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How to Choose Your Next Travel Credit Card

{% description %}A travel credit card can help you save money and make your travels more pleasant. Here's how you can decide which card to get.%}

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Whether you're making summer plans or want to get a head start on fall and holiday travel booking, it might be a good time to apply for a new travel credit card. Many cards offer benefits that can make traveling easier and cheaper, which can be especially helpful as travel prices surge. But finding the right card can be difficult when there are hundreds available.

Learn About the Different Types of Travel Cards

The first step in choosing a new card may be to narrow in on the type of travel card that will serve you best. Travel credit cards are sometimes split into several categories:

  • Co-branded airline and hotel cards. Co-branded airline and hotel cards let you earn miles or points in the company's loyalty program. You can use the rewards to book free travel, and many cards come with brand-specific benefits, such as free checked bags.
  • General travel cards. General travel cards offer flexibility as you can often redeem rewards for cash back, travel bookings or transfer points to partner hotel and airline loyalty programs. However, they might not offer company-specific perks.
  • Premium cards. With both co-branded and general travel cards, you may also be able to choose between basic and premium options. Premium cards offer more and better benefits, but they also have high annual fees (e.g., $250 to $550). Review the benefits closely to see if they're worth the cost.

In general, co-branded cards are best if you're a loyal customer of an airline or hotel chain. Or if you want to use the rewards for a specific trip — such as a first-class flight or luxury hotel stay.

A general travel card may be best if you want flexibility when booking travel. The ability to book travel directly or transfer points to partner loyalty programs can also open up sweet-spot redemptions. But you may want to learn the intricacies of different loyalty programs.

Consider the Cards' Benefits

Airline, hotel and general travel cards can all offer different promotions and benefits. The specifics can vary by card, but consider which of the following you'll value most:

  • Promotional interest rate offers. Some credit cards give new cardholders a limited-time promotional 0% APR on purchases. If you need to borrow money for a trip, you could use one of these offers to avoid interest. But be sure you can pay off the balance before the promotional period ends because rewards cards tend to have high' standard APRs.
  • Travel benefits. Get a card with benefits that match your travel plans. For example, if you're flying with family, an airline card that offers free checked bags and priority boarding could be a good option. But if you're planning a romantic getaway, a hotel card that gives you a voucher for a free night at a luxury hotel might be better.
  • Travel protections. Many cards (not just travel cards) come with travel protections, such as trip cancellation or interruption insurance, rental car collision damage waivers and lost baggage protection. The coverage amounts and exemptions can vary by card.
  • Cardholder perks. Some cards offer additional benefits, such as access to airport lounges, statement credits, and no foreign transaction fees.
  • Intro bonus offers. Many cards offer large bonuses for new cardholders who spend at least a certain amount of money during the first few months with the card. Compare the bonus offers and see which ones you can qualify for without overspending.

Read Reviews

Credit card agreements and rewards programs can be filled with fine print. Fortunately, there's no shortage of online reviews that can help you understand the pros and cons of different cards and rewards programs. Unfortunately, credit card reviews are sometimes biased.

Many websites make money when readers use links on the site to get a new credit card. Some websites even choose which cards to promote or rank based, in part, on the commissions they might earn.

If you're not sure which cards to consider, reviews and comparisons could help you narrow down the options to a few top picks. But keep the potential bias in mind when making your final decision. And remember, the best card depends on your unique financial situation, goals and travel plans.

Check Your Credit and Apply

Each credit card application can lead to a hard inquiry, which may hurt your FICO® Score even if you don't get approved. With this in mind, you may want to check your credit and try to avoid submitting applications that will likely get denied.

Credit card issuers generally don't share specific FICO® Score requirements. But some card issuers and reviewers suggest a recommended credit score range. In general, premium cards require higher FICO Scores than non-premium options.

Sometimes you can submit a preapproval request with a soft credit pull — which doesn't impact your FICO® Score. The card issuer will then show you which cards you're preapproved for based on your creditworthiness. Choosing from these cards might increase your chances of approval, but you'll be limiting yourself because some card issuers don't offer preapprovals.

Louis DeNicola

Louis DeNicola is a finance writer based in Oakland, California. He specializes in consumer credit, personal finance, and small business finance, and loves helping people find ways to save money. In addition to FICO, Louis works with a variety of financial services firms, credit bureaus, and educational websites, including LendingTree, Credit Karma, and Experian.