You’ve read the claims: one credit card welcome bonus will cover the cost of a one-way first class ticket to Japan, an $8,000 value. Another travel card will help you earn points to redeem for an epic overwater villa and save $600 per night. Others will make it possible to finally take the safari trip of your dreams.
No one is disputing the appeal of first class flights and five star hotels—we all want luxury from time to time—but these claims ignore realities of everyday life. That overwater bungalow could cost hundreds of dollars in seaplane transfers just to arrive. A trip to Japan holds no appeal if you only have a four-day weekend. And a safari? Unless that’s the petting zoo near Grandma’s house, it might not make sense for your family.
For travelers who are more likely to fly in economy and stay at the Holiday Inn, do travel credit cards even make sense compared to earning cash back? The answer’s not nearly as clear-cut as someone who spends all year earning miles and points for a $25,000 bucket list vacation.
Disadvantages of Travel Credit Cards
More often than not, travel credit cards carry annual fees of $95 or more. Some hit as high as $695. These card fees can be worth it, but only if you consistently use the included benefits. Travelers who don’t need the perks will otherwise cough up an annual fee for no good reason, effectively throwing money away.
As you evaluate credit cards, be realistic with which benefits are meaningful to you. It’s easy to get starry-eyed over the idea of hotel suite upgrades and free breakfast, only to remember that basically all rooms at the Holiday Inn Express are the same (and all of them offer free breakfast). Similarly, airline lounge access isn’t relevant to you if all your upcoming travels are road trips.