Traveling this summer? Then it might be time to start shopping for a new credit card. Increasing competition in the industry has boosted up-front rewards, which could land smart shoppers with a vast array of freebies, not to mention cash bonuses worth as much as $500.
But you have no time to waste because most of these cards require you to spend a set amount to acquire the rewards. So, if you hope to have bonus points offset a portion of the cost of this summer's vacation, you need to get shopping. The right card for you will depend on how you travel and how you spend. Here's the results of CardHub's latest analysis of 1,000 travel reward cards, broken down by its top picks based on how you use the card.
Barclaycard Arrival: You need to spend $3,000 on the card in the first 90 days, but that gets you a $400 initial travel reward bonus and 2 percent cash back on all other spending when you redeem for travel-related rewards. The card has an $89 annual fee, but it's waived in the first year. For those planning to travel overseas, it's also worth noting this card doesn't assess foreign transaction fees.
Chase Sapphire Preferred: Sapphire is a perennial favorites of card experts because it provides 40,000 rewards points for those who spend $3,000 in the first three months. Those points can be redeemed for a $400 statement credit or up to $500 in travel accommodations, if you book through Chase's Ultimate Rewards program. You can earn an additional 5,000 points by adding an authorized user. Travel and dining purchases earn 2 points per dollar; everything else earns 1 point per dollar. The card has a $95 annual fee that's waived in the first year.
Best Airline Cards
Frontier Airlines World MasterCard: If you fly Frontier, the airline's credit card is worth a look. After just $500 in spending during the first three months, the card offers 40,000 bonus miles, which is good for two free round-trip domestic flights. You also get 2 miles per $1 spent on Frontier flights, plus 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else. The card charges a $69 annual fee.
PenFed Premium Travel Rewards: With $2,500 of spending in the first three months, cardholders win a $200 initial bonus. They also get 5 points per $1 spent on airfare, as well as 1 point per dollar on all other spending. This card doesn't charge an annual fee. But consumers may have to spend $10 in the initial year to join PenFed's credit union.
Best Hotel Cards
Club Carlson Premier Rewards: The parent company of the Radisson and Country Inn chains offers 85,000 bonus points to those who spend more than $2,500 on the card in the first three months. That gets you up to 18 free hotel nights. Cardholders earn 10 points per $1 spent at Carlson properties, and 5 points for eligible spending elsewhere. The bad news? The card charges a 3 percent foreign transaction fee and a $75 annual fee. Still, it's a great deal for lovers of Radisson hotels.
HHonors Surpass Credit Card: If Hilton is more your style, taking out the chain's credit card can land you 75,000 bonus points after $3,000 in spending, which gives you up to 15 free nights. In addition, you get 12 points per $1 spent at Hilton properties. But if you use the card overseas, you'll be subject to foreign transaction fees. There's also a $75 annual fee.
IHG Credit Card: Spend $1,000 on this card and you get 60,000 bonus points, good for 12 free nights at Intercontinental hotels, which include the Crowne Plaza, Staybridge and Holiday Inn brands. Cardholders get a free hotel stay on their account anniversary, and 5 points per $1 spent at IHG hotel chains, plus 2 points per $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants
Best Cards for a Roadtrip
PenFed Platinum Rewards Card: Like the other PenFed card, you may need to spend $10 to join the credit union. But after that, there's no annual fee to keep the card, and the rewards are generous. You get 5 points per $1 spent on gas at any station, 3 points per $1 spent on groceries
Blue Cash Preferred from American Express: If you spend at least $1,000 in the first three months, you get a $100 initial bonus, plus 6 percent cash back at supermarkets, 3 percent on gas and department store purchases. The bad news? There's a $75 annual fee.
TrueEarnings Card from Costco and American Express: Costco members get 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations, 2 percent at restaurants and on travel-related purchases, and 1 percent for spending everywhere else. There's no annual fee for users with a Costco membership.