Published in: Credit Cards | May 27, 2019

Here’s How Much You Need to Travel to Justify a Travel Credit Card

By:  Lyle Daly

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Travel credit cards can deliver some incredible value, but they’re not right for everyone.

Image source: Getty Images.

Woman sitting on floor beside suitcase talking on her cell phone and using a laptop.

Image source: Getty Images

If you’re thinking about getting a travel rewards credit card, you’ve probably asked yourself whether you travel enough to make one of these cards the best choice.

This can be a tricky question without an obvious answer. It’s easy for the business travelers, bloggers, and jetsetters who take dozens of trips per year to extol the value of the best travel cards, but most of us, myself included, aren’t in that category.

Will a travel card be a valuable addition to your wallet or just a waste? To figure that out, you’ll need to take a look at your typical travel habits.

When is a travel card a smart choice?

A good rule of thumb is that it’s worth getting a travel card if you take at least two to three domestic trips or at least one international trip per year.

The logic behind those numbers is that if you’re taking that many trips per year, then you’ll likely be able to:

  • Get a high value ($0.02 per point or more) for your travel rewards on at least one trip.
  • Take advantage of any other travel benefits your card offers, such as airport lounge access, elite hotel status, or a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck membership.

You may be wondering why I’ve made a distinction between domestic and international trips. The reason is that you’ll usually get more value for your travel rewards when you redeem them for costlier bookings, and international travel is more expensive than domestic travel.

Let’s use airfare as an example. When you redeem travel rewards for domestic airfare, you can generally expect to get $0.01 to $0.02 per point. If you take two or three trips per year, you’ll have a good chance of finding a high-value award ticket on at least one of those trips.

On international airfare, there are plenty of opportunities to get $0.02 to $0.03 per point, and sometimes you can get even more than that on business or first-class award tickets. Even with just one international trip per year, odds are that you could still get plenty of value from your travel rewards.

Exceptions to the rule

Although the guidelines above will work well for most people, there are a couple select situations when you could get your money’s worth from a travel credit card even if you only take one domestic trip per year.

You stay at a hotel at least once per year -- Many popular hotel credit cards reward cardholders with a certificate for one free night every year while charging annual fees of $100 or less.

Even if you visit a hotel just once each year, that free night could be worth much more than your card’s annual fee.

You check bags when you fly -- With airline credit cards, a common perk is one to two free checked bags for the cardholder and the same for at least one companion on the same itinerary.

Given that the cost of checking a bag is usually about $25 each way, you could save $50 roundtrip thanks to an airline credit card, or $100 if you fly with a companion.

Deciding if a travel card is right for you

Travel credit cards do tend to be more valuable the more that you travel. But as you can see, you don’t necessarily need to travel a lot to justify getting one of these cards.

Still not sure about whether to get a travel card? In that case, I’d recommend you start by narrowing your search down to one card that you think would be the best choice. Honestly consider whether you’ll be able to use the card’s travel benefits and redeem the rewards points that you earn on a yearly basis.

If the answer is yes, then go ahead and apply for the card. The worst-case scenario is that it’s not as useful as you thought it would be, in which case you can always downgrade the card or cancel it and check out other popular credit cards. The best-case scenario is that you save hundreds or potentially even thousands of dollars on your travel expenses each year.

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