Best Credit Cards for Travelers and Travel Rewards
Travel credit cards offer a wide variety of rewards from airline and hotel cards that earn frequent flyer and loyalty points to general travel cards that award points that you can redeem toward any type of travel purchase. When choosing the best travel rewards card, it’s important to consider many variables such as the sign-up bonus, annual fee, ongoing reward rate, and how valuable the rewards and benefits will be according to your spending.
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Here are our editors’ top picks for the best travel cards.
Best General Travel Rewards Cards
$95 annual fee, waived for the first year
or no annual fee for basic Sapphire card
2x points on travel and dining
1 point per dollar on all other purchases as usual
the card is made of metal
Benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred
Instead of offering rewards designed for a particular airline or hotel, the Chase Sapphire Preferred allows you to earn points that can be used for a wide variety of travel purchases. This card currently offers one of the most valuable sign-up bonuses. If you spend $4,000 on the card in the first three months of opening the account, you receive 50,000 bonus points, which is worth $625 if you redeem for travel through the Chase online travel portal. You can also earn an additional 5,000 points when you add an authorized user to your account.
One of the most valuable benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred rewards program is that you can exchange your points for frequent traveler program miles at a rate of 1:1. You can also book your trip on the Chase website and get an additional 25% on your points. You can earn double points for restaurant and travel purchases and one point for all other purchases, with an annual fee of $95 that is waived your first year. There is also no foreign transaction fee.
Drawbacks of the Chase Sapphire Preferred
After your first waived year, you will be charged the annual fee of $95, which can be costly if you don’t earn enough throughout the year in rewards and bonuses to help pay for the card. Further, when compared to leading cobranded credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is missing airline-specific perks like free checked bags, companion tickets, priority boarding, and other benefits that could be valuable to frequent flyers.
no first-year annual fee, $59 after
40,000 miles welcome bonus
2x miles on everything
Visa Signature status
Benefits of the Capital One Venture Rewards
This card offers one of the greatest ongoing rewards rates of two miles per dollar on all purchases made with the card. This rewards program also provides more flexibility in redeeming your miles because you can use them to essentially “erase” travel purchases from your credit card statement. Card users find this card to be ideal for bargain hunters because you can book your flight or hotel with any hotel deal website or provider and still use your rewards to cover a wide range of travel expenses including hotels, car rentals, cruise purchases, and airfare.
In addition, new cardholders can earn a sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles if you spend $3,000 with the card in the first three months of opening the account. This bonus can be redeemed for $400 in travel. There is an annual fee of $59, but it is waived your first year. And, there is no foreign transaction fee with this card.
Drawbacks of the Capital One Venture Rewards
Although it’s a smaller annual fee than other travel rewards cards charge, it is still $59 that you will need to pay after your first year. If you don’t use your card enough to earn the rewards to cover the annual fee, it can end up costing you. Plus, there are no specific airline or hotel perks, which can be a drawback if you frequent specific brands often.
Best Credit Card for Air Miles
$99 annual fee
2x on Southwest purchases
60,000 miles bonus
Benefits of the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card
Like many other airline credit cards, this card awards 2x points on all Southwest purchases and 1x point for all other purchases. It also includes a number of airline-specific bonuses and perks, which can end up saving you money and resulting in more comfortable travel if you frequently fly with Southwest Airlines. Some of these benefits include two free checked bags and no change fees on Southwest Airlines.
You also get 6,000 anniversary bonus points each year. New cardholders can earn 25,000 sign-up bonus points after you spend $1,000 on the card in the first three months. If you transfer a balance in the first 90 days of opening the account, you can earn one point for every dollar in balance transfers up to 15,000 points. You can also get elite companion status faster if you earn 110,000 points in a calendar year. There is no foreign transaction fee for this card.
Drawbacks of the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card
The annual fee of $99 can be a drawback if you don’t use the card enough to earn the rewards or the airfare benefits that come with the card. It is also not waived the first year like other cards, so you don’t get a chance to try it out before you are charged the annual fee.
Best Cards for International Travel
When choosing a card for international travel, it’s important that you make sure a couple elements are included. A must-have for traveling outside of the United States is a travel card with an EMV chip, not only for security purposes but also because many retailers abroad prefer chipped cards over those that only carry the magnetic stripe.
It is also best to carry credit cards with either Visa or MasterCard logos when you travel abroad because Discover and American Express brands still have limited acceptance in certain areas of the world. However, one of the most important features to consider when choosing a card for international travel is the foreign transaction fee. This fee can range from zero to as much as 3%, and can be charged in addition to any purchases made outside of the U.S. If you frequently travel abroad, this fee can add up and become expenses. The following are our editors’ picks for the best credit cards for international travel.
no first-year annual fee, $59 after
40,000 miles welcome bonus
2x miles on everything
Visa Signature status
Benefits of the Capital One Venture Rewards Card
Another card that is ideal for international travelers is the Capital One Venture Rewards card because there is no foreign transaction fee. This card also offers a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles if you spend $3,000 with the card in the first three months of account opening, which is worth $400 in travel. You earn 2x miles for each dollar you spend on all purchases and can redeem your miles for a statement credit against travel purchases.
Drawbacks of the Capital One Venture Rewards Card
The annual fee of $59 is waived the first year and is much lower than the annual fees with other travel cards. However, it may still be a drawback, depending on how much you use the card and travel. Also, like other general travel rewards cards, you don’t get the airline or hotel-specific benefits that you would with cobranded credit cards.
Best Credit Cards for Hotel Rewards
- earn 5x points on reservations directly at Starwood Preferred Guest program hotels:
- you get 3 points as a program member
- you get 2 points as a cardmember
- 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
- 25,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of the card
- extra 10,000 bonus Starpoints after you make an additional $2,000 in purchases within the first 6 months
$95 annual fee, waived for the first year
best hotel rewards program
Benefits of the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card
The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from Amex is often considered one of the best hotel credit cards available simply because of the numerous hotel benefits that come with it and the ability to earn and redeem Starpoints. New cardholders can earn 25,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 with the card in the first three months of card membership. You also get at least four points for each dollar spent at Starwood Preferred Guest hotel properties.
Further, if you spend $30,000 in a calendar year with your card, you get an upgrade to the SPG Gold level, which allows you to earn five points per dollar at Starwood hotels as well as room upgrades and late checkout privileges. You can also transfer Starpoints to frequent flyer programs at a rate of 1:1 and if you transfer 20,000 Starpoints, you get a bonus of 5,000 miles.
Drawbacks of the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card
For a hotel credit card, there aren’t many drawbacks except for the annual fee of $95. It’s important that you make sure you can earn and redeem enough Starpoints and use the hotel benefits to get the most out of the card for the annual fee.
Best Travel Rewards Cards With No Annual Fees
no annual fee
20,000 miles bonus
1.25 mile/$1 for every purchase
0% intro APR for 12 months
Benefits of the Capital One VentureOne Rewards
Travel rewards cards without annual fees are rare. The Capital One VentureOne Rewards card, however, has no annual fee, balance transfer fee, or foreign transaction fee. You also get 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months. New cardholders can earn a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months, which is worth $200 in travel. All purchases you make with the card earn an unlimited rate of 1.25x miles per dollar.
Drawbacks of the Capital One VentureOne Rewards
This card is one of the lowest fee travel rewards cards available, but the earning rate of 1.25 miles per dollar spent is also one of the lowest rewards rates. It’s best to calculate whether you earn more with a card that charges a small annual fee or one with no annual fee and lower rewards.
no annual fee
1.5% rewards rate on all purchases
20,000 intro bonus
Benefits of the BankAmericard Travel Rewards
There is no annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fee. New cardholders can take advantage of a 0% intro APR for purchases for 12 billing cycles and a bonus of 20,000 points if you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days. This bonus can be worth $200 in travel. You also earn 1.5 points for each dollar you spend with the card and three points per dollar on purchases you make through the Bank of America Travel Center.
Drawbacks of the BankAmericard Travel Rewards
Like other travel cards with no annual fees, this card offers a lower rate of rewards. However, you can earn more if you make your purchases through the Bank of America Travel Center.
Best Travel Rewards Credit Card for Bad Credit
Benefits of the AeroMexico Visa Secured
Most travel rewards credit cards require at least good to excellent credit scores, leaving those with bad credit no opportunity to earn rewards. However, the AeroMexico Visa Secured credit card is designed specifically for those with bad credit ratings. This card requires at least a $300 security deposit which earns interest while it is held.
New cardholders can earn a bonus of 5,000 miles when you use your card the first time, and you get two miles for gas and grocery store purchases and one mile for all other purchases. This card also offers various travel benefits as well as a companion certificate for a round-trip ticket from the U.S. to Mexico upon approval. Plus, you get a $99 companion certificate each year you pay your annual fee.
The greatest benefit of this card is that over time after managing the account responsibly, you can rebuild your credit score.
Drawbacks of the AeroMexico Visa Secured
The biggest drawback of this card is that it is primarily for those with bad credit so you can expect the APR to be quite high. Because the APR is so high, it’s best that you pay your balances in full each month instead of carrying them from month to month. Otherwise, the rewards you earn won’t be worth what you are paying in interest. Another drawback is that there is a foreign transaction fee of at least 2% depending on whether you use U.S. or foreign currency.
Best Travel Credit Cards in Numbers
Here's our comprehensive comparison tool for best travel credit cards available today. You can filter the category you need- for small business, for students, with no annual fee or with no international transactions fee. We calculate total annual rewards that you get every year of using the card, considering rewards rate and typical family spending. You can adjust it to your spending patterns or the nu,ber of years you ara planning to hold the card.
General Tips for Choosing a Travel Card
When choosing the right travel card make sure you consider the following in order to get the most out of your travel rewards.
- Foreign fees. Credit cards can help you save on currency exchanges overseas – you usually get a better rate on your card purchases than if you exchange currency locally. However, many travel rewards credit cards charge foreign transaction fees on all purchases made abroad at a rate of 3%, or with American Express cards 2.7%. Depending on the card, this fee can cost you more than the value you get through rewards or benefits. You can save a great deal of money on your foreign transactions if you use a card that does not charge this fee.
- Travel benefits. Some cards offer more travel benefits than others, so you will have to examine your spending and traveling needs to determine which benefits you need to have with your card and which ones you can live without. In general, however, it’s important that a credit card at least offer travel insurance and rental car collision damage waiver as bare minimum travel benefits.
- EMV chip on the card. If you plan to go abroad, especially to Europe, you need a chip on the card to make payments on most of the automated kiosks. This isn’t as much of a concern now because most U.S. credit card issuers have transitioned to chip cards, but it is something you want to be aware of before you travel outside of the U.S.
- Payment system acceptance. American Express and Discover are not so widely accepted overseas or even in some smaller areas of the United States. Because of this, Visa or MasterCard issuers are considered the preferred choices when you travel abroad.
Aside from mentioned above, a good travel card is a balance of a valuable sign-up bonus, rewards earning rate, and redemption options.
Sign up bonus
Travel rewards credit cards with annual fees typically offer the most valuable sign-up bonuses as an effort to balance the cost of the card and your earnings. For example, one of the best travel cards is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which offers 40,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on a card in the first 3 months. You should understand if you are willing to spend enough to get the bonus and thus offset the annual fee of $95 that is waived the first year.
Rewards rates for most cards vary from 1% to 2.5%. That means that for every dollar you spend on eligible purchases, you get up to 2.5% in rewards. Unlike cash back cards, all reward points are not created equal, so the comparison is not as straightforward. Higher rewards or points does not always mean better or more valuable. Make sure you calculate the rate you will earn and are aware of the average value of the reward point or mile for the particular program and redemption options.
There are several common ways the points or miles redemption options are organized. Hotel or airline cards just earn miles for its issuer’s customer loyalty program. Some programs have seat restrictions and blackout dates that may prevent you from getting the most out of your miles if you are traveling in high season.
With flexible rewards programs like Bank of America Points or Capital One No Hassle Miles, you can earn points that you can later use as a statement credit to offset a broad range of travel expenses.
Chase Ultimate Rewards offer you the flexibility of choosing to redeem the points through travel purchases through the online Chase portal (with a 20% bonus for that) or transfer them to one of many Chase partner hotels and airline rewards programs. Such flexibility gives you a huge opportunity to find excellent deals if you are willing to invest your time in digging for them.
Important Note to Get the Most Value from Travel Rewards Cards
Last but not least, if you tend to carry a balance on a card from month to month, you should forego any travel rewards programs because you will end up paying more in interest for your purchases than you will earn in rewards or benefits. Instead, credit cards with a low APR are better options for saving on the interest that you pay to the bank. Travel rewards credit cards are best suited for card users who typically pay their balances in full each month rather than carry a balance.
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