April 17, 2024

Practical Traveler: Choosing the Best Credit Card

As credit card companies vie for a favored position in customers’ wallets, they’re pitching new travel enticements, from waiving foreign transaction fees that can add up to 3 percent to your purchases abroad to picking up fees for checked baggage. Earlier this month, for example, American Express did away with the 2.7 percent foreign transaction fees on international purchases for Platinum Card holders, and added two new travel benefits — Priority Pass Select airport lounge access in more than 300 cities worldwide and free membership to Global Entry, which offers expedited security clearance for pre-approved travelers entering the United States.

British Airways and Chase brought back a promotion they had used two years ago — an impressive sign-on bonus of 100,000 miles (equivalent to two round-trip coach tickets from North America to London) to those who sign up for the British Airways Visa Signature Card, which has a $95 annual fee, by May 6 and spend $2,500 within the first three months. And Citigroup dropped foreign transaction fees on two of its new ThankYou Rewards cards that were introduced at the start of the year and allow users to redeem points for flights, hotels, cars, travel packages and activities.

But travelers should pay close attention to the fine print when comparing card offers to be sure the benefits outweigh the costs. For example, the American Express Platinum card comes with a hefty $450 annual fee. The range of perks that go along with it include $200 a year for airline fees like checked bags or in-flight meals, access to Priority Pass Select airport lounges (normally $249 for 10 visits), and zero foreign transaction fees. If you’re a road warrior who spends more time in airports and on planes than in your own home, it may be worth it. But it’s probably not the best card for the occasional flier. “If you’re getting it just for the currency conversion waiver, you will probably give them more than that back when you pay the annual fee,” said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com, a financial research site.

To make the annual fees worthwhile, “look for a card with additional travel insurance like luggage replacement, emergency funds (in case the card is lost or stolen), car rental insurance and trip cancellation insurance,” said Carmen Wong Ulrich, author of “The Real Cost of Living,” who speaks from experience. After dinging a rental car while driving along St. John’s rough and hilly roads, “all we had to do was spend 10 minutes on the phone with AmEx, fill out a little paperwork and we never saw a bill for repairs,” she said. “Well worth the $125 annual fee” for the Gold card.

Also consider what kinds of perks are most valuable to you, and how much you need to spend to make rewards programs pay off. “The most important part of choosing the best credit card is finding one that best suits your personal needs and lifestyle,” said Amber Stubbs, managing editor at CardRatings.com, noting that she likes Capital One’s Venture Rewards card, which was introduced last year and lets users earn and redeem miles for any travel purchase regardless of the airline, hotel or cruise company. “However, for someone that frequents a particular airline,” she added, “it’s not a bad idea to get a card specific to that airline.”

To help you decide what to put in your wallet, here’s a list of some of the best cards for travelers, none of which are linked to a specific airline.

For the Occasional Flier

THE CARD Capital One Venture Rewards

THE PERKS No foreign transaction fees and double miles on every purchase (not just hotel stays or airfare), which can be redeemed for monetary credit toward any travel purchase, including plane tickets on any airline, hotel rooms, rental cars and cruises. Just add two zeros to the cost of your travel expense and trade in that number of miles to pay for it. In other words, spending $12,500 earns 25,000 miles, good for a $250 travel credit.

ANNUAL FEE/APR $59; 11.9 to 19.9 percent.

BOTTOM LINE You don’t need to travel to earn miles with this card. And you won’t be tied down to one airline or run into blackout dates when using those miles.

For the Mileage Hound

THE CARD American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card

THE PERKS Points can be used for Starwood hotel stays or be exchanged for miles on many airlines including American, British Airways, Delta, US Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Plus, you get a 5,000-point bonus when you trade in 20,000 points for miles. There is also a sign-on bonus of up to 25,000 points (10,000 points for your first purchase and 15,000 points if you spend $15,000 in six months).

ANNUAL FEE/APR $65; 2.90 percent for the first six months, then 11.99 percent.

BOTTOM LINE You’ll get the equivalent of a domestic ticket for roughly every $20,000 you spend or about 1.25 miles per dollar. That’s “a better earning rate than offered by most airline branded credit cards,” said Tim Winship, an editor for SmarterTravel.com and the publisher of FrequentFlier.com. And unlike those cards, you’re not tied to just one airline. It’s that combination of value and flexibility, added Mr. Winship, “that has long endeared it to frequent travelers.”

For the Worrier

THE CARD Escape by Discover

THE PERKS In addition to the usual secondary collision damage waiver insurance provided by many credit cards, which require travelers to first file a claim under their personal auto policy, this card offers $50,000 in primary collision damage waiver coverage — that means claims do not need to be filed under the traveler’s policy. The card also includes roadside assistance, lost or damaged luggage insurance in case the airlines lose your bags and trip cancellation insurance. It even comes with up to $500,000 in flight accident insurance. Cardholders earn double miles for every $1 spent on purchases, which can be used toward the cost of any trip.

ANNUAL FEE/APR $60; 10.99 to 15.99 percent.

BOTTOM LINE You’ll avoid paying for separate travel insurance for most trips.

For the Penny-Pincher

THE CARD The Chase Freedom Visa

THE PERKS 1 percent cash back on all purchases, plus the opportunity to earn 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 worth of certain purchases each quarter. For example, April through June of this year is home improvement. There is also a $100 bonus cash back when you spend $500 in the first three months.

ANNUAL FEE/APR None; zero percent for the first six months, then 11.99 to 22.99 percent.

BOTTOM LINE “Miles can be confusing and hard to redeem, but cash has no blackout dates, and everyone understands that value of a dollar,” said John Ulzheimer, president of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com. “If you’re getting reimbursed for your travel expenses and your company pays you back before your due date, this is a no-brainer.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=1af1a0680a1ed78f2636b5ccedeb0c99

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