by Lyle Daly | Feb. 5, 2021
There may be strings attached to some of those travel perks that you like.
When you're shopping for travel credit cards, you'll find plenty with impressive lists of features.
There are cards with big bonuses, including both sign-up bonuses and bonus rewards on purchases in certain spending categories. Some cards offer spending credits. Others get you access to airport lounges. And then there are the premium travel cards that often include all of the above.
But you can't take every feature at face value. There may be terms and conditions that affect whether a benefit works for you. When you're planning to apply for a new travel card, here are a few things to review first.
Travel cards offer all kinds of bonus categories where cardholders earn extra rewards. Bonus categories related to travel and dining are common, but some cards also offer more back in other areas, such as gas and groceries.
There are two common restrictions you may see here: U.S.-only bonus categories and spending caps.
Several cards limit bonus rewards to U.S. merchants. So, if a card says it earns 3 points per $1 on groceries, it's important to check whether that's at grocery stores worldwide or only those within the United States. For frequent international travelers and expats, U.S.-only bonus categories could be a dealbreaker.
Meanwhile, a spending cap limits the amount of bonus rewards you earn. For example, a card could earn 3 points per $1 at hotels up to $20,000 in spending per calendar year. That will be more than enough for most cardholders, but if you have very high yearly hotel spending, it may not be enough.
Airport lounge access is nice to have, but it can also be one of the more confusing travel card perks.
That's in large part because of the different types of airport lounges available. Travel cards with airport lounge access usually include a membership to one airport lounge program and its lounges. The Platinum Card® from American Express is a notable exception, as it includes access to several types of airport lounges.
Let's say you have a travel card with a Priority Pass membership, which is the most common option. That will get you into all Priority Pass lounges. However, if you normally visit United Club℠ lounges, your Priority Pass membership won't get you into all of those.
When you find a card with lounge access you like, also check how many visits it offers and what its guest policies are. Some cards provide unlimited access, while others offer a limited number of visits per year.
Spending credits are some of the most important benefits that premium credit cards offer. These cards often have an annual fee of $250 or more, but they usually include spending credits that let you recoup a portion of that fee. If you can use the credits, they will trim down how much the card really costs you per year.
It sounds great when a card advertises that you get up to $200 per year in credits. But there are a couple details that make all the difference.
First, check what the spending credits cover. A credit you'll never use doesn't do you any good.
Next, check the time period that the spending credits are available. A $120 annual restaurant credit is an easy way to save $120 if you can use it at any point during the year. It can be more complicated when that credit is portioned out as $10 per month.
The features that travel cards offer can help you save lots of money on your trips -- you just need to pick a card with benefits you can use to the fullest. By taking a little time to understand those benefits, you won't have any unwelcome surprises after opening a card.
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