The Frequent Flyer
The certifiable frequent flyer--typically a businessperson flying frequently on expensive, company-paid tickets--earns plenty of frequent flyer miles and enjoys elite-level perks such as upgrades and priority check-in and boarding. What's left to be had from a credit card? Flexibility, and even more miles.
The Infrequent Flyer
Unlike the frequent flyer and the moderately frequent flyer, the infrequent flyer neither needs nor receives any special treatment from the airlines. More important is flexibility in earning and redeeming points.Best card:Chase Sapphire Preferred. Like the Starwood Preferred Guest card, the key feature of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is points that can be converted 1:1 into points and miles in a range of hotel and airline programs:
- Airlines: Southwest, United, British Airways, Air France/KLM, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Air, and Singapore Airlines.
- Hotels: Hyatt, InterContinental, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton.
The Moderately Frequent Flyer
Between the road warriors and the family vacationists are the travelers who fall just short of earning elite status in an airline program and therefore receive no special recognition or rewards from the airlines. A number of high-end credit cards have set out to rectify that failing by offering cardholders a suite of perks normally enjoyed only by airlines' elite-level flyers.Best Card:Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard. With an annual fee of $450, this card is a serious investment. But it delivers serious travel benefits in return:
- Admirals Club airport lounge membership.
- Priority check-in and boarding.
- Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
- No fee for first checked bag.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- 10,000 elite miles annually.
- Discount on award flights.
The Frequent Buyer
For the growing number of travelers who find traditional loyalty programs to be of negligible value, the best travel rewards credit card may actually be a cash rewards card. While miles and points can represent a significant rebate, they're typically only redeemable for travel from a limited number of airlines or hotels. Cash, by contrast, can be used to purchase anything, travel-related or not.Best card:Citi Double Cash. Two cards currently offer a reliable 2 percent rebate on all purchases: the Citi Double Cash card and the Fidelity Visa card. Unless you have a specific wish to have the rebate deposited into a Fidelity account, the Citi card is the way to go, delivering the rebate either as a check or a statement credit. Making this card an even better deal, it comes with no annual fee.
Two Cards Are Better Than One
Inevitably, any single card will be a compromise: between company-specific rewards and convertible points, between travel rewards and cash rebates, between low and high annual fees. Perfection is not an option. The temptation is to load up with a stack of cards, each fine-tuned to a specific earning strategy. But that approach entails escalating costs and diminishing returns. What makes sense for many travelers is maintaining a primary card with one or two supplementary cards. For road warriors, that might be an airline-linked card, backed up by a card awarding points in one of the major hotel programs. For infrequent travelers, the best combination might be a cash-back card for everyday spending in conjunction with a convertible-points card to rack up some hotel and airline points to offset the cost of an occasional trip. And yes, your mileage may vary.
More from SmarterTravel:
- One Unexpected Thing to Be Aware of When Getting an Airline Credit Card
- The Worst Credit Card Gotchas to Avoid When You Travel
- The New Wi-Fi Scam That Steals Your Credit Card Number