BUDGET TRAVEL BLOG

Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards 2018

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Still using THAT card?
Odds are you're leaving points on the table.

According to CreditCards.com, 31 million Americans haven't changed credit cards in more than a decade - two thirds of them still use their first credit card. If that describes you, you're missing out on a bonanza of free flights, complimentary travel incidentals, VIP benefits and perks big banks dole out to entice you to sign-up to their credit cards. The latest up-and-coming benefit; an annual travel incidental credit you can apply against any incidentals fees charged to your card. 

Sign-up bonuses aren't as generous as they once were, but the sign-up incentives alone offered by the credit cards in the chart below add up to 28 free round-trip flights and a dozen free hotel stays. Every year, I earn a few free trips this way, and in the following video, I share how I did this to pull off a trip for taxes only:


                  


FINDING THE BEST CARD FOR YOU

To quickly find which credit cards offer the best overall value to you:

  1. Decide which benefits are most valuable to you.
  2. Filter the following list of cards down to those that offer the best combination of those benefits. (You must be a U.S. resident for the cards below. If you are Canadian click here for cards that apply to you).
Due to space restrictions in the chart, insurance benefits were not inserted. But you can review any card's insurance benefits by clicking 'APPLY' and reading the insurance benefits on their homepage:

FLIGHT REWARDS - U.S. RESIDENTS

Credit Card Annual Fee Waived 1st Year? Sign Up Bonus Points Free Checked Bag? Companion Pass? Foreign Transaction Fees Waived? Airport Lounge Access?
AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite
Yes 60K Must spend 3K in 3mths Yes on AA domestic flights No Yes No
Alaska Airlines Signature
No $75 30K Yes Annual pass from $121 Yes No
AMEX Delta SkyMiles Platinum
No $195 10K Must spend 25K/yr Yes Yes $75 max Yes Yes $29
AMEX Gold Delta Skymiles
Yes 30K Must spend 1K in 3mths Yes No No Delta Skyclub access discount
AMEX Platinum
No $550 60K Must spend 5K in 3mths $200/yr travel credit + $15mth Uber credit No No No
AMEX Premier Rewards Gold
Yes 50K Must spend $2K in 3mths $100/yr credit for airline fees No Yes No
Barclay Arrival+
Yes 40K Must spend 3K in 3 mths No No Yes No
BoA Premium Rewards
No $95 50K Must spend 3k in 3mths $100 annual travel credit No Yes No
British Airways Signature
No $95 75K Spend 3K in 3mths + 10K/1yr No Yes Must spend 30K in 1/yr Yes No
Capital One Venture
Yes 50K Must spend 3K in 3 mths No No Yes No
Chase Ink Business Preferred
No $95 80K Must spend 5K in 3 mths No No Yes No
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Yes 50K Must spend 4K in 3mths No No Yes No
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
No $99 40K Must spend 1K in 3mths FREE to check bags 1yr unltd. after 110Kpts or 100flights /yr Yes No
United Mileage Plus Explorer
Yes 50K Must spend $3K in 3mths Yes No Yes No
United MileagePlus Club
No $450 50K Must spend 3K in 3mths Yes No Yes Yes

HOTEL REWARDS - U.S. RESIDENTS

Credit Card Annual Fee Waived 1st Year? Sign Up Bonus Points Free Checked Bag? Companion Pass? Foreign Transaction Fees Waived? Airport Lounge Access?
AMEX Hilton Honors
No annual fee 50K Must spend 1K in 3mths No No No No
AMEX Hilton Honors Surpass
$95 ($75 till 01-18-18) 75K Must spend 3K in 3mths No No Yes No
AMEX SPG
Yes 25K Must spend 3K in 3mths No No Yes + FREE premium internet No
Chase Hyatt
Yes 40K Must spend 2K in 3mths + 1 FREE ngt/yr No No Yes No
Choice Privileges Signature
Yes 32K + 1 FREE ngt/yr No No No No
Marriott Rewards Premier
No $85 80K must spend 3K in 3mths + 1 FREE ngt/yr No No No No
Ritz- Carlton Rewards
No $450 2 FREE ngts must spend 4K in 3mths $300 annual travel credit $100 OFF multi flier bookings Yes Yes

MAXIMIZE YOUR POINTS

You should also factor how many points your card earns for everyday purchases. Most cards offer bonus points for purchases made at certain stores in addition to bonus points (or point multipliers) for purchases at select restaurants, with certain travel operators and for gas.

To accelerate your points earnings:
  • Use your credit card for all everyday purchases so long as you pay off your balance each billing cycle. Otherwise, the interest you pay on outstanding balances will erode the value of points you earn. *A secret way to charge rent, tuition and income tax payments to your credit card is to pay those bills with a Plastiq account linked to your credit card.
  • Sign-up to two or more cards. I recommend traveling with two credit cards (especially when traveling alone). Leave one in your bags as a spare in case anything happens to your primary card.

To collect your sign-up bonus, you are usually required to first charge a pre-defined dollar value to your card within a set number of billing cycles. This is referred to as minimum spend, and the minimum spend requirement varies by card. Most cards that come with an annual fee require to to spend $3,000 within three months of activating your card. Prestige and business cards tend to offer more enticing sign-up bonuses, but they come with higher annual fees and higher minimum spend requirements.


AVOID FEES

Any credit card with generous benefits comes with an annual fee. Some cards waive this fee for your first year upon subscribing, but you might not know how to have this fee waived when it comes due for renewal on your card's anniversary:
  1. Call your credit card company and ask them to cancel your card.
  2. They'll try to keep you from canceling by offering to either waive your renewal fee or give you points for keeping your card active.
You should make this call every year before your card comes due for renewal - you'll be amazed how often it works!
 

Once feeling unable to afford to travel, Russell Hannon uses lean principles to travel at a fraction of the going rate. He has been featured on CNBC, FOX, CBS, America Tonight, CTV, CBC, Around the World Travel TV and nationally broadcast lifestyle and personal finance shows. He also wrote 'Stop Dreaming Start Traveling: The Ultimate Guide to Traveling More and Spending Less' available at stopdreamingstarttaveling.com.


FREE GUIDE: Download 'Beat the best Online Fare - Every Time, Every Flight at BreakTheTravelBarrier.com    


Top Travel Rewards Credit Cards in Canada 2018

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If you've been using the same travel rewards credit card for years
, odds are you can get better value from another one. A creditcards.com survey found 21 million people never change credit cards, and 32 million more have been using the same credit card for 10 or more years. In most cases, without a thought as to whether other cards may have benefits that better suit their needs.

Credit card companies offer big time incentives to get their cards into your hands offering everything from free flights and hotel nights, to elite status, airport lounge access, companion flight passes, free checked-bags, insurance coverage, waived fees and more. 

In the ever-changing world of credit card travel rewards, one of the newer benefits is an annual credit you can apply to any of a number of travel incidental charges to your credit card. If you've been blindly loyal to your current card, it's unlikely that you've assessed whether this flexible benefit could better meet your needs. 

Although credit card sign-up bonuses in Canada are not as lucrative as those in the U.S., you can still stockpile more than a dozen round trip flights and a few free hotel nights from the sign-up bonuses offered by the credit cards listed below. As a Canadian, I earn a handful of free trips each year using this strategy alone, and I explain how ridiculously easy it is to do in this video:




Choosing a Card

With so many travel credit cards to choose from, here's an easy way to narrow which cards offer the best bang for your card:

  1. Pick three travel benefits that are of most value to you.
  2. Shortlist cards that offer all three benefits (Just a few cards will offer all three)

To quickly do this, the following list of my favourite travel credit cards for Canadians shows each card's key benefits (Insurance benefits are excluded from the chart for simplicity as the many details cannot easily fit). To review a card's insurance benefits, click 'Apply' beneath that card's picture to view them on their website:

FLIGHT REWARDS - CANADIAN RESIDENTS

Credit Card Annual Fee Waived 1st Year? Sign Up Bonus Points Free Checked Bag? Companion Pass? Foreign Transaction Fees Waived? Airport Lounge Access?
Alaska Airlines
No $75 25K No Yes 1 annually for $121 No No
AMEX Business Gold Rewards
Yes 30K Must spend 5K in 3mths No No No No
AMEX Cobalt
No Up to 40K No No No No
AMEX Gold Rewards
No 25K Must spend $1,500 in 3mths No No No No
AMEX Platinum
No $699 50K Must spend 3K in 3mths $200 yearly travel credit No No Yes
AMEX Scotia Bank Gold
Yes 25K Must spend $1K in 3mths No No No No
BMO Air Miles World Elite
Yes 3000 Air Miles No Yes No Yes Priority Pass
BMO World Elite
Yes 20K No No No Yes Priority Pass
RBC British Airways Infinite
No $165 $50K spend 5K in 2mths & keep for 1yr No Yes Must charge 30K in 1yr No No
TD 1st Class Travel Infinite
Yes 50K Must spend 1K in 3mths No No No No
TD Aeroplan Infinite
No $120 15K given on 1st charge Yes AC Rewards Flight Only 1/yr AC Rewards Flight Only No Once Annually on Air Canada Rewards Flight Only
Westjet RBC World Elite
No $99 $250 flight credit Yes Yes 1 annual guest pass for $99 No No

HOTEL REWARDS - CANADIAN RESIDENTS

Credit Card Annual Fee Waived 1st Year? Sign Up Bonus Points Free Checked Bag? Companion Pass? Foreign Transaction Fees Waived? Airport Lounge Access?
AMEX Starwood Preferred Guest
No $120 20K Must spend $1,500 in 3 mths No No No No
Best Western Rewards
No annual fee 20K Must use card once No No no No

Managing your Cards

Some cards offer point multipliers on purchases made from specific vendors in addition to charges for fuel, restaurants and travel purchases. If you have multiple cards (and I recommend you do, and that you keep them in different places in case you lose one), you should know before you make any purchase which card will yield the most points for that specific purchase.

To fast track your points earnings, charge everything you can to your credit cards to earn points per dollar spend as long as you can afford to pay your credit card balance in full each month. If not, any interest you pay will more than offset the value of any points you earn.  You can even double dip by charging purchases to vendors that offer points (like Air Miles) for purchases.

Sign-up Bonuses

To collect a sign-up bonus, you generally have to charge a pre-set amount to your credit card within a certain timeframe. This is called 'minimum spend'. Terms vary by card which require on average $3,000 in charges in the first three billing cycles. Business and platinum cards offer bigger sign-up bonuses and have higher minimum spend thresholds. Here are some tips to help you meet your minimum spend requirements:

  1. Don't apply for another card until you have met your current card's minimum spend requirement.
  2. Charge everything to your credit card as long as you can pay the balance in full each month. *A secret way to charge rent, tuition or income tax payments to your credit card is to use the PayTM app which links to your credit card. It has a $1,500/day payment cap.
  3. If you travel for work, charge all work-related travel expenses to your credit card, and have your employer reimburse you for those expenses to collect points for dollars spent on business travel.

Annual Fees

Most travel credit cards worth having charge an annual fee. Some cards waive this fee for the first year to lure you to sign-up, but a little known way to avoid paying annual fee on subsequent years is to call customer service shortly before your card's anniversary date, and say you want to cancel your card. Agents almost always try to keep you by offering to waive the annual fee or offer free points as an incentive to stay. 



Once feeling unable to afford to travel, Russell Hannon uses lean principles to travel at a fraction of the going rate. He has been featured on CNBC, FOX,, CBS, America Tonight, CTV, CBC, Around the World Travel TV and nationally broadcast lifestyle and personal finance shows. He also wrote 'Stop Dreaming Start Traveling: The Ultimate Guide to Traveling More and Spending Less' available at 
stopdreamingstarttaveling.com.


FREE GUIDE: Download 'Beat the best Online Fare - Every Time, Every Flight at breakthetravelbarrier.com    

How to Avoid Common Travel Surcharges

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A recent Trip Advisor survey found 1 in 3 travelers expects to spend more on travel this year. With airlines raking in record profits and hotels increasing their rates, it’s getting harder to know the true cost of your trip until you look at your post-vacation credit card statement. The reason being is that travel operators know that you decide whether you can afford a trip based the posted online fare.

If you could see inside the mind of a travel operator, you would see they are trying to increase their profit without increasing their posted fare. That's why you’re seeing an increase in hidden ‘discretionary’ surcharges and fees.

CLICK HERE to see me on CTV discussing how to avoid common travel surcharges. This was a special interview for me as I am a big fan of CFL star Quarterback Henry Burris who interviewed me. Read on after you watch it as I do not have time to cover all the details on live TV.

COMMON TRAVEL SURCHARGES

Checked Bag Fees: Airlines are raking in record profits, largely on the back of surcharges. Last year, checked-bag fees alone generated upwards of 3.5 billion dollars which generally apply to economy class flights. If you have elite status with the airline you are flying with, you may get a free pass to check your luggage at no charge even when flying economy.

Short of the above options, luggage allowances are generally restricted to one complimentary carry-on bag. But there is a clever way you can double up on your carry on luggage at no-charge. If you bring a second carry on bag is one like a 
Jaktogo luggage jacket, you carry can it through the airport just as any other carry-on bag. When the time comes to board the plane, the bag unfolds into a jacket can you wear as you board the plane. Once embarked, remove the jacket and fold it back into a bag. Presto!

Jaktogo has distinct luggage jackets for men and women with a trench coat version and a poncho style dress. Fashionistas should know these jackets won’t make the cover of Vogue, but there is no doubting their practically with their dual sided pockets big enough for even your laptop and shoes.

If wearing a luggage jacket isn’t for you, all major airlines are affiliated with credits cards that offer travel benefits when you pay for your flight using the partner credit card. For a list of credit cards that offer a free checked-bag benefit. To find the best one for you,
click here and scroll down to 'Credit Card Travel Benefits'.

If all else fails, prioritize one of the few remaining airlines that does not charge checked-bag fees.
This list breaks down luggage allowances and checked-bag policies by airline.

Hotel Internet Charges: Isn't it ironic the most expensive hotels are also the ones that charge the highest internet fees? My rule of thumb is to prioritize hotels that include free Wi-Fi and continental breakfasts in the base rate. These are generally hotels 3-star hotels like the Holiday Inn Express and Best Western Plus.

Increasingly hotels are dangling free Wi-Fi as an incentive for you to sign up to their loyalty program. For example, you will get free Wi-Fi as a perk for being a loyalty program member with either Marriott, Hyatt, the Ritz Carleton, Hilton Double Tree and Homewood Suites. It’s always free to sign-up to loyalty programs, and since it only takes a few minutes to do, there is no reason to ever pay internet fees in these hotels. Consumer Reports compiled a list of Wi-Fi policies by hotel chain which you can view 
by clicking here. 

Avoid Expensive Taxis: Anytime you think you’ll need to hail a cab at your destination, before leaving on your trip, visit the website of your destination airport and it will have a page will all your transportation options from the airport including:
  • Many airports are directly linked to subways, trains and public transit.
  • Shuttle buses which may include free hotel shuttles and city wide shuttles that stop at all the major hotels.
  • Uber is often an inexpensive alternative to taxis. Only Uber does not operate in all cities, and even where it does, Uber is not allowed to pick up passengers at a number of airports. You should also be aware that Uber surges it's pricing when demand is high.
  • Average taxi fares from the airport to various parts of the city.

No More Roaming Charges: The best roaming plans often are not the ones you see on TV. For example, lefrenchmobile.com offers visitors to Europe roaming plans comparable to what locals pay. They send you a SIM card with a permanent number you can use every time you visit Europe. You can data only roaming plans starting at $3/day in the U.S. and $5/day in Mexico with roammobility.com. To get setup, Roam Mobility mails you a SIM card ($10 fee) with a number that’s yours to keep. To activate your plan, visit their website prior to your trip and enter your arrival and departure date and time.

 

For Americans traveling abroad, T-Mobile’s ‘Simple Choice Plan’ is hands-down the best roaming plan for travelers. For more information, Click Here for my article ‘Stay Connected Abroad – Without the Roaming Fees.

Credit Card Travel Benefits: Since all travel is booked online, you have to have a credit card. I recommend traveling with two credit cards where you keep one on your person and one in your luggage. This way, if you lose one of them, you won’t find yourself in a panic.

Nearly every major travel operator is affiliated with a credit card that offers great travel perks. For a list of credit cards that waive common travel surcharges such as the ones below, 
Click Here and scroll to ‘CREDIT CARD SIGN-UP BONUSES’:

  • Complimentary checked-bag
  • Waived foreign transaction fees which average 1-3% of purchases made abroad
  • Pay for taxies with points
  • Free access to airport lounge

Finally... remember to pack snacks and headphones so that you don’t have to overpay for them on your flight.


CLICK HERE to see me discuss ways to avoid common travel surcharges with star CFL quarterback Henry Burris on CTV.

 
Russell Hannon uses lean principles to travel at a fraction of the going rate. He has been featured on CNBC, FOX, America Tonight, CBS, CTV, CBC, the National Post and Around the World Travel TV. He is also the author of amazon.ca Budget Travel #1 Best Seller ‘Stop Dreaming Start Traveling: The Ultimate Guide to Traveling More & Spending Less’ available at StopDreamingStartTraveling.com.


FREE GUIDE: Download 'Beat the Best Online Fare - Every Time, Every Flight' at BreakTheTravelBarrier.com