The Best Travel Credit Cards
Our favorite cards from our partners and the marketplace.
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- March 23, 2018 - We've updated this page with the latest offers and information from travel credit card providers. Our old top pick, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®, has been discontinued. We've replaced it with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, which makes earning rewards a breeze with 2x points on all purchases. Our other picks remain unchanged.
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.
Our pick for the best travel credit card is the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. With a low annual fee of $95 (waived the first year) and 2x miles for every purchase (not just travel related) it offers the best potential value for most people. That means you can earn points while shopping for groceries, paying for gas, or anything in between. Additional perks like 10x miles for every dollar spent on hotel bookings offer more value, and spending $3,000 within the first three months of approval will earn you a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points — a $500 value. For a travel card that makes it easy to earn rewards, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is the way to go.
For frequent travelers, we recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. You can expect 2x the points for dining and travel-related expenses as well as a 25% boost to your rewards if you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. That said, you only receive 1x points for other expenses, which means the card isn’t as well suited for earning rewards on day-to-day expenses as our other top pick. But the card offers industry-leading travel protections that will cover accidents, lost luggage, and even trip cancellations. Capital One, on the other hand, only offers standard accident protection. Put simply, Chase Sapphire Preferred is tough to beat for those who are frequently on the move.
When it comes to premium travel credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ card leads the pack. A reward rate of 3x points for dining and travel makes it easy to earn points, and the redemption boost increases to 50% if you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Travel benefits include a $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases, $100 of credit for a Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ application, and prioritized rental car privileges. That said, the elite benefits come at a cost — a $450 annual fee. And adding any additional users to your account will cost $75 per person every year. In short, the card offers the best of the travel credit card world, but is only a good match for frequent travelers who spend big. Our other cards will be a better match for average spenders.
How We Found the Best Travel Credit Card
We started by cutting co-branded credit 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. These cards offer additional rewards such as reduced baggage fees or room upgrades if you use them with the partner airline or hotel respectively. Brand-specific cards are worth a look if you are loyal to a particular airline or hotel, but since people have different preferences we left them off our list. Instead, we focused on general travel cards which allow you to redeem rewards for use across a wide range of travel companies.
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.
If you need a card designed for flying, we recommend checking out our review of the best airline credit cards (a good option for those who fly frequently). But for most, the flexibility of a general travel card will offer a better value — whether that’s in the form of hotel packages, cruises, or airline tickets.
A travel credit card will earn you rewards for your travel and everyday expenses, and you can put those rewards toward free trips and perks such as hotel or airline upgrades. But not all travel credit cards are created equal. We checked financial articles and websites such as U.S. News and World Report and CreditCards.com to find travel credit cards that were consistently celebrated for their superior reward rates and perks. After identifying the travel cards with the best reputations and perks, we were left with six to compare.
The 6 Travel Credit Cards We Considered
- American Express Platinum Card®
- Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card
- Discover It® Miles
Choosing a travel credit card will largely depend on your specific budget and spending habits. For example, some cards will offer high rewards on travel spending but a lower rate for general expenses such as groceries. But no matter which travel credit card you choose, finding the best options still boils down to a few specific criteria.
We looked for cards that offered 1.5x reward points.
A standard card will earn you one mile or point (about 1 cent) for every dollar you spend. The best travel credit cards will offer at least 1.5x points or miles for common travel expenses such as dining — the upper end of reward rates for cards with zero to little fees. With this in mind, we focused our search on credit cards that offer a minimum of 1.5x points or miles for common travel related expenses. That means more rewards and money in your pocket.
Each of our cards offers at least 1.5x points and rewards for common travel related expenses. However, some cards have better reward rates than others. The Capital One Venture card offers 2x miles per dollar on every purchase such as dining, utilities, and groceries. Competitors like the Chase Sapphire Preferred offer 2x points on dining and travel related expenses but only 1x points on other expenses. While 2x points on dining and travel is still an excellent rate, we gave preference to cards that allow us to earn rewards on a wide range of expenses.
Next, we compared fees to find the cards that didn’t overcharge you for your rewards.
Most companies will charge you an annual fee, which can affect the potential value of your travel credit card. For example, The Platinum Card from American Express charges $550 each year for its card. You’d have to earn 55,000 points to earn enough rewards just to offset the annual fee. That means the card is only good for big spenders — anyone else may end up losing money. Other cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture card waive the first year of fees and only charge $95 afterwards.
Granted, cards with higher fees often have higher reward rates. The Platinum Card from American Express offers 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or American Express travel and for lodging booked through its hotel portal — well above our 1.5x rewards minimum. We didn’t rule out every rewards card with a high annual fee, but we gave preference to cards that don’t require you to spend large amounts of money in order to access perks and rewards. These cards offer greater potential value for most people.
Many credit cards will charge extra fees if you make purchases outside of the United States. Called foreign transaction fees, these fees can cost up to 2-3% of every purchase. To avoid unnecessary costs, most financial experts and websites advise that you avoid cards with these fees. So, that’s what we did — none of the cards on our list have foreign transaction fees.
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.
Then we compared sign-up bonuses, travel benefits, and other perks.
A good travel credit card will offer a sign-up bonus. These bonuses usually consist of a large amount of points or miles if you spend a certain amount within the first few months of having your card. For example, spending $1,000 within the first three months of owning the Bank of America Travel Rewards card will earn you a 20,000 mile bonus ($200 in travel credit). The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card requires you to spend $4,000 for its bonus, but you get 50,000 bonus points (a $500 value).
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 the cutoff and the bonus amount. We liked the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, which only requires $3,000 in purchases during the first three months to earn 50,000 bonus miles.
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).
The Bank of America and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Cards impressed with their travel protections. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of the few cards in the industry to offer protection for travel accidents, luggage, and trip interruption. Its trip cancellation even covers you up to $10,000. Strong competitors like the Capital One Venture card offer standard travel accident insurance, but no trip cancellation protection — a strange exclusion and disappointment.
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.”
Finally, we prioritized cards with wide acceptance and strong customer support
Aside from the criteria listed above, we examined standard features such as wide acceptance to customer support. Cards from providers like American Express and Discover are popular and offer worthwhile perks, but there is still a good chance that stores won’t accept the cards (especially internationally), so we couldn’t give them top billing.
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 helpful resources on their websites. For instance, Capital One has a reward estimator that converts your monthly spending amounts into the miles you will earn.
We focused on using these criteria to find the best travel credit card for the most common use cases — a card that offers excellent perks and rewards for a variety of expenses or frequent travelers. In the end, we found three cards up to the task.
Our Picks for the Best Travel Credit Cards
It was a close race, but the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is our top pick for best travel credit card. With 2x the miles for every purchase and a low annual fee, the card offers the best potential value for most people.
The deciding factor between the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card came down to one difference: reward rates. 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. In other words, the Capital One 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.
The sign-up bonus for the card is also easier to obtain. 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.
But 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 afterwards (a sharp contrast to the $550 fee of luxury options like the American Express 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.
Of course, the Capital One card isn’t perfect. We were disappointed to learn that the card only offers standard protection for travel accidents but not trip cancellations or lost luggage. We like knowing that our hard-earned miles, not to mention belongings, are protected from common travel risks. It’s a strange exclusion considering most other providers such as Chase and Bank of America offer additional protection. That said, you can still insure your trip on your own, and losing luggage is a pretty rare occurrence.
For those who want an excellent travel card that will offer rewards on everyday purchases, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is tough to beat, providing the best potential value for most people.
- 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 unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
- New! Earn 10 miles per dollar on hotels when you pay with your Venture card at hotels.com/venture; learn more at hotels.com/venture
- Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
- Travel when you want with 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
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 as well as industry leading travel protections make it a strong match for cardholders who are frequently on the move.
As we mentioned before, the greatest weakness of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is the limitations it has when it comes to rewards. More specifically, general expenses like groceries and gas will only earn you 1x the points for every dollar you spend — 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 fares.
What really makes the Chase card an excellent option for frequent travelers is its included travel protections. 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 of coverage for trip cancellations, which means you won’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 for those who go on yearly vacations, those who find themselves traveling more often will benefit from the extra protection.
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 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. 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.
- 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
The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ card is one of the newest and most alluring travel cards on the market. Put simply, it is an upgraded version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, our recommendation for frequent travelers.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ is a premium card that offers elite travel benefits: With the Reserve card you get 3x points for every dollar you spend on dining or travel related expenses. In addition, you get 50% 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.
However, the cost to access these kinds of 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 large fee. More importantly, the extra cost means you may 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.
In addition, 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 card is a viable option.
It is also important to know that the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ card is harder to obtain — as a premium credit card it requires a top-tier credit score. But we consider this a strength, because premium travel cards are best suited for experienced credit card owners. Our 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℠ card is a solid pick.
- 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
- 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✓®
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions – as long as there’s a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Other Cards to Consider
The truth about most travel credit cards is that they are pretty similar — each has subtle advantages and disadvantages. We feel confident that our top picks will suit most people’s needs, but there are alternatives that are also a good match for more specialized spending habits. For those who want to pay no annual fee, we recommend the Bank of America Travel Rewards card. You will still earn 1.5x points for every dollar you spend on all purchases, and the sign-up bonus of 20,000 points only has a $1,000 spending requirement. In other words, the card is a good option for those who are less likely to use their card or travel.
The only problem we had with the Bank of America Travel Rewards card is that it doesn’t offer a better value for most people, even without the fee. Travel credit cards are a game of ratios — the annual fee of the Capital One Venture card allows it to offer 2x the miles for every dollar spent. If you use the Capital One card for everyday expenses and pay your bills on time, you actually earn more. For example, to earn $500 in travel credit with the Bank of America card you would have to spend around $8,000 more than you would with the Capital One card, vastly offsetting what you save by not paying Capital One’s annual fee.
If you’re a Bank of America customer, you can gain a point bonus (1.65x points if you have an open account and 2.25 points if you have $50,000 in an account). But we prefer cards that give a large amount of rewards to every customer regardless of their banker.
- Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don’t expire
- 20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening – that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases
- Use your card to book your trip how and where you want – you’re not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
- Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
- Comes with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
- 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases, then 16.24% – 24.24% Variable APR
- Get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account
- If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% – 75%
Five Tips to Help You Maximize Your Travel Rewards
When it comes to earning miles and points, 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. We have a few tips that will help you start maximizing your rewards:
One of the best ways to maximize your rewards is to 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. That means you will get miles and points from both your card and the loyalty program. There is no limit to the number of loyalty programs you can join, and most are free. We recommend signing up with the airlines and hotels that dominate your travel locations (for example, a resident of Seattle would want to sign up with Alaska Airlines or Delta). For help finding loyalty programs, this list created by The Points Guy is an excellent place to start.
As you sign up for a loyalty program, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for dining programs. Many airline and hotel companies will also award miles and points if you dine at certain restaurants. Link a travel card, such as one of our top picks, to your account and you will earn even more miles and points. In any case, be sure to choose a program with restaurants you actually enjoy (extra miles and points aren’t worth bad meals).
We admit, it seems obvious, but maximizing your purchases is the best way to maximize your points. However, that doesn’t mean you have to buy expensive electronics or vacations every day. Instead, we simply recommend using your travel card to pay for most of your expenses. Whether it is a large expense like your rent or a small purchase such as groceries, every dollar you spend translates to more miles and points. Just be sure to pay off your bills on time to avoid interest, and keep an eye out for merchant fees that cut into the value of your purchases.
You can also combine your card with an airline or hotel card in order to maximize your reward potential. 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. The only catch? You’ll want to make sure you can transfer points between your cards to take advantage of the value. Most cards allow a transfer, but also charge a fee. The process is a bit complex, so we recommend using this strategy once you have a considerable amount of experience using your travel card.
If traveling abroad, you will want to 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 dynamic currency conversion. The local currency option almost always has a better exchange rate.
For additional tips, we recommend visiting guides by US 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.
Three Ways to Help Build Your Credit Score
As we mentioned earlier, 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. Doing so is easier said than done, but we have a few strategies that can help.
The best piece of advice is simply to pay off your credit card balances on time. This also seems obvious, but doing so is the most tried and true method for building a strong credit history. 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.
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. At the same time, 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 — authorized users are not legally obligated to pay for the charges; only the account holder is. In other words, you’ll want to develop a firm understanding of who will be paying the charges before you add an authorized user. For those who add a user, we recommend adding them to your travel card account for extra points and miles.
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. When the loan is paid, the money is released to you. The sole purpose of these loans is to help people with zero credit or low credit scores build a better credit history. They aren’t heavily publicized, but are worth a look.
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.