As much as we all love to travel, the cost of flights, hotel rooms, restaurants, and attractions are enough to ground even the most avid globetrotter. But with a little help from our own wallets, that Caribbean cruise or cross-country flight can seem much less daunting. Several credit cards offer special discounts on travel, but deciding which one is right for you can be intimidating. Here's the skinny on some of the best travel rewards credit cards.
[In Pictures: The 10 Cheapest Last-Minute Getaways.]
American Express Gold Card
Although the American Express Gold card doesn't focus exclusively on travel, it is backed by the celebrated American Express travel rewards program. Cardholders earn one point for each dollar spent, and two points for each dollar spent on the American Express Travel website. You can use your points to fly any time (no blackout dates), or you can transfer your rewards to up to 20 different frequent flyer and frequent guest programs. Another Gold Card perk is the no pre-set spending limit. However, you can expect to see a bulky $125 fee tacked on to your bill each year (waived for the first 12 months after activation).
The American Express Gold Card is a great option for people who charge purchases frequently. But if you're looking for a program that's more travel-oriented, you might consider the Starwood Preferred Guest Card or the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards Card instead.
Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage Visa Signature Card
For those who frequently book flights on American Airlines or its partner carriers, the Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage Visa Signature card will come in handy. During the first year of card membership, you'll earn two AAdvantage miles for every dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, plus one mile for every dollar spent otherwise. (After 12 months, you'll earn one mile for every dollar.) If you charge $750 within the first four months of activation, you'll receive 30,000 bonus miles, and 10,000 extra miles if you make $5,000 worth of purchases within the first six months of membership. Note that 40,000 miles is more than enough for a free round-trip domestic flight, and there are no blackout dates if you fly American Airlines or one of its regional carriers. You can also redeem your points for MileSAAver awards. This program permits you to use fewer miles (as little as 7,500) on round-trip flights to select destinations. Destinations are subject to change on a quarterly basis.
However, your points may expire if you don't earn rewards on American Airlines purchases or if you fail to redeem them at least once every 18 months. Cardholders will also face an $85 annual charge (waived the first year) and a 15.24 annual percentage rate (APR). For lower fees, consider the Citi Gold / AAdvantage World MasterCard.
Blue Sky Preferred from American Express
Tired of waiting months to rack up enough points to make a rewards program worth your time? American Express came up with a solution: With the Blue Sky Preferred card, 7,500 points earns you a $100 account credit that can be used to lower the out-of-pocket cost of flights, hotels, and more. You can earn two points for every dollar spent at eligible hotels, restaurants, and car rental agencies. And you can accrue one point for every dollar charged on non-eligible purchases, which can be applied toward discounts on airfare, cruise lines, commuter trains, hotels, and travel agencies. Blue Sky Preferred points never expire, and airline blackout dates don't apply. Also, you may be able to cash in on extra savings from companies like Marriott and Hertz, and receive complimentary breakfasts at JW Marriott and Renaissance hotels throughout the world.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind when considering the Blue Sky program. First, you may only redeem your points in increments of 7,500. Those points are received in the form of an account credit after you've made eligible travel purchases with your credit card. Second, the card comes with an annual fee of $75, and a fairly high APR that ranges from 17.24 to 22.24. You can save some dough by opting for the traditional Blue Sky from American Express card. This card does not include an annual fee, but you will have to pay the same high APR, and you'll only earn one point per every dollar spent (even on travel).