The Best Credit Cards for Casual Travelers

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It’s not uncommon for most people in this hobby to have a dozen credit cards at any given times. It makes sense: They travel a lot, they’re saving up for a big trip and need the sign-up bonuses, or the card perks are just too good to pass up.

So it’s easy to forget about the infrequent traveler’s needs when thinking about the best credit cards. I’ve been giving this some thought after speaking with several people who were curious about this hobby. I realized the advice I was giving them about credit cards applied to frequent travelers or travel hackers.

For people who don’t travel a great much but still want to earn points and miles, it’s best to focus on three things: flexible rewards currencies, cards with great recurring benefits, and a reasonable annual fee. With these things in mind, here is my roundup of the five best credit cards for infrequent travelers:

Sapphire Reserve

I know what you’re thinking: “Is a $450 annually fee card really a good way to go for infrequent travelers?” My take is that even infrequent travelers will have $300 worth of travel charges they can put on this card to get the annual travel credit. So really, the annual fee is reduced to $150. What makes this card so great for infrequent travelers is the currency: Ultimate Rewards points are great for flights, hotels, activities, and even direct bookings through the Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal.

Another thing that makes this such a great card is that cardholders earn 3 points per $1 on travel and dining. Dining is a substantial spending category for most people, so being able to earn so many rewards is an advantage.

I was considering recommending the Sapphire Preferred, but the difference in annual fee ends upping just $55 and the Reserve offers way more benefits. So on those occasions when an infrequent traveler does venture out, he/she can can fast track through security and immigration thanks to TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. Plus, there’s free airport lounge access!

Citi ThankYou Premier

Someone is going to cry foul on this one. “How come you included the Sapphire Reserve, with it’s $450 annual fee, but you’re leaving out the Prestige?” I am, and here’s why: The Prestige card does offer premium benefits that are competitive with Chase’s, but the $250 credit is limited to air travel and not everyone will get use out of the card’s category bonuses.

The Citi ThankYou Premier card, on the other hand, pays out 2x on dining and entertainment and 3x on travel including gas stations. For many people (present company included), gas and dining are two of the biggest expenses behind housing.

So being able to really maximize these expenses with category bonuses will benefit most Average Joe’s. Moreso than any premium travel benefits.

 

IHG Rewards Club MasterCard

The IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card has probably the lowest annual fee of any rewards credit card. For a $49 per year, infrequent travelers earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants. That’s huge for the average consumer.

But the best part? Every year you get a free night certificate good at any IHG hotel worldwide. Considering there are over 4,600 IHG hotels worldwide, chances are you’ll find somewhere to redeem your free night. And you’ll definitely get more than $49 worth of value out of it. For a little inspiration, read my list of the Best Category 9 IHG Rewards Club Hotels.

Barclay Arrival Plus

I’m just going to keep reading everyone’s minds here: “Isn’t it better to get a 2% cash back card?” Sure, if you want a long-term no annual fee card, then go ahead and get yourself a 2% ash back card. But if you want a 40,000 point sign-up bonus (worth $400 towards travel) and not pay an annual fee the first year then the Barclay Arrival Plus card is the way to go.

Miles can be redeemed at a rate of 1 cent each towards any travel expense, so infrequent travelers have flexibility in how they use their points. Another great feature of the card that makes parting with your miles easier? The 5% travel redemption rebate. Oh and all purchases earn 2 miles per $1 spent, which is the equivalent of 2% travel cash.

2% Cash Back Card

2% cash back cards like the Fidelity Rewards Visa and Citi Double Cash Card is ideal for frequent travelers. The cash back earned from these cards can be applied towards anything. So whether you’re putting the rewards towards a trip to Europe or a trip to the mall, you have flexibility. Most of these cards don’t even carry an annual fee, making them perfect for infrequent travelers.

Rewards credit cards aren’t just for frequent travelers and annual fees don’t have to scare anyone out of getting one. With these credit cards, you can earn generous rewards and redeem rewards with flexibility. Without shelling out an arm and a leg to cover annual fees.

What are some credit cards you suggest to infrequent travelers?

Ariana Arghandewal
Ariana Arghandewal is a travel hacker and travel rewards expert who earns over 1.5 million miles every year. When she’s not contributing to Frugal Travel Guy, she publishes her own points and miles blog, PointChaser.com. You can connect…
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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Annual Fee: $95 fee waived for the first year
  • Foreign Fees: No
  • Card Type: Bank

Apply Now
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  • Earn 50,000 bonus points when 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®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption – Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 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
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions – as long as there’s a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Breakdown

Earn (pt.)

Spend


First 3 months

50,000

$4,000


Travel Purchases

2.00

$1


Restaurants Purchases

2.00

$1


Coffee Shops Purchases

2.00

$1


Fast Food Purchases

2.00

$1


Alcohol & Bars Purchases

2.00

$1


All Purchases

1.00

$1


Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Annual Fee: $95 fee waived for the first year
  • Foreign Fees: No
  • Card Type: Bank
FTG Review Reward Breakdown Points Breakdown
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points when 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®
  • Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption – Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, July 2016
  • 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
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions – as long as there’s a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Breakdown

Earn (pt.)

Spend


First 3 months

50,000

$4,000


Travel Purchases

2.00

$1


Restaurants Purchases

2.00

$1


Coffee Shops Purchases

2.00

$1


Fast Food Purchases

2.00

$1


Alcohol & Bars Purchases

2.00

$1


All Purchases

1.00

$1


Apply Now

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