Looking over the sheer number of travel credit cards available is enough to overwhelm anyone. With so many cards offering points, miles or cash back, what should you look for in a new travel rewards credit card?
While having options is a good thing, trying to decide on the best travel rewards credit cards available can give you a difficult decision. When considering a new card, there are four factors you should consider before you hit the “apply now” button:
- No foreign transaction fees. While up to 3% in foreign transaction fees may not sound like much, it can add over a quarter to every $10 you spend abroad. The best travel credit cards may not have foreign transaction fees.
- Good rewards for spending. For every dollar you spend, you should earn rewards you can apply directly to your next trip: either flights, hotel rooms or other experiences.
- Sign-up bonuses. Most cards offer a sign-up bonus after a required minimum spend to encourage people to apply for their card. The sign-up bonus should offer a substantial award that justifies the spending.
- Annual fee. Although most cards come with an annual fee, the points or cash back you could earn should outweigh the cost.
Instead of getting lost looking for the perfect travel rewards card, start with this guide. We found the best travel cards for every lifestyle, each of which offer you some of the best rewards now and over time. If you want good travel rewards for the money you spend, consider adding these credit cards to your wallet.
Why we like it: Because you automatically receive up to $300 in statement credits as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year, the Chase Sapphire ReserveSM offers solid rewards for what effectively turns into a $150 annual fee ($450 annual fee minus up to $300 in statement credits for travel purchases). Cardholders also receive up to a $100 application fee credit towards Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. In addition, you will earn three Ultimate Rewards® points per dollar spent on travel and dining worldwide, and one point per dollar spent everywhere else. If you make this your primary card, you could earn rewards which value more than the annual fee every year.
Rewards program: Purchases earn points in Chase Ultimate Rewards®, a flexible point program that can be used for travel rewards. One point has a value of 1 cent, but when redeeming for travel through the Chase travel portal, points have a fixed value of 1.5 cents. You can get an even greater value by transferring points to one of Ultimate Rewards® nine airline partners or four hotel partners.
- Flexible points that offer good value. Chase Ultimate Rewards® are among the most flexible in the travel space, with nine airline and four hotel rewards transfer partners – giving you many different ways to use your points. You can also use points through the Chase travel portal at a fixed rate of 1.5 cents each towards airfare and hotels of your choice.
- Exceptional rewards for travel and dining. Of all the premium credit cards, the Chase Sapphire ReserveSM offers the most points per dollar spent for both travel and dining. If you primarily use this card when you travel, you would earn unlimited triple points on most of your big expenses.
- Great travel insurance options. In addition to points earning opportunities and flexible points, this card also offers one of the best travel insurance plans available. When you use your card or Ultimate Rewards® points to pay for your trip, you are automatically covered with baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, emergency evacuation insurance and roadside assistance.
- $450 annual fee. One of the biggest cons of this card is the $450 annual fee, due immediately in the first year. Even though $300 can be recovered from the annual travel credit, you still pay the $450 out of pocket. If you do not travel often, this card may not be right for you.
- Limited travel lounge access. For the high price tag, this card only offers lounge benefits through Priority Pass, a network of lounges around the world. It does not allow entry into any carrier’s lounges and comes with some surprising rules, including limited accommodation during busy times.
- No elite status with travel partners. Unlike its nearest competitor, the Chase Sapphire ReserveSM does not come with any elite status with partner brands. If you get accepted for this card, don’t expect to get to the front of the line at any hotels or car rental locations.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5X Membership Rewards® points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
Regular Purchase APR
Why we like it: Considered one of the oldest and most prestigious awards cards, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers the most elite status, luxury experiences and credits for your spending. When you book trips directly with airlines or American Express Travel, you can also earn five Membership Rewards® points per dollar spent, allowing your rewards to rack up quickly. All other purchases earn one point per dollar. If you value luxury experiences and airline lounge access, this card could be a better choice.
Rewards program: Your purchases will earn Membership Rewards® points, which can be used with American Express or transferred to their travel partners. When using Membership Rewards® points at American Express Travel, your points are valued at 1 cent each, so your best use of points is through transferring to their airline or hotel partners. Points transfer to 16 airlines and three hotels, offering the most choices for award travel.
- Best lounge access programs. The Platinum Card® from American Express offers you the most ways to get into lounges when you travel around the world. In addition to Priority Pass, you can also enter Centurion Lounges and the International American Express lounges on arrival or departure at select airports, as well as Delta Sky Clubs when you are flying on Delta.
- Elite status for holding the card. The Platinum Card® from American Express also comes with elite status at three car rental and two hotel loyalty programs: Avis Preferred, Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, National Car Emerald Club, Hilton Honors Gold Elite and Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.
- Credits for Boingo Wi-Fi, Global Entry, Shoprunner and Uber. Even with the high annual fee, this premium card also comes with several credits and free services for frequent travelers. Cardholders get free Boingo Preferred Plan membership, free Shoprunner two-day delivery, along with monthly credits for Uber rides and one Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee waiver every five years.
- Highest annual fees. While the card may offer the most status and immediate benefits, it also comes with the highest fee. At $550 for the annual fee, you will be pay for all your benefits in the first month, before you can get any value from them.
- Only one bonus category. Another major downside of this card is that there is only one bonus category: five points per dollar spent directly with airlines or travel booked through Amex Travel. If you do not spend much on prepaid hotel reservations or airfare, you can’t maximize this bonus category effectively.
- Limited airline fee credit. For years, The Platinum Card® from American Express was the only card to offer an airline fee credit. Today, it is one of the most limited: $200 only usable towards airline fees, available for only one airline you choose at the beginning of the year.
Best travel cards for simple rewards
While earning points and miles can be rewarding, some of the best programs are simple and straightforward. When we looked for the best simple rewards credit cards, we looked for those that not only offered cash back, but also bonuses for spending and redeeming, along with a low annual fee. After considering all our options, these are the best travel rewards cards for simple rewards.
Best cashback travel rewards card
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
Why we like it: If you don’t want to chase rotating categories or juggle which card is best for whatever spending you do, The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® offers simple travel rewards. You will earn two miles per dollar spent on all purchases, with full chip and PIN capability outside the United States. Choose the flights, hotels and rental cars that work for you and pay for the charges to your card by redeeming miles. And when you redeem, you automatically get 5% back to use toward your next redemption.
Instead of earning traditional airline miles, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® earns miles that can be applied as cash back to your travel expenses. Qualifying travel purchases include those made at airlines, hotels, campgrounds, car rental companies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites and more. Miles are worth one cent each.
- Easy to use rewards. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® has one of the most easy-to-understand rewards programs available, with every point counting for one cent each. Instead of trying to figure out how many points you need for a flight, your available cash balance is always available and easy to understand.
- 5% miles back every time you redeem. The best part about using miles on this card is that you’ll always get 5% back. For example: if you were to redeem 50,000 points for a $500 airline ticket, you would get 2,500 points back (worth $25).
- Partial payment with miles allowed. While some programs force you to either pay for your entire award with miles (or purchase more miles to cover your award), this card allows you to use your miles to pay off a portion of your travel expenses. How many miles you want to use is up to you.
- Annual fee for a cashback card. The card is rather expensive for earning two miles per dollar toward travel. If you don’t travel abroad often, there are other cards that offer the same cash back with no annual fee.
- High redemption thresholds and miles won’t transfer to other programs. If you would rather travel in first class using airline loyalty program miles, you will be out of luck with this card. While most rewards programs offer transfers after 1,000 points and cash-equivalent rewards at 2,500 points, you have to have at least 10,000 miles to use them for a $100 reward. Furthermore, miles can only be used to pay for travel expenses on the card, and can’t be transferred to other airline partners.
- Poor value for everything not travel relatedWhile the earning two miles per dollar on all purchases is good when redeeming for travel, you shouldn’t use them to get gift cards or cash back. When using your miles for those options, you will lose 50% of your value in translation.
Best travel card for millennials
Uber Visa Card
$0 For First Year
4% back on dining, 3% back on hotel and airfare, 2% back for online purchases, and 1% on everything else
Regular Purchase APR
Why we like it: The Uber Visa Card offers high cash back rewards at the places millennials spend the most — all restaurants (including UberEATS), travel, online shopping and streaming services — along with no foreign transaction fees and up to $600 in mobile phone protection with no annual fee. Plus, some of the bonus categories are the biggest in their category: no other credit card offers 4% cash back on all dining purchases. Conditions apply.
The card offers cash back rewards for spending in four different categories:
- 4% cash back on restaurants, takeout, and bars, including UberEATS
- 3% cash back on airfare, hotels and vacation home rentals
- 2% cash back on online purchases including Uber, online shopping, video and music streaming services
- 1% cash back on all other purchases
Cash back can be used as statement credits, credits towards Uber rides, redeemed for gift cards or transferred to a bank account with a limit of $500 in transfers per day. Conditions apply.
- Big cash back categories. Of all the cash back cards we have reviewed, the Uber Visa Card has the biggest rewards for both dining and online purchases. Using this card as your primary option for restaurants and digital shopping could help your rewards add up quickly.
- Up to $600 in mobile phone protection. While many cards offer travel insurance, not many offer cellphone insurance. If you pay your cellphone bill with your Uber Visa Card, you could qualify for $600 in protection for accidental damage or theft. Conditions apply.
- $50 online subscription service credit. Who doesn’t have at least one online subscription service anymore? If you spend at least $5,000 in your cardmembership year, you automatically get a $50 credit for an online subscription you pay with your card.
- Limited transfer options. While the cash back is good, The Uber Visa only has one transfer partner for their points right now: Uber. You can’t turn over your points into any other loyalty program, limiting their overall usage.
- Limited definition of “online purchases.” The Uber Visa Card also comes with a very narrow definition of “online purchase” that qualifies for 2% cash back. You'll have to check your credit card statements to see what counts as an online purchase, though Barclaycard announced in December that payments through third-party platforms like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay would count toward the 2% category.
- No travel insurance. Although you may get up to $600 in mobile phone protection, you won’t get any travel insurance benefits when paying for your next trip with this card. If your flight gets delayed or your luggage gets lost, your card won’t reimburse any of your expenses.
Best travel card with no annual fee
Discover it® Miles
Why we like it: While the Discover it® Miles compares closely to other cards with a $0 annual fee, the details make this card a real winner. At the end of your first year, Discover automatically matches all of your earned miles, giving you double the travel purchasing power. The card also comes with strong back-end features, including free Social Security number alerts and FICO® score checks.
The Discover it® Miles offers miles that can be used as cash back to pay for travel experiences. When you book trips using the Discover it® Miles card, you can redeem your miles towards statement credits on the trips, with no blackout dates. Your miles never expire as long as your card is active.
- Good credit security tools and customer service. In addition to having call centers based in the United States, this card also comes with solid credit security tools. These include free FICO® credit scores, Social Security number alerts, Experian® credit report monitoring and the ability to freeze your credit card from the Discover mobile app or website.
- Wide acceptance in China and Japan. If you travel to Asia often, the Discover it® Miles may be your best bet for secure spending. Discover is accepted by China’s largest credit card network, UnionPay, and one of Japan’s largest payment processors, JCB.
- Matched miles in the first year. Currently, no other company offers matched points or miles for your first cardholding year, effectively doubling your rewards. If you use this as your primary spending card, you could earn a lot of cash back towards travel.
- No transfer partners. Although doubled miles in the first cardholding year and unlimited rewards are great, you may not get to fly first class with them. Miles do not transfer to any airline partners – they can only be applied as cash back for travel expenses.
- No bonus categories for earning miles. While other Discover cards offer rotating 5% cashback bonus categories quarterly, the Discover it® Miles offers no bonus categories. This means no matter where you use your card, you will always earn 1.5 points per dollar.
- Low miles earning after first year. With no bonus categories, this means you may not earn very many miles after the first year.
Best credit union travel card
$0 For First Year
3 points for every $1 spent on travel; 2 points for every $1 spent on dining; 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases
Regular Purchase APR
on First Technology Federal Credit Union’s secure website
Why we like it: We searched over 50 credit unions with few membership restrictions for the best travel rewards credit cards, and found it at First Tech Federal Credit Union. The Odyssey™ Rewards World Elite MasterCard® offers competitive bonus categories (three Rewards Points for every dollar spent on travel; two Rewards Points for every dollar spent on dining; one Reward Point for every dollar spent on all other purchases), but comes with a lower annual fee and interest rate than its competitors.
How to Qualify: To apply for the card, you must be a member of First Tech Federal Credit Union, which requires you to work for a sponsor company, live in Lane County, Ore., or become a member of the Financial Fitness Association or the Computer History Museum. A membership share in the credit union is $5 (held in a membership savings account), a membership in the Financial Fitness Association is $8, and a membership to the Computer History Museum is $15.
Points earned with the card go towards the Scorecard Rewards program, which fulfills rewards. Your points can be used towards travel experiences including cruises, hotels, or car rental certificates, merchandise available in their catalog, or can be redeemed for cash back. While your points value may vary for awards, cash back rewards are valued at one cent per point.
- Strong bonus categories. The bonus categories offered by the Odyssey™ Rewards World Elite MasterCard® are comparable to other major rewards cards, because it offers three points per dollar spent on travel and two points pers dollar spent on dining. This gives it strong value with better terms for the cardholder.
- Flexible rewards options. Like other programs, points earned on the Odyssey™ Rewards card can be used toward several different awards. Airfare, cruises, hotel certificates and car rental certificates are all available when you use your points and miles.
- Lower annual fee and APR than other cards. Credit unions often offer better terms to cardholders than banks, and this card is no exception. The APR may be lower on balances held on the card, and the annual fee is at least $20 less than other comparable cards.
- Points vary in value. The two downsides about Odyssey™ Rewards points are that points vary in value, and they can’t be transferred to other airline partners. Because of this, using them for non-travel rewards may value them under one cent per point.
- Credit union membership required. While the card is a good deal, you must be a member of the credit union to get the card. If you decide to take your money out of the credit union, your card could be canceled as well.
- Upfront membership fees. This card is subject to membership in the credit union and an associated organization. Before you can apply for this card, you have to pay $13 in fees.
Barclays Online Savings Account
Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings
Synchrony Bank 12 Month CD
Goldman Sachs Bank USA High-yield 12 Month CD
* All banks listed are a Member FDIC.