Many budget travelers enter into credit card agreements without understanding the terms. They send emails expressing anger, frustration and disappointment.
The problem with recommending cards is that no card will work well for everyone. We are not making a blanket claim for the best credit card to carry with air miles. This is not meant as an exhaustive list, merely as a selection of a few top choices. It is your responsibility to carefully research any potential deal.
That takes effort. It seems the corporate world is trying to complicate or eliminate apples-to-apples comparisons. While it is still possible to look at APRs and annual fees, the terms for redeeming travel rewards now vary so widely that useful comparisons are difficult. Most card offers do not clearly communicate these terms, but they are linked for your convenience on this page.
Once found, think carefully about the rules and your travel patterns. For example, if you can reach 25,000 points fairly easily, having that as a starting point for redemption might not be a big deal. If it takes you years to spend that kind of money, you might not want a mileage card, or you might consider one that allows redemption at lower levels.
Interest rates are only a concern if you cannot pay your entire balance. If that is fairly typical for you, I'd strongly recommend you forego another credit card. Travel rewards are not very helpful when you're paying big finance charges every month. To a lesser extent, the same is true of big annual fees. If you're only getting several hundred dollars worth of free travel, a $90 annual fee is a big bite out of your savings.
One final thought: The terms of these offers, including those governing redemption, change frequently and without warning. After reading these reviews, please click on the hyperlinks and read the latest terms from the company Web pages before making your decision. For your convenience, a "fine print" link is included at the end of each entry. Please use it!
Here is a summary of your major comparison points:
- Mileage Expiration
If you're saving up for a big trip overseas, a card offer in which unused miles expire after a few years could be a waste of time and money. Some cards include "no expiration" benefits, others place the time limit at five years. It's an important consideration, because expired miles are very costly.
- Best Interest Rates
Many companies will launch advertising campaigns at various times of the year offering 0% introductory rates. These are designed to reel you in as a customer, and you must shop the rates that will be offered once the introductory offer expires. If interest rate is your key concern, an air miles card is probably a poor choice for you, because rates on these cards tend to be high, especially for airline credit cards. In short, if you're carrying a balance, look for a low-rate card, not a travel benefits card.
- Annual Fees
Remember that there can be several "annual fees" or "membership fees" for each variety of card. Many offer standard, gold or platinum options, and the price rises with the privileges and credit limits available at the higher levels. So don't expect to benefit from some of the hyped options unless you have excellent credit ratings. You might find other no-fee cards in your research. Be careful: frequently, "no fee" simply means it is waived for only the first year.
- Lowest Minimum Miles for a Trip
Gone are the days where you had to spend $25,000 before travel rewards were possible. Some minimums are lower now, but recognize that you'll still need to save a lot of reward points for the bigger trips.