Are You Getting The Most Out Of Your Travel Card?

By: The NerdWallet Staff
Est reading time: 5 min

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Travel credit cards can be one of the best ways to lower the cost of travel, whether you're taking a trip to visit family in another state or boarding a plane for a luxurious vacation overseas. Regardless if you collect airline miles, hotel points or flexible issuer-specific currency, they all perform the same function of making your future trip more affordable. Learn more about how to maximize your rewards and apply for the right card for you today.


To get the most out of your intro offer, apply for a card at least five months before booking your trip so you have time to earn and receive the sign-up bonus.

How Do Travel Credit Cards Work?

These cards pay you points or miles for making both travel purchases and everyday purchases. Once you accumulate enough points or miles, you can redeem them for rewards like flights and hotel stays. Currencies vary from card to card, but are generally called "points" or "miles." For example, most airline cards pay miles in that airline’s loyalty program. Hotel credit cards and general travel cards usually pay you with points. Both types of currencies are redeemable for travel and other rewards.

Typically, a travel credit card will pay you extra in its currency when you use the card to purchase travel, but rates vary. One card might offer you 2 points or miles per $1 spent on airline purchases, while another might offer you 3 points or miles per $1 spent on airline purchases. Many travel rewards cards also pay points or miles on everyday non-travel purchases, but usually at a lower rate — for example, only 1 point or mile per $1 spent.

What To Look For In a Travel Card

There are many travel credit cards available. When choosing any financial product, always consider your personal goals and purchase habits. This can help you narrow down the right product for you.

Bonus Offer

Many credit cards offer a sign-up bonus to new cardholders — usually a chance to earn a large number of bonus points after spending a certain amount on the card in the first few months after opening the account.

Earning Potential

Not all travel credit cards offer the same earning potential. Look to see how each card rewards points or miles, and don’t forget to consider purchase categories. Also, check to see if the earning potential is unlimited, as you'll want to maximize your earning potential. For some, choosing to get a flat-rate travel credit card may work best.

No Foreign Transaction Fees

If you travel internationally, check to see if the card charges foreign transaction fees. This way, you don’t get charged extra fees when using your card.


Extra travel benefits, like priority boarding for your flight or a welcome gift at your hotel can make your travels more enjoyable.

Annual Fee

Some travel credit cards charge an annual fee, others don’t. It’s essential to understand the annual fee before applying for a credit card to make sure you can comfortably afford it. Travel cards with more perks may have a higher annual fee.

Ready To Start Jet-Setting? Check Out Smart Cards and Apply Today