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Best travel credit card in 2021

We compared more than 100 travel credit cards to find the best.

To determine our top nine travel card picks for 2021, we spend more than 400 hours each month comparing and reviewing travel cards. We weighed factors such as reward opportunities, quality and monetary value of travel perks, and the ability to earn rewards on more than just travel. Unlike our competitors, Finder’s experts provide unbiased, trustworthy evaluations of all travel credit cards and providers, not just those we partner with on the site.

Quick look at the best travel credit cards

Best for no annual fee
Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Chase Freedom Unlimited® logo
Finder Rating: 4.7 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
See offer
on Creditcards.com's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$0
Annual fee
$200
Welcome offer
Up to 5%
Cash back
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® is one of the most rewarding no-annual-fee credit cards you can get on the market as of March 2021. Not only does it earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases, Chase recently granted the card several additional reward categories that can earn even more. Now with up to 5% cash back on select categories on top of the original cashback rate, it's hard to find a better alternative.
  • Cash back. Earn 5% cash back on Chase Travel Portal purchases and 5% back on Lyft rides through March 2022. Earn 3% back on dining, including takeout and delivery, and 5% back on drugstore purchases. On everything else, earn 1.5% back.
  • Signup bonus. Get a $200 bonus when you spend $500 in your first 3 months of account opening. You can also earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • Intro APR on purchases. Enjoy a 15 months 0% intro APR period on purchases. After that, a variable APR of 14.99% to 23.74% applies.
  • Foreign transaction fee. Purchases made abroad or online with foreign merchants cost 3% of the amount.
  • No intro balance transfer. You won't find an intro period on balance transfers with this card.
Annual fee $0
Purchase APR 0% intro for the first 15 months (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable)
Foreign transaction fee 3% of the transaction value
Welcome offer $200 after spending $500 in the first 3 months, plus 5% cash back at grocery stores (not including Target® or Walmart®) on up to $12,000 in the first yeares) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year
Estimated welcome offer value $800 based on Finder's valuation
Rewards 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase, 5% on Lyft, 3% on dining and drugstores and 1.5% on all other purchases

Best for large welcome offer
The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express logo
Finder Rating: 4.4 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
Apply now
on American Express's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$695
Annual fee
100,000
Points welcome offer
Up to 10x
Points
With a welcome offer worth up to $7,000 in redemption value when maxed out, based on our valuation, no other card can match this. Even if you don't max out the welcome offer, you get at least double the value compared to similar premium travel cards offer. Another way of looking at this welcome offer: if you manage to earn it and squeeze the most value out of it, it can pay the card's annual fee for years, letting you enjoy those travel perks without feeling pressured to make up for the card's annual fee.
  • Welcome offer. Earn 100,000 membership rewards points after you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months of card membership. Plus, earn 10x points at restaurants and US Shop Small retailers on up to $25,000 in combined purchases for the first 6 months. That's up to $7,000 worth of rewards when transferred to travel partners.
  • Reward points. Starting January 2021, earn 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels booked directly through Amex Travel on up to $500,000 annually, reverting to 1x points after. Earn 5x points to prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel, but without a limit. All other purchases earn 1x points.
  • Travel fee credits. Select a qualifying airline and receive a $200 airline fee credit each year to cover incidental charges, such as checked bags or in-flight purchases. Also receive up to $200 back on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel.
  • Annual fee. Expect to pay $695 for the card. This may seem like a lot, but if you travel often, you can easily offset the fee.
  • Can't always carry your balance. Most credit cards let you carry your balance by paying interest. This card, however, lets you carry your balance on some purchases, but not on all of them.
  • Potentially limited acceptance abroad. American Express cards are not as widely accepted worldwide as Visa or Mastercard.
Annual fee $695
Purchase APR See Pay Over Time APR
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 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 purchases in the same timeframe
Estimated welcome offer value $7,000 based on Finder's valuation
Rewards 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 purchases
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers.

Best for travel credits
Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve® logo
Finder Rating: 4.6 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (740-850)
See offer
on Creditcards.com's secure site
Rates & fees

740
Min. credit score
$550
Annual fee
60,000
Points welcome offer
Up to 10x
Points
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® comes with a $300 annual travel credit with no airline or hotel restrictions. This is higher than competitor premium cards that offer either $200 or $250 in credit, or restrict your credit to travel fees only, like the American Express Platinum. Combined with a strong suite of perks, including Priority Pass access and the ability to transfer your points, and this is a must-have pick in the Chase ecosystem.
  • Annual travel credit. Get $300 in statement credit as reimbursement for your travel purchases every year on your card account anniversary.
  • Signup bonus. Earn 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in your first 3 months when you open your account. This is worth $900 if you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
  • Rewards points. Earn 3x points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide and 1x points on all other purchases. The 3x points can be worth 4.5% back if redeemed on travel purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards. You also earn 3x points on Lyft purchases until March 2022. This can be worth up to 15% back in travel purchases via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
  • Annual fee. You'll pay $550 annual fee for the card.
  • No intro APR period. Like many other travel cards, you won't get a 0% intro APR period on purchases, balance transfers or both.
  • Excellent credit score required. Being a premium card, your chances of approval greatly increase with a credit score of 740 or higher.
Annual fee $550
Purchase APR 16.99% to 23.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $900 through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Estimated welcome offer value $900 based on Finder's valuation
Rewards 10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases

Best for gas
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi logo
Finder Rating: 3.4 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (740-850)
Apply now
on Citi's secure site
740
Min. credit score
$0
Annual fee
n/a
Welcome offer
Up to 4%
Cash back
Offering a terrific 4% back on gas for the first $7,000 spent each year, the Costco Anywhere Visa offers one of the highest sustained cashback rates on gas in the market. And while your rewards are only earned toward a coupon for Costco purchases, the breadth of purchasing options at Costco make this an excellent addition to your everyday shopping. Only the Sam's Club Mastercard comes close in terms of this warehouse value.
  • Cash back. Earn 4% cash back on gas for the first $7,000 spent annually, 1% after that. Earn 3% cash back on restaurants and travel, 2% cash back on purchases from Costco and Costco.com. Earn 1% cash back on everything else.
  • No annual fee. You won't pay an annual fee to own the card.
  • Acts as a Costco membership card. Use your Costco credit card to enter Costco.
  • Costco membership required. You need to have a Costco membership to apply for the card.
  • Limited redemption options. You can only redeem your Costco rewards once a year.
  • No intro APR period. Most cashback cards offer 0% intro APR period on purchases, balance transfers or both. But with this card, you don't get to enjoy this perk.
Annual fee $0
Purchase APR 15.24% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer N/A
Estimated welcome offer value
Rewards 4% at gas stations on up to $7,000 annually (then 1%), 3% at restaurants and on travel, 2% at Costco and 1% on all other purchases

Best for everyday spending
Chase Freedom Flex℠

Chase Freedom Flex℠ logo
Finder Rating: 4.7 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
See offer
on Creditcards.com's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$0
Annual fee
$200
Welcome offer
Up to 5%
Cash back
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers 5% cash back on purchases made through the Chase travel portal. This is the same rewards rate you earn with premium travel cards. But unlike the $500 annual fee you pay with these cards, the Freedom Flex has a $0 annual fee. With the additions of rewards categories on dining, travel and drugstore purchases combined with the lack of annual fee, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a monster of a rewards card that exceeds the earnings of even the Chase Sapphire Preferred, a higher-tier card offering.
  • Signup bonus. Earn $200 cash back when you spend $500 in your first 3 months of account opening. You can also earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target or Walmart purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
  • Earn rewards points. Earn 5% back on up to $1,500 in combined spending in rotating categories each quarter. Earn 5% back on Lyft rides through March 2022 and 5% back on purchases made through the Chase Travel Portal. Dining purchases, including takeout and delivery, and drugstore purchases earn 3% back, and all other purchases 1% back.
  • Intro APR. Get a 0% intro APR for 15 months, reverting to 14.99% to 23.74% variable.
  • You must activate rotating categories. If you don't activate on time, you won't earn 5% cash back on these categories.
  • Rotating categories hidden. You won't know what the 5% cash back rotating categories are until the quarter draws near.
  • Foreign transaction fees. Every transaction made abroad or online with foreign merchants will cost you 3% of the amount.
Annual fee $0
Purchase APR 0% intro for the first 15 months (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable)
Foreign transaction fee 3% of the transaction value
Welcome offer $200 after spending $500 in the first 3 months, plus 5% cash back at grocery stores (not including Target® or Walmart®) on up to $12,000 in the first year
Estimated welcome offer value $200 based on Finder's valuation
Rewards 5% cash back on up to $1,500 combined in quarterly categories you activate, 5% on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases

Best for groceries
American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card logo
Finder Rating: 4.6 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
Apply now
on American Express's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$250
Annual fee
60,000
Points welcome offer
Up to 4x
Points
While you could find a card that earns higher rewards on groceries, the same card can't stand up to the suite of travel perks and benefits offered by the Amex Gold Card. If you're frequently traveling within the US, the value you'd earn on the card's monthly statement credits and Uber credits make for a perfect on-the-go everyday travel card.
  • Reward points. Earn 4x points at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year, and 1x points after that. Earn 4x points at restaurants, including takeout and delivery such as Uber Eats, and 3x points on flights booked directly or via Amex Travel. All other purchases earn 1x points.
  • Welcome offer. Earn 60,000 points welcome offer after you spend $4,000 within your first 6 months of account opening.
  • Dining and Uber credits. Earn up to $10 monthly statement credit when you pay at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shacks. There's also a $10 monthly Uber cash credit, up to $120 annually, which you can use for Uber rides or Uber Eats. Plus get a $100 hotel credit.
  • Annual fee. Pay $250 annually to own the card.
  • Can't always carry your balance. This card lets you carry your balance on some purchases but not on all of them.
  • No intro APR period. You won't get a 0% intro APR period on balance transfers or purchases.
Annual fee $250
Purchase APR See Pay Over Time APR
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 6 months
Estimated welcome offer value $600 based on Finder's valuation
Rewards 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 all other purchases
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers.

Best for hotels
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card logo
Finder Rating: 4.6 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
See offer
on Creditcards.com's secure site
Rates & fees

670
Min. credit score
$89 ongoing
Annual fee
150,000
Points welcome offer
Up to 25x
Points
The IHG® Rewards Club Premier offers up to 25x points on IHG purchases, which comes at around 15% back. You also get a free night on your card anniversary each year and fourth free night when you book with points. Most hotel cards get you between 5% and 10% back on hotel purchases and rarely give out free reward nights. Plus, the signup bonus offers a huge 150,000 point bonus, easily worth several free nights, and is the highest welcome offer you'll find on a hotel card as of March 2021.
  • Reward points. Earn 25x points on IHG stays, 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants and 1x points on everything else you buy.
  • Signup bonus. Earn 150,000 bonus points once you spend $3,000 in your first 3 months of account opening. This is worth about $900 according to our May 2021 valuations.
  • Fourth reward night free. Redeem your points for four or more reward nights and get an additional reward night.
  • Annual fee. To use the card and its perks, you'll pay $89 annually starting the second year.
  • No intro APR period. You won't get a 0% intro APR period on balance transfers or purchases.
Annual fee $0 intro annual fee for the first year ($89 thereafter)
Purchase APR 15.99% to 22.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 150,000 points plus a Reward Night after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
Estimated welcome offer value $900 based on Finder's valuation
Rewards Up to 25x points total at IHG hotels, 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants and 1x points on all other purchases

Best for lounge access
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card logo
Finder Rating: 4.4 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
Read review
670
Min. credit score
$95
Annual fee
60,000
Miles welcome offer
5x
Miles
This card offers 2x miles on every purchase, which is the highest flat-rate travel card you can find. Similar cards typically offer 1.5x miles. But what sweetens the pot for this card is the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee credit, which you typically only find on premium travel credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
  • Reward miles. Earn an unlimited 2x miles on all purchases, except on Uber Eats where you earn 5x points through January 2021.
  • Signup bonus. Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in your first 3 months of account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in your first 3 months.
  • TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit. Get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee statement credit up to $100. You get this credit once every four years.
  • Annual fee. Pay an annual fee of $95 each year.
  • No intro APR period. You won't get a 0% intro APR period on purchases or balance transfers.
Annual fee $95
Purchase APR 17.24%, 21.99% or 24.49% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer Earn 60,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
Estimated welcome offer value $900 based on Finder's valuation
Rewards 5x miles on Uber Eats and 2x miles on all purchases

Best for miles match after first year
Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card

Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card logo
Finder Rating: 3.7 / 5

★★★★★

Credit recommended (670-850)
Read review
670
Min. credit score
$0
Annual fee
Other
Welcome offer
1.5x
Miles
Where most credit cards offer a simple signup bonus, the Discover it® Miles offers something better: a cashback match. In other words, Discover matches all the miles you earn during the year, without limits. This kind of welcome offer is exclusive to Discover cards and can result in serious value at the end of your first year. But to make the most of this offer, you'll need to focus your spending around this card.
  • Miles match. Discover will match your miles earned at the end of your first year without any restrictions. This means if you earn 30,000 miles during your first year, Discover will match it with another 30,000 miles.
  • Reward miles. Earn a flat 1.5x miles on your purchases.
  • No annual fee. You won't pay an annual fee to own the card.
  • No 0% intro APR period on balance transfers. This card offers a 10.99% intro APR period on balance transfers for your first 14 months, reverting to 11.99% to 22.99% variable APR.
Annual fee $0
Purchase APR 0% intro for the first 14 months (then 11.99% to 22.99% variable)
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer Discover will match miles earned at the end of your first card year
Estimated welcome offer value
Rewards 1.5x miles on all purchases

What’s changed on our list for 2021?

The Amex Platinum Card gained a massive welcome offer increase making it come out on top in that category. The Amex Gold Card card got a boost to its dining credit, adding $120 annual Uber cash credit to its arsenal.

Compare all travel credit cards

To get a better sense of which travel card best suits your travel and financial needs, you’ll want to compare all of your options. Check out our full travel card comparison guide for advice and a breakdown of how travel credit cards work.

How to choose the best travel credit card

In addition to the basics like APR, there are a few additional major factors to look at when choosing a travel credit card:

  • Loyalty program. 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 use.
  • Annual fee. While annual fees can run high on travel cards and you might not like paying for them, annual-fee cards tend to have better signup bonuses and more features.
  • Earn rate. If you find you spend more on everyday purchases such as groceries and gas, look for a card that has a high earning rate in those categories.
  • Signup bonus and rewards. Many travel credit cards offer a sizable signup bonus and great that you can use for flights or hotel stays after earning them.
  • Foreign transaction fees. If you often travel abroad, you’ll want to make sure you don’t rack up fees when using your card overseas.
  • Travel perks. While both general travel cards and cobranded travel cards come with perks, cobranded cards are typically tailored to the cobranded business.

How do travel credit cards work?

A travel credit card offers rewards for travel purchases — typically points or miles, but sometimes cash back. Like a rewards card, you can redeem these points or miles for certain goods. In the case of travel cards, this usually includes hotel stays, flights or other travel expenses.

Travel cards also offer a variety of travel perks, such as airport lounge access or travel credits. And you tend to get what you pay for: No-annual-fee cards usually offer fewer high-class benefits than annual-fee products.

  • Compare & apply for a card. Find a card that best suits your travel and flight preferences. Once you choose a card, you can apply like any standard credit card.
  • Earn miles. Now that you have a card, use it to make purchases that best help you earn miles toward your account. For a cobranded card, this typically includes purchases through the travel company.
  • Redeem miles. With enough miles in your account, you’re ready to cash in on a travel reward. Book a flight, hotel stay or other reward through your credit card online account.

When is a travel card worth it?

Like many rewards cards, the primary way to assess if a travel card is worth it is whether the benefits that come with the card outweigh any costs. However, here’s a good rule of thumb.

Get a travel card if…

  • You travel more than a handful of times a year.
  • You plan to primarily spend credit card rewards on travel.
  • You want perks and features specifically tailored to travel.

Pick something else if…

  • You rarely travel.
  • You don’t plan on spending your credit card rewards on travel.
  • You don’t often use all of your card’s features and perks.

Is a travel card annual fee worth it?

A travel card’s annual fee often corresponds to the number of perks and benefits you can get from the card: the higher the annual fee, the greater the number or value of perks.

If you can take advantage of all a card’s features, a large annual fee could be typically worth it. In most cases, these extra perks and features outvalue the cost of the card’s annual fee, often by a great margin. But you need to take advantage of these features year after year to make the annual fee worth it.

How much is a travel card mile worth?

The value of a travel mile ultimately depends on the individual loyalty program. Individual point values tend to change as the cost of flights rise and fall, and can even differ depending on the type of flight you book. As such, it’s best to assess a point’s value by the average worth rather than an exact worth. You can look at Finder’s current point valuations to get an idea of the rough value of your travel miles.

How many miles do I need for a free flight?

The miles you need for an award flight come down to the cost of the flight and the rough value of the loyalty program’s miles or points. Since these fluctuate with travel trends, it’s best to check your favored airline and compare prices over a few different flights to estimate what you’ll need for a free flight.

Is it a good time to open a travel credit card?

Yes. In fact, 2021 is looking like a better-than-average year for travel credit cards. Airlines, in particular, are eager for cardholders to get back to the skies, and many travel cards are sporting big incentives for new cardholders to do just that. These include big new signup bonuses to get you in the air even faster or additional reward categories to help you build even more miles. Depending on the airline, you may even find the costs of award flights lower than average as well. It’s tough to say if this bigger value will continue into 2022, so now is a perfect time to pick up a travel card if you’ve been on the fence.

Bottom line

The best travel credit card for you depends on your spending and travel habits, as well as your credit score. If none of these feel like the right fit, compare more travel credit cards.

Credit card ratings

★★★★★ — Excellent

★★★★★ — Good

★★★★★ — Average

★★★★★ — Subpar

★★★★★ — Poor

Our team evaluates credit cards to determine their value against similar cards on the market.

We rank card types — travel, cash back, business — on a set of factors that are most relevant to that type of card. We create these rankings to help you narrow down a credit card that best suits your spending and budget.

Learn the details of our methodology and scoring.

More guides on Finder

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