Travel always brightens my days, whether I’m looking back on trips or planning future explorations. Recently I went to Santa Barbara for a college reunion. I pedaled a beach cruiser along the shore, dined on fresh seafood, and reconnected with friends from long ago. I’m still basking in the joy of those days away from my everyday life. Soon I’ll be flying to Houston to visit my family. Next, I’m setting off on a summer road trip to Lake Tahoe with my husband and our pup. And I’ve booked a trip to Poland and Germany for Spring 2023 to tour World War II sites with a history professor. Every time I travel, whether near or far, my life is enriched.
If, like me, you don’t have masses of worldly wealth but you’ve been bit by the travel bug, what can you do to travel as often as possible? One way to go on adventures without spending a lot of money is to fund them with points and miles. As you collect credit card sign-up bonuses, you bank points for hotels and miles for airfare. And as long as you pay your credit card balances every month, you have no debt. Your credit rating can actually benefit.
Navigating the myriad credit card offers calls for strategy. Are you more interested in airline miles so you can visit family? Or do you plan to drive to cities and then stay in hotels? Do you want a card that comes with free baggage checks or do you travel carry-on only? Are airport lounges a welcome perk? Do you travel internationally and need a card with no foreign transaction fees?
Cards often come with more than one of these benefits, so figuring out your top travel goals will help you sort out the best cards for you. To help you out, here are the cards my husband, Curt, and I currently hold. You’ll notice that several of these are issued by Chase. Some of these same branded cards are available through other banks, too.
I like having many cards in the same place for ease of checking statements and automatic payments. We are always adjusting, canceling if the annual fee isn’t worth it, or applying for a new card to get a sign-up bonus. And we do have some cards in common, so there are less than 21 cards listed here.
This list should give you a place to start if you’re new at collecting points and miles. Or maybe you’re wondering which card to apply for next. All cards mentioned are linked to so you can delve into the details of each one.
Chase Sapphire Preferred (My Default Card)
This card amasses Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to use for flights and hotels. The flexibility of ways to redeem the points is why I use this as my go-to credit card. Points transfer to United Airlines, Southwest, and Hyatt hotels, for example. Chase also has a travel planning service. Sometimes it’s better to book through this portal, though I always check hotels through their own sites, too.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Curt has this excellent travel-oriented credit card. I’m not able to get it because I already have the Sapphire Preferred and Chase does not allow you to have both. The Reserve card offers a rebate on $300 of travel expenses per year. And it comes with the Priority Pass to airport lounges. Relax between flights while eating all the fresh foods you want. Why sit in a crowded airport and pay for overpriced bland food? Lounges are a fun perk of some credit cards. If you travel, this card is geared toward you.
Chase INK Business Preferred
Because I work freelance, I was able to get approved for this Chase business card and get another sign-up bonus to collect Ultimate Rewards points. This card can be used for business expenses (who doesn’t need a new computer!).
Chase Freedom Unlimited
The Freedom credit cards offer a way to collect Chase Ultimate Rewards points without paying an annual fee. And Freedom cards feature shopping categories each quarter, such as groceries or gas, that pay more than one point per dollar spent. The sign-up bonus is low (currently $200) but the absence of annual fees and the ability to earn more points with everyday purchases makes this card worth considering.
Chase United Explorer
The Chase United Explorer is my most-used airline card. Both Curt and I have this card. On United, we have winged our way to Paris, London, Zurich, and cities in the U.S. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points transfer instantly to United. We’ve also enjoyed United airport lounges that come with this card.
A little-known advantage of flying United internationally is the Excursionist perk. If you fly to an area of the globe, such as Europe, you are entitled to a free in-area flight. We flew to Budapest and home from Paris, using the Excursionist perk to fly for no miles or money from Nuremberg to Luxembourg City during that same trip. Simply book your ticket with the multi-city option.
American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator Red (Barclays)
This was in my wallet back when it was U.S. Air, so I’ve had this one a long time. As American flies both nationally and internationally, the American Airlines AAdvantage is a great card to use for airline miles. The wide range of flights offered makes it worthwhile keeping this card. And because I’ve had it for years, it boosts my credit rating.
Chase Southwest Credit Cards
I have a Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card and a Southwest Business Premier card, and Curt also has the Premier card. We’ve used Southwest miles to fly in the U.S. We took a couple of trips to San Francisco with grandkids, for example, with all of us flying on miles. A reason to love Southwest cards is the addition of 6,000 miles to your account every anniversary. That adds up!
Delta SkyMiles By American Express
Curt has a Delta Amex card. I had one, used the sign-up bonus miles to fly to New York City, and later canceled my card to avoid paying the annual fee. We likely won’t collect Delta points, and Curt plans to cancel his card, too. Delta offers many flights, but we are now using other airline cards for travel.
Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card (Bank Of America)
Alaska Airlines is my newest card. I have airline miles waiting to use.
While a much-advertised perk is the companion fare for $99, I was disappointed to find out that I couldn’t use miles to book my ticket and book Curt as my companion. You have to choose one or the other.
To pay full fare for one ticket and $99 for the other hasn’t been a good deal for me so far. Also, Alaska’s flight schedule is the most limited of the airlines I use. So, I may or may not keep this card. It’s possible to transfer Alaska Airlines miles to American Airlines, which is likely how I’ll use my sign-up bonus miles.
Citi Dividend Card
This card, like Chase Freedom cards, offers higher percentage points in rotating categories. I don’t use the Citi Dividend card, but I keep it open because it is my longest-held card. Citi canceled this card without asking me because I hadn’t used it in a while. I called and requested politely that it be reinstated and it was.
Pro Tip: Keep an old card if you have one. Your credit rating will benefit.
Chase World Of Hyatt Credit Card
Hyatt is my favorite hotel card. With one free night on your anniversary date and so many fine hotels to choose from, this card provides many options. Also, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer instantly to Hyatt.
I’ve been on a trip and needed to make a last-minute change to accommodations. With the clock inching towards midnight, we were able to transfer points and easily book a room at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.
Chase IHG Rewards Premier
Curt and I each have an IHG Premier card. Sign-up bonuses are generous. Another reason to get this card is that it is good for higher-end hotels such as the Intercontinental and Kimpton brands. We wouldn’t usually pay for such ritzy rooms, but using points and staying free allows us to enjoy more upscale travel.
With IHG points, we’ve stayed at the elegant Kimpton in downtown Santa Barbara and at the historic Willard Hotel near the White House in Washington, D.C.
Chase Marriott Bonvoy
I have a Premier version of this card, which is no longer available. The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card is the newest offering. Besides the sign-up bonus, Marriott cards come with a free night on each anniversary. I’ve stayed at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa in Palm Desert for no charge with this card. This resort features lakes, swimming pools, a vast lobby, and ten restaurants. And I used this card when we had an annual pass to Disneyland to stay at a comfortable, inexpensive Marriott near the park entrance.
Hilton Honors By American Express
Hilton hotels, found in every major city, are a reliable choice, which makes this card a great pick. Top stays at Hiltons in my travels include the Hilton San Francisco Union Square and the Hilton Garden Inn Palm Springs/Rancho Mirage. In San Francisco, we enjoyed credit in the deli as well as an upgrade to a room with a view. And the location of this hotel is perfect for hopping on the cable car and touring the city.
I grow nostalgic thinking about my favorite places, especially in Europe. I can’t wait to venture there again and sit at a café in Paris, wander along streets lined with half-timbered aging buildings in Germany, stroll along the canals in Belgium, and marvel at ancient cathedrals and castles that beckon visitors to explore.
One way to get to where I want to go is to manage my credit cards well and keep collecting those points and miles. In my dreams, I’m already winging my way to my next destination.