NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Virtually by definition a vacation means blowing some of your hard earned money, but there's one sure-fire way to make your dollar go a farther distance: getting a travel rewards card.
With so many options out there, which card you choose depends on your particular spending and travel habits. A good rewards card is about as close to free money as you can get and the perfect way to make sure there's room in your budget for adventure; here are ten of the best ones you can pick, according to finance site NextAdvisor.com.
#10. Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World Mastercard
This is a particularly great card for frequent fliers. The AAdvantage card returns two points for every dollar spent with American Airlines and offers a point-per-dollar reward for all other purchases. The value in this card really comes from flying American Airlines and flying often, as not only does that make the most of its 2-1 point system but cardholders also get a free checked bag and priority boarding. (Other people can get in line and talk fondly of the days when ticket prices assumed you would bring luggage.)
Bottom line: For every $100 spent, NextAdvisor reports getting back an average of $1.21 in rewards spending. For long trips family trips, with airfare into the thousands of dollars, that can add up.
#9. Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
This is a no-nonsense, solid horsepower card. Users receive 1.25 points for every dollar they spend, and can redeem that for miles, travel expenses, cash and more. There are no restrictions on where and how you travel, so cardholders can fly on any airline and stay at any hotel.
This card also comes with no annual fee and a relatively low APR, although still between 11.9 – 19.9%. (Credit cards are always best paid monthly; they are a terrible way to borrow money.)
Bottom line: For every $100 in spending, you get $1.25 back. It’s not glamorous, but it’s solid and reliable. That’s a pretty good deal.
#8. Hyatt Credit Card from Chase
Unsurprisingly, this is one for the road warriors. The Hyatt Credit Card offers its best value in hotel rewards, returning about $1.84 in hotel stays for every $100 spent. Families road tripping across the country or young couples dealing with the summer and fall wedding gauntlet might make great use out of this card which returns three points for every $1 spent at a Hyatt location; two points for every dollar spent on restaurants, airfare or car rentals; and one point per dollar on everything else.
Trying to redeem points for airline fees is difficult with this card, so it’s definitely not a great choice for racking up miles. Bottom line: For every $100 in spending this card averages $1.32 back, and a whole lot more at a hotel.
#7. Blue Sky from American Express
American Express frequently makes the lists of great travel credit cards and for good reason. While expensive, their cards also go above and beyond in service.
The Blue Sky returns points on a one-to-one basis. Every purchase returns one point per dollar spent, which can then be redeemed for hotels, flights and other rewards. Every 7,500 points are worth $100 towards any airline ticket, hotel room, car rental or cruise. The ease of this system alone promotes the Blue Sky, which simply refunds the money towards your credit card statement.
This card has no annual fee. Bottom line: For every $100 in spending, reviewers managed to get back $1.33 in travel spending.
#6. Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card
As with the Hyatt and AAdvantage cards, the Marriott Rewards Premier card will give best value to frequent customers, although NextAdvisor noted that it has a remarkably high rate of return for flights as well.
Cardholders earn five points per dollar at Marriott locations; two points for airfare, restaurants and rental cars; and then one point per dollar on all other purchases. The card also comes with a fantastic introductory bonus, offering one free night automatically plus 50,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months. That’s a combined value worth up to seven free nights in a Marriott hotel.
Bottom line: For every $100 in spending this card averages $1.35 in rewards, plus a lot more if you often stay at Marriott hotels. It also has the surprisingly high return of $1.60 per $100 on flights. A good option all around.
#5. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card
Don’t pick this card up if you want a lot of money for hotels. With an average return of $0.78 in hotel expenses per $100 spent, this is a card that does one thing but does it well: airfare. The Southwest card has an average return of $2.04 per $100 on flights, making it one of the best cards for fliers.
This card awards two points per dollar on all Southwest and AirTran flights, and one point per dollar on everything else. It also awards an outstanding 25,000 points after cardholders spend $1,000 in the first three months, enough to buy a round trip ticket.
Bottom line: Although the Southwest Airlines card averages out to $1.41 in value for every $100 spent, where it really shines is in returning over $2 in value on airfare. Southwest fans will get their money’s worth on this one.
#4. BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card
The BankAmericard is another straightforward, high horsepower travel card. Users receive 1.5 points for every $1 spent, plus 10,000 bonus points after spending $500 in the first three months.
Like the VentureOne, this is a no-nonsense card. It won’t return the kind of outrageous value that Marriott users will get with their 5-1 card, but it also won’t come with a list of required vendors or industries. Points are redeemed automatically as credits toward travel purchases on the user’s credit card statement, further streamlining the process.
Bottom line: No frills, no complications. The BankAmericard returns $1.50 for every $100 spent, no matter what, automatically credited to your account.
#3. Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire is in many ways the best of both worlds between being a branded card and an independent one. Users can earn a very solid two points for every dollar spent on travel and dining, regardless of where, and another point per dollar on everything else.
Once these points are earned, cardholders get to transfer their points on a one-to-one basis over to other airline or hotel rewards programs, or they can choose to redeem their points directly for travel or rewards. Transferring points, however, allows users to take advantage of the high rates of return offered by branded programs, pushing up the value of this card considerably.
Bottom line: When used properly, this card can return as much as $1.94 in average value for every $100 spent.
#2. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
This card offers two points for every dollar spent on every purchase, full stop. Users can book their travel using points through any site, airline or hotel, and then receive a credit for their purchases on their next credit card statement. It’s a high value, high convenience system that together makes this card an outstanding choice. As an added bonus, it also has one of the lowest annual fees on this list at $59 per year.
Bottom line: The Capital One Venture returns $2 for every $100 spent, regardless of what you bought or what you redeem your points for.
#1. Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
The Barclay Arrival is a perennial winner for travel credit cards. This card returns two points for every dollar spent on any purchase, which cardholders can redeem for a statement credit.
Pushing the Barclay over the top, however, is the fact that if the points are used to pay for travel, users receive an extra 10% in points towards their statement credit.
Users also receive 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in their first three months, the equivalent of $400 for free.
Bottom line: When you account for the 10% travel bonus the Barclay Arrival returns $2.20 in value for every $100 spent on the card, by far the best item on this list.
--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.