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Initial questions

Travel-related cards come down to two things ­— your spending habits and your travel patterns. When it comes to choosing a new card, you must ask yourself the necessary questions. Will you take only two or three leisure trips a year, or do you have to fly frequently for work? Do you foresee spending a few hundred dirhams on your card abroad, or will your annual international bills run into several thousand dirhams? Tim Winship, Publisher of FrequentFlier.com, advises everyone to start with a simple question: Am I a frequent flier or frequent buyer? “In general, one card is not better than another,” he observes.

Making choices

Nomadic Matt, founder of his website Nomadicmatt.com, which promotes cost-effective travel, says: “The truth is that there is no perfect travel card — they all offer different benefits that fit different people.” It is best to identify the type of card that will give you the most advantages. Travel cards comprise airline mile earning cards, travel point earning cards, and hybrid cards that are a combination of the two. Some credit cards offer discounts on travel-related spending such as the Dubai Duty Free American Express Card. New members get a Dh100 voucher for activating their card, and thereafter, 10 per cent off for all shopping and draw tickets at Dubai Duty Free. Other cards such as Citibank’s Premier Miles Titanium credit card offer travel-related benefits: 5 per cent rebate on air tickets and free home delivery, airport lounge access, complimentary Marhaba service, and an automatic membership to Best Western’s loyalty programme.

Getting what you want

If you start with a specific goal, you can get a card or cards that will help you achieve it. In arbitrary examples, RAKBANK’s Titanium Credit Card offers up to 5 per cent cashback on all international transactions including cash advances and internet transactions. Mashreq Air Arabia Credit Card offers up to six supplementary cards for family members, and excess baggage vouchers of 10kg. Emirates NBD Dnata World credit cards offer between 10 and 20 per cent discounts on renowned travel suppliers such as Hertz car rentals, Trafalgar tours, Insights vacations, Contiki holidays and Costa cruises. The rewards card from Noor Bank offers customers the full assistance of a travel desk, with free ticket deliveries, free airport transfers, and free entry to Marhaba lounges.

Reaping the benefits

Typically, travel cards offer a variety of other benefits such as free or discounted insurance for travel, medical and car rentals, and protection against lost cards. Several generic credit cards also offer travel-related advantages: First Gulf Bank’s Platinum card for instance includes a complimentary e-Gate card and a 0 per cent installment plan for three months on purchase of air tickets from any travel agent in the UAE. But most perks only come to you for yearly fees that start at Dh200 and move steadily upwards. For cards that charge no annual fees such as Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank’s Etihad Guest Above Gold Card, the interest rate could be higher than the norm. If cards waive off fees in the first year, you may probably have to pay a higher annual fee from the second year onwards. It is best to do research to make sense of all the benefits available and weigh them against the annual cost of the card, or the interest you will pay on usage.

Starting the research

Most of the UAE’s travel cards may not feature on card research websites, but they will help you understand what you may be missing. ValuePenguin.com has a customisable online tool that rates more than 50 travel-affiliated credit cards linked to airline and hotel rewards programmes, and also generic cards with travel rewards and online travel agencies that offer benefits. MoneySuperMarket.com compares the merits of overseas spending with an array of credit cards, while CreditCards.com allows you to compare hundreds of offers. Meanwhile, GoBackpacking.com the 16-year-old website that is very popular with budget travellers, says: “If the first card you see seems particularly attractive to you, keep it in mind, but keep looking. You could certainly find the best deal right off the bat, but a bit of research will do you better. If you make the best choice, the card will work for you, not the other way around.”