Credit card recommendations for spring breakers

There are still a few weeks before Spring Break season. That leaves you enough time to get a card that will help you maximize your spending, whatever getaway you have planned.

We chose three common spring break trips and rounded up some cards that will get you a lucrative return that you can use for future travel. Spring break

If you’re taking a road trip

Even though gas prices are low compared than they’ve been in recent years, fuel will likely be a big chunk of your spring break road trip’s cost, especially if you’re piling kids or friends or friends into a large vehicle.

Co-branded gas station cards aren’t usually a great value, but several cards from major issuers let you earn cash-back rebates at the pump.

Cards with gas as a rotating gas category: Until March 31, 2016, both the Discover it and Chase Freedom are offering 5 percent back at gas stations. For 2016, that should cover the traditional March spring break season for college students, as well as family spring break trips governed by schools that coordinate their academic calendars with Easter.

Cards that permanently offer gas with a bonus category: The Blue Cash cards from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner), meanwhile, give you a permanent elevated rebate at U.S. gas stations – 3 percent if you get the Blue Cash Preferred ($75 annual fee).

If you’re taking a cruise

Partiers and families alike may find cruises to be the ideal spring break, thanks to their all-inclusive nature. Most cruise lines offer co-branded rewards cards, but we think generic travel rewards cards are a better option, as you won’t be tied to a single cruise line.

Generic travel rewards generally allow you to earn fixed-value points (usually worth 1 cent each when you redeem them). Some of these cards give you bonus points on a medley of travel expenses, making them a powerhouse for earning extra points on things like cruises and, in some cases, excursions and tours you book as part of your cruise. Your airline rewards card won’t give you extra rewards for that stuff.

Options to consider include:

The Barclaycard Arrival (no-annual-fee version): There’s an $89 version of its card, but its benefits were recently downgraded. The No-annual-fee version gets you 2 points per dollar on travel, including cruises, though. Those points (worth 1 cent each) can be used toward future travel purchases. Plus, you get 5 percent of your points back every time you redeem.

Capital One Venture ($59 annual fee): You get 2 points per dollar on everything and can use them to cancel out future travel purchases at a value of 1 cent each. So, if you spend $3,000 on a cruise for your family, you’ll have 6,000 points to pay yourself back with when you make other travel purchases.

Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee): As with the Arrival above, this card gets you 2 points per dollar on travel. What makes it unique is that it gives you exceptional flexibility when it comes to redeeming those points. You can redeem for cash back, gift cards and point transfers into partner travel rewards programs. That means that same $3,000 family cruise could get you 6,000 points that you can use to top off other airline and hotel rewards points balances.

If you’re going to a theme park

Disney and Universal Studios are probably more intriguing to the family crowd, but we won’t judge you if you’re planning a trip to the Magic Kingdom or The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, college spring breakers!

Disney does have a co-branded rewards card, but its rewards aren’t that flexible. So it’s probably most lucrative for hard-core Disney fans, thanks to the discounts it offers on Disney purchases, credits it gives on Disney cruises and access it grants to exclusive events.

If you aren’t interested in a card directly from The Mouse (or aren’t going to Disney Land or Disney World), here are some more flexible cards to consider.

Citi ThankYou Premier ($95 annual fee)
Like many travel cards, you’ll earn bonus points on travel purchases. What makes this card stand out is that it includes “amusement parks” in its travel category, meaning you’ll get 3 ThankYou points per dollar on your park tickets. Amusement parks are notably missing from the travel category of other popular travel cards.

All those bonus points you earn with the ThankYou Premier can then be redeemed for cash back or merchandise or (for a better value) transferred into Citi’s partner travel programs.

Starwood Preferred Guest card ($95 annual fee)
Did you know that two on-site Disney hotels are Starwood properties? Those properties are the Dolphin and Swan hotels, and they provide perks you won’t necessarily get at non-Disney properties (including extended hours at the parks and free transportation to the parks).

If you just signed up for the Starwood Preferred Guest card and qualified for the sign-up bonus, you can use your Starpoints (assuming availability at the property) to book a room. Both the Swan and Dolphin are in Starwood Category 4, meaning you’d need 10,000 points per room per night. The Starwood program is also ideal for longer rewards stays; if you book five consecutive nights with rewards, the fifth night is free.

If you don’t have enough points, you can at least earn extra Starwood points on your stay by using the Preferred Guest card. The card gets you 2 Starpoints per dollar spent, in addition to whatever bonus points you get from your Starwood Status. That lets you bank points for your next vacation. If your next vacation doesn’t involve Starwood, don’t worry – the card lets you transfer directly to Starwood’s airline, partners, too.

American Express cards (if you’re going to Universal Studios)
American Express and Universal have a partnership that grants cardholders some unique benefits. Examples include:

  • Access to special events, if you bought your park tickets or annual pass with an American Express card
  • Access to VIP areas if you bought your park tickets or annual pass with an American Express card. For example, you might get into special viewing areas for parades (which is ideal for parents with small children).
  • Food discounts. Get 10 percent off the Universal Dining plan if you pay for it with an American Express card and show the offer on your mobile phone at point of purchase.
  • Merchandise discounts. Get 10 percent off when you use an American Express card to buy at least $75 of merchandise.
  • Photo discounts. Roaming photographers and automatic cameras on rides will be snapping your photo throughout your time at Universal. If you buy a photo package and pay for it with American Express, you can get certain prints for free. Check the terms and conditions.
  • Lounge access. The Universal American Express lounge is sort of like an airport lounge, as it provides a quiet place with complimentary snacks and drinks. If you bought your park tickets with an American Express card, you can get in. Anyone you bought tickets for can get in, too, but there’s a limit of six people per card.

You’ll need an American Express credit or charge card to get these perks, and it doesn’t have to be the $450-per-year Platinum. The American Express Everyday card, for example, lets you earn Membership Rewards points, which you can later cash in for travel, online shopping, cash back and more.

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