- When it comes to picking the right credit cards for you, it makes sense to tailor your choices to your spending habits and travel goals.
- That said, there are some key benefits and rewards everyone should consider, and you’ll find them with these four different types of cards.
- A cash-back card like the Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card or the Chase Freedom Unlimited is great for getting a strong return on your everyday spending, and most of these cards have no annual fee.
- You should also consider a card that earns transferable points, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the American Express® Gold Card.
- If you travel, a co-branded hotel or airline credit card could make sense as well, and you’ll want a card that offers strong travel protections like trip delay insurance.
While it’s always best to pick credit cards based on your personal spending habits and travel goals, there are a few types that come in handy no matter what. Here are four types of credit cards everyone should have in their wallets.
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards.
When you’re working to earn credit card rewards, it’s important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically, treat your credit card like a debit card.
A cash-back card
With rewards programs constantly devaluing their award charts, having a cash-back card in your arsenal is crucial. Most of these cards have no annual fee, which makes keeping them long-term much easier to justify. And with cheap international airfare becoming more prevalent these days, it doesn’t always make sense to redeem points for travel.
For example, I found some basic economy fares to Europe on United Airlines between San Francisco and Paris this fall. The cost? Just $336.73 round-trip. The same ticket costs 60,000 miles and $81.03 in taxes and fees. Using cash-back rewards is a much better value in this scenario than redeeming a ton of points or miles. I would have to spend $60,000 on my rewards credit card to earn 60,000 miles, but just $16,836.50 on a 2% cash-back card like the Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card.
For the average person charging their daily spending to a single card, a 2% cash-back card might offer more attainable rewards than an airline credit card. You may not always get 2 cents of value out of each point from your rewards credit cards, but you will get that much out of your 2% cash-back card spending.
Beyond the Fidelty Rewards Visa Signature, you should consider the Citi® Double Cash Card, as well as the Chase Freedom Unlimited. The latter offers 1.5% back on every purchase, but with its current sign-up bonus you can get 3% back on the first $20,000 you spend in the first year, and you can also convert your cash-back rewards into Chase points down the line if you decide you want to book travel.
Read more: The best cash-back credit cards
A card that earns a flexible rewards currency
What are flexible rewards currencies? They’re points that can be redeemed for travel purchases directly through the credit card issuer, or with airline and hotel partners. We’re talking about Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards. These currencies don’t lock you into earning points with a single airline or hotel.
Award flight and award hotel stay availability isn’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. You can transfer your points to various partners, usually at a 1:1 ratio and in many cases instantly. This flexibility is really important considering some of the program devaluations we’ve seen this year and that will likely continue as more people begin maximizing their points and miles through rewards credit cards.
If you’re looking for a great flexible rewards-earning credit card, be sure to take into account things like category bonuses so you can get a maximum return on your biggest spending categories. Also keep in mind annual fees and the perks you may receive in return (i.e. airline fee credits, elite status, etc.).
Here are some credit cards I recommend:
A card from an airline or hotel rewards program you travel with frequently/that gets you status
Why am I recommending an airline or hotel-specific credit card after warning against devaluations and lack of flexibility? Because 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 Citi® AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® might make getting this card and paying the $95 annual fee worthwhile.
If you’re a loyal to Hilton but can’t manage 40 nights a year to earn Gold elite status for perks like free breakfast and room upgrades, you may want to consider applying for a Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, which has a $95 annual fee and offer complimentary Hilton Gold status.
I personally picked up a Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express earlier this year. The card has a $450 annual fee and offers top-tier Hilton Diamond status. On a recent trip to the Maldives, received over $2,500 worth of value through the annual free night (which was issued a couple of months after I got the card), free breakfast, early check-in and $250 resort credit alone. With a hotel or airline credit card, loyalty can pay off, even if you’re not traveling enough to earn elite status.
A credit card with great travel insurance
If you’re picking up credit cards that meet each of the above-mentioned criteria, then be sure that at least one of them offers solid travel protections: trip cancellation/interruption insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, and, ideally, auto rental collision damage waiver.
These features can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in case your trip doesn’t go according to plan. It can even save you from having to purchase travel insurance on your own. You’re paying annual fees on many of your rewards credit cards, make sure you get your money’s worth through benefits like these.