Summertime fun is just around the corner. However, with airplane ticket costs expected to rise due to surging fuel prices, now is the time to book your summer vacation.
One of the ways you can make travel more affordable is by using miles and points to book your trips. If you don’t already have a travel credit card, or if your rewards balances are running low, there’s still time to apply for a new card before finalizing your reservations. Here’s how to save money on summer travel with credit card rewards and benefits.
Is There Enough Time to Earn the Bonus?
While some of the best deals happen when you book far in advance, it’s also possible to score last-minute bargains. By applying now for one of these travel credit cards, you can still earn the welcome bonus in time for your trip.
It can take several months to hit a minimum spending requirement. And once you do, it’s likely that the bonus won’t post until the next billing cycle. However, Lisa Kulpa, the co-founder of BasicTravelCouple.com, says, “There is absolutely enough time to get the bonus in time for summer travel. This is especially true if you have big expenses coming due.” Large payments that help you earn the welcome bonus include annual home or auto insurance premiums, home improvement projects, car repairs and school tuition.
Attractive Bonuses and Benefits That Can Save You Money
There are many different types of travel credit cards, and each one has specific benefits and perks that reward you for the way you spend, improve your travel experience or save you money.
- General travel cards (aka flexible points cards): Earn points that can be used to book travel, redeemed for cash or gift cards or transferred to airline and hotel partners.
- Airline co-branded cards: Earn miles that are specific to the airline and include benefits specific to flying like free checked bags, priority boarding and in-flight discounts.
- Hotel co-branded cards: Earn points that are specific to the hotel chain and offer hotel-specific benefits like annual free nights, automatic elite status and bonus points on hotel purchases.
Greg Johnson, travel and credit card expert at ClubThrifty.com, says, “Many of the top credit cards come with perks like primary rental car insurance, airport lounge access and annual statement credits.” Even though you may pay an annual fee, he says that these benefits typically outweigh any fee that the bank charges.
The travel credit cards featured here all have great rewards and welcome offers. Read through the list or jump to a table comparing sign-up bonuses.
Capital One Venture X Rewards
The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card is offering a welcome bonus of 75,000 points worth $750 or more when you spend $4,000 within three months. Plus, it includes an annual travel credit of $300 when booking through Capital One Travel. You’ll earn unlimited 10 miles per dollar spent on hotels and rental cars and 5 miles per dollar on flights through Capital One Travel. All other purchases earn 2 miles per dollar. The Venture X Rewards card has a $395 annual fee.
Additional cardholders can be added for no fee. You and your authorized cardholders receive access to Capital One Lounges and Priority Pass lounges, so you can relax and enjoy complimentary food, beverages and Wi-Fi before flights.
One of the best features of Capital One credit cards is that the welcome bonus tends to post within days of your meeting the minimum spend requirements. This means that you don’t have to wait for your statement to close before your bonus posts, which allows you to book travel through the portal or transfer points to partners that much sooner.
Capital One Venture Rewards
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card earns 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases with no limits. You’ll earn 60,000 points as a welcome bonus when you spend $3,000 within three months. That’s $600 toward travel with no blackout dates, or you can transfer to any of Capital One’s 16 airline and hotel partners. It also includes a credit of up to $100 toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, two visits to the Capital One Lounge, and Hertz Five Star status. The Capital One Venture Rewards card has a $95 annual fee.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Frequent travelers love the perks they get from the Chase Sapphire Reserve. They include an attractive welcome bonus of 50,000 points worth $750 in travel rewards, a $300 annual travel credit, complimentary Priority Pass lounge access and top-notch travel benefits. You’ll earn the welcome bonus by spending $4,000 during the first three months. The Chase Sapphire Reserve has an annual fee of $550.
Hotel and car rental purchases earn 10 points per dollar and flights earn five points per dollar when booking through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Additionally, travel and dining purchases worldwide earn three points per dollar. Points earned are worth 50% more when you redeem them through the Ultimate Rewards portal, or they can be transferred to airline and hotel partners for maximum value.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a solid travel credit card without the premium price tag. It offers a welcome bonus of 60,000 points worth $750 in travel when you spend $4,000 within three months. You’ll earn five points per dollar on travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards and two points per dollar on all other travel charges. Plus, cardholders receive up to $50 in credits each year for hotel stays booked through Ultimate Rewards.
The card also offers three points per dollar on dining, online grocery orders and select streaming services. All points earned are worth 25% more when booking travel through Ultimate Rewards or can be transferred to airline and hotel partners on a 1-to-1 basis. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has a $95 annual fee.
Johnson says Chase Sapphire Preferred is “my recommended card for beginners because it has a reasonable annual fee and earns my favorite type of points that can be used to book travel or transfer to over a dozen travel loyalty programs.”
The Platinum Card from American Express
Travelers have counted on The Platinum Card from American Express to offer premium benefits for years. Now, you can earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points by spending $6,000 during the first six months. The card has one of the most extensive airport lounge networks, covering over 1,400 lounges by Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass and the Global Lounge Collection. It also includes annual credits covering travel expenses and a variety of popular brands worth over $1,500. These annual credits include a $200 hotel credit, $200 airline fee credit, $200 Uber credit, $240 digital entertainment credit and up to $179 reimbursement for your CLEAR membership.
Additionally, you’ll receive five points per dollar on flights booked directly or through AmEx Travel and five points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked through AmEx Travel. Points can be redeemed for airline ticket upgrades, travel, statement credits and more, or you can transfer to airline and hotel partners. The Platinum Card from American Express has an annual fee of $695.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless
New cardholders can earn 100,000 bonus points with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card when they spend $3,000 within three months of opening their account. With free nights starting at just 7,500 points, this welcome bonus could go a long way. You’ll receive six points per dollar when using your Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card at Marriott properties and another 11 points per dollar based on being a Bonvoy member with Silver Elite status. You can also earn three points per dollar on the first $6,000 you spend annually on combined grocery, gas and dining purchases. All other purchases earn two points per dollar. The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless has an annual fee of $95.
The Boundless card comes with automatic Silver Elite status and a path to Gold Elite status when you spend $35,000 during your anniversary year. As a Silver Elite member, you’ll receive 10% bonus points on paid stays, priority late checkout and free Wi-Fi during your stay.
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
Travelers who fly on American Airlines receive attractive perks with the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard. After opening a card, you’ll earn 50,000 miles after making $2,500 in purchases within three months. The card also offers 2 miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases and at restaurants and gas stations. Plus, you can earn a $125 American Airlines flight discount when you spend $20,000 and renew your card each membership year.
Your first checked bag is free for you and up to four traveling companions, which is a savings of $240 on a round-trip flight for a family of four. You’ll also be among the first people on the plane with priority boarding, and the card saves 25% on in-flight purchases of food and beverages. The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard has an annual fee of $99, waived for the first year.
Do You Have to Earn a Bonus Before Booking Your Trip?
For most credit cards and loyalty programs, you do have to earn your bonus before you can book your trip. Just like a bank account, you can’t spend what you don’t have. However, there are two programs that let you book reservations now and earn the rewards later to cover your trip.
Capital One Venture Miles “Erase” Feature
With cards that earn Capital One Venture Miles, you have 90 days from your transaction date to “erase” the travel purchase using your miles. This means that you can make a purchase today, then use the Purchase Eraser option later once you’ve earned more miles from the welcome bonus or your purchases.
Marriott Bonvoy Points Advance
For members who don’t have enough Marriott points to book their hotel stays, they can use the Points Advance feature for the missing points. As long as each stay is at least 30 days away, you can make up to three Points Advance reservations. You have 60 days from the time of booking or 14 before arrival to earn the necessary points. This feature allows you to secure your trip today and earn the extra points by earning more points through a bonus or purchases over time.
What If You Don’t Earn the Bonus in Time to Book Your Trip?
Even if you don’t earn the welcome bonus in time to book your summer travel plans, these cards and others like them offer benefits to make travel easier and more affordable, such as:
- Annual travel credits.
- Free checked bags.
- Priority boarding.
- Annual free hotel night.
- Airport lounge access.
- Automatic elite status (or an accelerated path).
- Travel protection benefits.
- TSA PreCheck or Global Entry Reimbursement.
Kulpa says that her favorite benefit is “lounge access in airports because they save money on food and drinks when transiting through.” She also likes the trip reimbursement protections because they take care of cardholders if you have a delayed or canceled flight.
The Bottom Line
The clock is ticking for you to apply for a new credit card and earn the bonus before the summer travel season starts. If you can time large purchases with your application, it is even easier to meet the minimum spending requirements to receive your bonus. Some programs also allow you to book your vacation now, then earn the miles and points later to pay for the trip.
Even if you don’t earn the welcome bonus in time for your trip, getting a travel credit card before your summer travel can still be worthwhile. The benefits can save money and provide perks that enhance your vacation, such as airport lounge access, free checked bags, elite status or travel protections.