Rewards Credit Card Options for Holiday Travel
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The Thanksgiving holiday may have brought a surge in travel — but it feels like it’s just a warm-up for the main event next month. With many Americans looking to take the skies or the road this holiday season, there’s no doubt that things will be busy. What’s more, between inflation and increased demand, the cost of this travel could be higher than normal. Luckily, there are a few rewards credit cards that may be able to help holiday travelers save money, enjoy some comforts, and get rewarded.
From great perks and protections to money-saving credit, here are a few options that could come in handy this holiday travel season — all of which come at a reasonable annual fee.
American Express Green Card
- Annual fee: $150
- Current welcome bonus: 40,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in purchases on the card within the first six months
First, a recent update to the American Express Green Card lands it a spot on this list. Now, the card includes up to $189 in annual credit for CLEAR (up from the previous $100 annual credit). Not only will this benefit help save you time in airport security but also exceeds the Green card’s $150 annual fee. Plus, you actually get discounted CLEAR rates even being a free Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus member and then adding a family member to use up your full credit. P.S. you can read more about CLEAR in my full review — but, basically, it verifies your identity using biometrics, allowing you to skip the regular boarding pass and ID check at security.
Elsewhere, the Green card also earns 3x on travel and transit purchases, as well as 3x points on dining purchases. Plus, you’ll enjoy $100 in annual credits that can be used for LoungeBuddy. So, with a relatively modest fee and some key perks for casual travelers, the small but mighty Amex Green card could be a big win this holiday season.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Annual fee: $95
- Current welcome bonus: 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in purchases on the card within the first three months
Another “lower-on-the-totem-pole” option that still has a ton to offer is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. There are a few reasons why this one is perfect for holiday travel, starting with the various travel protections. The Preferred card includes Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance, Travel and Emergency Assistance Services, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, and more. These could definitely come in handy during the busy season, making this coverage worth diving into for details.
Of course, the Sapphire Preferred can also help you earn rewards on travel — or conceivably even score you free flights quickly. The card earns 5x points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 2x points on all other travel purchases, as well as 3x points on dining purchases, 3x points on select streaming purchases, and 3x points on online grocery purchases. Also notable is the current welcome bonus, allowing new cardholders to earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases during their first three months. Since points can be redeemed for 1.25¢ each via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, that’s up to $750 in value. Thus, if you’re not quite ready for the $550 annual fee Sapphire Reserve, then the $95 annual fee Chase Sapphire Preferred could be your pick.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Cards
- Annual fee: $69, $99, or $149
- Current welcome bonus: 75,000 points after spending $3,000 in purchases on the card within the first three months
For many travelers, Southwest is the best air travel option for a number of reasons ranging from their low fares to their “bags fly free” policy. As it turns out, their line-up of co-branded credit cards can also be useful for those flying the airline this holiday season and beyond. Southwest’s Rapid Rewards credit card slate includes the $69 annual fee Plus card, the $99 annual fee Premier card, and the $149 annual fee Priority card. Each of these options comes with a number of onboard perks as well as point-earning opportunities.
One of the key perks of the Plus and the Premier card is the complimentary EarlyBird Check-In you can take advantage of up to two times per year. Meanwhile, the Priority includes up to four Upgraded Boardings per year (when available) instead. Speaking of the Priority, although it has the highest annual fee, it does include a $75 Southwest annual travel credit. Add in the 25% back on inflight purchases perk that all three cards feature, the ability to earn bonus points for every year that you renew the card, and the ability to earn points on everything from Southwest purchases to transit and streaming purchases, and any of these options could be a great holiday travel companion for those flying Southwest.
Citi Custom Cash
- Annual fee: N/A
- Current welcome bonus: $200 cashback after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first six months
For those traveling by car instead of by plane this holiday season, the Citi Custom Cash card could be a winner for your road trip. But, before I pinpoint why, I need to explain how this card works. Each billing cycle, Citi will reward you with 5% back on purchases on your highest eligible spending category (up to $500 spent) while all other purchases earn 1% back. One of those eligible categories is gas, meaning that you could earn 5% back while filing your tank if this ends up being your highest spending category for the month. What’s also nice is that, since the card adapts to your spending with each billing cycle, you can find other categories to target once your holiday travels are done.
It should be noted that the Citi Custom Cash card doesn’t carry any annual fee. Then again, the $500 spend limit for the 5% category does limit how much you can earn. Still, between the 5% perk and the current $200 cashback welcome bonus after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first six months, the Citi Custom Cash card could prove useful in your wallet.
Wyndham Rewards Earner Card
- Annual fee: N/A
- Current welcome bonus: 30,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days
Another option for those planning to drive to their destination — and make some overnight stops along the way — is the Wyndham Rewards Earner card. If you’re not aware, in addition to the Wyndham brand, the company also operates a number of roadside staples such as La Quinta, Howard Johnson, Super 8, and several more. What’s more, their Earner card emphasizes this connection by not only offering 5x points on purchases made at Hotels by Wyndham but also 5x points on eligible gas purchases.
As for other perks, Earner card customers will receive automatic Gold level benefits. Additionally, those who spend at least $15,000 on the card per account year can earn 7,500 bonus points on their cardholder anniversary. Ultimately, while this card may not be for everyone, it could be beneficial for the right road tripper.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass
- Annual fee: $95
- Current welcome bonus: 130,000 points after spending $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first 3 months
Lastly, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass card has something to offer all kinds of travelers. For those hitting the road, the card earns 6x points at U.S. gas stations (as well as 12x points on Hilton purchases, 6x points at U.S. restaurants, 3x points at U.S. supermarkets, 3x points on all other purchases). At the same time, those headed to the airport can enjoy 10 complimentary airport lounge visits via Priority Pass each membership year — a rare benefit for a card with just a $95 annual fee.
With the Hilton Honors Surpass, cardholders will also enjoy complimentary Gold status. And, right now, new card members can earn 130,000 bonus points when they spend $2,000 in purchases on the card within their first three months. Finally, if you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year, you can also earn a Free Night Reward certificate from Hilton Honors. For all of those reasons, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass could be worth a look for holiday travelers.
Whether you’ll be traveling by plane, train, or automobile this holiday season, these cards could certainly help make your trip a bit easier or more rewarding. Ultimately, the choice between them will come down to your preferred brands, your typical mode of transportation, your tolerance for annual fees, and the perks/rewards each card boasts. Regardless of your final choice, hopefully one (or more) of these cards will make a great gift to yourself as you travel this holiday season.
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