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The best travel rewards credit cards:
- Best overall: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Best travel card with a high annual fee: Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Best for beginners: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Best for luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Best for dining rewards and benefits: American Express® Gold Card
- Our favorite airline card: Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
- Our favorite hotel card: Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
While it takes more work to use points or miles compared to cash back, the upside is that you can get much more value for your points compared to receiving cash back. For example, Business Insider's David Slotnick got almost 6 cents per point when he used Chase Ultimate Rewards to book a first-class flight to Japan.
In this guide, we're focusing on the best travel credit cards that earn transferable points — points such as American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards that you can transfer to airline and hotel loyalty programs. Airline and hotel co-branded credit cards can make sense if you travel frequently and are loyal to a particular brand, but if your main goal is to earn as many rewards as possible on your spending and have lots of options for using your points, cards that earn transferable points are the best option.
Our expert panel for this guide
We consulted top credit card experts as well as a certified financial planner for advice on the top travel credit cards. Their input informed our picks for the best cards, and you can find a full transcript of our interviews with each of them at the bottom of this page.
We're focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won't be worth it if you're paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it's important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.
How our list compares to other publications
Getting a new credit card is a deeply personal decision, and it rightfully involves a good amount of research. In addition to drawing from Personal Finance Insider's expert editors, writers, and sources, we've cross-referenced our top travel rewards card recommendations with other top publications. See how our list compares:
|Personal Finance Insider||NerdWallet||The Points Guy|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||✓||✓||✓|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||✓||✓||✓|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||✓||✓||✓|
|Amex Gold Card||✓||✓||✓|
|Amex Green Card||✓|
The best travel credit cards
While the Chase Sapphire Reserve card was previously our pick for the best travel rewards card overall, it recently increased its annual fee from $450 to $550. While it did add some new perks with Lyft and DoorDash, it's become harder to recommend the Reserve to more casual travelers. We've updated this guide to reflect the changes, and we now recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred card as the best travel rewards credit card for most people.
Chase Ultimate Rewards points are some of the easiest travel rewards to use — you can redeem them for travel directly through Chase and get more than 1 cent per point (you get 1.25 cents with the Preferred and 1.5 cents with the Reserve), and Chase's selection of transfer partners is great for US-based travelers, with United, Hyatt, Marriott, and more.
The Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee, and it earns 2 points per dollar on travel and dining. It also earns 5 points per dollar with Lyft, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. The card stands out for its travel protections. You'll enjoy protection if your flight is delayed, if your baggage is delayed or lost, primary car rental insurance, and more if you book eligible travel and meet the benefit requirements.
What the experts love: High sign-up bonus, earns 2x points on travel and dining purchases, you can redeem points for 1.25 cents apiece for travel or through Chase (a 25% bonus)
What the experts don't love: Doesn't offer some of the travel perks you'll get with competing cards, such as airport lounge access and a statement credit for Global Entry
Read more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred card review
- Why the Sapphire Preferred is a great beginner rewards card
- The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve just added new options for using points to cover groceries, dining, and home improvement
Best travel card with a high annual fee:
Not everyone wants to pay a $550 annual fee, but if you're serious about maximizing your rewards and you travel frequently, the Sapphire Reservecould be worth it.
Not only do you get up to $300 in statement credits toward travel each year (and Chase has a very generous definition of travel — including everything from airfare to highway tolls), but you also earn 3x points on travel and dining (excluding the $300 travel credit). You also get airport lounge access through the Priority Pass network, which has more than 1,200 locations worldwide.
When it comes to redeeming points, you can book travel through Chase and get 1.5 cents per point (a 50% bonus over the standard 1-cent-per-point rate), or you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards to travel partners like Hyatt, British Airways, and United.
Plus, like the less-expensive Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Sapphire Reserve offers some of the best credit card travel insurance around. This includes primary rental car insurance, trip delay and trip cancellation protection, and lost baggage insurance.
What the experts love: Earns 3x points on travel and dining purchases, annual $300 travel credit, statement credits for DoorDash, points are worth 1.5 cents apiece for travel booked through Chase
What the experts don't love: "You have to really squeeze every drop of value out of this card to make that jaw-dropping $550 annual fee worth it," says Sara Rathner, credit card expert at NerdWallet.
Read more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve:
Best for beginners:
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a great "set it and forget it" card, in the sense that you don't have to worry about various bonus categories for earning rewards. You'll earn 2 miles per dollar, no matter what you buy.
This card also offers one of the most straightforward ways to redeem rewards for travel: The Purchase Eraser Tool lets you "wipe" travel purchases from your card statement, at a rate of 1 cent per mile. So the 50,000-mile sign-up bonus is worth $500 toward travel (to get the sign-up bonus you must spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening).
You also have the option to transfer Capital One miles to more than a dozen frequent flyer programs, including Air Canada Aeroplan, Etihad Guest, JetBlue TrueBlue, and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. The transfer ratio is 1.5 airline miles for every 2 Capital One miles you transfer.
The selection of transfer partners is best suited to someone who wants to travel internationally and who doesn't mind spending some time researching the best ways to redeem miles with the different frequent flyer program options. But the upside is that you can always use the Purchase Eraser tool instead. You also get up to a $100 Global Entry application fee credit.
What the experts love: The Purchase Eraser tool makes it easy to redeem miles, it earns 2 miles per dollar on every purchase
What the experts don't love: "If you redeem miles for cash back, their value drops in half," points out Rathner. Benét Wilson, credit cards editor at The Points Guy, also notes that other cards offer higher rewards on purchases such as travel and dining.
Read more about the Capital One Venture card:
Best for luxury perks:
The Amex Platinum has one of the highest credit card annual fees, but it can be well worth it if you travel a lot and you can put all of its statement credits to use.
You'll earn 5x points on flights when you book directly through the airline or through Amex Travel (starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year), which makes the card a great choice for purchasing airfare. (Note: New Platinum Card® cardmembers can earn 10x points on eligible purchases at U.S. Gas Stations and U.S. Supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during the first 6 months of card membership) The card offers trip cancellation and interruption insurance, plus some of the best purchase protection, so it's a good option for buying expensive items (and don't forget to see if you can take advantage of an Amex Offer for bonus points or cash back).
The Amex Platinum offers more airport lounge access than any other personal travel rewards card — in addition to Priority Pass membership, you get access to Amex Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs (when you're flying Delta), and more.
The card's three annual statement credits can go a long way toward offsetting the high annual fee. You get up to $200 in statement credits toward airline incidental fees like checked bags and inflight purchases; up to $100 each year toward Saks Fifth Avenue purchases; and up to $200 in annual Uber credits.
Just keep in mind that there are several caveats. You're limited to one designated airline (you can choose it each year in your Amex account) for the airline incidental fee credit, and both the Saks and Uber credits are divided into portions. You'll get up to $50 in statement credits toward Saks purchases from January to June, and another credit of up to $50 for Saks purchases from July to December. With the Uber credit, you get up to $15 each month, and a $20 bonus in December for a total of $35 that month.
What the experts love: Lots of luxury benefits, including airport lounge access and statement credits with Uber and Saks
What the experts don't love: $550 annual fee (See Rates), plus this card doesn't offer bonus points on very many types of purchases
Read more about the Amex Platinum:
- Amex Platinum card review
- Amex Platinum versus the Amex Business Platinum
- Chase Sapphire Reserve versus the American Express Platinum: Which premium credit card is right for you?
Best for dining rewards and benefits:
The American Express® Gold Card is an ideal travel rewards card for anyone who frequently eats out and/or shops at US supermarkets. You'll earn 4x Membership Rewards points on these purchases (though note the $25,000 calendar year annual cap for US supermarkets; after that, you'll earn just 1 point per dollar, but that's a pretty high cap). The card also earns 3x points on flights booked directly with the airlines or through AmexTravel.com, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
While the $250 annual fee (See Rates) is on the high side, you can offset it thanks to an annual statement credit. You can get up to $120 in annual dining credits, but it's divided into up to $10 in credits each month, and the credit only applies at the following restaurants and delivery services: Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations.
What the experts love: "4x points on restaurants and at US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year, then 1x) is great — usually a card favors one or the other," says Rathner. Plus, the card offers monthly dining credits.
What the experts don't love: Wilson notes that other cards offer similar benefits for a lower annual fee, and Rathner notes that the card's travel and dining credits come with some important limitations — so read the fine print.
Read more about the Amex Gold card:
Other top credit cards that just missed the cut
Our list of the best travel rewards credit cards contains our very top picks, but there are dozens of other travel credit cards out there. Here are some cards that almost made the cut, along with why we opted to leave them off our final list.
- American Express® Green Card — This card earns 3x points on travel and dining and has a moderate $150 annual fee. The points earning is great, but the welcome bonus isn't anything to rave about, and the card's statement credits for CLEAR and LoungeBuddy aren't easy for everyone to use.
- Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card — If you want to earn travel rewards without an annual fee, this card is worth considering. Says NerdWallet's Sara Rathner, "It doesn't have the same high rewards earning rate as cards that charge fees, but there's a valuable sign-up bonus and easy redemptions."
Frequently asked questions
How did we choose the best travel credit cards?
Personal Finance Insider evaluated dozens of travel rewards credit cards currently available to new applicants and narrowed down the list to the best options based on the following factors:
- Sign-up bonus — do new cardholders get a valuable incentive to sign up and meet a minimum spending requirement?
- Ongoing rewards — how many points or miles you earn on your purchases
- Benefits — beyond rewards, does the card offer valuable perks such as statement credits for travel, primary car rental insurance, and airport lounge access?
- Annual fee
- Overall value — does the card justify its annual fee by offering useful benefits and valuable rewards, and is it worth it?
What is the best travel rewards card?
We think the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is the best overall travel rewards card, but the best card for your particular situation will depend on what benefits you care about the most, as well as how you feel about paying a high annual fee. You don't need to spend $550 a year for a great travel rewards card; there are great options under $100 as well.
We'd recommend opening a travel rewards card that earns Amex or Chase points, since these are among the easiest rewards to redeem and you have various travel partners to utilize. But if you've investigated your options and are confident that you can get value out of their rewards, cards that earn Capital One miles or Citi ThankYou points can make sense as well.
What are the different types of travel credit cards?
There are two main types of travel rewards cards:
- Cards that earn transferable points: Transferable points are generally bank rewards that you can move over to travel partners. Transferable points currencies include Amex Membership Rewards points, Capital One miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Citi ThankYou points, and Marriott Bonvoy points (which transfer to more than 40 airline partners).
- Airline and hotel co-branded cards: These cards earn points or miles within a respective hotel or airline program; you don't have the option to redeem your rewards with a wide variety of travel partners (or if you do, the transfer ratio usually isn't great). See our guide to the best airline credit cards, as well as our guide to the best hotel credit cards.
How do I pick a travel credit card?
There are a few different things you'll want to evaluate when deciding on the right travel rewards card for you:
- Sign-up bonus — Is this card offering an attractive intro bonus to new cardholders?
- Bonus categories — Does the card earn you bonus rewards on your most common purchases, such as dining out or travel?
- Ease of use — How easy is it to use your points? A travel rewards card can offer all the points in the world, but if the options for using them aren't convenient for you, chances are you'll be leaving value on the table. Make sure you research your options for redeeming rewards with a travel credit cards before you apply. That means taking a look at the rewards program's travel partners, as well as your options for using rewards to book travel directly through the credit card issuer's website.
- Perks — The more benefits a credit card has, the higher its annual fee tends to be. So you'll want to make sure you'll be able to utilize most of its perks, such as annual statement credits, airport lounge access, and complimentary elite status.
- Annual fee — If you don't want to pay a high annual fee, you can rule several travel rewards cards out. Luckily, though, you still have some great options under $100.
Are annual fees worth it?
Travel rewards cards with annual fees are worth it if you're able to get significant value out of their benefits and rewards. Before you apply for a card, make sure you'll actually use all the features that contribute to the card's annual fee. For example, if a card offers an annual statement credit of up to $200 toward travel but you can't use it, you're probably not getting what you pay for.
How do travel rewards cards work?
Travel rewards cards earn you points (or miles) on every purchase you make, with the goal of helping you earn enough rewards to book free travel. The best travel rewards cards earn points that can be transferred to various airline and hotel partners — like Amex, Chase, or Citi points.
How do I get a free flight?
Applying for a travel rewards credit card and earning its welcome bonus is a great way to work toward a free flight. Domestic award flights in economy typically require about 25,000 points, so depending on the welcome bonus, you could have enough rewards for a flight right out of the gate.
The experts' advice on choosing the best travel credit card for you
We interviewed a certified financial planner and three credit card and travel experts about what makes a good travel credit card. Their feedback informed our list of cards, and you can find the full text of our interviews below.
What features make a travel rewards credit card good?
Generous ongoing rewards on common spending categories is something I look for, because a sign-up bonus, while lucrative, can only get you so far. NerdWallet's 2019 Travel Credit Card Study found that a 50,000-point bonus can cover about 1.6 flights, depending on where and when you travel. If you want to offset a trip in a more major way, you need opportunities to earn more.
Easy redemptions are also really important. No one wants to navigate a maze of rules and restrictions. Those points are yours, so you should be able to spend them without sweating the details.
Airport lounge access, a statement credit toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and a significant bonus point incentive during the first couple of months.
It needs to offer benefits that are useful for you, so it ultimately depends on how you travel and what perks you value. But a few key things to look for are a high welcome bonus, strong bonus rewards in your top spending categories, trip protection such as trip cancellation insurance, and no foreign transaction fees. Good premium travel credit cards should offer higher-end benefits such as airport lounge access and annual travel credits as well.
They're a great way to earn rewards that allow you to travel the world for less money — or practically for free. All you have to do is use a travel credit card to buy the same items you'd otherwise buy with cash or a debit card, but make sure you pay it off every month. With some travel credit cards, you can also get great travel perks, from airport lounge access and hotel elite status to free airline companion certificates and discounts or credits on travel purchases. You often get more value from points than from cash back.
How can someone decide whether a travel credit card is a good fit for them?
Sara Rathner, NerdWallet:
You always want to make sure that the value you get out of a card each year exceeds the cost of holding onto it. From there, make sure the card's other benefits are relevant to you — for example, a credit toward a Clear membership isn't useful if your local airport doesn't participate in the Clear program.
Luis Rosa, CFP:
I recommend looking at the sign-up bonuses and also the rewards on non-travel related purchases. Right now you might not be traveling much, but you want a card that'll provide you with enough rewards on non-travel purchases so that you can take advantage once you resume traveling as usual post-COVID-19.
Sarah Silbert, Personal Finance Insider:
It's all about how the card's benefits and rewards align with your lifestyle. For example, if you spend a lot on dining, you should look for a card that offers bonus points on those purchases. For cards with annual fees, it'll only be worth it if you actually take advantage of the premium benefits. Additionally, make sure the points you're earning are the best type of rewards for you. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are my personal favorite since I can redeem them for travel through Chase or with my favorite travel partners including Hyatt and United, and I can also redeem them for groceries and dining through Chase Pay Yourself Back.
Benét Wilson, The Points Guy:
You need to ask some questions. Do you plan on using the points and miles you earn on your cards for travel? Are you hoping to use your sign-up bonus for a specific redemption? Are you looking for a card that gives you luxury travel perks? Are you hoping to hit elite status with a certain hotel brand or airline? Are you a casual traveler or a frequent flyer? What spending categories will be most beneficial to you?
For example, if you want a card to help you hit elite status with United Airlines while giving you elite-like perks, then consider applying for a United credit card. Chase's United co-branded cards give you perks such as lounge access, free checked bags, and priority boarding.
However, if you only fly occasionally or you're not loyal to one airline, a flexible travel credit card that doesn't offer perks on any one airline but earns points or miles that can be redeemed on a variety of airlines — like the Chase Sapphire Preferred — might be a better choice.
If you're a road warrior who flies every week, you'll want to think about a premium travel credit card that offers lots of perks to make your travels smoother, such as the Amex Platinum, which comes with airport lounge access and hotel elite status.
Is there anything else that you think is important to note when it comes to picking a travel credit card?
Sara Rathner, NerdWallet:
Depending on how often you travel, you may get more value out of a cash-back credit card. A NerdWallet study found that travelers who spend more than $8,600 in travel per year, or take at least one international trip per year, get the most out of travel cards. If that doesn't sound like you, there are other rewarding cards available.
Luis Rosa, CFP:
Don't necessarily be afraid of the annual fee. Cards with annual fees can have enough perks to make them worth it.
Sarah Silbert, Personal Finance Insider:
There are so many great travel credit cards available that it can be tempting to sign up for several and earn their welcome bonuses, but don't bite off more than you can chew. Start slow with one rewards cards, get a feel for its perks and rewards, and adjust your credit card strategy as needed if you want additional benefits or aren't finding the annual fee to be worth it.
Benét Wilson, The Points Guy:
All covered above!
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Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, please click here.