If you have good credit and healthy spending habits, a good travel card can add hundreds of dollars to your travel budget every year. Applying for a second or third travel rewards credit card can help you get even more free travel and improve your credit score at the same time.
Before I go on, here's some legal stuff you should know.
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Our credit cards are an essential tool in my travel toolkit. We use the rewards from these cards to get free flights and hotel rooms every year. We pay our bills in full every month and never pay interest, so the credit card companies basically pay us to travel when we use our cards for everyday expenses.
There are some GREAT sign-on bonuses available on all these cards right now. Some of them are double what they were when I signed up. It's a good time to try a new travel rewards card.
Ready to try a new card? These are the cards that I have personally used – and why I like them.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card from Chase is one of our newest credit cards, but it has the potential to become our #1 travel rewards credit card. It has a great reputation among travelers because Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to loyalty programs for Southwest, United, JetBlue, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, and others.
You can also book air travel, hotels, and more directly through the Chase travel portal – generally at a competitive price for a wide variety of options.
This card is a good first card for people who want to get started with travel rewards cards. We earned $600+ in travel points when we applied for the Chase Sapphire Rewards Card. Then the pandemic hit, so we haven't redeemed any rewards yet. But I'm excited about the possibilities.
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express
The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express card was our first travel rewards card and it has been our most-used card for years. We chose it because we wanted to fly more often and Delta is the airline with the most flights from our home airport.
We never earned enough air miles from flights alone to get free flights until we got this credit card and used it for everyday expenses. Now we earn free flights every year. Plus, we get free checked bags, priority boarding, and other perks every time we fly Delta.
The last time we cashed in SkyMiles was for flights to California for a cruise. Rewards from this credit card paid for three out of four of our roundtrip tickets, which saved us about $900. Plus, our card got us free checked bags, priority boarding, and upgraded Comfort+ seats.
Southwest Rapid Rewards
I have both the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier personal card. The personal card is new and our goal is to earn enough points to get a Companion Pass this year. It helped that we got an 80,000-point sign-on bonus.
The Southwest Companion Pass lets a second person fly free every time you book a Southwest flight. It's good for the rest of the calendar year in which you earn the pass and a full year after that!
Southwest has lots of flights from our home airport and never charges for checked bags, changes, or cancellations. It's early yet, but the Southwest Rapid Rewards card could become one of our favorite credit cards.
I applied for our Hilton Honors American Express Surpass card when we got a new heater for our home. We could have paid in cash, but by paying for it with the new Hilton card, we also got hundreds of dollars in Hilton Honors points, Gold status, and more perks with Hilton Hotels.
This was one of our preferred cards for a year. We built up our Hilton Honors points, earned a free bonus night in any Hilton hotel, got Gold status for a second year, and used our points for several free nights.
By the time our annual fee came due again, we had moved on to a different preferred card and we downgraded this one to the fee-free version. But we still have over 100,000 Hilton Honors points (worth about $500) and we look forward to more free hotel nights. You can find Hilton hotels just about everywhere, which is one reason that we liked this card.
Disney Premier Credit Card
We have used the Disney Premier Credit Card from Chase card twice to save $200 on tickets to the Oogie Boogie Bash at Disneyland. This popular Halloween event is separately ticketed and costs my family of four more than $400.
The Disney Premier Credit Card currently offers a $250 statement credit after you spend $500 and pay the $49 annual fee. I applied for the card and used it to buy the tickets. The tickets covered most of the minimum spend and the statement credit easily made the annual fee worth it.
We used the card on our Disneyland trip to get gift shop discounts and an exclusive character photo op. Then I paid it off and canceled it. We have used this credit card trick twice – several years apart – to save hundreds on Oogie Boogie Bash tickets.
If you're planning a Disneyland, Walt Disney World, or Disney Cruise trip, check out this card. The statement credit can save you $200 on your trip and get you extra discounts and perks in the park or on the ship. If you keep the card you can earn points to spend on Disney vacations or in Disney stores.
General Tips for Travel Rewards Cards
Take care of your credit and it will serve you well. Credit cards are a tool that can earn you free travel and improve your credit score. Here's how to get started.
Pay your balances in full EVERY MONTH
This is how you beat the system. Credit card companies pay you to travel only when you pay your credit card bills in full and pay no interest. When you carry a balance and pay interest (which is what most people do) you generally pay more interest than you earn in rewards.
Pay your bills ON TIME, every time
Forgetting a payment is expensive. The credit card charges an extra fee and it hurts your credit score. Set up automatic payments for at least the minimum payment and never pay late fees again.
Start with one good card
If you're new to credit cards and travel rewards, then start with one card – either Chase Sapphire or a favorite airline or hotel card – that fits your travel style. Start putting everyday expenses on it and you'll quickly earn your first free flight or night.
Keep in mind that American Express isn't accepted as widely as Visa and MasterCard. If your primary card is American Express, make sure you also have a Visa or MasterCard in your wallet for backup.
Want more tips for using your credit card to get free travel? Check out this related article.
I consider myself to be a very casual “travel hacker” who doesn't spend much time figuring out all the points tricks or juggling a lot of cards.
However, I think that using at least one good travel rewards card is a no-brainer for families who love to travel and have good credit and spending habits. It's so easy.
Your credit score is valuable – and it can work even harder for you. Put everyday expenses on your travel rewards credit card, pay your bills in full, and earn hundreds of dollars each year in free travel.
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