NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The right credit card can save you plenty of money on some summer fun.
In addition to ample rewards on airfare or hotel accommodations, the best travel cards now let you skirt foreign transaction fees, get you access to some exclusive events, feature cool airfare perks and carry reasonable annual fees.
But choosing the card that will best serve your summer plans can require a bit of introspection.
“If you have an allegiance to a particular hotel or airline, a co-branded credit card many be best for you,” says Erik Larson, president of product research site NextAdvisor.com.
For example, United frequent flyers may want to opt for the airline’s Mileage Explorer card, which in addition to some decent rewards, entitles cardholders to priority boarding and a free first checked bag.
On the other hand, those who don’t prefer a particular airline or hotel chain may want to apply for a general rewards cards that will earn plenty of points on any vacation purchases.
Additionally, if you’re looking to use the card to fund this summer’s vacation, you may want to seek out a truly lucrative sign-on bonus.
“Look for a card that offers the benefits immediately on the first purchase or offers a spending threshold you can meet quickly,” says Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research with CreditCards.com. This will ensure that you’ll have some points to put towards your extracurricular activities before Labor Day rolls around.
To help you choose, MainStreet breaks down what credit cards can save you the most money and score you the most benefits on summer travel this year.
Capital One Venture Rewards Card
Capital One’s popular travel rewards card lets cardholders earn two miles per dollar on every purchase.
This essentially means “for every $100 you spend, you get $2 back in rewards,” Larson says.
He adds the nice return offers the “best bang for your buck” in terms of general travel rewards cards, which makes the product a great choice for someone looking for flexibility regarding vacation plans. Miles can be redeemed as statement credits after you book your trip via a travel agent, search engine or company website.
The card also lets customers avoid foreign transaction fees, so “it saves you money in addition to the rewards,” Larson says. It does carry a $59 annual fee, though the charge is waived for the first year. There is also a low-end version of the card that features no annual fee, but a less lucrative rewards program. The annual percentage rate is either 13.9%, 16.9% or 20.9%, depending on your creditworthiness.
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
Amex’s Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card is the perfect example of a card that rewards loyal customers handsomely. Its base rewards program entitles cardholders to up to five Starpoints for every eligible dollar spent at Starwood hotels and resorts. They also earn one Starpoint per dollar spent on other purchases.
“It’s a really good card if you stay at their hotels,” Larson says.
He explains points redeemed for nights at one of the Starwood properties, which include Sheraton, Westin and W locations, average out to $2.50 back on every $100 spent.
“If you redeem them for other travel, they’re worth $1.30 per each $100 spent,” Larson adds, which is still a good return for a travel rewards card.
The card also currently features a nice sign-on bonus, which could potentially net you enough points for up to 6 free nights at a Starwood hotel.
“You get 10,000 points up front,” Woolsey says. You can also get another 15,000 points when you spend $5,000 within six months.
Amex’s Starwood card carries a $65 annual fee, which is waived the first year, and features an APR of 15.24%, 17.24% or 19.24%, depending on your creditworthiness.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Another great general travel rewards card is the Preferred version of Chase’s Sapphire, which offers cardholders two points per dollar spent at restaurants and on travel and one point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
“You can rack up points quickly with that card,” Beverly Harzog, a credit card expert with Credit.com, says, especially since Chase is currently running a sign-on promotion that awards 40,000 points to cardholders who spend $3,000 in the first three months of opening the account.
The card also prides itself on offering access to exclusive events or experiences. Over the last 12 months, cardholders could put points towards lessons with professional golfer Jason Day or tickets to a Sneak Peek finale party for “Around the World in 80 Plates,” a Bravo TV show the card sponsors.
Cardholders also have concierge customer service. In other words, every time they call in with a question or concern, they speak directly to a person, not an automated teller.
The Sapphire Preferred does carry a $95 fee (waived the first year) and a 15.24% APR. Cardholders are not charged foreign transaction fees when traveling abroad.
Discover Open Road
If you’re planning a road trip or a stay-cation this summer, you want to apply for Discover’s Open Road card, Woolsey says. This card entitles users to 2% cash back on gas and at restaurants, which can come in handy during long rides to nearby amusement parks, museums or other tourist attractions. (Cardholders also get 0.25% back on their first $3,000 in purchases and 1% back on each dollar spent after that.)
The card carries no annual fee and features an APR between 10.99% and 20.99%, depending on your creditworthiness. Discover is also currently offering a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, which can be useful to cardholders who need to pay down a balance before they splurge on a big vacation.
Picking the right credit card isn’t the only way to drive down the costs of your summer vacation. Check out this MainStreet round up to find out 10 more ways to save on summer travel!