How a Travel Credit Card Can Be Your Ticket to Big Savings

A travel credit card can provide savings for your next vacation if you can make full use of its valuable features.
Melissa Lambarena
By Melissa Lambarena 
Edited by Kenley Young

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Next time you're planning a vacation, a travel credit card could defray some or all of the costs if it packs the right incentives. Typically, cards with higher annual fees provide the most value with perks like ongoing rewards, free checked bags, airport lounge access or other benefits. But even cards with low or no annual fees make it possible to earn some value toward travel, if you can qualify.

These cards generally require good credit (scores of 690 or higher), and even if you're eligible, it's not worth pursuing one if you can't pay off the credit card bill in full every month to avoid steep interest charges. And if you're working toward paying down existing debt, it might not be worth chasing points and miles until you've made progress on that front.

But as long as travel credit cards align with your financial goals, their potential savings merit consideration — even if you travel just once or twice per year. Explore the flexibility of a general-purpose travel credit card to book travel anywhere, or a branded credit card to book travel with a favorite hotel or airline. Either option may offer money-saving benefits toward your next trip.

Valuable features can lower costs

Offers will vary among general-purpose travel credit cards and airline- or hotel-branded credit cards, but some savings opportunities may include:


If a credit card offers a lengthy list of perks, the value can quickly add up. Here are some features to look out for:

  • A sign-up offer: Travel credit cards generally come with lucrative sign-up offers that let new cardholders earn a pile of points or miles by meeting a minimum spending requirement. It’s easier to snag if you can strategically time a credit card application around planned purchases during a heavy-spend month or season.

  • Free checked bags: Some airline credit cards offer free checked bags, which can add up to real savings when applied per person on a round trip. This is one way that Doug Figueroa, a content creator at the YouTube channel Zorito y Doug, makes up the cost of the $150 annual fee on an airline credit card. “The savings are $70 round trip per passenger listed in the same reservation,” he says. 

  • TSA or Global Entry credit: Some travel cards issue a credit (up to $100) when you use them to pay for a TSA or Global Entry application fee. These expedited airport security screening programs can save time while traveling.

  • Travel credits: Depending on the card’s terms, travel credits may be used to save money on a variety of travel expenses like rideshare services, airfare or accommodations. 

  • Airport lounge access: You can skip the pricey airport food with some travel credit cards that offer complimentary airport lounge access. Austin Maxwell, a South Carolina-based content creator at the blog The Maxwells Travel, uses a travel credit card to avoid those costs. “I’m saving $20 to $30 every time I go to the airport because I don’t have to buy food or drinks during a layover or preflight,” he says.

  • A companion ticket: Some airline credit cards cover the cost of a ticket for a friend or family member. Depending on the card's terms, you may have to pay taxes and fees on the fare, the companion ticket may have an expiration date and/or a spending requirement may apply.

  • Automatic elite status: You may earn elite status without much effort on some hotel-branded credit cards. Elite status can add up to valuable savings if the program offers free food, bonus points or suite upgrades.  

  • Free nights: If your favorite hotel has a branded credit card that offers annual free night awards, it can stretch your vacation budget. 

Protections and other benefits

A travel credit card that offers trip delay or cancellation insurance, lost baggage insurance, rental car coverage or other protections may also be of value to you. To qualify for these benefits you typically need to pay for the trip or covered purchase with the eligible credit card. Read the terms carefully to understand the extent of your coverage.

Figueroa says he saved $90 over three days with his card’s primary rental car coverage on a trip to Miami.

“Once you make the online reservation, you must decline all insurance offered by the rental company and pay for everything with your [card],” he says.

High-value reward redemptions

Points or miles on some travel credit cards might lose value if they are used for non-travel redemptions like cash back, gift cards or other options. Travel redemptions typically offer the best value, and you might squeeze out even more value with a general-purpose travel card that allows points to transfer to airline or hotel partners. It’s a strategy that Maxwell uses often to his advantage.

“It’s even better if there’s a transfer bonus associated with that," he says. "Credit card companies offer transfer bonuses — 15%, 20%, 30% bonus — if you are to transfer points to a specific airline.”

He says he has also transferred points to hotel partners to book hotel rooms with them. “It would be the equivalent of getting a hotel room at $120 that’s actually valued at $500,” he adds.

To determine whether to redeem rewards for travel or transfer them to a partner, compare costs by checking the credit card’s booking platform and the partner’s website. Also factor in whether rewards transfer on at least a 1:1 ratio, meaning that you'll get the equivalent value in points or miles transferred.

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