Global tourism hit record highs in 2019. And while tourism has certainly dropped during the COVID-19 era, it will soon bounce back. When it does, you want to be ready by carrying a travel credit card that’s going to work for you.
And while you might not be traveling right now, you can certainly be making purchases and earning rewards for when you do start retaking trips. Of course, you don’t want just any credit card. You want one that’s going to fit your lifestyle and spending habits best.
Who doesn’t like the idea of earning something for free? This is especially true if you love to travel and look to take advantage of that wanderlust often.
If you make frequent travel purchases, why not get some perks and benefits from those purchases? Certainly, you can join your favorite travel brand’s loyalty program. Those points from airline purchases and rentals cars and hotel stays can add up and eventually get you some free travel. The real way to rack up some rewards is by getting yourself a travel rewards credit card. Travel credit cards offer benefits to users in a variety of ways.
If you can afford to drop several hundred dollars a year on credit card fees, you’ll be rewarded with an abundance of membership rewards that are often worth more than the card’s annual fee. But if you aren’t willing to spend that much, or don’t want to pay a fee at all, you’re still in luck: Many modestly priced and no-annual fee credit cards offer a ton of value – especially if you use them often enough to earn a bunch of points quickly.
Here are three of the best travel rewards credit cards – no matter your budget.
Our Top Travel Credit Cards
BY KELLY DILWORTH
There are a variety of travel rewards credit cards that regularly earn good ratings. While each might be good for different purposes, as already mentioned, these are some of the all-star options in travel cards.
Let’s take a closer look at some of them and the perks they offer to customers.
Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
With the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, you’ll get an annual travel credit of $300. Rather than limiting that $300 credit to just incidental airline fees as other cards do, you can use the Reserve card credit to offset a variety of travel expenses such as hotels, transit, airfare, rental cars, and more.
Once every four years, you’ll also get up to $100 in credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry applications. If you spend a minimum of $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of having your account, you’ll earn 50,000 in Ultimate Rewards points. You’ll also earn one point per dollar spent on everything except for travel. That’s because you’ll earn 3x points per every dollar spent on travel. You also get a bunch of new benefits with this travel credit card. If you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you’ll be given a combined $120 in food delivery credits with DoorDash through 2021.
You’ll also get Priority Pass lounge access when you travel. And you’ll get some of the farthest-reaching protections that are available on any travel credit card. These protections include primary rental car coverage, emergency medical costs, trip interruption/cancellation insurance, trip delay insurance, and more.
When you use your points to pay for travel via the Chase portal, you’ll get a 50% redemption bonus. This card does have a relatively steep annual fee though of $550, however. Still, this card will offer you a fantastic selection of benefits as well as high earning rates. You can also transfer the points from your other Chase credit cards to this one. Plus, you can transfer your rewards to one of Chase’s many hotel and airline partners.
And don’t forget that you get 3x points on dining and travel purchases, which comes to a return of 6%! It’s important to note that you’ll need excellent credit when applying for this card.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is an excellent choice for anyone who is new to credit cards or earning travel rewards. It is because you can earn transferable, valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points at an affordable yearly fee and with stable bonus categories. You’ll also receive a signup bonus when you get the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are valued at two cents each, which means you’re getting a $1,200 value. After you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of having your account open, you’ll receive 60,000 points (which is equal to around $750 towards travel).
You also earn 2x on travel and dining purchases. And when you redeem your travel points through the Chase portal, you’ll receive a 25% bonus. This card also comes with a whole bunch of travel protections, including trip cancellation coverage, primary rental car insurance, trip delay insurance, and baggage delay insurance.
The annual fee for this card is $95. It’s a great card to get as you’ll earn a healthy 4% return on travel and dining on top of your great signup bonuses. Plus, you’ll be given access to travel protections. And if you like to rideshare, you’ll be happy to know that you’ll earn 5x on Lyft rides. And people who use the DoorDash food delivery service will get a 12-month DashPass membership. While you won’t get the same lounge access or travel credits as you would with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, this is a great travel card for people who don’t want to pay the higher annual fee.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is considered amongst the best in travel cards due to the large number of benefits that come with it. It comes with a yearly fee of $95 but for that, you get many perks and rewards.
Here are some of the benefits:
- Transferable points to many frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs
- Points are worth 25% more when used for travel purposes
- Earn 2x the points when used for travel and dining
If you are a frequent traveler and spend at least $4,000 in the first three months, you also earn 60,000 points in Chase Rewards. Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Ultimate Rewards are also two Chase card programs with many benefits and worth consideration.
Best for: Value seekers who want to maximize their spending and want extra peace of mind when they travel.
Rewards: 2x points for every dollar that you spend on travel and dining; 1 point for every other dollar that you spend. You’ll also get a 25% redemption bonus if you purchase your rewards-financed travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. You can also transfer your rewards points on a one-to-one basis to a variety of airline and hotel loyalty programs. There are a few downsides, though, to Sapphire’s rewards program: Unless you transfer your points, you must book your rewards travel through Chase, so your hotel and flight options may be limited. The redemption value of the card isn’t as high if you don’t spend a significant amount on restaurants and travel.
Other membership rewards: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers some of the best travel protection you can get with a modestly priced credit card, making air and land travel much less stressful. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers primary rental car insurance if the rental is booked using the card, which is rare for a travel credit card. In addition, it will reimburse you up to $20,000 if your trip is canceled due to illness or extreme weather, and up to $500 per ticket if your flight is delayed by more than 12 hours or if you’re forced to stay in a hotel, provided the trip is booked using the card. Other perks include lost- or delayed-baggage protection and travel accident insurance, provided you purchased airfare with the card. You would have to make sure to make these payments with the card in order to reap the rewards. Also, the Sapphire Preferred card doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, either – and it’s a Visa card – so it’s a great card to take with you when you travel abroad. There are also no blackout dates when it comes to booking your trip, which means flexible travel, so long as you book it through the Ultimate Rewards portal.
Annual fee: $95
Bonus: A whopping 60,000 rewards points – worth up to $750 in free travel – if you spend $4,000 within three months of opening your new card.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Are you looking for a great travel credit card without any kind of annual fee? Then look no further than the Capital One VentureOne Rewards credit card. With this card, you’ll get 1.25x Capital One miles with every purchase. You’ll also get 20,000 bonus miles once you spend at least $1,000 within the first three months of having your account. When you compare this card with the Venture Rewards travel credit card, you’ll notice that this one doesn’t offer you the great perks such as travel credits. However, considering you’re not paying any annual fee, that’s to be expected. Luckily, you still get important protections, such as lost luggage reimbursement, extended warranty, travel accident insurance, and purchase security.
If you’re new to the world of travel credit cards and you’re not planning on spending a ton of money, then this is a fantastic travel credit card to pick, especially when it comes to earning miles. You can redeem your miles as a statement credit for your travel purchases or transfer them to one of the many hotel and airline transfer partners that Capital One has. You’re also able to redeem miles for certain streaming services, restaurant delivery, and takeout.
And if you ever feel like you’re ready to upgrade your travel card and start getting more perks, you can always request to switch to the Capital One Venture Card.
Best for: Consumers who don’t want to commit to an annual fee and prefer a low-maintenance travel rewards card.
Rewards: Unlimited 1.25 miles for every dollar you spend – no tracking purchase categories required. You’ll also get 10x miles for every dollar you spend at hotels.com/venture (until January 2020) – a potentially huge value if you charge a big trip. For example, if you spend seven nights in a hotel that charges $150 a night, you could walk away with just over $100 worth of miles just from that one vacation. Redeeming miles is also less restrictive than what you’ll find on a traditional airline card: Just charge any qualifying travel purchase to your VentureOne card and request a statement credit, or transfer your miles to an airline travel partner. Beware, though: Your miles will be worth less if you transfer them to another loyalty program.
Other perks: Like most travel cards, the Capital One VentureOne card doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee, so you can take it with you when you travel. Capital One cards typically are co-branded with Visa or Mastercard, so they’re more widely accepted abroad than Discover and American Express cards are. The VentureOne card also continues to deliver a decent suite of travel and purchase protections for a no-annual fee card, including secondary car rental coverage, travel accident insurance and extended warranty. Some card issuers, by contrast, have dramatically slashed their travel card benefits.
Annual fee: No annual fee
Bonus: One-time 20,000 bonus miles – worth $200 in free travel – if you charge $1,000 within three months of account opening
Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
With the Ink Business Preferred credit card, you’re going to get a high return of 6% across a variety of business-focused categories. That makes the Ink Business Preferred card one of the best travel credit cards available for small businesses. This card will also give you access to Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program as well as its many hotel and airline transfer partners.
If you’re someone who owns a small business and you’re looking for a way to build up travel rewards on your business expenses, this is the card for you. When you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months of starting your account, you’ll get a whopping 100,000 bonus points. Each year, you’ll get 3x on the first $150,000 that you spend on shipping purchases, phone and cable services, travel, internet, and advertising purchases made with search engines and social media sites.
The Ink Business Preferred credit card gives you a wide variety of travel protections too. These include roadside dispatch, purchase protection, trip interruption/cancellation, extended warranty protection, and primary rental car insurance. The annual fee for this card is only $95. With that price, when you consider all of the perks that you get, you’re getting plenty of bang for your buck. Also, it’s important to note that the Ink Business Preferred credit card is known as an Ultimate Rewards credit card, so you’ll be able to redeem those points by transferring them through the portal at 1.25 cents each or to Chase partners.
Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card
This is another reward credit card that offers nice perks and rewards to cardholders. It also comes with no annual fee which saves a minimum of $95 yearly compared to other credit cards. Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the 90 days. In return Bank of America will put $250 value of credit on your account for travel purchases. You can also earn 1.5X rewards for every $1 spent on all purchases, not just travel-related purchases.
American Express Gold Card
The American Express Gold Card is a great travel credit card option for worldwide dining because it earns 4x on dining around the world and doesn’t come with any foreign transaction fees. That means that you’ll essentially be receiving an 8% return on your purchases. That makes this card an excellent choice for wherever you decide to eat out.
If you spend at least $4,000 on purchases within the first three months, you’ll earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points. You’ll also make 4x at US grocery stores and restaurants around the world. And you’ll earn 3x for flights that you book on amextravel.com or directly with airlines. You’ll also get an airline-fee credit of up to $100 that you can use to pay for seat assignments, inflight drinks, and food, checked bags, and more. You’ll also get up to $120 in dining credits every year that you pay with the Amex Gold card at individual dining establishments.
This card has a relatively high annual fee of $250, however with the Amex Gold Card, you’re getting plenty of benefits and bonus categories.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One Venture Rewards credit card is another all-around good choice. It also comes with a yearly fee of $95, although the intro year is free. This card will give you 50,000 bonus miles after the first three months if you spend $3,000 during that time. Other perks include no blackout dates and the rewards can be used with any airline or hotel chain. You can also transfer points to any travel loyalty program. If you are a frequent traveler and want to get a TSA pre-check, the fees for the application will be reimbursed by the card.
Platinum Card® from American Express
When you travel with the Platinum Card from American Express, you’ll get access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection – which also includes Centurion Lounges. Plus, you’ll get access to Delta Sky Clubs when you fly Delta, Airspace and Escape lounges, and Priority Pass. No other card out there is going to give you that kind of access.
When you spend $15,000 in the first three months of having an account, you’ll get 75,000 Membership Rewards points in return. You’ll also get 5x points when you book prepaid hotels through Amex directly. And you’ll get 5x points on airfare when you purchase it directly through Amex Travel or with the airlines themselves.
With the American Express Platinum Card, you’ll get the best of the best when it comes to luxury travel benefits. You’ll receive up to $200 in yearly airline fee credits. Plus, you’ll get up to $100 in credits for your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee once every four years, up to $100 in credit at Saks Fifth Avenue, and up to $200 in credits for Uber rides.
You’ll also get unmatched lounge access. You’ll be given automatic Gold Elite status with Marriott and Gold status with Hilton. Plus, you’ll get extra perks with National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive and Avis Preferred.
With this card, you can expect to pay an annual fee of $550. But when you shop with this card, you’re not just getting a load of bonus points, and you’re getting incredible lounge access options and access to the program’s twenty travel partners, including Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. You’ll also have the opportunity to add an extra three authorized users for a total cost of $175.
However, take a deep breath because this can seem steep. The American Express Platinum Card comes with a yearly fee of $550 which the credit card issuer will waive for active military service members and their spouses. So, how is it worth it to spend that much on in fees?
Here are some of the benefits:
- Earn 75,000 sign-up bonus Membership Rewards by spending $5,000 in the first three months
- Earn 5 points for every $1 spent booking flights with the airline
Annually, this American Express card offers these perks:
- $200 airline fee credit
- Annual $200 in Uber credits
- $100 in statement credits at Saks Fifth Avenue or Saks.com
- Global Entry ($100) or TSA Pre-check ($85) application fee waiver
- Free airport lounge access
There are also some exclusive perks when hotel rooms are booked through American Express travel. The American Express Gold Card also gets high ratings and gives rewards worthy of card consideration.
Best for: Frequent travelers who like luxury – and don’t mind paying for it.
Rewards: 5x points for every dollar you spend on airline tickets and hotel stays, and 1 point for every other dollar you spend. To earn an airline bonus, you must book through the airline or through American Express. To earn a hotel bonus, you must book and pay for your reservation in advance on amextravel.com.
Other perks: There are a ton of them. If you like to travel in style and enjoy free perks along the way, you’ll love the Platinum card. The granddaddy of super premium rewards cards, the Platinum card has earned a loyal following thanks to its opulent selection of benefits, including:
- A concierge service to help you snag hard-to-get concert tickets or send flowers to your significant other.
- A $200 airline fee credit – good for any baggage fees or in-flight purchases on a designated airline.
- Up to $200 worth of Uber credits.
- An $85 to $100 fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check application fee.
- Airport lounge access through their own networks as well as Delta Sky Club and Priority Pass Select Lounges.
- A minimum $100 spa credit at select resorts.
- Free breakfast for two at select hotels and complimentary room upgrades.
- Gold status with both the Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors programs
The best benefits are all travel-related, though, so if you don’t spend much time in the air or at luxury hotels, you’re better off spending your money on a different card. You might not earn much after the first year either, since the bonuses also are limited to travel.
APR: None, unless you’re eligible for the Pay Over Time program; the Platinum card is a charge card, not a credit card, so bills are supposed to be paid in full each month. However, American Express does allow select charge cardholders to revolve certain charges over $100. If you’re eligible for the Pay Over Time program, you’ll be given an APR that’s based on your credit score and other factors.
Annual fee: $550
Bonus: 60,000 sign-up bonus points – worth at least $600 in free travel — if you charge $5,000 to your card within three months of opening an account.
Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express
While this card is specific to one airline, if you fly Delta the Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express is a good card choice. It offers some worthy perks, especially for business travelers who may find themselves in the air frequently.
Some rewards include:
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months
Flight booked with Delta directly earn double points
Priority boarding for all cardholders
No foreign transaction fees
2x points on purchases made with Delta
The card comes with a $95 yearly fee and they do offer promotions to waive that fee for the first year. Be aware, that the points you earn would need to be redeemed on other Delta flights. If you are brand loyal to Southwest airlines then consider the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card. It also offers some worthy perks to cardholders including 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first month.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card gives guests a wide array of hotel options because it combines with Marriott, SPG and Ritz-Carlton hotel rewards programs for hotel guests. The card has a yearly fee of $95 but cardholders earn one free night of points on each anniversary of their card being opened. Cardholders can also earn 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months. You can earn 6 points for every $1 spent at Marriott Bonvoy hotels. If you prefer the Hilton hotel chain then the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card is also a good choice. You can earn 12 points for every $1 spent at Hilton properties amongst other similar rewards to the Marriott card.
Bank of America Premium Rewards Card
The Bank of America Premium Rewards Card is a must-have if you’re serious about having travel insurance. Plus, you’re getting a TSA PreCheck application-fee credit with this mid-tier travel card. You’ll also get 50,000 bonus points if you spend at least $3,000 in the first three months of having an account. You’ll also earn 1.5x on everything other than dining and travel purchases. For dining and travel, you’ll earn 2x points.
But what about the benefits? With this card, in addition to the $100 TSA Pre-Check application fee credit, you’ll also receive up to $100 in credits for qualify airline incidental purchases. If you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards customer, you’ll earn an additional 25%-75% points on every purchase. The annual fee for this card is $95. While these points can’t transfer to travel partners, this card is still great for everyday spending.
And when you reach the top Platinum Honors tier within the Preferred Rewards system, you’ll get a 75% bonus on every purchase you make with your credit card. That will bring your earning rate on dining and travel purchases to a nice 3.5 points per dollar. And your purchases on everything else will be 2.6 points per dollar.
Choose a Travel Credit Card That Will Work for You
It seems that every company and brand is offering some kind of rewards points or rewards program. They are all clamoring to get your travel business. This includes a plethora of options in travel credit cards.
Thankfully, this means that there’s a travel credit card out there for everyone. And even if you’re someone who doesn’t do a ton of travel and spending, you should still definitely consider getting a card with no annual fee. This way, whenever you do make purchases, you can still be earning points. And then if you ever do decide to treat yourself and take that luxury vacation, you’ll be more financially prepared.
The American Express Platinum card may give you the most luxury. But for what it costs, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers a ton of value for the money – which should warm the heart of any bargain seeker. Not only could you walk away with more than $750 in free travel by the end of your first year, but you’d also be able to travel with greater peace of mind.
As we highlighted, not all credit cards are created equal and offer rewards like bonus points, reward points, and cashback to get you as a customer. Carefully evaluate your spending habits with credit cards and your travel habits to help you choose the travel rewards credit card that will get the best perks possible.