If you’re new to the world of credit cards and/or travel rewards, you might be wondering if a travel credit card makes sense for you.
If you travel frequently or even semiregularly, travel credit cards are some of the most rewarding cards on the market. With plenty of perks and earning categories — to go along with their sometimes very high annual fees — travel cards can provide plenty of value if used correctly.
Here are some of the upsides and downsides of travel credit cards so you can figure out if it’s the right card type for you.
Pros of travel credit cards
Travel perks and benefits
Premium and even mid-tier travel credit cards often come with lavish perks that pretty much anyone can take advantage of when they’re on the go.
Common benefits include annual credits for general travel, services like Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, elite status with a given airline or hotel, access to airport lounges, free checked bags and priority boarding.
Most of these perks are conferred automatically on cardholders, meaning it won’t take much effort on your part to take advantage.
Travel-based rewards bonuses
If you spend a lot on travel, you’ll also enjoy many cards’ travel-focused rewards categories, which offer extra points or miles when you spend with an airline or hotel or use a card issuer’s travel portal.
For example, the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 5 points per dollar on travel booked through the Chase travel portal, 5 points per dollar on Lyft purchases (through March 2025) and 2 points per dollar on all travel not booked through the Chase travel portal.
If you’re loyal to a particular airline or hotel brand, consider applying for one of its cobranded cards, like the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card or the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card, to enjoy all the perks and rewards bonuses of that program.
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Many travel cards offer the ability to redeem your points or miles across various hotel and airline transfer partners, leading to even more valuable redemption opportunities.
To do this, most card issuers have their own dedicated travel portals so users can find the best way to utilize their rewards. Some even offer the chance to earn additional points or miles on trips booked through the portal, as mentioned above.
For example, eligible Chase cardholders can get more than 1.25 cents per point in value by transferring rewards to the issuer’s 14 different airline and hotel partners. Some of the best Chase transfer partners include United Airlines MileagePlus, World of Hyatt and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer.
Valuable welcome bonuses
Lastly, premium travel cards often come with hefty welcome bonuses, which, if obtained, can justify the card’s annual fee multiple times over.
Most cards come with a spending threshold that you have to hit within the first three to six months of card membership, so pay attention to that number to see if it’s a reasonable spending requirement for you. If a card has a special or elevated welcome offer when applying, even better.
Cons of travel credit cards
Credit score requirements
While conferring plenty of valuable benefits, travel credit cards usually have stringent credit score requirements, making it difficult to apply for some.
Most travel cards will require a “good” to “excellent” credit score of 670 or higher, with the most premium cards having an even higher requirement. If you’re not in that range, consider improving your credit score before getting denied and hurting your score further with a hard inquiry.
High annual fees
Travel credit cards can also come with a bit of sticker shock: high annual fees, with the most lavish cards having price tags upward of $500.
While these annual fees typically justify themselves if you take full advantage of the card’s benefits, that can be hard to do if you aren’t traveling frequently or laser-focused on maximizing value. Consider starting small with a no-annual-fee or low-annual-fee card and going from there.
Travel credit cards also typically come with high annual percentage rates, which is the amount of interest you’ll pay on your debt if you don’t pay promptly.
Of course, this can be avoided entirely if you pay your card off in full each month, one of TPG’s 10 commandments of rewards credit cards. But it’s still a consideration if you can’t do so.
Difficult to maximize value
It might also be hard for some to get the maximum value from their travel credit cards if they aren’t constantly on the go or looking to fund a big upcoming trip.
Unsurprisingly, the best way to take advantage of your travel rewards is to put them toward travel. If you instead redeem rewards for cash back or statement credits, you likely won’t get the full value. Moreover, many hotels and airlines are constantly revamping their rewards programs, meaning the value of your points and miles themselves can fluctuate.
Should you get a travel credit card?
If you have the required credit score and can justify the annual fee, you’ll almost definitely be able to squeeze value out of a travel rewards credit card. Remember that welcome offers on cards, to say nothing of benefits and rewards programs, always change. If you have your eye on a card that you think might fit you, apply at a good time to get the most bang for your buck and cash in on a great welcome offer.
Choosing the right travel credit card can help get you over a financial hump and fund your next big trip, or it can just put a little extra money in your pocket each month. How you use it — and how much value you derive from it — is highly dependent on your lifestyle and what makes the most sense for you and your wallet at the time.
For more resources and advice, check out our beginners guide to credit cards.