If, like me, you don’t have much material wealth but have been bitten by the travel bug, what can you do to travel as often as possible? One way to go on adventures without spending a lot of money is to fund them with points and miles. As you collect credit card sign-up bonuses, you accumulate points for hotels and miles for airline tickets. And as long as you pay off your credit card balance each month, you have no debt. Your credit rating can benefit.

Sharon Santa Barbara on cruise

Photo credit: Sharon Odegaard

Navigating the myriad of credit card offers takes strategy. Are you more interested in air miles so you can visit family? Or do you plan to drive to cities and then stay in hotels? Would you like a card with free baggage checks or are you traveling with only hand luggage? Are airport lounges a welcome perk? Are you traveling abroad and need a card with no foreign transaction fees?

Cards often offer more than one of these benefits, so determining your main travel goals will help you sort out the best cards for you. To help you, here are the cards that my husband, Curt, and I currently hold. You will notice that several of them are emitted by Hunt. Some of these cards of the same brand are also available from other banks.

I like having multiple cards in one place for easy statement checking and automatic payments. We are always adjusting, canceling if the annual fee is not worth it, or requesting a new card to get a sign-up bonus. And we have a few cards in common, so there are less than 21 cards listed here.

This list should give you a starting point if you are new to collecting points and miles. Or maybe you’re wondering which card to ask for next. All of the cards mentioned are linked so you can dive into the details of each.

Chase Sapphire Preferred (My default card)

This card collects Chase Ultimate Rewards points which can be transferred to be used for flights and hotels. The flexibility of how to redeem the points is why I use it as my favorite credit card. Transfer points to United Airlines, Southwest and Hyatt hotels, for example. Chase also has a trip planning service. Sometimes it’s best to book through this portal, although I always check hotels through their own sites as well.

Beautiful Ghent

Beautiful Ghent

Photo credit: Sharon Odegaard

Reserve Chase Sapphire

Curt has this excellent travel oriented credit card. I can’t get it because I already have the Sapphire Preferred and Chase won’t let you have both. The Reserve card offers a discount on $300 in travel expenses per year. And it comes with Priority Pass for airport lounges. Relax between flights while eating all the fresh food you want. Why sit in a crowded airport and pay for overpriced bland food? Lounges are a fun perk of some credit cards. If you are traveling, this card is for you.

Favorite Chase INK Business

Because I work freelance I was able to get approved for this Hunt the business card and get another sign-up bonus to collect Ultimate Rewards points. This card can be used for business expenses (who doesn’t need a new computer!).

Chase unlimited freedom

The Liberty Credit Cards provide a way to collect Chase Ultimate Rewards points without paying an annual fee. And Freedom Cards feature purchase categories each quarter, such as groceries or gas, that pay more than one point per dollar spent. The sign-up bonus is low (currently $200), but the lack of annual fees and the ability to earn more points with daily purchases make this card worth considering.

Hotel Elch in Nuremberg

Hotel Elch in Nuremberg

Photo credit: Sharon Odegaard

Chase United Explorer

The Chase United Explorer is my most used airline card. Curt and I have this map. On United, we flew to Paris, London, Zurich and cities in the United States. Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer instantly to United. We also appreciated the United airport lounges that come with this card.

A little-known perk of flying United internationally is the Excursionist perk. If you are traveling to a region of the globe, such as Europe, you are entitled to a free flight within the region. We flew to Budapest and returned from Paris, using the Excursionist benefit to fly no miles or money from Nuremberg to Luxembourg on that same trip. Simply book your ticket with the multi-city option.

American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator Red (Barclays)

It was in my wallet when it was US Air, so I’ve had it for a long time. As American flies both domestically and internationally, the American Airlines Advantage is a great card to use for airline miles. The wide range of flights on offer is worth keeping that card. And because I’ve had it for years, it improves my credit rating.

Chase Southwest Credit Cards

I have one Southwest Premier Quick Rewards card and a Prime Minister for South West Affairs card, and Curt also has the Premier card. We used southwest miles to fly to the US. We’ve taken a few trips to San Francisco with grandkids, for example, and we’ve all logged miles. One reason to love Southwest Cards is that 6,000 miles are added to your account every anniversary. It adds up!

Delta SkyMiles by American Express

Curt has a Delta Amex map. I had one, used the sign-up bonus miles to fly to New York, then canceled my card to avoid paying the annual fee. We probably won’t collect Delta Points, and Curt also plans to cancel his card. Delta offers many flights, but we now use other airline cards for travel.

Notre Dame of Paris

Notre Dame of Paris

Photo credit: Sharon Odegaard

Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card (Bank Of America)

Alaska Airlines is my new card. I have airline miles pending use.

While a highly advertised perk is the companion fare for $99, I was disappointed to learn that I couldn’t use miles to book my ticket. and book Curt as my companion. You have to choose one or the other.

Paying full price for one ticket and $99 for the other hasn’t been a good deal for me so far. Also, Alaska’s flight schedule is the most limited of the airlines I use. So, I may or may not keep this card. It is possible to transfer Alaska Airlines miles to American Airlines, which is probably how I will use my sign-up bonus miles.

Citi Dividend Card

This card, like the Chase Freedom cards, offers higher percentage points in rotating categories. I don’t use the Citi dividend map, but I’m keeping it open because it’s my oldest map. Citi canceled this card without asking me because I hadn’t used it for a while. I called and politely asked for it to be reinstated and it was.

Pro tip: Keep an old map if you have one. Your credit rating will benefit.

Chase World Of Hyatt Credit Card

Hyatt is my favorite hotel card. With a free night on your birthday and so many hotels to choose from, this card offers plenty of options. Plus, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are instantly transferred to Hyatt.

I was traveling and needed to make a last minute change in accommodation. With the clock slowly approaching midnight, we were able to transfer points and easily book a room at the Grand Hyatt in New York.

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg, France

Photo credit: Sharon Odegaard

Chase IHG Rewards Premier

Curt and I each have a First IHG map. The sign-up bonuses are generous. Another reason to get this card is that it is suitable for high-end hotels such as Intercontinental and Kimpton brands. We wouldn’t usually pay for such luxurious rooms, but using points and being complimentary allows us to enjoy more upscale travel.

With IHG points we stayed at the elegant Kimpton in downtown Santa Barbara and the historic Hotel Willard near the White House in Washington, DC

Chase Marriott Bonvoy

I have a Premier version of this map, which is no longer available. The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Unlimited the card is the most recent offer. Along with the sign-up bonus, Marriott Cards come with a free night on every anniversary. I stayed at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa in Palm Desert free of charge with this card. This complex includes lakes, swimming pools, a vast hall and ten restaurants. And I used that card when we had a Disneyland annual pass to stay at a comfortable, inexpensive Marriott near the park entrance.

Cafe in the Marais, Paris

Cafe in the Marais, Paris

Photo credit: Sharon Odegaard

Hilton Honors by American Express

Hilton hotels, found in all major cities, are a reliable choice, which makes this card an excellent choice. The best Hilton stays in my travels include the Hilton San Francisco Union Square and the Hilton Garden Inn Palm Springs/Rancho Mirage. In San Francisco, we received a credit at the Deli as well as an upgrade to a room with a view. And the location of this hotel is perfect for jumping on the cable car and seeing the city.

I get nostalgic thinking about my favorite places, especially in Europe. I can’t wait to venture there again and sit in a café in Paris, stroll the streets lined with aging half-timbered buildings in Germany, stroll along the canals in Belgium and marvel at the ancient cathedrals and castles that beckon visitors to explore.

One way to get where I want to go is to manage my credit cards well and keep accumulating those points and miles. In my dreams, I am already flying to my next destination.

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