February 25, 2021

Model Desac

It’s Time to Fly

The Best Travel Credit Cards

24 min read

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Your travel plans may be on pause right now, but that doesn’t mean your travel rewards have to stop.

Many travel credit cards have long offered rewards in non-travel categories like dining, groceries, gas stations, rideshare services, and more, but credit card issuers have made a concerted effort to increase everyday value on travel rewards cards since the start of the pandemic.

The annual fees that come with these cards make it even more important to ensure you get your money’s worth on your regular purchases. A travel card with great everyday value can go a long way to offset the high annual fees these cards often carry, even when you’re not taking advantage of premium travel benefits and perks that typically reduce the cost. 

We believe the best travel credit cards offer a combination of flexible rewards on everyday spending alongside valuable travel benefits and redemptions. Here are NextAdvisor’s picks for the best travel credit cards right now:

Travel credit cards offer some of the most valuable benefits on the market, but those perks are costly. Travel cards often carry annual fees, high APRs, and require excellent credit for approval. Before applying for a new travel credit card, make sure you establish a solid credit history. May payments on time, eliminate any debt balances, and pay off your balances in full at the end of each month.

Best Travel Credit Cards

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Good for Earning Miles on Every Purchase

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Rewards rate:

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.

  • Intro bonus: 60,000 miles
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Regular APR: 17.24% – 24.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Earn unlimited 2x miles on every purchase you make, for a $95 annual fee, plus 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months of account opening. That’s worth $600 in travel. 

The Venture card doesn’t offer a ton of added benefits, but you’ll get up to $100 toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, auto rental coverage, travel accident insurance, extended warranty, and no foreign transaction fees. 

When you’re ready to redeem, you can transfer your miles to one of Capital One’s travel partners, book through the issuer’s Rewards Center, or use Purchase Eraser to receive a credit toward any travel purchases on your statement within 90 days. Through April 2021, you can also redeem miles for restaurant delivery or takeout purchases, streaming services, and wireless telephone services.

When it comes to balancing simplicity and value, there aren’t many travel cards that can compete against the Capital One Venture. Your groceries, gas, and other essential purchases today will rack up miles to put toward future travel. We like flat cash back cards because they add value to every purchase you make, regardless of category, and frequent travelers can enjoy that same flexibility with the Venture card. 

Capital One takes the idea of simplicity even further with its Purchase Eraser feature. Instead of choosing a redemption option within a rewards program, you can simply erase travel purchases from your statement — like flight tickets or hotel bookings — using the miles in your account. That means you can choose where and how you book, and score the best deal while still maximizing your miles.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Good for Intro Bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Rewards rate:

2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services. 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

  • Intro bonus: 60,000 points
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Regular APR: 15.99% – 22.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Earn 2x points on dining (including eligible delivery and takeout) and travel and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Through April 2021, you can earn 2x points on up to $1,000 in grocery purchases each month. 

If you spend at least $4,000 within the first three months of account opening, you’ll earn 60,000 bonus points (worth up to $750 toward travel), and you can get up to $50 in statement credits toward grocery store purchases in your first year.

Other benefits include 5x points on Lyft rides through March 2022, up to $60 in statement credits toward Peloton purchases, 12 months complimentary DashPass from DoorDash subscription, no foreign transaction fees, and travel and purchase protections.

Redeem your points through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program, where you’ll get a boosted 25% redemption value for travel bookings. Through April 2021, redeem points for the same 25% boosted value when you use Pay Yourself Back for statement credits at grocery stores, home improvement stores, and dining purchases. You can also maximize value with 1:1 point transfer to Chase’s airline and hotel partners.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a great travel card to have in your wallet, thanks to plenty of benefits and ongoing redemption value for just $95 annually. But we like it best for its high-value welcome bonus. 

With the Preferred Card’s boosted travel redemptions, your 60,000-point bonus is worth $750 in travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards. And even if you won’t use that anytime soon, the same 25% boost applies to Pay Yourself Back redemptions through April. Plus, the secondary welcome bonus of up to $50 bonus statement credits toward groceries effectively cuts your first-year annual fee by more than half. 

American Express® Gold Card

Good for Earning Now and Redeeming Later

American Express® Gold Card

Rewards rate:

Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery, plus, earn 4X points for Uber Eats purchases too. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X). Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

  • Intro bonus: 60,000 points
  • Annual fee: $250
  • Regular APR: See Pay Over Time APR
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Earn 4x points at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in purchases annually), 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amextravel.com, and 1x points on all other purchases. You can also earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first six months of account opening. 

The annual fee is $250, but Amex Gold offers plenty of annual credits to help offset the cost. Each year, earn up to $120 in dining credits (up to $10 per month) with eligible partners (including Shake Shack and Grubhub, among others), up to $100 in hotel credits when you book through the Hotel Collection, and up to $120 in Uber Cash ($10 per month) toward UberEats orders or Uber rides. You’ll also get travel and purchase protections and pay no foreign transaction fees.  

Redeem points through Amex Membership Rewards for statement credits, gift cards, online shopping with select retailers, and more, though you’ll get the best value for travel redemptions. You can redeem for travel by booking directly through Membership Rewards or transferring to one of Amex’s travel partners.

This card offers the best of both worlds when it comes to travel rewards. With high-earning rewards in dining and groceries combined with valuable travel redemption options through Membership Rewards, you can rack up rewards on your everyday purchases to fund travel in the future.

And the added benefits Amex Gold offers are designed to do the same. You’ll maximize value on travel with the hotel credit and Membership Rewards, but credits toward dining purchases and Uber Cash can provide monthly savings back into your wallet, regardless of whether you’re traveling or not.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Good for Maximum Redemption Value

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Rewards rate:

3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out. Earn 3X total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • Intro bonus: 50,000 points
  • Annual fee: $550
  • Regular APR: 16.99%-23.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit score: 740-850 (Excellent)

Earn 3x points on dining (including eligible delivery and takeout) and travel, and 1x points on all other purchases. Through April 2021, you’ll also earn 3x points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases each month. After spending $4,000 within the first three months, score a 50,000-point welcome bonus (worth $750 in travel redemptions). This card has a $550 price tag, but offers plenty of benefits for frequent travelers to help recoup that cost.

You’ll get a $300 annual travel credit (which also counts toward gas station and grocery store purchases through June 2021), up to $100 every four years toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, Priority Pass Select membership, 10x points on Lyft purchases through March 2022, up to $60 in DoorDash credits and complimentary DashPass subscription, up to $120 in credits toward Peloton purchases, travel and purchase protections, no foreign transaction fees, and more.

And when you’re ready to redeem, you can choose among plenty of options through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You’ll get a boosted 50% value on your points when you redeem for travel, plus a 1:1 transfer to Chase’s airline and hotel partners for potentially higher value. Through April 2021, you’ll get the same boosted 50% value using Pay Yourself Back to redeem points for statement credits toward grocery, home improvement, and dining purchases.

Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a bounty of premium benefits and annual credits. If you have a large annual travel budget and can take advantage of the extra partner benefits this card offers, you’ll easily offset the high $550 price tag.

But our favorite feature of this card is its high-value redemptions. Each point you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards (or for eligible Pay Yourself Back purchases this year, when you may be traveling less) receives a 50% boost. That effectively increases your 3x points rewards in bonus categories to 4.5 points per dollar spent and 1x points on every purchase to 1.5x points. Those bonuses can add up quickly over time, and result in hundreds of dollars or more in travel savings each year.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Good for Luxury Benefits

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Rewards rate:

Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on your new Card at U.S. Gas Stations and U.S. Supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership. That’s an additional 9 points on top of the 1 point you earn for these purchases. Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. Starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.

  • Intro bonus: 75,000 points
  • Annual fee: $550
  • Regular APR: See Pay Over Time APR
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

After paying the Platinum Card’s $550 annual fee, you’ll earn 10x points on eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets on up to $15,000 in combined purchases within the first six months, 5x points on flights purchased directly from airlines or through Amextravel.com (up to $500,000 in purchases annually) and on prepaid hotels booked through Amextravel.com, and 1x points on all other purchases. If you spend $5,000 within the first six months of account opening, you can get a 75,000-point welcome bonus.

Just some of this card’s benefits include a $200 annual airline fee credit, Hilton Honors Gold Status, Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status, up to $100 credit toward eligible purchases with the Hotel Collection, credits and benefits through Fine Hotels and Resorts, access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection, up to $200 in annual Uber Cash, fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, up to $100 in annual credits for Saks Fifth Avenue purchases, no foreign transaction fees, travel and purchase protections, and more.

Redeem points through Amex’s Membership Rewards program. Among various redemption options, you’ll get the best value by redeeming for travel booked through the site or transferring your points to Amex travel partners.

The Platinum Card offers great rewards on travel bookings and even valuable savings on everyday purchases for the first six months, but this card really excels in the value of its benefits. 

You’ll have to spend a lot to maximize them — on top of the $550 annual fee, many of these credits are designed to make travel you’re already purchasing more convenient (elite status, lounge access, complimentary services during your hotel stays, etc.). If elite status and premium perks don’t concern you, or you don’t spend enough across bonus and benefit categories, you might find better value from another travel card. But for top-of-the-line access, benefits, credits, and perks — on top of a great rewards program — you’ll find few travel options that can compare with the Platinum Card.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Good for Airline Miles

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Rewards rate:

Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels. Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets. Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.

  • Intro bonus: 40,000 miles
  • Annual fee: $250
  • Regular APR: 16.74%-25.74% Variable
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Earn 3x miles on purchases made with Delta and directly with hotels, 2x miles on purchases at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, and 1x miles on all other purchases, for a $250 annual fee. You can earn 40,000 bonus miles plus 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) when you spend $2,000 within the first three months, plus get a $100 statement credit after making a Delta purchase in the same time period.

Beyond rewards, you’ll get additional Delta benefits including priority boarding, first checked bag free on all flights booked with the card, annual Domestic Main Cabin domestic round-trip companion certificate, fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, Delta Sky Club access for $39 per visit, 20% back on in-flight purchases, no foreign transaction fees, and travel and purchase protections. 

You can redeem your Delta SkyMiles for eligible Award Travel with Delta, flight upgrades, and more. You’ll also be eligible for 10,000 additional MQMs when you spend $25,000 within a calendar year with your card (up to twice yearly) through Status Boost. And you’ll get a 25% elevated boost in 2021, for a total 12,500 bonus MQMs. These MQMs are used to determine your Medallion Status with Delta.

Many major airlines — including American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and others — offer co-branded rewards cards. If you tend to book flights with the same airline when you travel, it may make sense to choose a co-branded card option. We chose the Delta SkyMiles Platinum as our airline co-branded card pick both because of Delta’s consistent placement among top airlines and this card’s overall rewards potential.

Despite its $250 annual fee, we believe this card offers frequent Delta flyers the most value of Delta’s co-branded card offerings. Not only can you quickly rack up SkyMiles on both Delta purchases and everyday spending, but you’ll also get hundreds of dollars worth of Delta flight benefits and savings as well as easier access to higher status within Delta’s Medallion loyalty program.

If Delta is your airline of choice and you expect to spend a lot of time on Delta flights in the future, this card can put money back in your pocket and help make your flight experiences more comfortable.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card

Good for Hotel Rewards

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card

Rewards rate:

Earn 6X Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 6,900 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels. 2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • Intro bonus: 75,000 points
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Regular APR: 15.99% – 22.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit score: (No Credit History)

Earn 6x points on purchases with participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2x points on all other purchases, for a $95 annual fee. You’ll qualify for 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within the three months of account opening. 

In addition to points rewards, you’ll get a Free Night Award each anniversary toward a one night stay at a property with redemption level up to 35,000 points, automatic Silver Elite Status, 15 Elite Night Credits each year, Visa Signature Concierge service, no foreign transaction fees, and travel and purchase protections.

You’ll earn Marriott Bonvoy points with this card, which you can redeem for hotel bookings and upgrades, flights, car rentals, shop with points, and even transfer at a 3:1 ratio to Marriott’s airline partners.

Like airlines, many popular hotel chains — from Marriott to Hilton, Wyndham, and more — offer co-branded credit cards with rewards for loyal customers. Among these co-branded options, we chose Marriott Bonvoy Boundless because of Marriott’s broad global presence and popularity, and for this card’s specific rewards offerings. 

Marriott’s Bonvoy program includes more than 7,000 hotels worldwide and — for a hotel rewards program — offers flexible redemption options. And travelers who prefer Marriott hotels can gain a lot of value on each stay with Bonvoy Boundless.

Between the benefits of Silver Elite Status (including a 10% points boost, priority late checkout and free Wi-Fi) and the annual free night stay benefit, even occasional Marriott travelers can easily outpace this card’s modest annual fee. But Marriott regulars can earn even more with a 6x rewards rate and qualification for Gold Elite Status after spending $35,000 on the card annually.

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card

Good for No Annual Fee

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card

Rewards rate:

Earn 3X points for eating out and ordering in. Earn 3X points on popular streaming services. Earn 3X points on gas stations, rideshares and transit
Earn 3X points on travel including flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals. Earn 1X points on other purchases.

  • Intro bonus: 20,000 points
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 14.49% – 24.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Earn 3x points across categories: eating out and ordering in; gas stations, rideshares, and transit; flights, hotels, homestays, and car rentals; and popular streaming services. You’ll also get 1x points on all other purchases and 20,000 bonus points (worth $200 in cash redemptions) when you spend $1,000 within the first three months of account opening. 

Other benefits include cellphone protection, purchase and travel protections, and a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months.

While this card is an American Express card, you’ll redeem the points you earn through Wells Fargo’s Go Far Rewards program. You can redeem for cash, gift cards, travel, and more, and redemptions carry a general value of 1 cent per point. 

This no annual fee card offers great rewards value for travel rewards beginners and seasoned travel cardholders alike — without the high price. Its rewards aren’t as valuable, and its redemption program is not as robust as many others on our list, but it’s a solid option for anyone who wants to avoid the annual fees that come with more premium benefits.

This is also a solid option for infrequent travelers (or people who aren’t sure when they’ll feel comfortable traveling again), since the range of 3x rewards categories is mostly made up of everyday spending, like dining, gas, and streaming. You can earn rewards in these categories today and choose to save up your points to redeem for future travel or enjoy cash redemptions now.

Capital One Spark Miles for Business

Good for Business Travelers

Capital One Spark Miles for Business

Rewards rate:

Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, everywhere, no limits or category restrictions, and miles won’t expire for the life of the account.

  • Intro bonus: 50,000 miles
  • Annual fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that
  • Regular APR: 20.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score: 670-850 (Good to Excellent)

Small business owners can earn 2x miles on every purchase with Spark Miles for business, plus 5x miles on hotel and car rental bookings through Capital One Travel. You can also qualify for a 50,000-mile bonus (worth $500 in travel) after spending $4,500 within the first three months of account opening. 

You’ll also get up to $100 in credits toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, year-end summaries and purchase records for your business accounting, free employee cards with customizable spending limits, no foreign transaction fees, and purchase and travel protections.

When you’re ready to redeem, you can book travel through Capital One’s Rewards center, or use Purchase Eraser to get statement credits toward travel purchases within the past 90 days. Through April 2021, also use your miles toward restaurant purchases, streaming services, and wireless telephone services using Cover My Purchases redemptions.

Like Capital One’s consumer Venture Rewards card, Spark Miles for Business offers a flexible rewards program that allows business owners to earn rewards on everyday business expenses and redeem for travel. Whether your business requires you to travel often, or only a few times each year, you can get great value from this card.

And Capital One’s Purchase Eraser adds even more flexibility, especially if you’re required to book your business travel through a company portal or special travel agent. No matter how you book, you’ll still gain value by wiping those purchases from your statement using miles redemptions. 

Best Travel Credit Cards Summary

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Good for: Earning Miles on Every Purchase

Earn unlimited 2x miles on every purchase you make, regardless of category. After spending $3,000 within the first three months of account opening, you can earn a 60,000 bonus miles. This card’s annual fee is $95.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Good for: Intro Bonus

Earn 2x points on dining and travel. Score 60,000 bonus points (worth $750 in travel redemptions) after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening, plus up to $50 in statement credits toward grocery purchases within your first year. Get a 25% boosted points value for travel redemptions. This card charges a $95 annual fee. 

American Express Gold Card

Good for: Earning Now and Redeeming Later

Earn 4x points on dining worldwide and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in annual purchases), 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amextravel.com, and 1x points on all other purchases. Get annual dining, hotel, and Uber Cash credits, plus a 60,000-point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 within the first six months of account opening. You’ll pay a $250 annual fee.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Good for: Maximum Redemption Value

Earn 3x points on dining and travel, 3x points on grocery store purchases through April 2021, 1x points on all other purchases, and a $300 annual travel credit, among other benefits. Get 50,000 bonus points (worth $750 in travel redemptions) after spending $4,000 within the first three months. Redeem points for travel at a 50% boosted value. Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a $550 annual fee. 

The Platinum Card from American Express

Good for: Luxury Benefits

Earn 10x points on eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets on up to $15,000 in combined purchases within the first six months, 5x points on flights purchased directly from airlines or through Amextravel.com (up to $500,000 in purchases annually) and on prepaid hotels booked through Amextravel.com, and 1x points on all other purchases. Get a 75,000-point welcome bonus after spending $5,000 within the first six months, and enjoy premium benefits like hotel elite status; $200 annual airline fee credit; credits toward shopping, hotel stays, and Uber rides; airport lounge access; and more. This card charges a $550 annual fee.

Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card

Good for: Airline Miles

Earn 3x miles on purchases made with Delta and directly with hotels, 2x miles on purchases at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, and 1x miles on all other purchases. Get 40,000 bonus miles plus 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) when you spend $2,000 within the first three months, and a $100 statement credit after making a Delta purchase in the same time period. You’ll also enjoy flight benefits like first checked bag free, annual companion certificates, and more. Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex charges a $250 annual fee.

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card

Good for: Hotel Rewards

Earn 6x points on purchases with participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 2x points on all other purchases, and qualify for 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within the three months of account opening. You’ll get additional Marriott benefits including an annual Free Night Award each cardmember anniversary, Silver Elite Status, and 15 Elite Night Credits each calendar year. This card has a $95 annual fee. 

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

Good for: No Annual Fee

Earn 3x points across categories: eating out and ordering in; gas stations, rideshares, and transit; flights, hotels, homestays, and car rentals; and popular streaming services, plus 1x points on all other purchases. You’ll also qualify for 20,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 within three months of account opening. Wells Fargo Propel charges no annual fee.

Capital One Spark Miles for Business

Good for: Business Travelers

Earn 2x miles on every purchase, plus 5x miles on hotels and car rental booked through Capital One Travel. You’ll also get a 50,000-mile bonus after spending $4,500 within three months of account opening. This card charges $95 annually, but the fee is waived your first year.

Card Intro Bonus Rewards Annual Fee
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within 3 months of account opening 2x miles on every purchase $95
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within 3 months of account opening, up to $50 in statement credits toward grocery purchases within the first year • 2x points on dining and travel

• 1x points on all other purchases

$95
American Express Gold Card 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within six months of account opening • 4x points at restaurants worldwide and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in annual purchases)

• 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or Amextravel.com

• 1x points on all other purchases

$250
Chase Sapphire Reserve 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within 3 months of account opening • 3x points on dining and travel

• 3x points on up to $1,000 in monthly grocery store purchases through April 2021

• 1x points on all other purchases

$550
The Platinum Card from American Express 75,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 within 6 months of account opening • 10x points on eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets on up to $15,000 in combined purchases within the first six months

• 5x points on flights purchased directly from airlines or through Amextravel.com (up to $500,000 in purchases annually) and on prepaid hotels booked through Amextravel.com

• 1x points on all other purchases

$550
Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card 40,000 bonus miles plus 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $2,000 within 3 months of account opening, $100 statement credit after making a Delta purchase within 3 months of account opening • 3x miles on purchases made with Delta and directly with hotels

• 2x miles on purchases at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets

• 1x miles on all other purchases

$250
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within 3 months of account opening • 6x points on purchases with participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels

• 2x points on all other purchases

$95
Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card 20,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 within 3 months of account opening • 3x points on eating out and ordering in; gas stations, rideshares, and transit; flights, hotels, homestays, and car rentals; and popular streaming services

• 1x points on all other purchases

$0
Capital One Spark Miles for Business 50,000 bonus miles after spending $4,500 within 3 months of account opening 2x miles on every purchase $95, waived the first year

How Travel Credit Cards Work

Travel credit cards earn points or miles on purchases you make with the card which you can redeem within an issuer’s rewards program. Travel is typically the most valuable rewards option, though you may be able to redeem for other options, like statement credits, cash, gift cards, or purchases with partners. 

Travel redemption options for travel credit cards vary, but often include flights, hotels, car rentals, and more. Some rewards programs allow you to transfer your points and miles to airline or hotel partner loyalty programs, where you may be able to increase the value of your original points depending on how and when you book. 

How to Choose a Travel Credit Card

General Travel

General travel credit cards earn points or miles in select categories, which may be travel-focused (flight, hotels, car rentals) or more broad (dining, groceries, gas). These cards typically offer flexible redemptions for your points and miles toward future travel bookings and are ideal for travelers who don’t always fly with the same airline or stay with the same hotel brand.

To choose the right general travel card for you, consider how the card’s rewards categories align with your spending — both while traveling and your everyday purchases — as well as how any added benefits may help you maximize value. Then look into the redemption options available. Is your preferred loyalty program among the transfer partners? How much are your points or miles worth when you redeem for travel? What other options are there besides travel that you might consider? 

And remember, though premium benefits can offset the cost, these cards often carry high annual fees. Approach your options with a realistic view based on previous travel spending or future trips you’re already planning. If you choose a card based on your ideal annual travel budget or benefits that sound nice but aren’t actually suited to your spending, the card may end up costing you more than it’s worth.

Airline

Unlike general travel credit cards, airline cards earn miles toward a single airline’s rewards program, like Delta SkyMiles from Delta Air Lines or AAdvantage from American Airlines. These cards may earn rewards on non-airline categories (like dining or groceries) but your redemptions are limited to purchases with a specific airline. Benefits are also typically airline-specific, and may include free checked bags, upgrades, priority boarding, and more. 

Hotel

Similar to airline cards, you should only open a hotel-specific travel credit card if you have a strong preference for one hotel chain, such as Marriott or Hilton, and you travel to locations where that chain is an option. You’ll earn rewards within the hotel’s rewards program and, though you may earn bonus points on non-travel purchases, redemptions are typically limited to bookings and other hotel purchases. These cards also generally offer added benefits for brand loyalists, like elite status, annual free night credits, complimentary services during stays, and more.

How to Compare Travel Credit Cards

Rewards and benefits are important, but they’re not the only factors that should go into your decision when choosing a travel credit card. Here are some card details you should consider — and compare with your individual card needs and spending habits — before you apply:

Annual Fee

A no annual fee travel card can be a great deal, but those with an annual fee offer some of the most valuable travel rewards and benefits. Before applying for a new travel credit card, evaluate how well your spending aligns with a card’s benefits and whether you’ll gain enough value from those benefits to offset the cost of the annual fee. 

Rewards Rate

Travel credit cards often offer great rewards on your travel spending, but you should look beyond points earned on flights and hotels. Many of the best travel cards also offer rewards on everyday spending, like dining, groceries, and rideshare services, so you can maximize your most frequent purchases. 

Sign-up Bonus

A great sign-up bonus shouldn’t be the most important factor in choosing a travel credit card, but it can add hundreds of dollars in rewards value. Look for a sign-up bonus that’s attainable (they often require a minimum spend within a limited time) and high-value. These offers are especially helpful if you can plan ahead and give yourself time to score the sign-up bonus before you’re ready to book, so you can use your bonus points or miles toward your trip.

Foreign Transaction Fees

If you plan to take your travel credit card along on any international trips, you’ll want to avoid foreign transaction fees. These fees range from 1%-3% of each transaction you make in another country or in a foreign currency, and can quickly add up when you spend internationally.

International Acceptance

If you travel internationally, it’s important to choose an issuer that’s widely accepted in the countries you plan to visit. Visa and Mastercard are the most common networks you’ll find accepted worldwide, while you might struggle to find merchants that accept American Express and Discover in some countries (though even those networks are increasingly more widely accepted).

Travel Protections

Travel protections aren’t the most flashy travel credit card feature, but they can be among the most valuable. Look for protections like auto rental collision waiver, travel accident and delay insurance, roadside assistance, lost luggage and delayed baggage coverage, and more.

Perks 

Added perks offered by travel credit cards are often unmatched by any other cards on the market. Benefits vary widely by issuer, individual card, and price range, but can go a long way in maximizing your card’s value and adding convenience to your travel plans. Some examples of these perks include annual credits, partner discounts, memberships, and more.

APR

Generally, any travel credit card is going to charge a high APR on any balance you carry. That’s why it’s important to only charge purchases you know you’ll be able to pay off in full when your statement balance is due. Otherwise, any rewards or benefits the card offers will be quickly wiped out by interest charges.

Should You Get a Travel Credit Card?

Pros

  • Bonus rewards on travel and everyday purchases

  • Added perks and benefits

  • Travel and purchase protections

  • Save on future travel with points and miles redemptions

  • Valuable welcome bonus offers

Cons

  • Usually charge annual fees

  • High ongoing APR

  • Maximizing value often depends on already high travel spending

  • Lower rewards value for non-travel redemptions

How to Make the Most of Your Travel Credit Card

To make the most of your travel credit card, make sure you understand the ins and outs of how you earn and redeem rewards, and take advantage of all the benefits and perks your card has to offer. 

Before applying, take time to research how your spending aligns with a card’s rewards categories. Also consider how well added benefits and credits align with purchases you would make anyway. Even if a card’s benefits are enticing, they will only cost you in the long run if they encourage you to spend money you wouldn’t otherwise, just to use a benefit or earn bonus points. 

Continue making the most of your card with redemptions. In most cases, you’ll get the maximum value for your points or miles by redeeming for travel. Save up rewards for your next trip, and when you’re ready to redeem, evaluate your options. You may get the most value by booking directly through the rewards program or — depending on when and where you book —  by transferring points to a travel partner. 

Methodology

EDITORIAL INDEPENDENCE

As with all of our credit card reviews, our analysis is not influenced by any partnerships or advertising relationships.

To determine the best travel rewards cards, we evaluate travel rewards cards currently available from major card issuers with an eye for those most valuable to a broad range of cardholders. We prioritize cards with flexible rewards in both travel and everyday categories, as well as added benefits that help offset annual fees. Each card must charge no foreign transaction fees and offer travel and purchase protections to make our list. Other details considered for our final picks include specific rewards categories, added benefits and perks, welcome offer, redemption value, rewards program, and how well the card serves its stated purpose.

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