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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 7 best travel credit cards
The world of travel credit cards is ultra-competitive. That means there are many top-notch products to choose from.
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 flat-rate rewards: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit 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. You’ll receive a credit of up to $100 when you pay for the fee with your card. Get a new credit every four years.
Best for hotels: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
- 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. Plus, get Priority Pass Select membership and a statement credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.
Best for luxury travel perks with no annual fee: PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card
- 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 rewards with no annual fee: Uber Visa Card
- Rewards. Earn 4% cash back on dining and a 3% rate on hotels and airfare. Earn 2% cash back for online purchases and 1% back on all other purchases.
- Signup bonus. Earn a bonus valued at $100 after you spend $500 on purchases within 90 days of your account opening.
- Statement credit. Earn up to a $50 statement credit for online subscription services after you spend $5,000 or more every year. Use it for eligible shopping, video and digital music subscription services.
Best for a welcome offer with no annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
- 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 15.74% to 27.74%.
Best for reward nights: IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit 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. This tier comes with perks like extended checkout, priority check-in, guaranteed room availability and complimentary room upgrades.
Here are the seven best travel cards on the market:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for luxury travel.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Best for flexible rewards.
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Best for flat-rate rewards.
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Best for hotels.
- PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card: Best for luxury travel perks with no annual fee.
- Uber Visa Card: Best for rewards with no annual fee.
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card: Best for a welcome offer with no annual fee.
- IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: Best for first-year signup bonus
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
Luxury Card Mastercard® Black Card™Read more
Compare cards with travel rewards
Compare travel cards by bank
Ask the experts
- 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?
What is a travel credit card?
A travel credit card offers higher rewards for travel purchases — typically points or miles, but sometimes cash back. It usually comes with no foreign transaction fees and travel benefits.
Points or miles can typically be redeemed for rewards such as hotel stays, airfare, car rentals and statement credit.
Travel cards offer a variety of perks, and you get what you pay for: No-annual-fee cards tend to offer fewer high-class benefits than annual-fee products.
A few travel benefits you might find with a travel card are …
- Airport lounge access.
- Fee credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.
- Travel credits that cover your expenses for eligible purchases.
- Airline perks like priority boarding and complimentary checked baggage.
- Hotel perks like spending credits and room upgrades.
- Hotel or airline loyalty program status upgrades. Many 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.
The 3 types of travel credit cards
- Flexible-currency credit card. Some cards offer rewards to be redeemed at select hotels or airlines. Flexible-currency cards let you spend on travel of your choice.
- Airline credit card. This type of card is affiliated with a specific airline. You’ll earn elevated rewards when you spend with the cobranded company, and you can typically redeem your rewards only through the airline or its partners. You’ll usually receive airline-specific perks that you won’t find with other cards, such as priority boarding and complimentary checked luggage. If you don’t want to be tied to a certain airline, a flexible-currency card might be a better choice.
- Hotel credit card. This type of card is cobranded with a specific hotel chain. You’ll earn elevated rewards when you spend with the chain, and you can usually redeem them through the affiliated company or its partners. Typically, you’ll find hotel-specific benefits such as loyalty-program upgrades and free-night awards. Like with airline credit cards, pick a hotel credit card if you stay frequently with a particular chain. Otherwise, consider a flexible-reward card.
Must read: Compare popular airline credit cards
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
- Welcome offer: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you make $2,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of your account opening. Plus earn a $50 statement credit after making a Delta purchase in the same time frame.
- Annual fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 (see rates & fees).
- Miles: 2 miles per $1 on Delta purchases, 1 mile per $1 on other eligible purchases.
- Priority boarding.
- First checked bag free.
- No foreign transaction fees.
United℠ Explorer Card
- Intro offer: Get 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus you can earn an additional miles after spending in the first .
- Annual fee: $95 (waived for the first year)
- Miles: 2 miles per $1 on all ticket purchases, 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.
- Priority boarding.
- One free checked bag.
- No foreign transaction fees.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Intro offer: Get 40,000 miles and a companion pass after you spend your first $1,000 on purchases within 3 months of opening your account. .
- Annual fee: $99
- Miles: 2 miles per $1 on all southwest purchases and at participating hotels and car rental agencies, 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees
- Companion pass status after earning 110,000 points or completing 100 one-way flights (companion pass status allows you to bring a guest on your Southwest flight at no additional charge).
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
- Intro offer: Get 50,000 miles after you spend your first $2,500 within 3 months of opening your account.
- Annual fee: $99 (waived for the first year)
- Miles: 2 miles per $1 on all American Airlines purchases, 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.
- One free checked bag for you and up to four other people on your reservation.
- Priority boarding.
- Discounts on in-flight food and beverages.
British Airways Visa Signature® Card
- Intro offer: Get 50,000 Avios (British Airways club currency) after you spend your first $3,000 on purchases within 3 months of opening your account. Earn an additional 50,000 Avios when you spend $20,000 total in the first year from account opening.
- Annual fee: $95.
- Avios: 3x Avios on all British Airlines purchases, 2x Avios on hotels and 1x Avios on all other purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees,
- Travel Together Ticket after spending $30,000 in one calendar year (a Travel Together Ticket allows you to bring a guest on your British Airways flight at no additional charge).
How to choose a travel credit card
Think about whether 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.
Consider where you spend the most money.
Round up your expenses and see which categories you spend the most money in. Common categories include travel, dining, groceries and gas. If you find yourself spending heavily in certain categories, look for cards that offer elevated rewards for those categories. For more evenly distributed buying, you might get more out of a flat-rate rewards card.
Consider which travel perks you want.
You’ll usually find the most perks with hotel and airline cards, as well as premium cards with high annual fees. Consider which benefits you can and can’t live without — this will help you narrow your choices further.
By following these steps, you should have a much better idea of what type of travel card you’re looking for.
Still deciding? Here are additional factors to compare
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 credit cards for cruise lines if you like to take to the seas.
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. Hotel-card bonuses can potentially give you reward nights.
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.
Sign up carefully
Beyond the welcome offer itself, consider whether you can meet the spending requirement to earn the bonus. Don’t get in over your head. Choose a credit card only if you currently spend enough money each month to meet the requirement.
How to maximize your travel rewards
Once you’ve been approved for the travel card of your choice, use these tips to maximize your rewards.
Earn the signup bonus.
If you want more rewards, consider a card that offers a signup bonus. Then, tailor your spending so you earn the bonus. That may mean using the card for everything you possibly can during the bonus qualifying period.
Maximize your reward earnings.
Get the highest value for your rewards.
The credit card industry generally values a point or mile at one cent apiece, but your rewards might be worth more or less depending on what you redeem them for. To see whether you’re getting a good deal on reward redemptions, do some quick math in your card’s rewards center. Divide the value of the redemption by how many points or miles you must spend. For example:
- If you want a $25 gift card and it costs 2,500 points to get it, your points are worth $25/2,500 = 1 cent each.
- But if the same gift card costs 3,000 points, your points are worth $25/3,000 = 0.8 cents each.
The higher redemption rate you can get on your rewards, the better.Back to top
Who should use a travel credit card?
While earning travel rewards appeals to those with a bit of wanderlust, a travel credit card isn’t for everyone. Consider a travel product if:
You have good to excellent credit.
Credit card issuers give the best cards those with a history of paying their bills on time and managing debt responsibly. If you don’t have a great credit score, work on improving your credit before you apply for a travel card.
You pay your balance in full each month.
As with any rewards product, paying your balance in full is the best way to get the full benefit of your travel card. This is especially the case if the card has an annual fee. Carrying a balance means accruing interest that can offset your rewards.
You frequent one airline or hotel chain.
Airline and hotel cards can heavily reward you if you’re a loyal customer. Hotel cards in particular usually offer much better rewards than you’d earn with general travel cards.
You have the patience to get the most value out of your rewards.
With travel cards, you won’t know the true value of your points or miles until you redeem them. To get maximum value from them, you’ll need to crunch the numbers yourself or do some research into reward values.
Read more about travel credit cards
If you consider yourself a jet-setter, you could get a lot from a travel card. There are a variety of options for whatever you’re looking for.
Before you start your search, consider whether you want to pay an annual fee, what you typically spend on and which travel benefits you’re looking for. Take your time to compare different products, and you’ll likely find a card that’s perfect for you.
Frequently asked questions
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.