5 Credit Cards for Cost-Conscious Travelers

These low-cost cards won’t gouge you and serve as a handy travel companion.

[Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

There’s a lot of buzz anytime a credit card company launches a new premium travel credit card. But these cards often charge annual fees of $400 or more for the privilege of accessing their benefits. (You can read more about these types of cards here.) For occasional or budget travelers who want a cost-conscious card, these high annual fees just aren’t realistic. Luckily, there are plenty of low-cost cards that won’t gouge you and serve as a great travel companion.

The way we see it, cards for the budget-conscious traveler need to meet a few requirements. Foreign transactions should be free, there should be no annual fee and the card should have some additional travel perks or incentives. With that in mind, check out our picks.

1. BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card

Annual Fee: None

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% on purchases for 12 months, then variable 15.74% to 23.74%

Signup Bonus: 20,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days

Why We Picked It: This card earns points that can help travelers get to more destinations and comes with a nice signup bonus.

Benefits: Every dollar spent on purchases earns 1.5 points that can be redeemed toward flights, hotels, cruises and other travel expenses. The signup bonus alone is worth $200 in travel credits. Bank of America customers get an extra 10% in points for every purchase.

Drawbacks: If you don’t have a Bank of America account, you won’t get the full earnings potential.

2. Discover it Miles

Annual Fee: None

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

APR: 0% on purchases for 14 months, then variable 11.74% to 23.74%

Signup Bonus: Discover will match all the miles you earn at the end of your first year.

Why We Picked It: This card racks up miles for travel, and Discover will match all earned miles after your first year. Plus, there’s flexibility to use it as a travel or cash back card.

Benefits: This card earns 1.5 miles for every dollar spent on purchases, and miles can be used to book travel with no blackout dates. Cardholders even have the option to use it as a cash back card, as you don’t lose any value when redeeming for cash. Discover’s matching offer means your first year earns double the miles. You’ll also get up to $30 of in-flight Wi-Fi credits per year.

Drawbacks: You’ll have to wait until the end of your first year to get your match bonus, while many card bonuses process after three months.

3. Capital One VentureOne Rewards Card

Annual Fee: None

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

APR: 0% APR on purchases for 12 months, then variable 12.74% to 22.74%

Signup Bonus: 20,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 in the first three months

Why We Picked It: This card comes with a signup bonus, decent mileage return and additional perks that come standard with premium travel cards.

Benefits: The card earns 1.25 miles for every dollar you spend on purchases, and miles can be used to book travel through any website or app. Cardholders can earn a nice signup bonus worth $200. Additional travel benefits include free 24-hour concierge services and upgrades at hotels.

Drawbacks: According to Capital One, this card requires excellent credit, so you may not be able to qualify if your credit isn’t up to par. (Not sure? You can find out by taking a look at two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

4. JetBlue Card

Annual Fee: None

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

APR: Variable 12.74%, 20.74% or 25.74%, based on creditworthiness

Signup Bonus: 5,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days

Why We Picked It: Loyal JetBlue customers and anyone looking for a solid airline card can appreciate this card’s rewards.

Benefits: Cardholders earn three points per dollar with JetBlue, two points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores and one point per dollar elsewhere. Points can be redeemed for any seat on JetBlue flights, with no blackout dates. You’ll also save 50% on in-flight food and drink purchases. If you fly frequently, or even occasionally, with JetBlue, this card could be worth it.

Drawbacks: You’re essentially locked into JetBlue’s program since the points aren’t transferable to other airlines.

5. USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature

Annual Fee: None

Foreign Transaction Fees: None

APR: Variable 12.65% to 26.65%, or 4% during military deployment

Signup Bonus: None

Why We Picked It: This card is a great cash back option for military members and their families, and also provides some key travel benefits.

Benefits: USAA membership is available to active and former military members, their families, cadets or midshipmen. This card earns 1.5% cash back on every purchase. It also includes concierge services, rental car insurance and emergency travel assistance. If you have good credit, you can qualify for a low interest rate.

Drawbacks: This card is limited to USAA members.

Choosing the Right Budget Travel Card

The right budget travel card has benefits that match your spending habits. While it’s a given that you want no annual fee or foreign transaction fees, card benefits can differ. The best cards will earn points, miles or cash back on the types of purchases you tend to make.

You’ll also want to pick a card that fits your lifestyle. If you travel infrequently but want a budget travel card just in case, you may be better off with a card that can be redeemed for travel or cash back. (You can take a look at some of the best cash back cards here.) You’ll also want a card that can help you get to your desired destination. So, for example, if JetBlue doesn’t fly to your destinations of choice, that airline’s credit card won’t be appropriate.

If you’re gunning for a signup bonus, make sure you can meet the requirements. If you can’t afford the needed spending amount, it may be better to shoot for a smaller bonus with modest requirements rather than stretch your budget trying to pass a spending threshold. After all, carrying a balance means you’ll probably lose out on the perks thanks to interest fees.

At publishing time, the Capital One VentureOne rewards card, Discover it Miles, USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature and JetBlue Card are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, these relationships do not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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U.S. Bank Launches New Card With Big Travel Rewards

On-the-go professionals have a new credit card option with the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite.

[Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

U.S. Bank introduced a new credit card Monday that offers a $325 annual travel credit and three points back for each dollar spent on travel and mobile wallet purchases. The card is available immediately to most existing customers only, but there is a way you can get the card if you aren’t a current customer (more on that in a minute).

The Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite is aimed at on-the-go professionals, John Steward, president of retail payment solutions for U.S. Bank, said in a press release.

High-End Travel Rewards

Like many high-end travel rewards cards, the Altitude Reserve also offers travel planning, TSA PreCheck and Global Entry application fee reimbursement, airport lounge access, free airplane Wi-Fi access and discounts on hotel rooms and car rentals. New cardholders receive a 50,000-point bonus, worth $750 in travel purchases if they spend $4,500 in their first 90 days of membership.

While travel and purchases made with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Android Pay and Microsoft Wallet earn three points per dollar, other purchases earn one point per dollar.

Cardholders get 12 free in-flight GoGo Wi-Fi sessions each year once they register their account on the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve website. GoGo is available on AeroMexico, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Japan Airlines, United and Virgin America flights.

Cardholders also get a year of free Priority Pass Select membership, which allows access to more than 1,000 VIP airport lounges. Each cardmember and guest still has to pay a $27 lounge visit fee, though the fee is waived for the first four visits.

The card reimburses an $85 statement credit for a TSA PreCheck application or $100 for a Global Entry application, as long as the fee is charged to the card. Cardholders are eligible for a reimbursement every four years.

Cardmembers also get a 15% discount on reservations made with the Groundlink Black Car Service and a one-time $30 credit to be used for reservations.

The card also offers fraud protection, warranty service, rental car insurance and travel insurance.

What You’ll Pay

The Altitude Reserve is only available to U.S. Bank customers. If you’re not already a customer, you can apply for the card 35 days after opening an account or taking out a loan with U.S. Bank. The card comes with a $400 annual fee.

The card has a variable APR of 16.49% for purchases and balance transfers and 24.74% for cash advances. Cash advances also come with a 4% fee and a $10 minimum. The balance transfer fee is 3% with a $5 minimum.

The Altitude Reserve has no foreign transaction fees. Late payments cost up to $38; returned payments fees run up to $35.

Altitude vs. Sapphire

The Altitude Reserve’s rewards are similar to that of the Chase Sapphire Reserve (read our review here), which also offers a 50,000 point bonus, though for only $4,000 in purchases in three months. The Altitude Reserve has a higher annual travel credit and matches Sapphire Reserve with its three points per dollar travel rewards rate.

Both cards require solid credit scores. You can check two of yours free on Credit.com to see if you’ll qualify.

Image: danchooalex

Note: It’s important to remember that prices for products and services frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms cited in this article may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with the company directly.

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This Trick Can Get You a Free Plane Ticket

free-airline-companion-ticket

Planning a getaway? There’s no better way to save on your trip than with a free airline companion ticket. But how to find one? That’s easy: travel rewards credit cards. Here, we rounded up a few notable cards with insight from Lee Huffman, the travel blogger behind Bald Thoughts, along with some smart tips for swiping these credit cards.

American Express Delta Reserve Credit Card

With a hefty annual fee of $450, the Delta Reserve Card isn’t playing around. Still it lives up to its price point, thanks to its ability to grant you access to all Delta Sky Clubs, one free checked bag and, yes, that alluring Companion Certificate. The fare is valid for one round-trip First Class or Main Cabin ticket, which you can only redeem on Delta.com. Not bad for a piece of plastic that also grants you 20% savings in the form of statement credit on certain pre-purchased meals, boozy beverages and in-flight entertainment.

British Airways Visa Signature Card

Spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening the British Airways Visa Signature Card, and you’ll receive a cool 50,000 bonus Avios (club currency) rewards. With this card, you’ll also earn three Avios for every dollar spent on British Airways purchases and one Avios for every dollar spent on everything else. But getting that free companion flight — also known as a Travel Together Ticket — will require more planning, as cardholders are required to make $30,000 in purchases in one year, Huffman said. You may also be subject to higher taxes and fuel surcharges, he warned, “so you’re better off redeeming the voucher for a business class ticket instead of an economy ticket.”

Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card 

Whether you choose the Premier or Plus card, Southwest offers plenty of ways to score points toward free flights. Both of these cards come with a signup bonus that hands you a whopping 40,000 points — that is, after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening — and additional points on your cardmember anniversary. To earn a coveted Companion Pass, just cash in points from purchases made with either card. “This one is awesome because you can use it an unlimited amount of times,” Huffman said, “the only limit is how many tickets you want to buy with cash or flights.” Fair warning: Both cards come with annual fees, $99 for Premier and $69 for Plus.

Using Your Travel Rewards Card 

Travel rewards cards are hard to beat when it comes to earning perks just for spending. But spend too much — or spend more just to earn the rewards — and you could wind up squandering the savings to debt and high interest. It also goes without saying that lenders don’t like to see excessive debt, as it can be an indicator you’re not so great at managing finances. Experts recommend keeping your debt at 30%, ideally 10%, of your total credit limit for the best effect on your credit. These premium cards typically require you have good credit, so before you apply for one, you’ll want to know where your credit stands. You can view two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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