For the uninitiated, travel hacking can be intimidating and confusing. To be fair, once you get into more of the advanced strategies, things can get quite complex. Most people who get into travel hacking have to spend time learning the strategies, keeping up with the latest changes, and actually executing the strategies that will benefit them the most. This is why I consider travel hacking a hobby.
People who are ready to dive into this hobby head first can reap the rewards of nearly free travel (thanks to miles and points). And for these people, I’ve created the course 30 Days to Becoming a Travel Hacker.
However, I realize that not everyone has the time to pick-up a new hobby, but just because you’re not ready to fully immerse yourself in the world of travel hacking doesn’t mean you should miss out on all of the benefits!
Just by signing up for one travel credit card, you could get over $600 in free travel and a host of other benefits that I’ll explain later in this post. Kara and I believe a good travel credit card is a tool that all financially responsible travelers should be using because you’re missing out on some huge benefits if you don’t have at least one great travel credit card in your wallet.
There’s one question that I keep getting asked over and over again which has encouraged me to write this post:
“What if I just want to sign up for one travel credit card? Which one is the best?”
So in this post, I’m going to give you my recommendation for the one travel credit card every traveler should have in their wallet, but first, let me give you 6 reasons why every traveler should be using a travel credit cards.
#1 Earn miles or points that can be redeemed for free travel
All good travel credit cards will allow you to earn points in at least two ways: first by earning a sign-up bonus when signing up for the card, and secondly by earning points for every dollar you spend on the card.
This is why I say using cash or a debit card is like throwing away free money.
#2 No foreign transaction fees
Most debit cards and some credit cards will charge you a foreign transaction fee when you make a purchase in a different currency. Foreign transaction fees are normally around 3%. So, if you were to go on vacation to another country and spend $1,000 on your debit/credit card, you’d be charged $30 in foreign transaction fees.
A good travel credit card will never charge a foreign transaction fee.
#3 Zero Fraud Liability
If someone steals your financial details while you’re traveling, and they use that information to empty your bank account, you could be liable for some or all the money they stole from you. However, the best travel credit cards offer zero fraud liability. So you never have to worry about being liable for money stolen from your account.
#5 Lost Luggage Insurance
Imagine looking forward to a trip for months, spending days packing your suitcase to make sure you have exactly what you need for the adventure. Then you land at your destination only to learn that your suitcase didn’t make it and the airline has no clue where it is or when it will arrive. Unfortunately, this is a scenario that plays out all too often.
A travel credit card can’t help an airline find your luggage, but a good one will cover the cost of your missing luggage if it never shows up again.
#5 Rental Car Insurance
I hate hidden fees, which means that I dread picking up rental cars. I feel like every time I approach a rental car counter, I always learn about several things I “need” to buy that aren’t included in the original price I was quoted on the internet. Insurance is normally one of those things they try to up sell you on when you’re picking up the car, and it’s always ridiculously expensive.
Thanks to our travel credit cards, we’ve never once had to pay for rental car insurance on the road because we get it for free.
#6 Travel Incident Insurance
If something catastrophic were to happen on your next trip, would you be covered? Probably not, unless you went through the effort of purchasing travel insurance for your trip. However, if you use a good travel credit to buy the trip/tickets, you receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in reimbursement if something terrible did happen to you or family member during your trip.
The benefits listed above easily add up to hundreds of dollars in savings every year, and you won’t receive these benefits when using cash, a debit card, or even most credit cards. This is why we believe every financially savvy traveler should have a good travel credit card in their wallet.
Hopefully, by this point, I’ve convinced you that it’s time to pick up a good travel credit card. Now the question becomes: if you’re only going to sign up for one card, which one should you choose?
Everyone’s situation is different, so it’s hard to pick a single card that is best for everyone. However, I can say with certainty that the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best travel credit card available for 90% of travelers who are reading this post. Let’s look at the many reasons why:
#1 A Sign-Up Bonus That’s Worth At Least $625 in Free Travel
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card comes with a 50,000 points sign-up bonus after you meet the minimum spending requirement.
In case you’re not familiar with credit cards, a minimum spending requirement is an amount of money you have to spend on a credit card in order to receive the sign-up bonus. It’s basically the bank’s way of making sure you’re actually using the card and not just signing up for it to receive the bonus. In order to receive the sign-up bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you must spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of opening the card. Once you meet the minimum spend you’ll receive 50,000 Ultimate Reward points that can be redeemed for at least $625 in free travel!
#2 The Points Are Super Easy to Use
Some banks make it really difficult to use your points, not Chase. Ultimate Reward points are super easy to use. You can book flights, hotels, activities, and cruises through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal with no blackout dates. Your points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed towards travel, and if you don’t have enough points, they allow you to use a combination of points + cash to buy the flight. If you’re looking for the easiest way to cash in your points, this is going to be your best option, and you’ll get $625 worth of value out of your 50,000 points sign-up bonus (50,000 x .0125 = $625).
#3 The Points Can Be Transferred To Airlines (best value)
If you want to put a little more effort in to redeeming your points to get even higher value, I recommend transferring your points to one of Chase’s airline partners. You can transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio to the following airlines: United, Southwest, British Airways Singapore, Air France, Korean Air, and Virgin Atlantic.
Kara and I end up transferring most of our points to United Airlines. So, I’ll use United as an example to show you how you can get even more value out of your points. United has what’s called a zone-based award chart, and the price of a flight depends on which zones you fly between. To fly from the U.S. to Europe (two different zones) it costs 60,000 points round trip.
Let’s say the cheapest round-trip flight you could find from your hometown in the U.S. to Europe is $1,200. It doesn’t matter how much the flight costs, all you have to pay is 60,000 miles when booking with United. So if you used 60,000 points to book a ticket on United that otherwise would have cost you $1,200, the value per point would increase from 1.25 to 2 cents! ($1,200/60,000 = $.02)
The way you want to redeem your points is totally up to you. That’s one of the things I love about this card. The points are super flexible. So if you’re just looking for the easiest way to redeem your points, you can use the Ultimate Reward travel portal. If you want to get the most value, and you’re willing to put in a bit more effort, you can transfer them to an airline!
#4 Get 5,000 Extra Points for Adding an Authorized User
Adding an authorized user to your account is free, and Chase will give you an extra 5,000 Ultimate Rewards for doing it. An authorized user is someone who has permission to use your account in their name. They’ll get a card with their name on it, but you’ll be responsible for anything they spend on the card. So make sure it’s someone you really trust, preferably a spouse or family member. By adding an authorized user, your sign up bonus will increase to 55,000 which will be worth at least $687.50 (55,000 x .0125).
#4 Earn Points for Everyday Spending
In addition to the points that you earn when signing up for the card, you’ll also earn points for everyday spending. You earn 1 point per $1 spent on the card (which is pretty standard), but you’ll earn 2x the points on travel and dining purchases.
Let’s imagine that you spend $40,000 per year, and you put 75% of that spending on your credit card ($40,000 x .75 = $30,000). Even if you never made a travel or dining purchase, at a minimum you would earn an extra 30,000 points per year. That’s $375 in free travel that you’d earn every year just by spending money on things you already buy.
#5 No foreign transaction fees
Like any good travel credit card, you’ll never pay a foreign transaction fee when using the Chase Sapphire Preferred overseas.
#6 Insurance & Protection
At this top of this post, I listed several insurance coverages that every good travel credit card should offer, and this card ticks all of the boxes. You’ll get:
- Zero Fraud Liability – You don’t have to pay a penny if someone steals your card and goes on a spending spree.
- Primary Car Rental Insurance – If you use your card to pay for your rental car, you’ll get primary coverage through Chase. This means if your car gets damaged or stolen during the rental, you won’t be on the hook for the bill. Since it’s primary coverage, this means it kicks in before your regular car insurance. You don’t have to file a claim with your current car insurance company where you would possibly have to meet a deductible or run the risk of rate increases.
- Lost Luggage & Baggage Delay Insurance – If your luggage is delayed by more than 6 hours and you’ve used the card to pay for your trip, you’re entitled to $100 per day in delayed baggage insurance (for up to 5 days). You’ll be reimbursed for necessities like toiletries, clothing, and a phone charger. If the airline loses your luggage forever, and it never shows back up, Chase has you covered for up to $3,000.
#7 The Annual Fee Waived for the First Year
The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee, BUT it’s waived for the first year. You get all of the benefits mentioned above completely free for the first year!
#8 The Card is Metal
This last one has no real monetary value, it’s only for fun. This card is metal which means that it looks and feels cool. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve handed the card to a cashier and heard, “Wow! This card is really heavy.” Again, there’s no real value in the metal, but it feels good pulling a nice card out of your wallet!
There you have it! The top 8 reasons I believe the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the single best travel credit card.
I hesitated to include this last part because I don’t want to confuse anyone, but before you sign up for this card, there’s one more thing you should know. Chase has two different “Sapphire” credit cards, and you’re only allowed to sign up for one of them (in a 24 month period). So, before you sign-up for the Sapphire Preferred card that I’ve been telling you about in the post, let me quickly tell you about the Sapphire Reserve card (your other Sapphire option).
The reason this card isn’t for everyone is that it has a very high annual fee of $450. The higher annual fee comes with a host of additional benefits, but you need to make sure you maximize the benefits in order to make it worth paying the higher annual fee.
There are two main benefits that differentiate this card from the Sapphire Preferred card.
#1: $300 Travel Credit
Every year you’ll be reimbursed for up to $300 in travel expenses. You don’t need to register for this benefit, they make it super easy to use. Once you spend the money on an expense that is categorized as travel, the expense will automatically be deducted from you bill.
#2: Lounge Access
The Sapphire Reserve entitles you a yearly Priority Pass lounge membership that will get you and 2 guests into over 1,000 lounges around the world free of charge.
Most people will spend $300 per year on travel. So in my mind, that brings the annual fee down to $150. Really, the choice all comes down to how much you value lounge access. Are you willing to pay $150 per year for a Priority Pass membership? It’s a great deal if you’re going to utilize the lounge access multiple times throughout the year, but if not, you’re going to be better off sticking with Sapphire Preferred.
Final thoughts: The best time to sign up for your first travel credit card is now! The sooner you can start using this credit card for your everyday purchases, the sooner you’ll start earning points that you can put towards your next trip!
If you’re ready to apply for a travel credit card, and you’d like to support our work, you can use any of the credit card links you find on our site to start your application, or you can use our links in the top menu of the site under “credit cards“. If you do this, the banks pay us a commission if you get approved, and that allows to continue creating great content for you 🙂
If you’re still having trouble deciding which card is right for you, click the link below to tell us about your travel goals and we’ll help you pick the right card for your situation.