U.S. News and World Report recently published an extremely comprehensive survey and guide, which covers everything from understanding how travel reward points work, to the ins and outs of traveling on points, how to maximize your benefits both at home and abroad, and (of course) the best travel cards of 2017.
This got me thinking about what I look for when choosing a travel rewards credit card, so I decided to add my two cents to the report… a Cliff Notes version, if you will.
Here are the main things to look for when choosing a card:
- Annual Charge
- Foreign transaction fees
- Points – how many?
*The report mentioned above lays out these factors for 450 different cards
Many companies wave the annual charge for the first year. If you plan to keep the card after that year, be very sure that you know what the annual fee is and how much you anticipate on spending during a normal calendar year. If the annual fee is high enough (I have seen up to $400) and you do not earn many miles during a year, then you are negating the benefits of the points and would be better off just paying full fare.
If you are just using the card to profit from the points, then do not forget to set a calendar reminder to cancel the card before that grace period expires.
Foreign transaction fees – just say no
Many cards (almost all travel cards) have foregone the fees. What fees, you ask? The foreign transaction fees. Read over the terms of the credit card to verify that they do not charge foreign transaction fees. These apply to ANY transaction you make overseas:
Buy gas for your rental car – $5 fee
Purchase a latte at Starbucks for $4 *why you would do that when there is so much good coffee available is beyond me, but… $5
You get the gist. The fees add up quickly.
Points – How many?
Different cards offer different reward amounts at different times through the year. For the best deals check out JohnnyJet or Travel Is Free.
HOWEVER – Points go further on some airlines than others. American Airlines will give you a round-trip ticket for 25k miles, whereas Delta is much more – meaning, your miles will take you further on some airlines than others. Keep that in mind when picking a card.
Do not carry a balance
The minute you start paying interest on the card is the point when the travel points are not worth it. You may as well cancel the card and instead pay full fare for the ticket or purchase points outright because the interest is going to cost you more. If you cannot pay off the statement balance in full each month, reconsider using the travel rewards card as a method of facilitating travel.
Bonus points if the card has a chip
Overseas credit cards have the chip – this makes transactions possible for some vending machines (like at the train station). Some folks will have no idea what to do with your card if it has no chip.
One final thing – many overseas locations will ask you for a pin when you use a credit card. Tell them you do not have one and the printer will spit out the normal receipt for you to sign. In my experience, some cashiers will expect this while others may not. Either way, let them know you have no pin and that you do not need one. Part of the terms of accepting Visa and MasterCard as a vendor is that you must accept the card, so if you have the card they must take accept payment via the card **find visa terms that say this **
Again, this is my off-the-cuff additions to the U.S. News and World Report survey and guide on credit cards.
Check out the report here for the deep dive on your next travel rewards card.