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The Best Travel Credit Cards

At their core, travel credit cards are designed for a single purpose: earning you points and miles that you can put toward your next trip. The best should offer high reward rates for your purchases and additional perks such as bonus miles or points or travel protections. We compared travel cards in terms of rewards, fees, reputations, acceptance, and customer support to get you started.

The 3 Best Travel Credit Cards

Best for Most People
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Capital One
An exceptional value with a low annual fee and a reward rate of 2x miles for every purchase
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. To compare, 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 sign-up bonus

The sign-up 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). Chase Sapphire Preferred®, on the other hand, requires that you spend $4,000 for the same bonus amount.

Additional travel rewards

Even without the sign-up bonus, the Capital One card offers core benefits and unique perks that boost it above the competition. 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.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card Highlights
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card’ by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates
  • Miles won’t expire for the life of the account and there’s no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that

Best for Frequent Travelers
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase
2x points for travel-related purchases, and excellent perks and protections for those always on the move
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).

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 cancellations, 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 go on yearly vacations only, those who find themselves traveling more 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 percent more points for every dollar spent. For example, if you had 50,000 points (normally a $500 value), and you redeemed them through the service, you would actually receive $625 worth of travel.

Beyond those unique features, Chase offers all the same benefits as our top pick. The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. Fo 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 Preferred® Card Highlights
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a ‘Best Travel Credit Card’ by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel.
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions – as long as there’s a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Best for Big Spenders
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Chase
A worthy upgrade that offers more rewards points at the cost of higher annual fees
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 Reserve card you get 3x points for every dollar you spend on dining or travel-related expenses. 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 percent more value when you redeem points through Chase Ultimate Rewards (double what the Sapphire Preferred card offers), as well as a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ applications and access to over 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 percent 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. 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 and awards you 5,000 points at no extra cost. But if you and your authorized user are able to spend more to offset the fee, the Reserve is a viable option.

Chase Sapphire Reserve® Highlights
  • Earn 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Named a ‘Best Travel Credit Card for 2017’ by MONEY® Magazine
  • 3X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, no foreign transaction fees
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®

Guide to Travel Credit Cards

How to find the right travel 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 know a good chunk of their budget goes toward travel. If you find yourself spending a large amount on gas and groceries, for example, you will 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 to do your own cost-benefit analysis before signing up, especially if might end up paying a high annual fee only to use a small amount of your mile earnings.

Travel Credit Card FAQ

What is the difference between points and miles?

Points and miles are the rewards you earn from using a travel credit card. Travel points can be used to book flights and hotels with a wide range of companies. In that sense, reward programs that use points are generally more flexible. Miles, on the other hand, are generally offered by airline credit cards and denote a cash value that you can put toward future travel expenses — but only if redeemed with a particular airline and its partners.

That said, some general travel credit cards use the two terms interchangeably. Whether measured in points or miles, all of the cards on our list allow you to put your rewards toward expenses from a wide range of travel companies. But no matter what type of credit card you choose, it always pays to double check if a provider has any limits on where you redeem your “points” or “miles.”

How can you maximize 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 will 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 off your bills in 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.

How can you build your credit score?

As we have already mentioned, travel credit cards often require good or excellent credit scores due to the rewards they offer. Finding a travel card with a low credit score requirement is possible, but they often have lower reward rates or higher interest rates. The best bet is to build your score until you qualify for one of the better options on the market (it’s easier said than done).

The best advice is to simply pay off your credit card balances on time to avoid paying more in interest later. We recommend using your credit card to pay for the expenses you feel confident you will be able to pay off quickly. Some of the most recommended expenses include rent, groceries, utilities, and gas.

What if you don’t have any credit?

If you’re having trouble getting approval for a card or have zero credit, you can always become an authorized user on someone else’s account. As an authorized user, you will have access to using their credit card and have the chance to build your credit history. That said, you want to make sure that your activity is reported to the credit bureaus in order to ensure your credit-building activity is on file. However, if you are the owner of the credit card account, make sure you or your authorized user will be able to pay off the charges.

You can also apply for a credit-builder loan. These loans hold the money you borrow in a bank account and help you build credit as you make payments.

There are numerous other ways to build credit, but these tips will help you start. We recommend visiting online guides from financial websites in order to gather additional tips and develop a strategy that works for your particular needs.

The Best Travel Credit Cards: Summed Up

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Best for Most People
Best for Frequent Travelers
Best for Big Spenders
Annual Fee
$0 for the first year, $95 after that
$0 for the first year, $95 after that
$450 annual fee; $75 for each authorized user
Sign-Up Bonus
50,000 after $3,000 spent within the first three months
50,000 bonus points after $4,000 spent within the first three months
50,000 bonus points after $4,000 spent within the first three months
APR
14.74% - 24.74%
14.74% - 24.74%
17.74% - 24.74%

Our Other Credit Card Reviews

Not a frequent traveler? Want to learn more about boosting your credit score? Read our other reviews on financial services.