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Earn Free Flights, Hotel Stays, And More With One Of These Best Credit Cards For Travel Hacking

Recently, we wrote about the benefits of travel hacking, and how to get started. That’s all well and good, but the way to make the most of travel hacking is to know which credit cards will help you get the most for your money.

With sign-up offers luring you in, it’s easy to overlook the real benefits of each card. Plus, did you know that you can actually pair two different travel rewards cards to benefit your travel hacking even more?

In this article, I’ll go more in-depth on tips like that, as well as recommend six of the best credit cards you can use to start travel hacking like a pro.

Please note that I use the term points and miles interchangeably throughout the article.

Best overall card: Chase Sapphire Preferred®

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

View DetailsThis offer requires Excellent Credit credit.

    Card Highlights

    • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
    • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
    • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
    • View Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card details and how to apply »

What we love about it

  • Sign-up bonus
  • No restrictions on where you use your miles
  • Ability to transfer miles to other programs
  • Reasonable annual fee (and it’s free for the first year)

Things to be aware of

  • $95 annual fee after the first year-this is reasonable for a top travel rewards card, but still something to consider
  • Regular APRs are high-we always recommend paying your card off in full every month, but this is a big thing to note in case you can’t

Why it rocks for travel hacking

We love the Chase Sapphire Preferred® as our top pick for travel hacking credit cards primarily because of its flexibility. You’ll get a sweet sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles (which equates to $625 in travel) after charging at least $4,000 on the card within the first three months. This means you’ll get a return of 1.25 cents per mile.

But the real feature that makes it the absolute best card for travel hacking is the ability to transfer your miles to another travel points program with a slew of airlines and hotel chains – such as Marriott and United.

You’ll get two points per dollar spent on travel and at restaurants, and one point per dollar everywhere else. Plus, if you have a Chase Freedom® card, you can lump those points in with your Sapphire points.

Bottom line

If you spend a lot of money on credit cards (particularly on travel and restaurants) and are able to pay it in full every month, this is your best option for hacking some serious travel.

Learn more or apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® card here

Runner up: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Card

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

View DetailsThis offer requires Excellent/Good credit.

    Card Highlights

    • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $400 in travel
    • Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
    • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
    • View Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card details and how to apply »

What we love about it

  • two points per dollar, regardless of where you spend it
  • Can use miles on any travel expense with any airline, hotel, cruise, or car rental
  • Lower annual fee compared to other top cards

Things to be aware of

  • Can’t transfer points to another program
  • Conversion is one cent per mile

Why it rocks for travel hacking

The Capital One® Venture® Card may not have as many perks as the Chase Sapphire Preferred®, but it’s still an excellent card for travel hacking. The annual fee is only $59, which you can break even on after spending just a few thousand dollars-which most travel hackers can do in no time.

Capital One also gives a nice sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles, which equates to $400 in travel. The downside is that each mile is only worth one cent, but you’re free to use your miles on any type of travel purchase – such as airlines, hotels, cruises, and car rentals.

The other thing that makes this card so darn effective for travel hacking is its simplicity. You make a travel charge, find it on your statement, and credit yourself by using your points-redeeming Venture rewards is as simple as that. Plus, you don’t have to mess around figuring out where to spend money, as every dollar is worth two miles no matter where you charge it.

Bottom line

for someone who uses their card for everyday purchases, but doesn’t spend enough money to justify a higher annual fee, this is the card for you. It’s easy to use and has great flexibility – plus the card itself looks pretty sweet.

Learn more or apply for the Capital One® Venture Card® here

Best airline-specific card: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

What we love about it

  • Huge sign-up bonus
  • two miles per dollar spent with Delta
  • Plenty of Delta perks
  • Combine with Starwood Preferred Guest Loyalty Rewards

Things to be aware of

  • Only makes sense if you travel frequently and travel with Delta
  • Annual fee is somewhat high

Why it rocks for travel hacking

If you’re someone who travels a lot and does so with Delta, you have to get Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card® for some serious travel hacking. First, you get 60,000 miles as a sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 on the card in the first four months. While it’s not a clean and simple conversion, you’re looking at approximately 1.8 cents per mile in Delta travel with this card, so the bonus can easily give you over $1,000 toward flights.

You’ll also get awesome perks with Delta-such as free bag checking, priority boarding, and discounts while you’re on the flight. But this isn’t even where the real travel hacking happens. Delta and Starwood have joined forces to make your points go even further (see the Starwood card below). The Points Guy laid out some detailed steps on how to use both of these cards and points systems to hack your way to free flights and free hotels faster than you can imagine.

Bottom line

If Delta is your go-to airline and you travel a lot for business or pleasure, this card is a no-brainer. The downside is the fee ($95). The added bonus of being able to pool points with Starwood makes it one of our favorite travel hacking cards available.

Runner up: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

What we love about it

  • two points per dollar on all Southwest and Rapid Rewards purchases
  • Solid sign-up bonus plus an annual anniversary bonus
  • Flexible point usage

Things to be aware of

  • $69 annual fee, NOT free the first year
  • Has a three percent foreign transaction fee

Why it rocks for travel hacking

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card is a really good option for those who just love Southwest. If you frequently fly domestic (in the U.S.) and use Southwest, you’ll rack up a ton of points quickly, as you’ll get two points per dollar with Southwest purchases.

Aside from the big bonus you’ll get-40,000 points after spending only $1,000 over the first three months-you’ll earn extra points every year on your anniversary of opening the card (3,000 extra points).

You can also use your points for more than just airfare. You can redeem your points for things like gift cards, events, and hotels, too.

Another cool feature is the ability to pair this card with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card (see above). That card allows you to transfer your points to Southwest’s program, so by using both cards you can rack up points even quicker.

Bottom line

Many people prefer Southwest because they’re very different from other airlines. If you’re one of those people, and you fly with them often, get this card. The ability to transfer your Chase Sapphire Preferred points also makes it an enticing offer.

Best hotel chain-specific card: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

What we love about it

  • Ability to transfer points to partner airlines
  • Points value
  • Sign-up bonus

Things to be aware of

  • $95 annual fee

Why it rocks for travel hacking

Starwood hotels include chains such as Four Points, Loft, Westin, St Regis, Sheraton, W Hotels, Element, and Le Meridien. If you stay at any of these hotel chains during your travels, it’s probably worth getting this card.

The sign-up bonus for the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card (25,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months) is enough for a two-night stay at a really nice hotel, like the Westin Chicago North Shore.

After that you get 2x points on all Starwood purchases and one point per dollar on everything else. The biggest benefit, though, is the ability to transfer your points to a partner airline – like Delta. In fact, if you transfer 20,000 points, Starwood will give you a 5,000-point bonus. You can see how using both this card and the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express can be an effective 1-2 punch for your travel hacking. The only downside to this card is the annual fee at $95.

Bottom line

This card is the best travel hacking, hotel-specific card out there. If you use it for nothing more than free hotel stays (and upgrades, since you get tons of perks with this card) you’d be fine. But the added ability to combine with partner airlines makes it a fantastic travel hacking card.

Runner-up: The Hyatt Credit Card by Chase

What we love about it

  • Sign-up bonus
  • Reward structure
  • Discoverist status

Things to be aware of

  • Limiting if you don’t often use Hyatt
  • $75 annual fee

Why it rocks for travel hacking

When you sign up for the Chase Hyatt Credit Card, you’ll receive 40,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. Plus, if you add an authorized user and they use the card within the first three months, you’ll get an extra 5,000 points. So if you add a spouse, for example, you can realistically get 45,000 points in no time.

Entry level Hyatt hotels start at around 5,000 points per night-so you are immediately walking into a free stay somewhere. The reward structure on this card is great, especially if you’re a frequent patron of Hyatt hotels. You get three points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels and two points per dollar at restaurants, airlines, and car rentals. That’s almost like an airline travel card in itself!

Finally, one of the smaller benefits that we love is the Discoverist status–which you’re put into immediately upon opening the card. This gives you additional perks, such as a 10 percent bonus on points and late checkouts.

Bottom line

If you’re a fan of Hyatt, this card works on many levels. The points system is great and as you earn more, you can increase your status (which exponentially increases your earning power). You also earn double points on airlines and car rentals, which isn’t something many hotel cards will do.

Summary

According to travel hacking expert Chris Guillebeau:

“…the cornerstone of travel hacking is to maintain multiple accounts of Frequent Flyer miles and points. As your balances build up over time, you’ll be able to redeem the miles and points for valuable rewards all over the world.”

If you want to be a serious travel hacker, you’ll need to earn miles, and you’ll need to find crafty ways to get them. The cards we listed here are the best credit cards for travel hacking. Even if you already have one of them, you can see that it makes sense to pair some of them together for ultimate travel hacker status.