The Best Travel Credit Cards
How We Found the Best Travel Credit Cards
29 Cards Considered
15 Hours of Research
3 Top Picks
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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.
How We Chose the Best Travel Credit 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. 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.
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.
The six travel credit cards we compared:
- 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
- 1.5x reward points
1.5x reward points
A standard card will earn you one mile or point (about one cent) 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.
Low annual fees
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 per year, meaning only big spenders will earn enough rewards to offset the annual fee. Other cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture card, waive the first year of fees and only charge $95 after that. Granted, cards with higher fees often have higher reward rates. 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.
No foreign transaction fees
Many travel credit cards will charge extra fees if you make purchases outside the United States. Known as foreign transaction fees, these fees can cost up to two to three percent 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.
Travel rewards and 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. 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).
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 these cards (especially internationally), so we couldn’t give them the top billing. Our three top picks have the widest range of acceptance for most people
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.
The 3 Best Travel Credit Cards
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.
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).
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
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.
Why we chose it
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.
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
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.