The Best Travel Credit Cards

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Anne Dennon

By Anne Dennon Home Technology Writer

Anne has covered home security and home automation for Reviews.com for two years. She’s interested in human-computer interaction and tech ethics. She previously worked in education and information literacy.

The Best Travel Rewards Cards

Travel credit cards are designed to earn you points and miles on everyday purchases that you can put toward your next trip. The best offer high reward rates for your charges, keep fees low, and come with additional perks like bonus rewards and travel protection. And because a good travel partner is ready to go anywhere and can provide help when you need it, wide acceptance and customer support are important, too.

How we chose the best travel rewards cards

General travel cards

Travel credit cards are generally broken down into two types: co-branded and general travel. Co-branded cards are the result of a company partnering with an airline or hotel. They offer additional rewards such as reduced baggage fees or room upgrades if you use them with the partner airline or hotel. These kind of brand-specific cards are worth a look if you find yourself at a lot of Marriotts, for example, or if your local airport leans heavily toward Alaska Airlines. But these are personal preferences that we can’t adequately speak to. We opted to cut co-branded travel cards from our list.

Instead, we focused on general travel cards, which reward you for expenses paid to a wide variety of airlines, hotels, restaurants, and more. For most, the flexibility of a general travel card will offer better value — whether that’s in the form of hotel packages, cruises, or airline tickets.

    The eight travel credit cards we compared:
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
  • Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®
  • PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
  • American Express® Gold Card
  • Chase Ink Business Preferred

1.5x rewards minimum on all purchases

A standard card will earn you one mile or point for every dollar you spend. Typically, 100 points or miles are worth $1 when redeemed. The best travel rewards credit card will offer at least 1.5x points or miles for common travel expenses, like dining — the upper end of reward rates for cards with little to zero fees. With this in mind, we focused our search on credit cards that offer a minimum of 1.5 points or miles for common travel-related expenses. That means more rewards and money in your pocket.

Balanced fees and rewards

Most credit cards offering valuable perks also come with annual fees, and travel credit cards are no exception. Higher fees typically equal higher reward rates that allow you to bulk up your stored miles and get the green light into airline lounges. At the high end of the spectrum, The Platinum Card® from American Express charges $550 per year. Only big spenders will earn enough rewards to offset the annual fee. But cards that don’t require you to spend large amounts of money in order to access perks and rewards offer greater value for most people. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card waives the first year of fees and charges $95 after that. PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card doesn’t charge an annual fee at all.

We vetted our list of travel cards to ensure that what you pay is counterbalanced by what you get, but your spending style will dictate whether a given card is still adequately rewarding you after you subtract the yearly payment.

No foreign transaction fees

Many credit cards charge extra fees on purchases made outside the United States. Known as foreign transaction fees, these surcharges can add up to 2% to 3% to every purchase. To avoid these pesky expenses, we double-checked that our preferred travel credit cards don’t levy foreign transaction fees.

Travel rewards and perks

A good travel credit card offers a hefty sign-up bonus. These bonuses usually consist of a large number of points or miles if you spend a certain amount within the first few months of having your card. The higher the spending cutoff, the greater the final bonus will be. At the same time, a higher cutoff puts you at risk of carrying a heavy balance — a common strategy credit card companies use to increase the chance of you paying interest. The best travel credit card will provide a more reasonable balance between the cutoff and the bonus amount.

The criteria listed above matter most in terms of the financial value of a travel card, but you want to ensure that the perks and benefits of a card match your needs as well. Certain cards offer worthwhile benefits, such as travel protection (think: trip cancellation insurance, emergency travel aid, and even lost luggage reimbursement).

Wide acceptance

Credit providers like American Express and Chase offer some exceptional perks, but there is a good chance that smaller stores, particularly outside of the United States, won’t accept their cards. We didn’t make a cut based on acceptance, but keep in mind that these cards may not be the only plastic you want in your wallet when you hit the tarmac.

Customer support

As for customer support, most credit card companies have similar offerings, such as 24/7 customer service and helpful guides on their websites. All of our top picks have customer support lines and plenty of online resources. For instance, Capital One has a reward estimator that converts your monthly spending amounts into the miles you will earn.

The 5 Best Travel Credit Cards

Capital One Venture Rewards

Best for
Most People
Capital One
Capital One


Availability can vary, and our quote tool may not include all providers in your area.

Pros

  • 2x the miles for every purchase
    Noteworthy sign-up bonus
    Additional travel rewards

Cons

  • Travel insurance falls short

Why we chose it

2x the miles for every purchase

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card takes the top spot for best travel card, mainly for its rewards earning potential. With 2x miles for every purchase, this card offers more opportunities to earn rewards that you can put toward travel expenses, including airfare and hotel bookings. Whether you’re shopping for groceries or filling up your gas tank, we like that the Capital One card makes it easy to convert daily expenses into travel rewards. Its closest competition, The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card only offers 2x the points on dining and travel-related expenses — the reward rate drops down to 1x for all other purchases.

Noteworthy welcome bonus

The welcome bonus for the card is also easier to obtain than the competition. The Capital One card only requires you to spend $3,000 within the first three months of approval to earn 50,000 bonus miles (a $500 value).

Additional travel rewards

Even without the sign-up bonus, the Capital One card offers core benefits and unique perks that boost it above other travel rewards cards. The company will waive your annual fee for the first year and charge you a low $95 after (a sharp contrast to the $550 fee of luxury options, like the Amex Platinum Card®). In addition, the company will even award 10 miles per dollar on hotels if you pay through the Venture Card hotel portal. Better still, all of the miles you earn won’t expire for the life of the account, and there is no limit to the rewards you can earn. Whether you want to use your miles quickly or save them up for a dream vacation, the Capital One card has you covered.

In June 2018, Capital One also added a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit, so if you’re a frequent flyer considering this card, it’s good to know Capital One is there to help you streamline your airport experience.

Points to consider

Travel insurance falls short

We were disappointed to learn that the card offers standard protection for travel accidents but not trip cancellation. Capital One will reimburse up to $3,000 for lost luggage per trip, but there’s actually a pretty long list of items that aren’t covered (contact lenses, glasses, animals, sporting equipment, cameras, “business items,” cell phones, art objects and more). We like knowing that our hard-earned miles, not to mention belongings, are protected from common travel risks. These are strange exclusions, especially when considering other providers, like Chase and Bank of America, offer additional protection.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Best for
Frequent Travelers
Chase
Chase


Availability can vary, and our quote tool may not include all providers in your area.

Pros

  • Solid option for frequent travelers
    Travel protections
    Travel benefits

Cons

  • Rewards limitations

Why we chose it

Solid option for frequent travelers

While the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is better for the average spender, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a better option for those who travel frequently. The 2x reward rate for dining and travel-related expenses make it easy for those who are always on the move (and never cooking at home) to rack up serious rewards.

Travel protections

With the Chase travel card, you can expect standard protection from travel-related accidents, as well as coverage for lost luggage and trip cancellations. Not only that, the card offers up to $10,000 in coverage for trip cancellation, which means you don’t have to worry about a loss of points or money in the event of inclement weather or other travel interruption. While this may not matter to those who primarily travel for yearly vacations, those who find themselves traveling often will benefit from the extra protection.

High-value travel card benefits

Chase also adds a few extra benefits for its customers, including additional rewards. If you redeem your travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, the company will give you 25% more points for every dollar spent. For example, if you spend $4,000 within 3 months and get the 60,000 point sign up bonus (normally a $600 value), and you redeemed them through the service, you would actually receive $750 worth of travel.

Beyond those unique features, Chase offers all the same benefits as the Capital One® Venture® Rewards card. For those who travel often and want to earn the most rewards possible without sacrificing travel protections, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a solid bet.

Points to consider

Rewards limitations

As we mentioned before, the greatest weakness of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the limitations it has when it comes to certain rewards. More specifically, general expenses, like groceries and gas, will only earn you 1x the points for every dollar you spend — this is half of what the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers. But if you travel frequently, you might not need to spend that much on groceries or gas compared to restaurants and cab fare.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Best for
Big Spenders
Chase
Chase


Availability can vary, and our quote tool may not include all providers in your area.

Pros

  • 3x points
    Elite travel benefits
    Requires top-tier credit score

Cons

  • High annual fee
    Additional authorized user fee

Why we chose it

3x points

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you get 3x points for every dollar you spend on dining or travel-related expenses once you’ve used a $300 travel credit. This includes worldwide travel (airfare, taxis, trains) and dining. You’ll only get one point per every dollar you spend on any other type of purchase. But if you’re a frequent traveler, these other purchases might not matter as much as those related to travel.

Elite travel benefits

In addition to earning 3x points on travel and dining, you get 50% more value when you redeem points through Chase Ultimate Rewards (double what the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers). This adds up in a big way. If you spend $600 on a flight, there’s 1,800 points. Cash those points in with the gift cards, flights, and Apple products (shiny new perk right there) available through Ultimate Rewards, and those 1,800 points go the distance of 2,700 points. You also get a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck applications and access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide.

Requires top-tier credit score

It is important to note that the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card is harder to obtain — as a premium card, it requires a top-notch credit score. But we consider this a strength because premium travel cards are best suited for experienced credit card owners anyway. Other cards will be a better match for average spenders, but for those who plan to spend more and use more benefits, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is a solid pick.

Points to consider

High annual fee

The cost to access these notable rewards is high — the annual fee is $450. Although a $300 annual travel credit that reimburses you for travel purchases offsets most of the cost, we would prefer not having to use it to pay a larger fee. More importantly, the extra cost means you pay more for benefits that you might not use. A survey by U.S. News and World Report found that 48% of travel card owners don’t use common cardholder benefits (and those who do often only use a few). If you don’t plan on using all of your benefits, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card may not provide a better value.

Additional authorized user fee

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® card has an authorized user fee. It will cost you $75 a year for every authorized user you add to your account. Adding an authorized user is a good way to help others build their credit history and to earn additional rewards, and your authorized users get a priority pass membership — access to the same airport lounges. We prefer the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which lets you add a user for free, but if you and your authorized user are able to spend more to offset the fee, the Reserve is a viable option.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Best for
Luxury Travel
American Express
American Express


Availability can vary, and our quote tool may not include all providers in your area.

Pros

  • Massive rewards
    Deals on travel services
    Airport perks

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
    Not accepted everywhere

Why we chose it

Massive rewards

The welcome bonus with The Platinum Card is robust — make $5,000 worth of purchases on your Platinum card in the first three months and receive 60,000 points — and the supersized travel rewards don’t stop there. Purchases made through AmEx Travel accumulate five times their dollar value in Membership Rewards points — meaning a $700 flight would rack up 3,500 points.

Deals on travel services

The Platinum Card brings VIP status to renting a car or ordering an Uber: shorter wait times and discounts with rentals and preferred drivers, plus up to $200 in ride credits for Uber. It will also bump you up to a nicer room, a later check-out, or provide dining credits at certain hotels and resorts.

Airport perks

Here’s where you’ll first feel the Platinum start taking effect. A Platinum AmEx cardholder gets access to over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide, where you can eat, drink, and rest in quiet comfort away from the rest of the luggage-burdened throng. You can also get reimbursed at one qualifying airline for airport expenses, like in-flight purchases and baggage fees, with another credit up to $200 each year.

Points to consider

Steep annual fee

At $550 per year, The Platinum Card is the most expensive travel rewards credit card we encountered. The card’s gamut of perks and rewards go a long way toward justifying the price, but you need to be a seasoned traveler with a fair amount of spending money for that annual fee to not be a major turn off.

Not accepted everywhere

While AmEx carries a lot of clout, it also carries a big merchant fee. Lots of smaller shops can’t afford to accept American Express as a result, so while you’re fully able to use your Platinum card at larger hotels and stores even internationally, it’s a good idea to have alternate modes of payment on hand when you’re browsing boutiques.

PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card

Best with
No Annual Fee
PenFed Pathfinder
PenFed Pathfinder


Availability can vary, and our quote tool may not include all providers in your area.

Pros

  • No annual fee 3x points on all travel purchases $100 air travel credit every year

Cons

  • 4x points reserved for PenFed and military members Not accepted everywhere

Why we chose it

No annual fee

Most travel rewards cards require an annual fee — usually somewhere between $100 and $500. Some cards waive the annual fee for the first year, but leave you stuck with the cost every year after that. But the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card doesn’t just waive your annual fee for the first year — it never requires one at all. That’s incredibly rare for a card with this many perks and rewards.

3x points on all travel purchases

Without an annual fee, you’d think the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card’s points system would be less attractive than some of its competitors. But no, just like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card (which has an annual fee of $450), the PenFed Pathfinder still grants 3x points for every dollar you spend on travel-related expenses like airfare, taxis, trains, road tolls, and dining. Plus, you’ll get 1.5x points on everything else you purchase. Finally, if you have an Access America checking account with PenFed — or serve in the military — you’ll actually qualify for 4x points on travel expenses.

Annual $100 air travel credit, plus a one-time TSA application credit

Two small but neat perks of the PenFed Pathfinder are these annual credits toward air travel and TSA applications. The first $100 credit can be applied to “baggage fees, lounge access, and onboard food and beverages.” You’ve got a choice of what to do with the second credit: $85 for TSA Precheck, or $100 for TSA Global Entry, as long as you charge the fee to your Pathfinder Card. Both Precheck and Global Entry memberships last for five years. (TSA Precheck only applies to flights departing the U.S., while Global Entry adds the same benefits for arrivals.)

Points to consider

4x points reserved for PenFed and military members

There’s a reason this card is called the “PenFed” — in order to unlock its biggest rewards, you have to be a member of PenFed Credit Union’s Honors Advantage program. There are two ways to qualify: opening a PenFed Access America checking account, or serving in the military (active duty, reserve, honorably discharged, or retired). Being an Honors Advantage member increases your travel rewards to 4x points, so it’s certainly worth looking into. (The Access America checking account has no monthly fee as long as you maintain a daily balance or monthly direct deposit of at least $500.)

Not accepted by all businesses

American Express cards still aren’t accepted by as many merchants as Visa, Mastercard, or Discover. Because its merchant transaction fees are higher, Amex isn’t very popular with small businesses with tiny profit margins. However, most of your travel expenses will probably come from larger businesses — airlines, hotels, and transportation companies — so this particular consideration does weigh as heavily here as it would for a daily-use rewards card at home.

Guide to Travel Rewards Cards

How to find the right travel credit card for you

Determine how often you travel

If “travel” to you means an annual vacation to the mountains or coast, then a travel credit card might not be the best fit. These cards are really beneficial to those who fly constantly and put a good chunk of their budget toward travel. If you find yourself spending a large amount on gas and groceries, for example, you’ll want a card that can earn you cash back on those purchases. If you’re flying all the time, you might want to consider an airline card or co-branded card that works in conjunction with your preferred airline. Again, it all comes down to where you spend the most money.

Think about your credit score

Due to the rewards they offer, most travel credit cards require strong credit scores for approval. While you may find cards that don’t require a high score, they generally aren’t recommended — the reward rates are usually low or interest rates are high. If you don’t have credit or your score is low, we recommend starting with a general credit card to build your score. For more info, check out our review of the Best Credit Cards.

Consider the card’s APR

An annual percentage rate (APR) is the interest rate you will pay for borrowing money and is usually stated as a yearly rate. For cards with rewards, like travel credit cards, rates will also typically be higher, but most fall within the industry standard of 14.24 – 24.24%, including our top picks. Knowing your APR is important, but your exact rate depends on your credit score — the better your score, the lower your APR. Because APR differs from person to person, we left it off our list of criteria. But you can also avoid paying interest altogether if you pay your full balance on time each month.

Target the travel card rewards you’ll actually use

As we’ve mentioned, a lot of travel credit card holders often hardly scratch the surface of their rewards potential. If you know you won’t end up using (even the majority of) your miles throughout the year, it’s important to do your own cost-benefit analysis before signing up, especially if you might end up paying a high annual fee only to use a small number of your mile earnings.

Get the most out of your travel rewards

When it comes to maximizing the best credit card bonus offers, the best strategy is to take advantage of deals that boost your reward rate. The less money you have to spend to earn rewards, the better. Here are a few tips that will help you get started:

Sign up for a loyalty program: Many hotels and airlines have loyalty programs that will award you miles and points for the flights and rooms you book — this means you will get miles and points from both your card and the loyalty program. Dining programs: Many airline and hotel companies will also award miles and points if you dine at certain restaurants, and if you link a travel card to your account, you’ll earn even more miles and points. Maximize your purchases: This seems obvious, but the more you spend, the more you will receive. This means using your travel card to pay for most of your expenses and paying your bills on time to avoid interest. Combine your card with an airline or hotel card: Using a co-branded airline or hotel card along with your general travel card will allow you to use the cards at the opportune time. For example, you could use your airline card with your airline and loyalty program to maximize the miles you earn from a plane ticket and then use your general card for other expenses. Just watch out for exchange fees. Steer clear of dynamic currency conversion: In simple terms, merchants let you choose whether you are charged in local currency or to pay with U.S. dollars through the dynamic currency conversion. The local currency option almost always has a better exchange rate.

For additional tips, we recommend visiting guides by U.S. News and World Report as well as The Points Guy website. The sites will offer additional strategies, but the ones listed here should help you start maximizing your rewards.

Travel Rewards Credit Card FAQ

The Best Travel Rewards Cards: Summed Up

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card
The Platinum Card® from American Express
PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
Best for Most People
Best for Frequent Travelers
Best for Big Spenders
Best for Luxury Travel
Best with No Annual Fees
Annual Fee
$0 for the first year, $95 after that
$95
$450
$550
$0
Introductory Bonus
50,000 miles after $3,000 spent in first 3 months
60,000 points on $4,000 spent in the first 3 months
50,000 points on $4,000 spent in the first 3 months
60,000 points on $5,000 spent in first 3 months
25,000 points on $2,500 spent in first 3 months
APR
17.24% – 24.49% variable
17.49% – 24.49% variable
18.49% – 25.49% variable
N/A
12.99% to 17.99% variable

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