Travel VS cash Rewards

The question is, which type of rewards card makes the most sense for you. The biggest division is between those that provide airline miles (or other types of specific discounts) and those that provide cash back on your purchases. Here are some tips to help guide you.

Cash vs. Miles: Match Your Spending Patterns

Pick the rewards package that fits your goals and lifestyle – and either get a no-annual-fee card or make sure that the rewards offset any fees.

Miles are more limited, but they can be a good choice if your lifestyle involves travel – or you hope it will in the future (maybe you need a little motivation to start planning that trip to Spain). Usually airline miles build up at about the same rate as cash rewards (1% or 2% is standard) and there may be an incentive for signing up. These sign-up bonuses are probably the best rewards you will get out of your credit card, so take advantage while you can. Some miles cards also let you use the points for other travel purchases besides airline tickets, such as hotel rooms or rental cars.

There are two main types of travel cards that deliver rewards in miles: airline- or hotel-specific cards, and more general travel cards.

Airline- or hotel-specific cards will limit your ability to shop for the best deal because you are only earning rewards with one company, but the points can sometimes be redeemed at rates that are more like 3% or 4% (rather than the 1% or 2% of a cash back or general travel rewards card). This is especially true during off-peak travel times – if you are trying to travel during the holidays, expect lower reward returns and beware of blackout dates. Airline-specific cards might throw in added perks, such as free upgrades, waived baggage fees, priority boarding or access to airport lounges. (See Top Credit Cards For Airline Miles Travel.)

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