Credit cards can be a valuable tool towards building your personal credit. However, they can also be a severe temptation, especially if you carry many different cards. I learned this expensive lesson after signing up for several in-store offers and accruing late fees. In the end, I paid more for the penalties than the merchandise I bought. Since then, I have severely limited the number of cards in my wallet.
I now realize that credit cards are a necessary evil and carefully choose which ones I use. As a frequent traveler, I decided on an airline-sponsored credit card to maximize my rewards and cut travel expenses. There are several co-branded credit cards to choose from, each with their own perks. Here are some of the best benefits of a travel credit card to help make your next trip more affordable and enjoyable.
Introductory Travel Bonuses
I first joined my airline’s loyalty program when I moved abroad. It was a free and practical way to earn miles for award travel since I was flying internationally at least twice a year. However, I had no interest in applying for their co-branded credit card until I came across the introductory bonus offer. It was just too sweet to pass up. Not only would I earn enough miles for a free international flight, but they were also waiving the annual fee for the first year.
I literally had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The rewards vary slightly between competitors, but the package usually boils down to the same offer. If you charge enough money to the card in the first 90 days, you will earn enough points for a free flight or stay. I had planned to use the card to purchase airline tickets, so I simply charged them to my card. Within one billing cycle, the introductory bonus had been added to my account.
Redeeming Valuable Rewards
A free stay or flight is usually enough to get travelers to sign up. However, I quickly learned that there were additional rewards which proved to be even more valuable. I began earning miles faster than ever before, racking up double mileage when I booked directly through my airline or its partners. Just be aware that these rewards don’t apply when you book through third party websites. Most awards are also subject to availability, so make sure your dates are eligible before you make other hotel or transportation reservations.
Some companies even offer discounts or allow you to transfer your rewards to their partners, giving you greater flexibility. In addition to redeeming awards for free flights or stays, you can also use your miles or points for merchandise, gift cards, and cash back rewards.
Passenger Perks of a Travel Credit Card
While the bonuses and rewards were enough to convince me to sign up, it was the additional passenger perks that made me a loyal customer. As a preferred member, I am given priority boarding which ensures space in the overhead bins, complimentary upgrades when available, and a free checked bag for me and a traveling companion.
I also receive two complimentary lounge passes each year which can be used at any domestic airport. Lounge access provides me with free wifi, complimentary cocktails, delicious food, and comfortable seating where I can relax and watch the departure screens. Long-distance travel and layovers are unpleasant for everyone, but the lounge access makes it bearable. My complimentary passes are surely one of the best benefits of a travel credit card.
No Foreign Transaction Fees
Foreign transaction fees are an unwelcome surprise for any traveler using their credit cards abroad. Most cards charge an additional 3% on purchases that pass through foreign banks or use foreign currency. These small charges can quickly build into a financial headache.
If you apply for a travel credit card, most companies waive this fee, saving you a ton in hidden fees. Additionally, you could save even more money if the exchange rates are in your favor. Since there are no foreign transaction fees with my travel credit card, I opt to charge my purchases in foreign currency and let my bank do the conversion for me. Since the US dollar is consistently strong, I often pay less than the exchange rate offered by vendors.
Comparing Benefits of a Travel Credit Card
If you are a frequent traveler, the benefits of a travel credit card are well worth the annual fees. Before choosing which card is right for you, compare the offers to determine which one best suits your spending habits and travel needs. Be sure to review the terms and conditions each year and pay off your balances to maximize your benefits. Otherwise, your finance charges may offset the advantages.
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Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to either working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.