6 Great Reward Credit Cards for Travel Lovers and Frequent Flyers

Most people think of credit cards as bills to pay off, but when you choose a rewards credit card wisely and pay it off every month, it can start paying you. If you love to travel, you’re in luck: Some of the best reward credit cards available cater specifically to frequent flyers and hotel-visitors. Here are six cards that should be on your list or in your wallet if you plan on jet-setting in 2013:

6. Discover Miles Card

The Discover Miles card is a little misleadingly named, but if you’re a budget-minded traveler who never knows what airline you’ll be on next, its versatility could be a big help. Here’s the secret: The Discover Miles card doesn’t actually award “miles,” in the frequent flyer program sense. It’s actually just a garden-variety 1% cash-back card that offers 2% cash-back on all travel and dining purchases.

Discover calls the cash-back “miles,” in this case, because you can only apply them as a statement credit on travel. But the Discover Miles card has another trick up its sleeve: It’s one of the few cards with no annual fee to also have no fee for international transactions. Recent partnerships with JCB, UnionPay, and Diners Club International mean you can take advantage of that in Japan, China, and across Europe.

5. Capital One Venture Card

Much like the Discover Miles card, the Venture card from Capital One is a cash-back credit card that acts like a travel card—for a $59 annual fee, waived the first year, you receive 2% cash-back on all purchases, which can be applied as a statement credit against travel expenses.

That’s a nice deal, but if you’ve got good credit there are other cards that offer 2% cash-back, some of which have no annual fee—including the next one on the list.

4. Priceline Rewards Visa Card

The Priceline Rewards Visa is a newcomer to the travel rewards scene, but it’s made a big splash thanks to its 2%-anywhere cash-back and no annual fee. If you’re a regular Priceline user, you can benefit even more—you’ll receive 5% cash-back whenever you use that website’s “Name Your Own Price” feature to book airfare, hotel accommodations, or rental cars.

Best of all, you don’t even have to redeem your cash-back on travel; it applies as a statement credit against any purchase of at least $25.

3. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a premium-looking card—it’s made of metal, which will impress your waiter, if nobody else—with some premium travel benefits. The biggest one is the bonus you get simply for opening the account: 40,000 “bonus points,” which can be redeemed for $500 in travel credit.

After that, the card becomes a little more pedestrian—like the Discover Miles, it offers 2% cash-back on travel and dining and 1% on all other purchases, although the amount of bonus rewards is, unlike the Miles card, uncapped. But its points can be transferred to other frequent-traveler programs, making them more valuable, and when you redeem them through Chase’s website you get 20% off, which lets your points go farther.

There’s a $95 annual fee—waived the first year—that’s partially offset by a novel 7% “points dividend,” paid out yearly on all the points you’ve earned (including the ones you’ve spent.)

2. Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card

Long considered one of the top travel-rewards credit cards, American Express’s Starwood Preferred Guest card can work for you even if you don’t use Starwood hotels frequently. Why’s that? Because Starwood points can be transferred into even more frequent flyer programs than American Express’s own Membership Rewards points.

They’re most valuable when redeemed for hotels, of course, but if you’re most interested in miles the Starwood American Express card could be an even better deal than your preferred airline’s card. The reason? 20,000 Starwood Rewards points can be redeemed for 25,000 frequent flyer miles, which is a nice bonus.

The annual fee is also lower than a lot of airline cards—$65, waived for the first year.

1. American Express Platinum Card

Few credit cards can match the American Express Platinum charge card’s prestige and level of service—but then, even fewer credit cards can match its $450 annual fee. But if you’re a frequent international flyer, you might be surprised to discover that it’s worth every penny of its steep fee.

The key isn’t the rewards—like American Express’s Green and Gold cards, it offers one Membership Rewards point per dollar spent, which can be transferred into hotel and airline programs or spent on a variety of merchandise, gift cards, or travel options—but the benefits that come with holding it. Platinum card members receive, among other travel perks, a $200 credit against expenses on your favorite airline; airport lounge access at nearly every major carrier; a personal concierge who can help you book hotel, restaurant, or concert reservations, wherever you’re going; and special status upgrades at several hotel chains.

If you spend more time thinking about traveling than actually traveling, you might not get your money’s worth. But if the thought of working in an airport lounge between flights—instead of an airport hallway—sounds a little like heaven, it’s worth applying for an American Express Platinum.

Sam Jones, the author, has been looking into travel credit cards on Uswitch to try and get a decent reward program for his planned travels this year.

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