Travel always brightens my days, whether I’m looking back on travel or planning future explorations. I was recently in Santa Barbara for a college reunion. I pedaled along the shore on a beach cruiser, ate fresh seafood and reconnected with friends from long ago. I still bask in the joy of those days away from my everyday life. I’m flying to Houston soon to visit my family. Next, I’m heading to Lake Tahoe with my husband and our pup for a summer trip. And I have booked a trip to Poland and Germany for spring 2023 to visit World War II sites with a history professor. Every time I travel, whether near or far, my life is enriched.
If, like me, you don’t have masses of worldly wealth, but you’ve got the travel bug, what can you do to travel as often as possible? One way to have adventures without spending a lot of money is to fund them with points and miles. As you earn credit card sign-up bonuses, you earn points on hotels and miles on airline tickets. And as long as you pay off your credit card balances each month, you won’t be in debt. Your credit rating can actually benefit.
Navigating through the countless credit card offers requires strategy. Are you more interested in earning airline miles so you can visit family? Or do you plan to go to cities and then stay in hotels? Would you like a card with free baggage tags or are you only traveling with hand baggage? Are airport lounges a welcome added benefit? Are you traveling internationally and need a card with no foreign transaction fees?
Cards often provide more than one of these benefits. So by figuring out your top travel destinations, you can choose the best cards for you. To help you, here are the cards that my husband Curt and I currently have. You’ll find that some of these are published by Chase. Some of these cards from this brand are also available from other banks.
I like having many cards in the same place for easy checking of bank statements and automatic payments. We’re always adapting, canceling when the annual fee isn’t worth it, or applying for a new card to get a sign-up bonus. And we have some cards in common, so there are fewer than 21 cards listed here.
This list is designed to get you started if you are new to earning points and miles. Or maybe you’re wondering which card to apply for next. All the maps mentioned are linked so you can delve into the details of each one.
Chase Sapphire Preferred (My default card)
This card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred towards flights and hotels. The flexibility in redeeming points is why I use this as my credit card of choice. Points are transferred to United Airlines, Southwest and Hyatt hotels, for example. Chase also has a trip planning service. Sometimes it’s better to book through this portal, although I always review hotels through their own pages as well.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Curt has this excellent travel focused credit card. I can’t get it because I already have the Sapphire Preferred and Chase doesn’t allow you to have both. The Reserve card offers a rebate on $300 in travel expenses per year. And it comes with the Priority Pass to airport lounges. Between flights, relax and eat all the fresh food you want. Why sit in a crowded airport and pay for overpriced bland food? Lounges are a fun perk of some credit cards. When you travel, this map is made for you.
Chase INK Business preferred
Because I’m a freelancer, I was able to get approved for this Chase business card and receive another sign-up bonus to earn Ultimate Rewards points. This card can be used for business expenses (who doesn’t need a new computer!).
Chase freedom without limits
The Freedom Credit Cards offer a way to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points without paying an annual fee. And Freedom cards offer purchase categories like groceries or gas every quarter that pay out more than one point per dollar spent. The sign-up bonus is low (currently $200), but the lack of annual fees and the ability to earn more points with daily purchases make this card worth considering.
Chase United Explorers
The Chase United Explorer is my most used airline card. Both Curt and I have this card. At United, we’ve made our way to Paris, London, Zurich and cities across the US. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points are immediately transferred to United. We also enjoyed the United airport lounges that come with this card.
A little-known benefit of international flights with United is the Excursionist benefit. If you are flying to an area of the world such as B. Europe, you are entitled to a free flight within the territory. We flew from Paris to Budapest and home and used the Excursionist benefit to fly from Nuremberg to Luxembourg City in the same trip with no miles or money. Simply book your ticket with the multi-city option.
American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator Red (Barclays)
It was in my wallet when it was US Air, so I’ve had it for a long time. Because American flies both domestically and internationally, the American Airlines AAdvantage is a great card to use for airline miles. The variety of flights on offer makes it worth keeping this card. And because I’ve had it for years, it boosts my credit score.
Chase Southwest credit cards
I have a Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card and a Southwest Business Premier card, and Curt also has the Premier card. We used Southwest miles to fly in the US. For example, we’ve taken a few trips to San Francisco with grandkids, all flying miles. One reason to love Southwest cards is the addition of 6,000 miles to your account every anniversary. That adds up!
Delta SkyMiles with American Express
Curt has a Delta Amex card. I had one, used the enrollment bonus miles to fly to New York City, and later canceled my card to avoid paying the annual fee. We probably won’t be earning Delta Points, and Curt plans to cancel his card as well. Delta offers many flights, but we now use other airline cards for travel.
Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card (Bank of America)
Alaska Airlines is my newest card. I have airline miles waiting to be used.
While a much-touted benefit is the $99 companion fare, I was disappointed to find out I couldn’t use miles to book my ticket and book Curt as my companion. You have to choose one or the other.
Paying full fare for one ticket and $99 for the other has never been a good deal for me. Also, Alaska’s flight schedule is the most limited of the airlines I use. So I can keep this card or not. It is possible to transfer Alaska Airlines miles to American Airlines, which I will likely use my enrollment bonus miles for.
Citi dividend card
This card, like Chase Freedom cards, offers higher percentage points in rotating categories. I don’t use the Citi Dividend Card, but I keep it open because it’s my longest-held card. Citi canceled this card without asking me because I hadn’t used it in a while. I called and politely asked for it to be restored and it was.
Pro tip: Keep an old map if you have one. Your credit rating will benefit.
Chase World Of Hyatt credit card
Hyatt is my favorite hotel card. With a free night’s stay on your anniversary and so many fine hotels to choose from, this card offers plenty of opportunities. In addition, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer immediately to Hyatt.
I was on a trip and had to change accommodation at the last minute. As the clock approached midnight, we were able to transfer points and easily book a room at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.
Chase down IHG Rewards Premier
Curt and I both have IHG Premier cards. The sign-up bonuses are generous. Another reason to get this card is that it works well with upscale hotels like the Intercontinental and Kimpton brands. We wouldn’t normally pay for such fancy rooms, but by using points and staying free we can enjoy more upscale travel.
Using IHG points, we stayed at the elegant Kimpton in downtown Santa Barbara and the historic Willard Hotel near the White House in Washington, DC
Chase Marriott Bonvoy
I have a Premier version of this card that is no longer available. The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card is the latest offering. In addition to the sign-up bonus, Marriott cards receive a free night on each anniversary. I stayed for free at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa in Palm Desert with this card. This resort features lakes, swimming pools, a huge lobby and ten restaurants. And I used this card when we had a Disneyland annual pass to stay at a comfortable, reasonably priced Marriott near the park entrance.
American Express Hilton Honors
Hilton Hotels, which can be found in every major city, are a reliable choice, making this card a great choice. Top Hilton stays in my travels include the Hilton San Francisco Union Square and the Hilton Garden Inn Palm Springs/Rancho Mirage. While in San Francisco, we were delighted with a credit at the deli and an upgrade to a room with a view. And the location of this hotel is perfect for hopping on the cable car and exploring the city.
I get nostalgic thinking about my favorite places, especially in Europe. I can’t wait to venture back there and sit in a cafe in Paris, stroll down streets lined with aging half-timbered houses in Germany, stroll along canals in Belgium and marvel at ancient cathedrals and castles that Invite visitors to explore.
One way I can reach my goal is to manage my credit cards well and keep earning points and miles. In my dreams I’m already flying to my next destination.