Finding the Best Travel Credit Cards

By Morgan Hamilton

While many airlines offer enticements of frequent flier miles, there is a second prevalent option - travel credit cards - for discounting your airline travels. There is a very solid reason that these travel credit cards are so popular for avid travelers.

These travel credit cards - i.e., those with a feature that lets you earn air mileage discounts as you make purchases with your travel credit card - offer a double dipping opportunity. What this means, simply, is that you now have two ways to earn mileage discounts with the same trip - if you use your travel credit card to book the flight. You can earn credit not only towards your flight, but also towards an auto rental or a hotel room. You can also get mileage credit for purchases with your travel credit card that are not flight-related, such as meals and shopping from retailers.

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Many credit cards work as travel credit cards, offering miles or points for your purchases with the card. There are four types of travel credit cards to consider.
  • You might want to choose a credit card that has partnered with a hotel chain or specific airline. This may well be a good choice if your travel destinations are consistent, and you use the same airline continually; or if you have a preference in hotel chain.
  • You might choose a common brand of travel credit card, such as American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Discover or Diners Club.
  • Your local bank, or another reputable banking firm might issue its own credit card with a program that offers travel rewards.
  • You could also choose a debit card that acts as a travel credit card.

It's difficult to say in general which are the best travel credit cards. So much depends on individual need. Most folks new to travel credit cards start with what are known as co-branded or affinity travel credit cards - those specifically tied to the frequent flyer offering of a certain airline. So, let's look at a couple of those.

American Airlines, for instance, has a partnership with Citibank, offering the AAdvantage mile program. With this American Airlines travel credit card, the traveler card user earn one AAdvantage mile for each dollar she or he charges on the travel credit card.

United Airlines has a similar travel credit card offer, called Mileage Plus First Card, and Delta Airlines has an American Express Optima mileage frequent flier travel credit card. Northwest's travel credit card is called the WorldPerks Visa. Most affinity travel credit cards are MasterCard or Visa, Delta being the most notable exception.

While travel credit cards certainly offer great mileage perks to those who fly the friendly skies often, they also have the disadvantage of comparatively hefty annual fees, however. The fees can range anywhere from $25 to $125. Besides credit history, the other factor that determines your travel credit card annual fee or your annual percentage rate (APR) is your choosing a standard, a gold or a platinum level card. APRs are high for travel credit cards as well. You'll usually end up paying 15 to 18 percent.

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