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Points, miles on credit cards can ease the return to traveling

This is a Visa logo seen on a credit card in New Orleans on Aug. 11, 2019. A travel credit card can put vacation goals on track, but catching the travel bug isn't a good enough reason to apply for one. (AP file photo)

As the COVID-19 vaccination era makes it safer to travel, many people who stayed home during pandemic shutdowns are vacationing again.

Airport checkpoint numbers have increased about 20% from January through mid-June compared with the same times in 2020, according to Transportation Security Administration data.

Rewards like points and miles earned from a travel credit card can help you get to a long-awaited dream destination, especially as a new cardholder.

Currently, there’s no shortage of generous sign-up offers for those with good credit (a FICO score of 690 or higher), but before accepting one, consider whether a travel credit card aligns with your spending.

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When a travel credit card makes sense

Travel credit card options are abundant. There are general travel credit cards that allow flexible redemptions and co-branded travel credit cards allow travel redemptions with certain hotel brands, airlines or third-party travel websites.

These types of credit cards may be useful if you travel regularly, have no debt and pay the bill in full each month to avoid interest charges. Otherwise, the high interest rate on these cards chips away at the value of rewards.

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Must-haves for a travel credit card

A travel credit card should make traveling easier and less expensive. Depending on where and how often you travel, the desirable features may vary.

Here are some factors to consider:

• Annual fees. Consider travel credit cards with steep annual fees only if the card’s perks can offset the cost. Less frequent travelers may get more value from a no-annual-fee credit card.

• Introductory offers. A sign-up bonus can cover the cost of a vacation, but overspending to meet the requirements to earn one defeats the purpose. Instead, plan to apply for a travel credit card around a high-spending month or season to meet bonus requirements with in-budget purchases.

• Rewards. Look for a rewards rate of 1.5% or 2% of your spending. Depending on a card’s terms, the value of rewards may increase or decrease with different redemption options. Travel redemptions typically get the best value. In some cases, you can maximize rewards by transferring points to loyalty programs.

• Money-saving perks. Valuable perks are typically offered on travel cards with annual fees. Airline credit cards may have free checked bags or priority boarding. Hotel-branded credit cards could include a free night and automatic elite status. Some general travel credit cards offer statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, a travel or dining credit, or airport lounge access. The card with the perks you’re most likely to use will give you the best value.

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