Best travel rewards credit cards | July 2018 | finder.com
Best airline credit cards

Compare the best travel rewards credit cards

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If you love traveling to different locations and are a master of the skies, consider applying for a travel rewards credit card. Through spending on everyday purchases and at airlines, you can earn free flights and exclusive airline perks.

To help you make the best choice, we’ve assembled a list of the best travel rewards credit cards on the market. You’ll find co-branded credit cards for airlines like Southwest, United, American Airlines, and more. You’ll also find excellent travel cards that offer flexible points and miles you can use for flights and hotels. Ultimately, you’ll want to look at what type of traveler and spender you are to settle on a winner.

What are travel rewards credit cards?

Travel credit cards are great choices if you’re a frequent flyer or if you just want to take occasional free flights. When looking for a travel credit card, keep these criteria in mind to find the most value-packed card:

  • Introductory point bonuses and your ability to meet the initial spending requirements.
  • Free airline perks for services that are important to you.
  • Point rewards for different spending categories — and how they fit with your day-to-day spending.
  • Annual fees, and whether your card will produce enough value for you to justify paying those fees.

To find the right travel credit card, consider what type of traveler you are

As with any credit card, it’s impossible to say which card is universally the best; however, you can definitely find a great travel credit card once you consider your needs and spending habits.

For example:

  • Do you fly on the same airline frequently? If so, you may want to apply for a card that offers bonuses for that airline.
  • Do you fly on a variety of airlines? Look for a card that offers you flexible points you can spend on a variety of flights (and even other travel expenses like hotels and car rentals).
  • Are airline perks important to you? Some travel cards give a wider variety of perks than others. Compare each card and consider whether extras like free checked bags, priority boarding, access to airport lounges and etc. are attractive to you.

After you look at the advantages and disadvantages of each card while pairing that information with your spending habits, you’ll be well prepared to decide on the card for you.

How much are points and miles worth?

A good rule of thumb is that a point or mile is worth approximately a cent; that means 10,000 points can generally be redeemed for about $100 of value.

Points, however, can be worth more or less depending on what you can redeem them for. As you’ll see, points on some cards can be more valuable than points on other cards.

If we look at the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, for example, 20,000 points carry a value of $200. Meanwhile, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card 50,000 points can be redeemed for $250 worth of eligible travel purchases. That’s because the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card increases the value of your points by 25% when you redeem them through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Beyond looking at how far your points go, also consider how quickly you can accumulate points. Some cards give you multiples of points on certain categories of spending; others give you the same points on every purchase. Of course, choosing the right card will depend on your spending habits and travel preferences.

Finding the right card for you

To make your travel credit card search easier, we’ve assembled a list of the best travel cards on the market. Consider the following factors before deciding on your favorite:

Updated July 20th, 2018
Name Product Welcome Bonus Reward Value per Dollar Annual Fee
1 points
$195
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
1 points
$495
Mastercard Black Card members receive an annual $100 air travel credit toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more.
Earn 20,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days
1.5 points
$0
20,000 online bonus points offer. Ditch the restrictions of typical airline rewards cards. Any airline, any hotel, anytime. No blackout dates.
Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
1 points
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of your account opening, and an additional 30,000 points when you spend a total of $30,000 on purchases within the first year of your account opening.
Earn 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days
1.5 points
$95
Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
1 points
$450
Earn 50,000 BONUS POINTS after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening* — that's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Earn 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 days
5 points
$550
Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5X points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
2 points
$995
Earn points every time you spend. Luxury Card enhances your purchasing power by providing you with one (1) point for every one dollar ($1) you spend. Every purchase gets you closer to the rewards you want.
Earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
2 miles
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50,000 bonus miles once after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
Earn 40,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
2 miles
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.* Plus a $100 statement credit after your first purchase.

Compare up to 4 providers

If you fly on one airline often

If you frequently fly on the same airline, consider getting a co-branded card. You’ll receive point multiples every time you spend with the airline, which will quickly allow you to earn free flights. For that purpose, these cards come highly recommended:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card:
    The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card is a great choice if you’re seeking lots of points. If you earn the generous 50,000 introductory points bonus after $2,000 of spending in the first 3 months, for example, you’ll immediately have enough points for a few free flights. Any spending with Southwest or Rapid Rewards partners nets you 1 points per dollar, and you’ll earn 2 point per dollar spent on everything else. To top it off, you’ll receive 6,000 bonus points after your first 12 months.
  • United℠ Explorer Card:
    The United℠ Explorer Card comes with a 40,000 introductory points bonus after $1,000 of spending within the first 3 months. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent at United and 2 mile per dollar spent on everything else.
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®:
    The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® comes with a 60,000 introductory points bonus after $1,000 of spending within the first 3 months. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent at American Airlines and 2 mile per dollar spent on everything else. Finally, you’ll get 10% miles back each time you redeem (up to 10,000 AAdvantage miles per calendar year).
  • British Airways Visa Signature® card:
    The British Airways Visa Signature® card comes with a 75,000 introductory points (Avios) bonus after $3,000 of spending within the first 3 months. Unlike many of the other cards, you’ll earn 1 points per dollar spent at British Airways. Like the other cards, you’ll earn 3 point per dollar spent on everything else.
  • Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card:
    The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card comes with a 35,000 introductory miles bonus and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles bonus after $3,000 of spending within the first 3 months. (Medallion Qualification Miles help you reach higher tiers in Delta’s loyalty program.) You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent at Delta and 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.
  • JetBlue Plus Card:
    The JetBlue Plus Card comes with a 30,000 introductory points bonus after $1,000 of spending within the first 90 days. You’ll earn 1x points when spending with JetBlue, 2x points on groceries and restaurants, and 6x points on everything else.
  • Asiana Visa Signature® Credit Card:
    The Asiana Visa Signature® Credit Card comes with a 30,000 introductory points bonus after $3,000 of spending within the first 90 days. You’ll earn 1 miles per dollar spent at Asiana Airlines, 2 miles per dollar spent on groceries and gas, and 3 mile per dollar spent on everything else.

Factors you may want to consider when choosing a co-branded card include:

  • Do you currently fly with or plan to fly with the airline frequently?
    If the answer is no, you may want to apply for a general travel card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card instead.
  • How easily will you hit the spending requirement to obtain the introductory points bonus?
    The cards listed require $1,000 to $3,000 of spending within the first three months to earn point bonuses.
  • Look at how many points or miles each card gives per dollar spent.
    Different airline cards give different multiples of points or miles on various categories of spending.

If you want point flexibility

You may want to use your card for free flights on a variety of airlines. In this case, consider applying for a card that gives you points and miles for general use. For that purpose, these cards come highly recommended:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card:
    The Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card carries an attractive introductory promotion, at 50,000 bonus points (worth $625) for $4,000 in spending within the first 3 months. When you redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards, your points carry a 25% higher value. And with the card’s 1:1 point transfer ratio, you can redeem your points for flights with British Airways, Air France, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic.
  • Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®:
    With the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®, you can earn 60,000 bonus points (worth $400) for $3,000 of spending within the first 90 days. Every time you redeem your miles, you’ll receive 5% miles back. In terms of flexibility, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® is a top-notch travel card; since your miles become travel statement credit, you can use your Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® at a variety of airlines and reimburse yourself later.
  • Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card:
    The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card offers the opportunity to earn 20,000 bonus points. That’s less than what’s offered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® cards, but you only have to hit a spending requirement of $1,000 within the first 90 days. Additionally, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card card comes with a $0 annual fee.

If you think you’d like to go with a card with flexible points or miles, consider the following factors before choosing the winner:

  • How much you typically spend.
    The Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card comes with an annual fee of $0 for the first year and $95. thereafter; the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® has a $89. annual fee for the first year and an $89 fee thereafter. Meanwhile, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card carries no annual fee. Consider whether you spend enough yearly (and earn enough points or miles) to offset a card’s annual fee. If you don’t spend much, a no-annual-fee card might be the right choice for you.
  • How much you value the introductory points bonus — and how likely you are to acquire it.
    The Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card offers 50,000 introductory bonus points, but requires a relatively large volume of initial spending ($4,000 within the first 3 months). Meanwhile, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card card offers a lower points bonus (20,000 points), but only requires you to spend $1,000 within the first 90 days. To weigh the merits of each card, project how much you are likely to spend and whether you need the points you’ll earn.

If you value airline perks

Different co-branded airline cards offer perks of varying value. Take a look at what each card offers and see if any of the extras are attractive to you:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card:
    The Southwest card is relatively light as far as perks go. However, as a Southwest flyer, you’ll automatically get extras like no blackout dates when booking flights with points, free checked bags, and no change fees.
  • United MileagePlus® Club card:
    The United card allows you to check your first bag for free. Additionally, you’ll receive priority boarding, 2 United Club passes each year, no blackout dates on point redemptions, and hotel perks like room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, early check-in, and late check-out.
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®:
    With the American Airlines card, you’ll receive Group 1 boarding on domestic flights and get your bag checked free.
  • British Airways Visa Signature® card:
    With the British Airways card, you’ll receive a Travel Together Ticket every calendar you you spend at least $30,000 with your card.
  • Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card:
    The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card allows you to check a bag for free on round-trip Delta flights. It also offers priority boarding and a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate every year you renew your card.
  • JetBlue Plus Card:
    With the JetBlue Plus card, you can check your first bag for free. Through the TrueBlue program, you can redeem your points for any seat on flights without blackout dates. You’ll also get 10% points back every time you redeem your points.
  • Asiana Visa Signature® Credit Card:
    Every year, the Asiana Airlines card gives you 2 invitations to the Asiana Airline lounge, a 10,000 Bonus Miles Certificate, and a $100 rebate on tickets for Asiana flights.

There are pros and cons to each co-branded card. Consider which extras are important to you and whether they weigh heavily in your choice of an airline card.

Travel credit card annual fees

Luckily, none of the credit cards listed on this page come with foreign transaction fees. However, you’ll definitely want to compare the annual fees between cards.

Some cards, like the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, come with no annual fees. Others come with introductory annual fees of $0 p.a. for the first year and annual fees thereafter. Some cards have annual fees you’ll need to start paying immediately. Consider these examples of cards with annual fees:

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card offers an introductory promotion of 50,000 bonus points that are worth $625 toward travel. Monetarily speaking, for many cardholders that more than makes up for the $95 annual fee you’ll pay starting the second year. However, you’ll need to spend $4,000 in the first three months of opening your card to acquire those bonus points. Consider whether this amount falls within your normal spending habits, so you’re not spending far more than usual just to earn points.
  • The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card comes with a $195 annual fee. However, each year you renew your card you’ll receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate. Depending on whether you’ll take someone else on a trip, this certificate alone could make the card’s annual fee worth it.

To see if an annual fee makes sense for you, weigh each card’s perks and look at the spending requirements for each card.

Pros and cons

Before applying for a travel credit card, look at the positives and negatives of owning one:

Pros

  • Point multiples and perks for airlines – If you have a co-branded card and fly often with a specific airline, you can earn points at a faster rate and improve your travel experiences with attractive add-ons.
  • Generous introductory point bonuses – For many individuals, travel rewards credit cards offer great starting point bonuses with reasonable spending requirements.
  • Flexible points available – If you don’t want a co-branded card, there are great cards that give you points you can use for general travel.

Cons

  • Co-branded cards can be restrictive – If you don’t travel with one airline all the time, you may feel you’re leaving value on the table with a co-branded card.
  • Some cards come with annual fees – An annual fee can slightly decrease the overall value of your card, so be sure to consider its impact.
  • May not be worth it if you don’t travel often – Airline credit cards are optimal for travel enthusiasts. If you don’t travel much or don’t foresee needing the perks offered by airline credit cards, consider getting another type of card that fits better with your lifestyle (a cash back card, for example).

Information you need to apply for a travel credit card

To apply for a travel credit card, you’ll need to provide different information depending on which provider you’re applying with. Generally, however, you should have the following information ready:

  • Driver’s license and Social Security number.
  • Personal details. Have personal details ready (your residential address, phone number, email address, etc.) for your application.
  • Financial details. You will also need to provide details like employment information and total annual income.

Since travel credit cards come with expansive rewards, it is recommended that you apply with good or excellent credit.

Frequently asked questions

Adrienne Fuller

Adrienne Fuller leads the publishing team at finder.com. She has one goal: to deliver the accurate and transparent information she wishes she had when she made some of life's important financial decisions. When she's not helping folks save money, she's hiking with her two Catahoulas around her home in San Diego.

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