8 Signs You’re Using the Wrong Travel Credit Card

Oct 7, 2021

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

With so many different travel credit cards out there, it’s hard to know if you’ve selected a good one, much less the best option for your goals. Although determining the best card can be a big challenge, there are a few signs that you’re using the absolute wrong travel credit card. Here's when it might be time to shop for another card.

You might be using the wrong travel credit card if ...

1. You’re paying foreign transaction fees

If you ever travel abroad, even to just to Canada or Mexico, you absolutely need a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. If you’re paying foreign transaction fees, you’re adding around 3% to the cost of your trip. That means that a card with a $95 annual fee, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, can pay for itself after you make $3,167 in charges abroad.

Even if you’re not a big traveler, there are cards without annual fees that also don’t charge foreign transaction fees. The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card is a great option with a $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

2. You don’t have built-in travel protections

Have you been shelling out extra for travel insurance when booking your ticket? While you might want more protection than a credit card can offer, you can get basic travel insurance included at no additional cost just by paying with the right credit card.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of the best low-annual-fee cards offering trip delay and cancellation coverage, baggage coverage, auto rental collision damage waiver and travel accident insurance.

Pay special attention to car rental insurance because some travel cards provide better protection than others. Several cards offer primary insurance, which means coverage kicks in immediately and not just when your primary insurance carrier declines it. These include the United℠ Explorer Card, United Club℠ Infinite Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

3. You’re not earning at least 1.5% back

Credit cards have all different kinds of bonus categories nowadays, but if you’re not earning at least 1.5% back, you'll want to consider getting a better travel card. The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card has a $0 annual fee, no foreign transaction fees and offers 1.5% back on all purchases. That’s about as simple as it gets.

You can earn even more back if you’re willing to juggle two or more cards. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns 2 Ultimate Rewards® points per $1 spent on travel and 3 Ultimate Rewards® points per $1 spent on dining purchases. Ultimate Rewards® points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed through the Chase travel portal, and can be worth more if you transfer them for premium travel redemptions.

That means you’re essentially getting 7.75% back on all travel and dining purchases with your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card if you’re redeeming rewards through the portal.

And if you're into premium cards, you can really maximize your point earning. The Citi Prestige® Card offers 5 Citi ThankYou points per $1 spent on air travel and restaurants, while The Platinum Card® from American Express offers 5 Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on airfare booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel. Terms apply.

4. You're spending a lot on food or drinks at the airport or on your flight (with no perks)

If you travel a lot and find yourself regularly grabbing a bite to eat or drink at the airport, you might want to consider a card upgrade. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Citi Prestige® Card will give you access to over 1,200 Priority Pass lounges worldwide, which can save you major cash compared with the cost of airport food.

While the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has a hefty $550 annual fee, it also offers a $300 annual travel credit that is automatically applied to travel purchases. That effectively brings the annual fee down to $250.

Lounge access for additional cardholders is another way to maximize the value from an annual fee. Priority Pass through both Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Citi Prestige® Card allows you to bring two additional guests without extra charge.

And the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® allows travelers to add authorized users for no extra charge. This means they will get a copy of your credit card and receive Admirals Club access when they travel independently of you.

Several cards also deliver bonuses on inflight dining. For example, the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® provides a 25% discount on all inflight purchases.

5. You spend a lot on ridesharing apps, but aren't getting bonus points

Pay attention to which card you use to pay for rideshare apps, because some cards come with built-in bonuses. The Platinum Card® from American Express offers $200 in annual Uber credits. Terms apply.

Chase recently added a bonus of up to 10 points per $1 spent on Lyft rides through March 2022. This makes qualifying cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card an easy choice for frequent rideshare users because it offers the highest earning potential out there. As well, Lyft has separate partnerships with Hilton Honors and Delta SkyMiles that allow you to earn additional points and miles.

6. You pay out of pocket for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

Expedited travel programs come with a fee, but many credit cards offer credits that can cover all or part of your application fee. If you plan to sign up for one of these programs, take note that many cards offer rebates for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.

7. You spend a lot on hotels, but aren't earning free nights

In addition to bonus categories, some credit cards come with free nights as part of their anniversary bonus. The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card offers a free night every card anniversary, good at any IHG hotel worldwide.

Annual free nights like this can help you save hundreds of dollars, even if you’re just using them once a year.

8. You like to travel with companions

Some travel cards provide companion certificates allowing you to bring someone with you for free or at least at a reduced rate. These include the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card and the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card.

The bottom line

It can be hard to pick the right credit card, with so many out there competing for your attention. But it’s not too difficult to make sure you have a good one. Any of the cards above can easily help you earn more rewards and save on expenses like travel insurance, foreign transaction fees and travel expenses.

The information related to Citi Prestige® Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.