The Best Travel Credit Card

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The 30-Second Review

The best travel credit card is the one that offers the most rewards for your dollars spent, plus hefty sign-up bonuses, and flexibility with where and how you can redeem your rewards. We did the math on 29 cards to come up with a handful of recommendations, each geared toward a different type of spender — and traveler.

Best for Most People

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Both of these cards offer 2x travel rewards and generous sign-up bonuses, as well as redemption bonuses. But if you're a slightly higher spender or travel and eat out often, Chase probably has the bigger rewards potential.

Best If You Want Help to Pay for the Occasional Trip

1.5x points, no annual fee, and a 10% bonus if you have a BoA checking account.

Best Card for Big Spenders

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠
A $450 annual fee, but by far the biggest travel rewards available.

Everyone’s competing for your travel dollars, including credit card companies — they’re ready to give you big perks in exchange for your loyalty. Picking the best one for you is a matter of analyzing your spending habits to find out which card will maximize your rewards. We did the math on seven of the best cards to show you how (and to help you start the countdown on your next trip).

Best Card for Most People

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® 2x miles per dollar on any purchase, plus 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days.

For most people — those who travel often and are comfortable putting several hundred bucks a month on a credit card — the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card are excellent options. Both give 2x rewards per dollar spent (although with Chase, those double points are limited to travel and dining purchases) and you can redeem those rewards on a virtually limitless catalog of traveling expenses. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is slightly more flexible and easier to manage, but if you travel and eat out regularly, and enjoy strategizing to earn the most rewards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card could be the more valuable option.

For those who put a little less on their credit cards — say, only $500 a month — and are looking for a way to help offset the occasional trip, we like the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card. If you already have a Bank of America checking or savings account, you get an extra 10% bonus on your 1.5x rewards. If you don’t have a BoA checking account, you may prefer the Discover it® Miles and the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards card. Both have a similar rewards structure to the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card (1.5x and 1.25x per dollar spent, respectively), as well as sign-up bonuses and no annual fee.

And for the biggest spenders and most frequent travelers, we recommend the new Chase Sapphire Reserve℠, which offsets its massive $450 annual fee with hands-down the best travel rewards available.

Our Top Picks for the Best Travel Credit Card

Best Card for Most People

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® 2x miles per dollar on any purchase, plus 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days.

If you’re an average spender (think: around $800 of charges per month), there are three top-level travel cards you should be aware of: the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®. All of these are great cards; the real question is which one is going to get you the most rewards?

That’s going to depend on your spending habits, how hands-on you want to be to maximize your points, and other credit cards you have in your wallet. Let’s do some math to show how it all plays out. This is what might happen if you put $10,000 on each card over the course of a year — or about $833 per month — and earned all of the bonuses.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Base rewards for $10,000 in purchases

15,000 points*

20,000 points

20,000 miles

Plus bonus rewards

65,000 points

60,000 points

70,000 miles

Plus 25% more value if you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards® (Chase only)

81,250 points

N/A

N/A

Plus 5% redemption bonus (Barclaycard only)

N/A

N/A

73,500 miles

*Assuming you spend $5,000 on travel and restaurant purchases and $5,000 on all other purchases.

The math reveals that the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has the potential to earn you the highest points value — and that potential can increase if you put more than the $5,000 in restaurants and travel we used in our example. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® comes in a respectable second. But that doesn’t automatically make the Chase better.

How does Chase Ultimate Rewards® work? Think of Chase Ultimate Rewards® like a shopping site. You log in, look for stuff you want to buy, and pay for your purchases using your rewards points, your card, and cash. The Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal also lets you book flights, hotels, and more.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card comes with a couple of caveats. First: In order to maximize your points and earn that extra 25% in value, you have to redeem them through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. No biggy. The more important thing to consider is how you can earn your points. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you only get 2x points on travel and dining at restaurants, and then 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Granted, travel and dining are really broad categories — if you use Uber or eat out a lot, you’re going to rake in the points. (If you want to really go wild with earning points, you’ll be best off adding the Chase Freedom® into your mix, which gives a whopping 5% cash back on rotating categories that you can then transfer to Chase Ultimate Rewards®.)

But if you want to earn the most points no matter what you’re buying (and only want to worry about one card) you’ll prefer the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, which gives you 2x miles on everything. It then has you redeem your miles as statement credits, which means you would pay for your travel up front, then use your miles to pay off the balance. Every time you redeem, you get a 5% bonus. (You can also elect to receive your miles in gift cards and other merchandise, but we don’t recommend this: Your miles’ value will drop by 50% if you elect to redeem them as gift

Best for Slightly Higher Spenders

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card 2x points on travel and dining, plus 50K bonus miles if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months.

cards or as statement credits for non-travel expenses. That means 10,000 miles would be worth $100 as a travel statement credit, but only $50 as a cash statement credit for non-travel expenses or as a gift card.)

Both cards are really flexible in what you can redeem your points and miles with. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can shop through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® site or transfer your points 1:1 to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs, like United and Ritz-Carlton. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® makes it a little simpler — you can redeem miles for any travel expense on your balance.

To pick the card that’s right for you, it will pay off to go over your spending history from the past year and do your own math to see where you’ll earn the most points. Two last things to keep in mind while you’re tapping away at your calculator: annual fees and each card’s sign-up bonus requirements.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Annual Fee

$0 for the first year, then $89

$0 for first year, then $95

Sign-Up Bonus Requirements

Spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

You’ll see that they are comparable, but the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is geared to slightly higher spenders, both with its annual fee and its bonus requirements.

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days – that’s enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Redeem for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise. Redemption values vary
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 16.24%, 20.24% or 23.24%, based on your creditworthiness.
  • Please note, there is a fee for balance transfers.

Best If You Want Help to Pay for the Occasional Trip

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card 1.5x points on every purchase, plus 20,000 bonus points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.

Credit cards are like anything else: The more you’re willing to spend, the better your options. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great travel credit cards designed for people who don’t plan to put a lot of money on their credit card every month. Maybe you put $1,500 on the card in January when you book a cruise for July, and then put another $800 on the card in June when you buy the plane tickets to the cruise port. Or you’ll put $3,000-$4,000 on your card in the first three months to get your bonus rewards, and then put it back into your wallet until it’s time to start booking travel.

If you want to use a travel rewards card to help pay off the occasional trip, your three best options, in terms of rewards value, are the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards card, the Discover it® Miles, and the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card. Which one might get you the most rewards? It’s time for some more math.

Here’s what you’ll earn if you spend $5,000 on each card — or around $416 per month — over the course of a year, assuming you earn all of the bonuses:

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards

Discover it® Miles - Unlimited 1.5x Rewards Card

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card

Base rewards for $5,000 in purchases

6,250 miles

7,500 miles

7,500 points

Plus 20,000 bonus miles/points (Capital One and BankAmericard only)

26,250 miles

N/A

27,500 points

Plus miles are doubled at the end of your first year (Discover only)

N/A

15,000 miles

N/A

Plus 10% points bonus if you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account (BankAmericard only)

N/A

N/A

30,250 points

At their core, these cards are all pretty similar: You earn either 1.25x or 1.5x points per dollar on any purchase, and there are no annual fees. So which card should you choose?

If you already have a Bank of America® checking or savings account, the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card is the obvious choice, since you get a 10% points bonus on every purchase. The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card will also get you the highest points value for your purchases, if you include both the 1.5x points earned per dollar plus the 20,000 bonus points if you make $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days (a $200 value). That’s why it’s our top pick.

However, the other two cards have their perks. The Discover it® Miles and the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards cards both give you more flexibility in terms of how you can redeem your rewards. Whereas the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card only gives you travel statement credit, Discover lets you redeem in cash or in travel statement credits, and the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards gives you numerous redemption options, including checks, account credits, or gift cards. The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards card also gets you Visa Signature benefits, including complimentary upgrades, a complimentary concierge service, and shopping discounts.

Best Card for Big Spenders

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ 3x points on travel and restaurant, a $300 annual travel credit, and 100,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ is one of the newest — and hottest — travel credit cards on the market. Why? Because it’s offering bonuses and rewards far beyond any of the other travel cards out there. The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ intro bonus is worth $1,500, if you redeem your bonus through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, and its base rewards are higher than anything offered by any of our other top cards.

Before you start filling out those application forms, however, here’s what you need to know. The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ has a $450 annual fee. That in itself isn’t that bad — you get a $300 annual travel credit every year, which means your annual fee is almost paid for — but the high annual fee hints at who this card is really designed for: big spenders who are going to put a lot of money on their credit card and earn big rewards in return.

Let’s take a look at that intro bonus, which you can earn if you make $4,000 in purchases within the first three months. Yes, you’ll get your 100,000 bonus points, which is a $1,500 value if you redeem those points through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, but you’ve also been putting roughly $1,333 on your credit card every month and, we hope, paying it off at the end of every month. (It goes without saying, but don’t carry a balance just because you want a bonus.)

How much money do you currently put on your credit cards? If you’re able to put $1,000 or so on a single credit card every month — and pay it off responsibly, without getting trapped in a debt cycle — then the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ might be a great card for you.

If you already spend a lot of time traveling, the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ becomes even better. With 3x points on worldwide travel and restaurant purchases, running most of your travel expenses through your Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ card can net you significant rewards — 3,000 points for every $1,000 spent, and your point value increases by 50% if you redeem those points through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. If you’re not interested in redeeming through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, you can also get a 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs such as Marriott Rewards® or United MileagePlus® (just like with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card).

You’ll also get access to over 900 airport lounges worldwide, a $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®, and numerous other benefits — plus you’ll know you’re earning the highest travel rewards currently available.

Did You Know?

A point is a mile is a point.

Some travel cards use miles, and others use points — but every mile or point these top travel cards offer is worth about 1 cent. That’s why these cards say, for example, that a 50,000-mile bonus is worth $500. However, values for points and miles can change depending on how you redeem them — your Chase points increase in value by 25% (or 50% in the case of the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠) if you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, and Barclaycard drops your miles’ value by 50% if you choose to redeem as a gift card instead of a travel statement credit. Read the fine print and know how to get the most value out of your points.

If you are loyal to a specific airline or hotel, consider an airline/hotel rewards card.

All of our top picks earn you points or miles that you can use toward airline and hotel bookings, but if you exclusively book a single airline or hotel, it’s worth looking into a credit card that offers rewards just for that brand. We’ve got a list of the best airline credit cards, so start there. Look for credit cards that offer more than 1x points or miles per dollar spent — if you can’t find one for your favorite hotel or airline, you’re probably better off with a general travel card.

You might be able to pay off travel expenses you weren’t expecting.

Baggage fees? Taxi rides? Every travel credit card has its own list of what counts as “travel expenses,” so look carefully at your options. Even if you don’t fly out of town that month, the taxi ride you take to your favorite restaurant could count as travel!

Credit cards want you to go for those bonuses. We want you to pay off your balances.

If you’re going to put $4,000 on your new Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ to get those 100,000 bonus points — or $1,000 on your BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card to get those 20,000 bonus points — make sure you can pay it off. Do not keep a $4,000 balance on your credit card just because you want the bonus points — worst case, you’re stuck paying more in interest than you’re earning in rewards.

The Bottom Line

Best Card for Most People

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® 2x miles per dollar on any purchase, plus 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days.

If you want a travel credit card, look for one that offers more than 1x in points or miles per dollar spent. Annual fee cards may cost a little money, but you can earn back that cost — and more — through rewards. Use our math to figure out which travel credit card might get you the biggest rewards and the best value — and don’t forget about additional perks like travel insurance and concierge services.

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