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Are travel credit cards worth it?

Travel credit cards can offer valuable rewards, but only if the perks outweigh the costs.

A travel card is worth it when your everyday spending earns you enough miles or points to take advantage of discounted flights, hotel stays, car rentals, travel protection and other perks. These cards also tend to carry annual fees, so whether a travel card is worth it also depends on how much value you gain from the card’s perks versus the annual cost of the card. Here’s how to determine whether a travel card is worth a spot in your wallet.

Should I get a travel credit card?

Whether you should get a travel credit card comes down to your travel and spending habits, as well as your financial needs. Here’s a quick cheat sheet.

You should get a travel credit card if…

  1. You travel more than a few times a year.
  2. You primarily want to spend your card rewards on travel.
  3. You want to take advantage of the card’s travel features.

You shouldn’t get a travel credit card if…

  1. You rarely travel.
  2. You want a simple rewards card.
  3. You don’t often take advantage of your credit card’s additional features and perks.

Is it worth getting a travel card with an annual fee?

Typically, yes. The most valuable travel cards have high annual fees, but you can offset these costs with the rewards you earn and perks you use.

If you’re relying on pure rewards, the amount of rewards you’d earn on spending will need to at least equal the cost of the annual fee. If your monthly spending is less than a card’s “break even” amount, the card may not be worth paying for.

Let’s look at a few different travel cards to see how much you’d have to spend each month to break even on the annual fee.

CardOngoing annual feeRewards ratePoints for $100 of valueApprox. monthly spend to break even
PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card$03x points on travel, 4x for PenFed Honors Advantage members; 1.5x points on all other purchases10,000$0
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card$955x points on Lyft rides through March 2022; 2x points on travel and dining; 1x points on all other purchases8,000$317 on travel and dining
The Platinum Card® from American Express$6955x points on eligible flights and hotels on up to $500,000 annually, reverting to 1x points after starting January 2021; 1x points on other eligible purchases10,000$917 on eligible flights and hotels

Point values are based on our calculations using provider websites as of October 2021

These calculations only take into account the rewards you might earn. You might also get a significant amount of value from a card’s travel benefits. These features can add enough value that you might not need to spend much to make the annual fee worth paying.

How can I take advantage of my card’s travel features?

You can justify a card’s cost by making sure you use the features or credits offered. Consider The Platinum Card® from American Express as an example.

The card has an annual fee of $695. You get up to $200 in annual Uber credits after you enroll, up to $200 in airline fee credits on one qualifying airline of your choice with enrollment and up to $100 credit every four years for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.

If you use your travel and Uber credits each year, it should be relatively easy to offset the price of the card. You might find the card’s other features valuable, too, including complimentary gold elite status after you enroll, benefits at Fine Hotels & Resorts properties and entry into airport lounges in the Global Lounge Collection after enrollment.

Travel credit card pros and cons

Pros

  • Turn everyday spending into travel, including airline flights and hotel stays
  • Many include valuable perks worth hundreds of dollars, such as airport lounge access
  • Some travel cards let you transfer your earned points to multiple airlines or hotel chains
  • They often come with valuable signup bonuses greater than what you’d find on a cashback card
  • Most (though not all) don’t charge foreign transaction fees

Cons

  • Many have complex reward systems that take effort to use properly
  • The more popular travel cards often carry higher than average annual fees
  • Some travel cards are locked into a specific travel organization

Compare travel credit cards

If you’ve decided a travel card is right for you, take a look at the following travel credit cards that could be a good fit.

Name Product Foreign transaction fee Welcome offer Rewards Filter values
The Platinum Card® from American Express
None
100,000 points after spending $6,000 in your first 6 months, plus 10x points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US on up to $25,000 in combined eligible purchases in the same timeframe
10x points at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the US on up to $25,000 combined in the first 6 months, 5x points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel, 5x points on directly-booked flights on up to $500,000 annually, then 1x points after that and on other eligible purchases

New Platinum Exclusive Offer

One of the most valuable premium travel cards, featuring two welcome offers worth up to $7,000 based on Finder's valuation, multiple travel credits and unrivaled lounge access. Terms apply, see rates & fees
American Express® Gold Card
None
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 6 months
4x at restaurants including delivery and Uber Eats; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points), 3x points on directly-booked flights and 1x points on other eligible purchases

Rose Gold is Back

Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $600 based on our valuation with this upper-mid tier travel card. Terms apply, see rates & fees
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
None
50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months
2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, at gas stations and restaurants and 1x miles on all other purchases
Earn 50,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $2,500 in the first 3 months.
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Compare up to 4 providers

What perks will I get with a travel credit card?

With most travel cards, you can generally expect to receive a few of the perks listed below:

  • Airport lounge access.
  • Fee credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.
  • Travel credits that cover your expenses for eligible purchases.
  • Airline credit cards have perks like priority boarding and complimentary checked baggage.
  • Hotel perks like spending credits and room upgrades.
  • Hotel or airline loyalty program status upgrades. Many of the top hotel credit cards offer upgrades to silver or gold status.
  • Travel coverage: trip cancellation insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, lost luggage reimbursement and more.
  • Travel concierge service.

Get an in-depth look and learn how to take advantage of perks like these while traveling.

How to compare travel credit cards

If you’re in the market for a new travel card, compare the following factors while considering your options.

  • Airline or hotel loyalty. If you spend heavily with a certain airline or hotel chain, consider a cobranded card. Otherwise, pick a flexible-rewards card so you can earn rewards regardless of which airline or hotel you spend with. There are even cobranded cruise line credit cards if you like to take to the seas.
  • Signup bonus. Many travel credit cards have introductory offers of thousands of bonus points or miles. Compare the bonus rewards you might earn, as well as spending requirements.
  • Rewards. Compare how many points you’ll earn per $1 spent. Among travel cards, you’ll typically find flat-rate rewards and tiered rewards. If you’re considering a tiered-rewards card, check whether you spend much in the card’s bonus categories. If not, a flat-rate-rewards card might be a better choice.
  • Annual fee. Check that a card’s rewards and perks outweigh any annual fee. Some travel cards have $0 or reduced annual fees for the first year, which can help you save. However, make sure you know what the standard annual fee is and when it will apply.
  • Foreign transaction fees. Many credit cards charge a fee when you make purchases in currency other than US dollars — typically 3% of the transaction. These fees apply whether you’re traveling overseas or just using an online store based outside the US. To avoid them, look for a credit card with 0% foreign transaction fees.
  • APR. To get the full value from your rewards, it’s best to always pay your monthly balance in full. Interest will eat into your rewards, so try to avoid it.
  • Travel protection. Many cards offer travel protection, such as car rental insurance and trip cancellation insurance. Though these aren’t the flashiest features, they can be very helpful when you’re planning a trip. Picking a card with the right travel protection can save you hundreds of dollars on your next vacation.

    Bottom line

    Only apply for a travel credit card if it offers enough rewards and perks to offset its cost, so be sure to look at its annual fee and APR. The lower the APR, the better — though you’ll probably want to pay off your balance each month anyway. Compare travel credit cards to find the best fit for how and where you spend.

    Keep in mind that a travel credit card isn’t for everyone. If you want a rewards card without dealing with points or miles, consider a cashback card.

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