Should I get a credit card with travel rewards?

credit cards for travel rewards
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Credit cards have undoubtedly become a valuable and necessary item when traveling. After all, they make it far more convenient and safe to not carry a pile of cash with you when venturing far from home. They're also great for making reservations, including airline tickets, and hotel rooms, not to mention how nearly impossible it is to reserve a rental car without such a card.

People that travel with any regularity, whether for business or pleasure, often go to different locations with each trip. And the credit card industry has developed a number of traveler reward and loyalty programs that encourage paying for everything on the plastic.

How do credit cards with travel rewards work?

These rewards perks are designed, as their name implies, to encourage travelers to be brand loyal to specific travel companies and their co-branded credit cards. They do so by giving points for each airline mile flown, and hotel night booked paid for on the card.

There is quite a bit of variability of the value of these travel reward programs, ranging from the minimal - such as early checkout from a hotel that could be requested at the front desk anyway - to significant upgrades, like entry to an exclusive airport lounge while awaiting your flight, or even free airline tickets. Therefore, choice of the credit card and loyalty program is important to become a member of a club that offers the most valuable rewards for you.

To see which are the most attractive on the market right now, head to TechRadar's guide to the best credit cards for travel.

Who would get the most from a credit card with travel rewards?

Well the better, more attractive rewards require a significant amount of travel. For example, some providers require a minimum amount of miles surpassing 20,000 miles before you start clocking up the free tickets and hotel stays. While this may be easily obtainable for a business traveler with monthly international travel needs, for a more casual traveler, this amount of miles can be hard to come by.

But there are plenty of other cards out there that suit more modest spenders and start racking up the points with every routine purchase made - whether on travel or not. In fact, some cards even give bonus points just for signing up, or after charging a certain amount in the first few months of getting the card.

How do I choose my credit card for travel?

Be sure to choose a travel rewards card carefully, to maximize the benefit. Look for a card that gives miles for both airline travel and hotel bookings, not just one.

Some cards have extra features, which travelers can find useful, such as reimbursement of your Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee (worth about $100) and can help to breeze you through security check-ins. Also pay attention to the number of miles awarded per dollar spent, that can range from a low of 1:1, and go up as high as 3:1.

Do I really need a credit card?

For anyone that is a regular traveler, or aspires to be one, a travel rewards credit card should be in their wallet. There are plenty of perks, and with the help of this financial tool you’ll be jetting off to a great destination sooner than you thought possible with the right travel rewards credit card.

There are plenty of upsides to this approach, but there are the usual caveats that you should consider before you apply.

It's important that you know what the annual fee is as some cards can be quite excessive. And if there's a chance that you can't pay off the balance promptly you could end up paying well over the odds for what you thought were routine purchases and can lower your credit score.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Jonas P. DeMuro

Jonas P. DeMuro is a freelance reviewer covering wireless networking hardware.