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Eager to sign up affluent, free-spending business travellers, banks around the world have been rolling out a steady stream of new credit or charge cards, paired with some very tempting promotions.
For example, British Airways and Chase have played cat and mouse with frequent fliers over the last year, with an on-again-off-again promotion that offers up to 100,000 miles to those who sign up for their co-branded credit card. American Express has offered bonuses of up to 50,000 reward points for signing up for its benefit-laden Platinum Card, and this week the corporate version of the card added free inflight wi-fi in the US to its list of perks.
Tempted? Before you make the switch and sign on the dotted line, be sure you do your homework and consider the following criteria. (Note that offers below change frequently and may be specifically targeted to residents of certain countries.)
You get what you pay for — which is not much — when using cards with a low or no annual fee. So for frequent travellers, it’s usually worth paying a premium for benefits that can improve your travel experience. For example, the American Express Platinum fee is a steep $450 per year, but the card comes with benefits such as worldwide airport lounge access across multiple airlines. The new United Mileage Plus Explorer card from Visa currently offers 40,000 bonus points, waived baggage fees and two United Club passes for $95 per year.
Benefits and affiliations
If you don’t have a corporate travel agency to rely on, choose a card that offers travel planning services or can help get you out of a jam — like when you get bumped from a flight or walked from a sold out hotel, or can’t get a reservation at a hot new restaurant. To maximize benefits like waived baggage fees, airport lounge access or early boarding privileges, the card you choose should be affiliated with the loyalty program of the airline or hotel chain you use most.
Frequent international travellers should consider the rapidly growing number of cards that have nixed those irritating 2% to 3% “foreign transaction fees”. While 3% may not sound like much, if you are spending $50,000 a year on travel then you are paying $1,500 a year in transaction fees.
Many cards offer outstanding sign-up bonuses in the form of airline or hotel loyalty points. While these offers are tempting, read the fine print to determine what you must do to get the bonuses — most require a significant level of purchases in a short period of time to qualify.
Travellers using magnetic stripe credit or charge cards may run into problems in destinations that only accept cards with an embedded chip and pin, which are more common in Europe and are becoming the global standard. Over the last year, US banks have begun offering cards with embedded chips for those who travel overseas frequently.
Charge card v credit card:
If you are the type of traveller who submits expense reports on time… and works for a company that processes and pays them on time, then a charge card (such as American Express or Diners Club), which requires payment in full each month, should work for you. However, if you need a bit a wiggle room when it comes to paying off your bill each month, a credit card (typically Visa and MasterCard) is probably a better option.
Frequent travellers should choose a card that, at a minimum, offers collision damage coverage when renting cars and baggage loss and/or damage protection. But if you rely on collision damage protection when travelling internationally, be sure you know about any country-specific exceptions before you get to the rental car counter. Some cards also offer roadside assistance protection.
What type of credit or charge card is in your wallet and why? Have you considered changing it? Please leave your comments on our Facebook page.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel