Want a Travel Card? Skip the Airline Card and Get These Instead

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If you’re looking for a lucrative travel card, don’t waste your annual fee on an overly restrictive airline-branded credit card. Airline cards are increasingly becoming more hassle than they’re worth as air carriers ruthlessly slash the value of frequent flyer miles and cut the available number of rewards-funded seats.

Nearly all the major air carriers, including United, American Airlines, Delta and Southwest, have reconfigured their rewards programs in recent years.

As a result, frequent flyers often find they need more points or miles to purchase a free flight or must fly more often to accrue enough miles. Some airline carriers have shifted the way they award frequent flyer miles and have begun awarding fewer rewards for longer flights.

In addition, a number of airlines have made it harder to redeem frequent flyer miles or loyalty points for a free seat. According to a May 2017 survey by CarTrawler, the number of rewards-funded flights available has dropped significantly since last year.

Frequent flyers aren’t as pleased with their airline cards either. According to J.D. Power’s 2017 Credit Card Satisfaction survey, airline credit cardholders are among the least satisfied rewards card customers.

If you care more about value and convenience than airline loyalty or special perks such as priority boarding, you could get a better return for your time and money from a general travel card instead.

General travel cards are often easier to use than traditional airline cards. For example, most general travel cards allow you to shop for the cheapest flight you can find and get reimbursed for it. That way, you don’t have to worry about inflated ticket prices, travel blackout dates or other travel restrictions.

Others make it easy to comparison shop by providing simple-to-navigate portals that list awards-funded flights. Here are some of the best general travel cards that are currently available:

The Chase Sapphire rewards cards: The Chase Sapphire Preferred card and its high-end cousin, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card have earned cult status in rewards circles thanks to their solid rewards programs, generous perks and juicy bonuses. If you’re willing to pay a $495 annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers some of the best perks you can get on a travel card, including a $300 annual travel credit, a triple point bonus on travel and dining, a plump 50,000-point sign-up bonus and some of the most generous insurance benefits around. Meanwhile, the mid-tier Chase Sapphire Preferred card charges just $95 in exchange for a double point bonus on travel and dining, a 50,000-point sign-up bonus and solid travel insurance benefits. To redeem points for travel, cardholders can book their trips on the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or transfer points to a participating frequent flyer program.

The Capital One Venture Rewards card: An ideal card for everyday spending, the Capital One Venture Rewards card offers an unlimited two miles for every dollar you spend—including on purchases that don’t traditionally earn point bonuses.

The generous rewards rate—coupled with a substantial 40,000-point sign-up bonus—makes it easy to rack up a large number of miles quickly. Capital One also takes the hassle out of booking rewards-funded plane tickets by reimbursing cardholders with a statement credit. In addition, the Venture Rewards card’s $59 annual fee is significantly lower than the fees charged by many of its competitors.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard: The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is also a good pick for cardholders who want to earn a large number of miles on everyday purchases. Like the Venture Rewards card, the Arrival card offers two miles for every dollar you spend. It also offers a 50,000-point sign-up bonus and allows you to conveniently redeem your travel with a statement credit.

In addition, cardholders earn an extra 5 percent bonus each time they redeem their points, which is a nice incentive for cardholders who may otherwise forget to claim their rewards. The Arrival card charges a significantly higher annual fee, though, of $89 a year.

The Discover it miles card: If you don’t want to pay a yearly fee, the Discover it miles offers a fair amount of value for a no annual fee card—particularly in the first year. Cardholders earn an unlimited 1.5 miles for every dollar they spend, making it a good card to use for most purchases. But what really sets the Discover miles card apart is its first-year promotion. After the card’s first anniversary, Discover doubles cardholders’ earnings—essentially netting cardholders 3 miles for every single dollar they spent. Discover also makes it easy to redeem rewards-funded travel by awarding a statement credit for any travel purchase you choose.

BankAmericard Travel Rewards credit card: The BankAmericard Travel Rewards card doesn’t offer quite as generous of a sign-up bonus. Cardholders are awarded just 20,000 bonus points—large enough for a $200 ticket. But this no annual fee card does offer some nice perks for Bank of America customers, including a 10 percent loyalty bonus for deposit accountholders and an even more generous bonus—up to 75 percent—for accountholders with big balances. Like the Discover it miles card, the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card offers a flat 1.5 miles for every dollar you spend and allows you to conveniently redeem your miles with a statement credit.