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6 Credit Cards to Have in Your Wallet for Summer Travel

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Thrifty Traveler's Summer Travel Week


Believe it or not, summer is right around the corner. Not only is it time to start planning your summer trips (if you haven't already!), but it's also time to figure out how to pay for them.

No matter where you're headed this summer, having the right credit card in your wallet can help you rack up points and miles towards future travel, or help you save on other parts of your trip – from free food and drink in airport lounges to rental car insurance to free hotel nights. It's important to think, both in terms of what you get back on your spending – in points and miles – as well as how these cards can enhance your overall travel experience with their added perks and benefits.

Keep in mind, though: Credit cards are serious business. You should not apply for a new card if you're already in debt, and never charge more to a credit card than you can afford to pay off immediately. However many points and miles you can earn, they're not worth it.

We're not saying you need every card on this list, but read on to find out what cards you should consider adding to your wallet for your summer 2023 vacation.

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Best Credit Cards for Flights

If you're flying this summer, which card you're using to book your flights matters. There are several factors to consider, from maximizing the number of points you can earn on airfare purchases, having travel protection if things go wrong, and additional perks like airport lounge access or credits for transportation and lodging. Fortunately, there are two cards that stand out in all these categories.


The Platinum Card® from American Express

Plain and simple, *amex platinum card* is one of the top travel rewards credit cards on the market – and for good reason. This card is packed with benefits like a monthly Uber credit, airport lounge access, hotel elite status, an annual hotel credit, and trip delay and cancellation insurance, which more than offset its hefty $695 annual fee (see rates & fees).

If you're booking summer flights, you can't do better than the Amex Platinum Card which earns you 5x Membership Rewards points for every dollar you spend on flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel up to $500,000 – more than any other card on the market. Not to mention the card's trip delay and cancellation coverage will protect your flights if your summer travel plans get off track!


amex centurion lounges


American Express Membership Rewards are some of the most valuable points you can earn to fuel your future travels. Amex points can be transferred to a long list of airline and hotel partners like Delta, Marriott, and Hilton or used to book travel directly through the Amex Travel portal, in addition to using points to cover charges made on the card. By paying for your summer flights with the Amex Platinum Card, you'll be earning tons of points to offset the cost of another trip down the road.

There is currently a targeted welcome offer available through creditcards.com's CardMatch tool to earn 150,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $8,000 in the first six months of card membership. If that doesn't work, see if you can get a referral from a friend or family member for the same 150,00 point offer.

At the very least, though, you'll earn a welcome offer of at least 80,000 American Express points after spending $8,000 within the first six months.

Annual Fee: $695 (see rates & fees)


*amex platinum*


Learn more about *amex platinum*.

*For all insurance benefits on The Platinum Card from American Express, terms, conditions, and limitations apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by New Hampshire Insurance Company, an AIG Company.


 Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Much like the Amex Platinum Card, the *chase sapphire reserve* Card has been a must-have travel rewards card for travelers since first launching in 2016. There's a lot to about the Sapphire Reserve Card, but one of the reasons it makes our list of best cards to use when booking flights is because it earns 3x Ultimate Rewards points for every dollar spent on travel and dining, including airfare.

But perhaps a more important reason this card deserves a spot in your wallet this summer is that the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card offers the absolute best travel protection of any credit card.

When we say travel protection, think of things like primary car rental insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, trip delay and cancellation coverage, as well as medical evacuation and travel accident coverage. All of these can give you peace of mind in the event something goes wrong and that could be more important than ever this summer, as we're seeing travel demand rebound to levels not seen since 2019.

Read more: What to Expect at Airports & On Planes This Summer

Need another reason to carry the Chase Sapphire Reserve card with you when traveling by air this summer? The card comes with a Priority Pass Select membership that gets you and two guests into any Priority Pass Lounge at airports around the world – including Priority Pass Restaurants. You'll also get access to Chase's own rapidly expanding lounge network, although there's only one offering open in the U.S. though, and it's branded as the “Sapphire Terrace” at Austin (AUS).


chase sapphire terrace austin


If you've already got the Sapphire Reserve in your wallet, you're in luck – Chase Ultimate Rewards are super valuable and there are lots of ways you can use them to pay for your upcoming summer vacation.

Looking for cash back? They've got you covered – Ultimate Rewards can be redeemed at a rate of 1 cent per point for cash back or a statement credit.  Or maybe you want to use them for travel – you can do that too, at a rate of 1.5 cents per point, through Chase Travel℠. If you want to stretch the value of your points even further, perhaps your best use of Ultimate Rewards is to transfer them to one of Chase's many travel partners – like United, Hyatt, or Air Canada – where you can often get outsized value on flights and hotels.

Right now, the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card comes with a 60,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. The card carries a $550 annual fee, but an easy-to-use $300 annual travel credit offsets much of that fee. Add in the travel protections and multiple ways to use your Ultimate Rewards – there's no denying this card makes sense for a lot of people.

Read our full review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card


*chase sapphire reserve*


Learn more about the *chase sapphire reserve*.


Best Credit Card for a Free Hotel Night (Or 2!)

If you're planning to travel this summer, odds are, you'll need a place to stay. When booking your hotel, it's important to consider which card will get you the most points for your stay, or better yet – a free night altogether. There are two hotel cards on the market right now that can do both.


Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Some might say that the  Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is too good to be true – and they might be right. But for now, the Hilton Aspire Card is one of the best ways to get a few free hotel nights this summer.


A serene resort at sunset


How? Well, it all starts with the card's welcome offer of 180,000 Hilton points after spending $6,000 in the first six months. Those Hilton points earned through the welcome offer can be redeemed for a free night at any Hilton property with award availability – the number of points needed for your free night will vary depending on when and where you're staying.

But, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Each year you hold the Hilton Honors Aspire card, you get up to $400 in Hilton resort statement credits to use at select Hilton properties around the world. It works at hundreds of participating Hilton properties around the globe – and not just spots with the word “resort” in them. This new benefit begins Jan. 1, 2024, and is split up into two yearly installments: $200 from January through June, then another $200 from July through December.

Starting Jan. 1, 2024, Hilton Aspire cardholders will get up to $200 in what they call “flight credits,” meaning they can be used for airfare outright. Just use your Hilton Aspire Card to pay for a ticket and you'll get $50 back as a statement credit every three months. But keep in mind, these are use-it-or-lose-it benefits, so every quarter you forget to use it would mean you'd lose $50.

In addition to the Hilton resort credits, you also receive a free night certificate within eight to 12 weeks of opening the card. This free night certificate is valid at almost all Hilton properties around the globe. There are just a handful of properties that aren't eligible.

All of these benefits don't come cheap: The card ha an annual fee of $550 (see rates and fees). But if you use the resort and airline credits to full value, you'd come out ahead even without any of the other benefits. See why we think this card is too good to be true?


Hilton aspire American express card


Apply Here for the Hilton Honors Aspire Card (for full disclosure, this is our personal referral link)

All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by Thrifty Traveler and has not been reviewed by the issuer.


Best Credit Cards for Gas

From road trips to exploring a new place in a rental car, one area travelers spend a lot of money on in the summer is gas. If you're swiping your credit card at the pump this summer, there are two credit cards you might want to consider having in your wallet.


Citi Strata Premier℠ Card

The Citi Strata Premier℠ Card is a well-rounded card that can help you earn even more points on some of your most frequent spending, including gas. The Citi Strata Premier Card earns an unlimited 3x ThankYou® Points per dollar spent at gas stations as well as at grocery stores, restaurants, and on flights and hotels.

Citi ThankYou points are far from worthless. Citi has a strong list of airlines and hotels where transfer your ThankYou points to book flights and hotels, and the bank just rolled out a brand-new travel portal to use ThankYou points to cover a bevy of travel purchases.

In the world of credit card points, Citi ThankYou points are often overlooked. Fair or not, they're often treated as a fourth fiddle to the likes of Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, and even Capital One Venture Miles. But that doesn't mean Citi ThankYou points are worthless – far from it.

The Citi Strata Premier Card traditionally comes with a welcome offer to earn 70,000 ThankYou® Points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership. The card also has a $95 annual fee, which is not waived in the first year.

Read more about the additional benefits of the Citi Strata Premier Card


Citi Strata Premier Card


Learn more about the Citi Strata Premier℠ Card (for full disclosure, this is not an affiliate link).


Capital One Venture X Card

The *venture x* takes the honor of runner-up for best gas station credit card, by earning 2x Venture Miles for every dollar spent at gas stations.

It's not just gas, though, you can earn 2x miles on all purchases you make with the Venture X card this summer, with no limit on the number of points you can earn. It doesn't get much easier than that! Capital One also throws in some awesome travel perks – like airport lounge access, trip delay & cancellation coverage, lost luggage reimbursement, and an annual $300 travel credit, just to name a few.


capital one plaza premium


The card comes with a solid bonus of 75,000 Venture miles after spending $4,000 in the first three months – miles you can easily use to cover the cost of cheap flights or send on to an excellent array of Capital One transfer partners. The Venture X card has a $395 annual fee, but it's easy to recoup most of that with the $300 annual travel credit and the 10,000 bonus miles that you get each year after paying the annual fee. With all the credits, perks, and simple earning structure – it's easy to see why this card is a real winner for most travelers.

Read about more of the Venture X Card's benefits here!


*venture x*


Learn more about the *venture x*.


Best Credit Cards for Groceries & Dining Out

Everyone has to eat – and that's true whether you're at home or on vacation. So why take advantage by earning extra points for dining out or buying groceries – or by getting some free meals altogether? There are two cards that can do just that.


American Express® Gold Card

There's no better card to use when paying for groceries or dining out than the *amex gold*. The Amex Gold Card earns a whopping 4x American Express Membership Rewards points for every $1 spent on dining and at U.S. Supermarkets up to $25,000 each year (then 1x). With food being a big component of any summer vacation, this card is a must-have in your wallet.


Masked woman grocery shopping


In addition to earning additional points on dining and groceries, the card also comes with up to $10 each month in dining credit and up to $10 each month in Uber Cash to use on U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders. Just be sure to add the Amex Gold Card to your Uber app.

Membership Rewards earned with the American Express Gold Card have all the same redemption options as the Amex Platinum Card and are automatically pooled together with any other Membership Rewards earning card, like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Blue Business Plus® Credit Card from American Express, making it easy to build up your balance in a hurry.

Right now, you can earn at least 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first six months of card membership. One nice thing with this welcome offer is that you'll get six months to meet that spending requirement, twice as long as most other cards offer.

You might be able to do even better than 60,000 points, though. Be sure to check if you're eligible for a 75,000-point offer via CardMatch – or an even better 90,000-point offer via a referral link!

Check out our full review of the American Express Gold Card here! 

Annual Fee: $250 (see rates & fees)


*amex gold card*


Learn more about the *amex gold*


Citi Strata Premier Card

If the Amex Gold Card isn't right for you, the Citi Strata Premier℠ Card is a solid alternative by earning 3x ThankYou® Points for every dollar spent on both dining and groceries. Keep in mind, this card also earns 3x on gas stations, flights, and hotels – in addition to an annual $100 hotel credit on purchases of $500 or more. This card might just be the best overall earner of any in our summer travel list.

All information about the Citi Strata Premier Card has been collected independently by Thrifty Traveler and has not be verified by the issuer.


Citi Strata Premier Card


Learn more about the Citi Strata Premier℠ Card (for full disclosure, this is not an affiliate link).


Best Overall Credit Cards for Summer Travel

While there are some clear winners for each of the individual spending categories associated with summer travel, it's unlikely that one person have will have all of these cards in their wallet this summer. So, what if you just want one card?


Capital One Venture X Card

The *venture x* is my pick for the best one-card solution this summer.

While it doesn't earn you the most points in any of the single categories, the simplicity of earning an uncapped 2x Venture Miles everywhere is certainly appealing. On top of that, it offers some of the best travel perks out there – with things like airport lounge access, travel insurance & rental car coverage, an annual $300 travel credit, plus a credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.

It's tough to do better than the Capital One Venture X if you're only going to carry one card this summer.


*venture x*


Learn more about the *venture x*.


 Chase Sapphire Reserve®

If I could only have one credit card in my wallet this summer the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is the one I'd choose, and there's one big reason why: Travel protection. If something goes wrong, and let's face it, things do go wrong, on my trip this summer, I know that I'll be covered.

Outside of offering more travel protection than most other cards, the Sapphire Reserve card earns additional Ultimate Rewards points in categories I'm likely to spend this summer – dining and travel. With the ability to get into an airport lounge while traveling or put the annual $300 travel credit towards my summer vacation, this card is certainly worthy of a spot in most wallets.


*chase sapphire reserve*


Learn more about the *chase sapphire reserve*.


Bottom Line

Summer travel will be here before we know it. Whether you're catching a flight or taking a road trip, there are a handful of credit cards that make sense to have in your wallet this summer.

From free nights in a hotel to earning extra points and miles on your summer trip that you can put towards future travel, there's a credit card on this list that fits the needs of every traveler.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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