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If you love to travel, there’s a credit card that’ll take you around the world. Travel cards can get you deals on flights, TSA precheck and even entry to premium airport lounges. However, watch out for high annual fees.
The best travel credit cards
The world of travel credit cards is ultra-competitive. That means there are many top-notch products to choose from. If you want to compare these cards side-by-side, check out our comparison table below.
Best for flat-rate rewards: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
This card offers solid rewards on every purchase, including a fantastic 10x miles on eligible Hotels.com bookings until January 2020. Also enjoy a fee credit on your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application — an unusual perk for a mid-tier travel card.
- Signup bonus. Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.
- Rewards on every purchase. Earn unlimited 2x miles on all purchases. This is great if you don’t want to keep track of rewards categories. You’ll also receive 10x miles on eligible Hotels.com bookings until January 2020.
- Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit. Every four years you’ll receive a credit of up to $100 when you pay for the fee with your card.
Best for luxury travel: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Stellar rewards on flights and hotels. Earn 5x points on eligible flights and hotels. Earn 1x points on all other eligible purchases.
- Fee credits. You’ll receive a $200 airline fee credit per calendar year, up to $200 in annual Uber credits and a $100 statement credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four years.
- Premium travel perks. Access more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. Get upgraded to Gold Elite with Marriott Bonvoy and Gold with Hilton Honors. At select hotels you’ll get additional perks, including late checkout, Wi-Fi, expense credits and more.
Best for flexible rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Chase Ultimate Rewards is a powerhouse redemption hub, making this the go-to product for flexible rewards. You can trade your points for travel, gift cards, cash back, experiences and Amazon purchases. Also, you can squeeze more value from points by transferring them to select airline and hotel loyalty programs at a 1:1 ratio.
- Excellent rewards on travel and dining. After you spend your first $300 covered by the annual travel credit in a card year, you’ll start earning 3x points on eligible travel. Earn 3x points on eligible dining at restaurants and 1x points on all other purchases.
- Signup bonus. Earn 50,000 bonus points after you make $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.
- Premium travel perks. Get up to $300 in annual travel credits every card year. Get a $100 credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, airport lounge access and special benefits at properties in The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.
Best for reward nights: IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
The IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card has long been an impressive mid-tier hotel card.
- A top-notch signup bonus. Earn 80,000 bonus points after you make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
- Rewards. Earn 25x points at IHG hotels and 2x points at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants. Earn 1x points on all other purchases.
- IHG perks. Earn a free night after every account anniversary that’s valid for a night worth up to 40,000 points. Also, get automatic Platinum Elite status.
Best for luxury travel perks with no annual fee: PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
You’ll find two valuable perks that are unusual for a no-annual-fee travel card: an annual travel credit and a credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application. Also, earn as high as 4x points on travel — a top-notch rewards rate — and a solid rewards rate on all other purchases.
- Travel and fee credits. Enjoy a $100 annual air travel credit and $100 credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. The air travel credit can be used for lounge access, onboard food and beverages, baggage fees and more.
- Welcome offer. Earn 25,000 bonus points when you spend $2,500 on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening.
- Rewards. Earn 3x points on eligible travel purchases. If you’re a PenFed Honors Advantage member, that rate is increased to 4x points. On all other purchases, you’ll earn 1.5x points.
Best for a welcome offer with no annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card is a top-notch travel card with excellent rewards on eligible travel, dining and other categories. For a no-annual-fee card, it also has a stellar welcome offer.
- Rewards. Earn 3x points on eligible dining, gas, transportation, travel and streaming services. Earn 1x points on all other eligible purchases.
- Welcome offer. Earn 30,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of card membership. According to Wells Fargo, the welcome offer is worth $300 — a market-leading value for a no-annual-fee card.
- Intro APR. Get a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months following your account opening, then a variable APR of 15.49% to 27.49%.
Best for rewards with no annual fee: Uber Visa Card
If you’re always on the move, the Uber Visa Card is for you. It offers strong cash back on eligible travel and dining purchases — a perfect combination for a frequent traveler.
- Rewards. Earn 5% back in Uber Cash on Uber rides and Uber Eats and 3% back on dining, hotels and airfare. On all other purchases you’ll earn 1% back.
- Signup bonus. Earn a bonus valued at $100 after you spend $500 on purchases within 90 days of your account opening.
Best for hotels: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
Marriott Bonvoy is one of the top hotel programs in the world, and its flagship card is a heavy hitter. With excellent rewards at eligible Marriott Bonvoy properties and high-value perks such as an annual Free Night Award, your annual fee goes a very long way.
- Welcome offer. Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.
- Rewards. On eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy properties, you’ll earn 6x points. At US restaurants and on eligible flights, you’ll earn 3x points. Earn 2x points on all other purchases.
- Premium travel benefits. Enjoy $300 in Marriott Bonvoy statement credits each card year. Get a Free Night Award after each card anniversary and Gold Elite status in Marriott Bonvoy, and much more.
Here are our picks for the best travel cards on the market:
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Best for flat-rate rewards.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for luxury travel.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for flexible rewards.
- IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: Best for reward nights
- PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card: Best for luxury travel perks with no annual fee.
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card: Best for a welcome offer with no annual fee.
- Uber Visa Card: Best for rewards with no annual fee.
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Best for hotels.
How we selected our top cards
We compared available travel cards based on several factors, including reward earning options, redemption flexibility, quantity and quality of travel perks, welcome offers, promo APR, annual fees and other areas you might consider when choosing a travel card.
What’s changed in 2019
This is the last year that Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers 10x miles for purchases made at Hotels.com website, which is why it retained its top spot on our list.
Our pick for a travel rewards card
American Express® Green CardRead more
Compare cards with travel rewards
Compare travel cards by bank
How does a travel card 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 tend to offer fewer high-class benefits than annual-fee products.
Travel credit cards come in two categories: general travel cards and cobranded travel cards. General travel cards let you earn and redeem on most travel purchases without restrictions. Cobranded cards on the other hand are locked in to a specific hotel or airline brand. These cards tend to earn more than general travel cards, but only when making travel purchases with the associated brand. Similarly, these cards can only redeem their points on flights or stays with that brand.
How to choose a travel credit card
Choosing a travel credit card is very similar to choosing a cashback or hotel card. Before making your decision, consider the following factors:
- Do you have a preferred airline or hotel? Travel credit cards come in two categories: general and cobranded. General cards can let you earn and redeem on rewards on a variety of travel purchases. Cobranded cards are limited to specific travel businesses when earning and redeeming. In exchange, cobranded cards offer bigger earning rates than general rewards cards.
- Do you want to pay an annual fee? This is an easy starting point when choosing between travel cards. Annual-fee cards tend to have better signup bonuses and more features — but you might not like paying for them. An annual fee doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker, but it can help you narrow your options.
- What do you spend most on? If you find you spend more on everyday purchases such as groceries and gas, look for a card that has a high earning rate on those categories. Remember that a cobranded travel card will earn the most on the affiliated brand, such as Hilton or Alaska Airlines.
- Does the card have a signup bonus? Many travel cards offer a signup bonus to new cardholders who spend a certain amount on purchases within the first few months. An airline-card bonus may offer enough rewards for a flight, while a hotel-card bonus can potentially give you enough for a rewards night.
- What perks do you want? While both general travel cards and cobranded travel cards come with perks, cobranded cards are typically tailored to the cobranded business. Examples of unique cobranded perks include free breakfast, upgraded rooms and companion passes.
- How are the rates and fees? While many travel cards omit foreign transaction fees, you’ll want to double-check whether you card features them if you plan on traveling abroad. And while you should strive to pay your balance in full each month, a low APR can help should you ever need to carry a balance.
Read more about travel credit cards
Credit Cards Publisher
Ask the experts
- Dorothy Harpool
- Director of Student and Community Initiatives and Senior Marketing Lecture
- Wichita State University
When are travel rewards cards worth it?
Travel reward cards are worth it for a small percentage of consumers who prioritize travel when making financial decisions. The problem with a pure travel reward card is its single payout. The outcome of using the card will only allow the card holder to receive travel-related products such as flights and hotels. If a consumer does not prioritize travel due to whatever reason, that consumer receives no return on the use of the card.
- Lexi Hutto
- Associate Professor of Marketing
- Millersville University of Pennsylvania
How much are miles generally worth?
While the value of each mile ranges from just over a penny to as much as 10 or 15 cents, there is a lot of variation in the value when you redeem miles. Most airlines restrict how many seats can be redeemed with rewards miles, have black-out dates, and charge more miles for more desirable dates and destinations. You may need to plan with a long lead time to visit your preferred destination—or pay with more miles and/or fees. It’s not uncommon to book 11 months in advance for a desirable port of call such as Athens, Greece in the summertime if you want to pay with fewer air miles.
- Eliot Buchanan
- Co-Founder and CEO
When is it worth it to pay an annual fee on a travel card?
Paying an annual fee on a travel card is worth it only if you can reasonably make back the fee through its benefits and rewards or if it provides desirable optionality for redemption. Statement credits, discounts at retailers, and other card benefits can get you back to par. But the most important consideration is whether the card affords you the option to redeem for rewards that you can use.
Before applying, count how many ways you can redeem your miles or points with the airline or the credit card issuer itself. And pay attention to the quantity and quality of travel partners that are a part of the redemption network.
- Lee Huffman
- Budget Travel Blog
Generally, how early do you have to open a travel credit card if you’re planning on using the welcome bonus to book a vacation?
Because most airlines and hotels allow you book approximately one year in advance of travel, I recommend applying for rewards cards approximately 18-24 months ahead of your vacation. This will give you enough time to receive the card, receive the bonus, and earn additional rewards through daily purchases.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.