I'm a Midwestern girl in constant search of sunshine + sea. I travel solo, work full-time, and sometimes, I write.

The 3 Credit Cards That Allow Me to Travel

The 3 Credit Cards That Allow Me to Travel

One of the big reasons I could afford Thailand was because my flight only cost $38. Without 100,000 in travel points, I would have paid $1,038 for my flight. That was definitely not in my budget. I poured over resources when I decided to open a travel rewards credit card. I wanted to be selective - I wasn’t planning on open 7 cards just to rack up the miles. Here are a few things I wanted in a travel rewards credit card:

  • A HUGE signing bonus. It takes forever (at least for my daily spending) to rack up points without a signing bonus. Signing bonuses should offer 30,000-50,000 points once you hit the required spending minimum. Those points alone can get you a domestic flight anywhere, and are usually the halfway point to an international flight.
  • A low spending minimum. To get said bonus, you have to spend a certain amount within 1-3 months. It can be $1000 in one month or $3000 in three months. Don't go for a card with a spending minimum that is not within your budget. I can do $3000 in 3 months - I would not do $5000.
  • A low annual fee. Many travel reward credit cards have annual fees in exchange for their benefits. The first year is typically waived. I think the $89 annual fee for my Barclay credit card is worth it; I'll pay $89 once a year for a free flight for Thailand. I did get an offer in the mail the other day for an AmEx rewards card - with a $400 annual fee! Nope.
  • A fair value for points. Typically, for every $1 I spend, I get 1 point. $100 = 100 points. But the best travel cards will offer you 2 or even 3 points for every dollar you spend, usually if you buy certain brands or shop through their outlets. This is why the Barclay Arrival is so perfect; every purchase automatically earns you double points ($1000 = 2000 points). The Chase Sapphire offers 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining. Therefore, $40 spent on gas = 80 points.

Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard

I chose this card because it is often ranked as the #1 travel card on every site I follow. It is not a loyalty program; therefore, I can use my points for any airline. I used this credit card exclusively for 14 months, with the goal of earning enough points to purchase a plane ticket. Now that I only have 2000 points remaining (literally $20) on the card, I use it for work expenses and I've switched to using my Chase Sapphire.

  • Signing bonus of 40,000 points ($400) when you spend $3000 in the first 3 months
  • Earn 2 miles for every $1 spent, in any category of spending
  • Earn 10% of your miles back when redeem your points (that’s how I got 10,000 miles back after redeeming 100,000 of them)
  • No foreign transactions fees
  • No expiration dates or blackout dates - use the points whenever!
  • Chip card technology
  • Annual fee waived in the first year ($89 annual fee after that)
  • Updated FICO score every month

Chase Sapphire Preferred - Visa

This is the card I am currently using to rack up points. I have 52,000 in points, which is $520 if I redeem those points on or a similar site. However, if I use the Chase Rewards website to book my flight (which features airlines that have partnered with Chase), each point is worth 1.25 more, which equals $620. Nice!

  • Signing bonus of 40,000 points ($500 through Chase Rewards website) when you spend $4000 in the first 3 months
  • Earn 1 mile for every $1 spent, or 2 miles for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases
  • No foreign transactions fees
  • No expiration dates or blackout dates
  • Chip card technology
  • Annual fee waived in the first year ($95 annual fee after that)
  • Updated FICO score every month

Charles Schwab High Investor Yield Checking Account

I'm cheating - this isn't a credit card. But it's definitely one of the best travel decisions I've made. I was hesitant at first because Chase has always been my go-to bank. But I kept coming across the Charles Schwab checking account on all of my favorite travel sites. Why? Because Charles Schwab reimburses every single ATM fee. Every. Single. Fee. I hate paying ATM fees. At home, I rarely use an ATM. But when I'm abroad, ATMs become my #1 source of funds. You will be charged by the country's ATM and your home bank for using that ATM. If you are withdrawing money 2-3 times a week, those fees will add up and you will be frustrated to watch $20-30 go down the drain every month.

  • Charles Schwab is an online bank; you won't find any actual branches. But with its easily accessible customer service, this has never been a problem for me.
  • It is also an investment bank. Your checking account will come with a brokerage account. I have no idea what to do with that account - you do not have to use it to use your checking account.
  • Free checkbook
  • No-fee overdraft protection
  • No minimums (I've had .07 cents in this account before)
  • Unlimited reimbursement of any ATM fees (I had $14 in ATM fees my first week in Thailand; I received $14 back from Charles Schwab in my statement)

Another reason I love this checking account? It's my travel savings fund. My paycheck goes directly to my Chase checking account. From there, I pay all my bills. I then typically transfer $100/month to my Charles Schwab account to build up my travel fund. I don't keep the Charles Schwab debit card in my wallet - I keep it tucked away in my passport, because it's not meant to be used as my go-to debit card. This way, when I'm ready to travel, all the money I need is in my travel account. Plus, I like seeing the money grow every month as I'm saving for a new trip!

These are the three cards I use to travel. Once I use the points on my Chase Sapphire, I'll be in the market for another excellent travel rewards credit card. I haven't started looking at options, but check out Nerd Wallet or The Points Guy if you want to compare a few different cards (Delta & United both have really great signing bonuses right now!).

**Keep in mind that there are tons of travel reward cards out there. You can definitely find reward cards without an annual fee and lower spending limits, and while I focus on redeeming points for airline miles, there are some really excellent credit cards for 5-star hotel stays and more.

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My Next Adventure for 2016

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