Home Credit Cards What If You Could Only Bring One Credit Card When Traveling?

What If You Could Only Bring One Credit Card When Traveling?

by joeheg

I know having to pick a single credit card to travel with is crazy hypothetical, but it has some real-life relevance for me. Sharon and I aren’t always joined at the hip when it comes to traveling. I take some trips that she has no interest in, like when I traveled to NJ for my grade school reunion. There are also times when Sharon wants to go somewhere and either I can’t get away due to other obligations or I’d just rather stay home. 🙂

When I’m traveling, I shuffle the cards in my wallet to make sure I have one for every circumstance, including the hotels and airlines we’re using and dining, transportation, and activities. However, I can’t do that for Sharon when she’s going solo. I don’t expect her to know when to use her Citi Prestige instead of the Sapphire Preferred.

Which leads to the question, “If you had one card to use when you’re traveling, which would be the one that you’d put in your wallet?”

I’m not going to consider things like lounge access or credits/discounts, only which card would be the best for a generic trip. Because I don’t want a separate card for domestic and international trips, the card needs to have no foreign transaction fees. I’m also leaving out any premium or luxury cards because I don’t think there are too many people who only carry the AMEX Platinum Card. If they do, they’re not reading a website about maximizing points earnings.

I have two nominees for the One Travel Card Award, listed alphabetically.

American Express Green Card ($150 Annual Fee)

American Express has transformed the Green Card from a starter card with a horrible earning structure to one of the best all-around travel cards available.

Charges on the card earn 3X Membership Rewards points in the following categories:

  • Travel purchases – airfare, hotels, cruises, car rentals, campgrounds, trains, taxicabs, rideshare services, tours, ferries, tolls, parking, buses, subways, on third party travel websites, and on amextravel.com.
  • Restaurants (worldwide.)

You can transfer Membership Rewards Points to these programs:

  • Are Lingus Aerclub
  • Aeromexico Club Premier
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Air France / KLM Flying Blue
  • ANA Mileage Club
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Guest Miles
  • Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles
  • Iberia Plus Miles
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Singapore KrisFlyer Miles
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Hotel Programs

  • Choice Privileges Rewards
  • Hilton Honors
  • Marriot Bonvoy

The AMEX Green Card also has a $100 yearly credit for CLEAR membership.

Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 Annual Fee)

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a solid travel rewards card. It gets overshadowed by the Sapphire Reserve, but it might be the better value of the two for the price.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns bonus points for the following categories.

  • 5x points on travel purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards, including airline tickets, hotel accommodations, car rentals, activities and cruises.
  • 3x points on dining at restaurants worldwide
  • 3x points on groceries purchased online, such as pickup or delivery from grocery store chains and meal kit delivery services (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs).
  • 3x points from select streaming services.
  • 2x points on travel – from airfare and hotels to taxis and trains.
  • 1x point for all other purchases.

When traveling, I’m looking at the 3x dining and 2x travel bonuses as it’s doubtful if you’ll use any of the other categories when away from home.

Chase counts these charges as part of the “travel” category

Airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, campgrounds and operators of passenger trains, buses, taxis, limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways, and parking lots and garages.

Ultimate Rewards can be transferred to these partners:

  • AerLingus AerClub (Avios)
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • British Airways Executive Club (Avios)
  • Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM
  • Emirates Skywards
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Iberia Plus (Avios)
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
  • United MileagePlus
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • World of Hyatt

The Sapphire Preferred pays a 10% bonus on points earned on each cardholder’s anniversary. It also acts as primary CDW coverage for rental cars.

And The Winner Is…

It wasn’t easy to pick a winner as the best card could depend on what type of points best fits your travel style. However, a few things put one card slightly ahead of the other.

If I could only bring one card with me, I’d bring the Sapphire Preferred.

One consideration is that Visa is accepted at more locations than American Express. When traveling, you don’t want to see a sign saying the card in your wallet isn’t accepted. This is more of a problem outside of the US, but places at home still don’t take AMEX cards.

The Sapphire Preferred’s primary rental car coverage also gives it an edge over the AMEX Green Card.

While the Green Card does earn an extra point on travel expenses, the Sapphire Preferred makes up some of the difference by offering a 10% bonus every year and the ability to use points with a 25% bonus through the Chase Travel Portal.

Honorable mentions go to the Citi Premier and the Bilt Mastercard, but both had too limited of a definition of travel expenses to have them be the only card I’d bring when traveling.

What do you think about my decision? Would you come up with the same card, or am I totally off base?

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


khatl May 31, 2022 - 4:46 pm

Don’t forget Sapphire Preferred still has 5x on Lyft

Steve L. June 1, 2022 - 7:17 am

Actually one of the better articles I’ve read lately on ” Boarding Area” Good job on the comparison and summary. I agree with you on your choice.


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