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- When it comes to picking the right credit cards for you, it’s wise to tailor your choices to your spending habits.
- There’s much more to the perfect wallet than one optimized to earn the greatest possible rewards.
- You should also open cards with benefits like travel insurance and elite status.
- Read Insider’s guide to the best rewards credit cards.
There are lots of great rewards credit cards on the market right now, with generous sign-up bonuses and travel perks to boot.
While it’s always best to pick the best credit card for you based on your personal spending habits and travel goals, there are a few attributes that come in handy for reasons beyond just the return you’ll get for everyday purchases. When building your perfect wallet, be sure your credit card portfolio includes all five of the following features.
No annual fee
No annual fee credit cards are a critical piece to healthy credit.
It’s true that the credit cards with the best perks charge an annual fee, but there are bound to be annual fee-incurring credit cards that you become disenchanted with years after you open them. Perhaps your financial goals or your lifestyle changes. You don’t want to pay the annual fee forever, so you’ll have to either cancel it (which will immediately lower the length of your credit history and therefore ding your credit score) or downgrade it to a card with no annual fee.
When you hold no annual fee credit cards, you can keep them forever for absolutely free (provided you aren’t carrying a balance!). Even if you keep them in your sock drawer, they can become pillars of a strong credit score by building your credit history and adding to your total available credit.
Transferable credit card points
If your aim with credit card rewards is to travel for cheap (or even free), transferable credit card points are far and away the most valuable rewards to collect:
These currencies can be redeemed for travel purchases directly through the credit card issuer, or you can convert them into airline miles or hotel points with various partners like Hyatt, American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest, and more.
The reason transferable points are so valuable is that they don’t lock you into earning points with a single airline or hotel. Award flight and award hotel stay availability aren’t always predictable. So when you are ready to book your dream vacation, you won’t be restricted to using points from a single program. This flexibility is really important considering some of the program devaluations we’ve seen this year.
If you’re looking for a great flexible rewards-earning credit card, keep in mind cards that offer travel perks that mesh with your travel style. For example, the
- Up to $300 per year in statement credits toward Capital One Travel bookings
- Airport lounge access with Priority Pass Select (over 1,300 lounges worldwide), Plaza Premium (over 100 lounges worldwide), and Capital One Lounges
- 10,000-mile bonus each account anniversary (worth at least $100 toward travel)
- Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit
As you can see, you can easily make up for the card’s annual fee if you travel with regularity. The Priority Pass Select access this card offers is alone worth over $400 per year.
Still, if you can’t organically get
Cash back credit cards are immensely popular credit card rewards as they’re extremely easy to earn and uncomplicated to redeem. A credit card that earns cash back effectively provides you with a rebate on every purchase.
Even if your primary credit card goals don’t revolve around a cash back card, it’s still wise to have one sheathed. For example, if your aim is free travel, you’d be wise to focus on the above-mentioned flexible travel rewards-accruing cards. But travel rewards can’t do everything. With a healthy stash of cash back, you can offset purchases like food and activities — even taxes and fees associated with award flights.
Collecting cash back in tandem with travel rewards makes your vacation truly as free as it can possibly be.
When you’re looking for a card, shoot for a credit card that earns a minimum of 2% cash back for the lion’s share of your spending. A card like the
Alternately, a card like the
- 10% cash back with Uber and Uber Eats through November 14, 2024
- 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
- 3% cash back on dining, grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), eligible streaming services, and entertainment
You’ll earn 1% cash back on all other purchases. If you reckon you can contain your spending strictly to the card’s bonus categories, you’ll earn a sizable cash reserve in a hurry.
Co-branded by an airline or hotel
Why bother with an airline or hotel-specific credit card after just proclaiming the virtues of flexible rewards credit cards?
These credit cards can offer tremendous value if you travel with a specific brand often. For example, if you travel with American Airlines a few times a year but not enough to earn elite status, the free checked bag benefit from the
Or, if you’re loyal to Hilton and want to enjoy the perks of its top tier Diamond elite status (suite upgrades when available, breakfast privileges, 100% bonus points on stays, etc.) but you can’t manage to stay 60 nights per year to earn it, you may want to consider applying for the
All this to say, you can boost your travel comfort tremendously just by holding the right credit card.
Solid travel insurance
Even if you’re not a frequent traveler, you should still have a credit card that offers high-performance travel insurance. We’re talking primary rental car insurance, trip delay insurance, baggage delay insurance, and trip interruption/cancellation insurance.
These features can save you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars in case your trip doesn’t go according to plan. The insurance I receive from my
Using an insurance-conferring credit card can save you from having to purchase travel insurance on your own. For example, primary rental car insurance, when purchased from the rental agency, can cost $15 or more per day — but by simply paying with a card that offers primary rental insurance, you’ll get it for free when you waive the rental company’s in-house CDW.
- Primary rental car insurance (covering up to $75,000 in damage — considerably higher than most other cards)
- Up to $500 in trip delay insurance that activates once your flight is delayed six hours (or requires an overnight stay)
- Baggage delay insurance that entitles you to up to $100 per day (for up to five days) once your bags are delayed at least six hours
- Trip interruption/cancellation insurance, up to $10,000 per person (max $20,000 per trip) when you’re unable to take prepaid nonrefundable travel for things like illness, inclement weather, injury, etc.
- Up to $1,000,000 in travel accident insurance
What you need to know about what credit cards to get
The credit card features you should have in your wallet are:
- A card that incurs no annual fee
- A card that earns flexible travel rewards
- A card that earns cash back
- A card that is specific to a certain airline or hotel that you frequent
- A card that provides excellent travel insurance
You may find many of these benefits with a single card. For example, many cash back credit cards also are no annual fee credit cards. And many cards that earn transferable rewards also come with travel insurance.