Whether I’m looking back on trips or planning future explorations, travel always brightens my days. I recently went to Santa Barbara for a college reunion. I rode a cruise ship along the coast, ate fresh seafood and caught up with friends from long ago. I still long for the joy of those days away from my everyday life. I will be flying to Houston soon to visit my family. Next, I’m going on a road trip to Lake Tahoe in the summer with my husband and our puppy. And I booked a trip to Poland and Germany for the spring of 2023 to visit World War II sites with a history professor. Every time I travel near or far, my life is enriched.
If, like me, you don’t have a lot of worldly wealth but have been bitten by the travel bug, what can you do to travel as often as possible? One way to go on adventures without spending a fortune is to fund them with points and miles. When you collect credit card sign-up bonuses, you’ll earn bank points for hotels and airline miles. And as long as you pay off your credit card bill every month, you owe nothing. Your credit rating may benefit.
Navigating a myriad of credit cards calls for strategy. Are you more interested in airline miles so you can visit family? Or do you plan to drive to cities and then stay in hotels? Do you want a card that comes with free baggage checks or do you only travel with carry-on? Are airport lounges a welcome perk? Do you travel internationally and want a card with no foreign transaction fees?
Cards often come with more than one of these benefits, so knowing your primary travel goals can help you identify the best cards for you. To help you out, here are the cards my husband Curt and I currently hold. You’ll notice that many of these are provided by Chess. Some of these same branded cards are also available from other banks.
I like to keep multiple cards in the same place for easy viewing of statements and automatic payments. We’re always adjusting, canceling the annual fee if it’s not worth it, or asking for a new card to get a sign-up bonus. And we have some common cards, so there are less than 21 cards listed here.
If you’re new to collecting points and miles, this list will give you a place to start. Or maybe you’re wondering which card to apply for next. All mentioned cards are linked so that you can delve into the details of each one.
Chase Sapphire Preferred (My Default Card)
This card collects Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred toward flights and hotels. The flexibility of ways to redeem the points is why I use this as a credit card. Points transfer to United Airlines, Southwest and Hyatt hotels, for example. Chase also has a travel planning service. Sometimes I check hotels on their own website but sometimes it is better to book through this portal.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Kurt has this great travel-oriented credit card. I can’t get it because I already have the Sapphire Preferred and Chase won’t let you get both. The Reserve Card offers a $300 discount on travel expenses per year. And it comes from priority check-in to airport lounges. Relax between flights while eating your favorite hot meals. Why sit in a crowded airport and pay for overpriced food? Lounges are an interesting perk of some credit cards. If you travel, this card is for you.
Chase INK Business is preferred
Since I work freelance, I was able to get approved for this Chase Business Card and get another signup bonus for collecting Ultimate Rewards points. This card can be used for business expenses (that don’t require a new computer!).
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Freedom credit cards offer a way to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points without paying an annual fee. And Liberty cards offer purchase categories like groceries or gas that pay more than one point each quarter. The sign-up bonus is low ($200 currently), but the lack of annual fees and the ability to earn extra points on everyday purchases make this card worth considering.
Chase United Explorer
The Chase United Explorer is my most used airline card. Kurt and I have this card. On United, we offer fast transfers on United to Paris, London, Zurich, and cities in US Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points. We also enjoyed the United airport stays that came with this card.
A lesser-known benefit of flying United internationally is the Excursionist benefit. If you fly in parts of the world like Europe, you are entitled to free local flights. We flew to Budapest and home from Paris, using Excursionist benefits for no miles or cash on the same trip from Nuremberg to Luxembourg City. Book your ticket easily with multi-city option.
American Airlines Advantage Aviator Red (Barclays)
This was in my wallet when it was American Air, so I’ve had this for a long time. Whether American flies domestically or internationally, American Airlines’ AAdvantage is a great card for airline miles. The wide range of flights on offer makes this card worth keeping. And since I’ve had it over the years, it keeps my credit score high.
Upgrade Southwest Credit Cards
I have a Southwest Fast Rewards Premier card and a Southwest Business Premier card, and Curt has his Premier card as well. We’ve used Southwest miles to fly within the US and traveled twice to San Francisco with the grandkids, for example, with all of us flying on miles. Another reason to love Southwest cards is that they add 6,000 miles to your account each year. That adds up!
Delta SkyMiles on American Express
Kurt has a Delta Amex card. I had one, used my signup bonus miles to fly to New York City, and later canceled my card to avoid paying the annual fee. We no longer collect Delta points and Curt plans to cancel the card as well. Delta offers many flights but we are now using other airline cards for travel.
Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card (Bank of America)
Alaska Airlines is my new card. I have airline miles to use.
Despite the much-advertised perk of the $99 fare, I was disappointed to find that I couldn’t use miles to book my ticket. And Book Curt as my friend. You have to choose one or the other.
Paying full price for one ticket and paying $99 for another has never been a good idea for me. Also, Alaska’s flight schedule is much more limited than the airlines I use. So, I may or may not keep this card. Alaska Airlines miles can be transferred to American Airlines, which is how I use my signup bonus miles.
City division card
This card, like Chess Freedom cards, offers a high percentage of points in rotating categories. I don’t use the Citi Dividend card but it is my long term card so I keep it open. Citi canceled this card without asking me because I haven’t used it in a while. I called and politely asked for it to be reinstated and it was.
Tip: If you have an old card, keep it. Your credit rating will benefit.
Chase World Of Hyatt Credit Card
Hyatt is my favorite hotel card. With one free night on your anniversary and plenty of great hotels, this card offers plenty of options. They also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt immediately.
I was traveling and had to change accommodations at the last minute. As the clock ticked past midnight, we were able to transfer points and easily book a room at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.
Chase IHG Awards Premier
Kurt and I each have an IHG Premier card. Signup bonuses are generous. Another reason to get this card is that it’s good for high-end hotels like the InterContinental and Kimpton brands. We don’t usually pay for these kinds of luxury rooms, but using points and staying free allows us to enjoy even more luxurious travel.
With IHG points, we stayed at the beautiful Kimpton in downtown Santa Barbara and the historic Willard Hotel near the White House in Washington, DC.
Chase Marriott Bonvoy
I have a premiere version of this card, which is no longer available. The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Unlimited Card is the newest offering. In addition to the sign-up bonus, Marriott cards come with a free night each year. I stayed at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert with this card at no charge. This resort features lakes, swimming pools, a spacious lobby and ten restaurants. And I used this card when we had an annual pass to Disneyland at a convenient and inexpensive Marriott near the park entrance.
Hilton Honors by American Express
Hilton hotels in every major city are a reliable choice, making this card a great choice. Top Hilton stays in my travels include the Hilton San Francisco Union Square and the Hilton Garden Inn Palm Springs/Rancho Mirage. In San Francisco, we had the pleasure of upgrading to a room with credit and a view in Deli. And the location of this hotel is ideal for relaxing on the cable car and visiting the city.
I grow up thinking nostalgically about my favorite places, especially in Europe. I can’t help but venture out and sit in a cafe in Paris, wander the streets lined with half-timbered buildings in Germany, walk along the canals in Belgium and marvel at the ancient cathedrals and castles that invite visitors to explore.
One way to get where I want to be is to manage my credit cards well and collect those points and miles. In my dreams, I’m winging my way to my next destination.