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Credit Cards

Best Travel Credit Cards December 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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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.

Best premium travel cards

Premium travel cards come with the highest annual fees but also offer the highest level of rewards. From flexible points that can be transferred to travel partners, to elite hotel and lounge offers, your annual fee can be recovered through the luxury benefits on these cards. If you travel frequently and want to get the best experiences, these are the cards you’ll want.

Chase Sapphire ReserveSM

 Chase Sapphire Reserve<sup>SM</sup>

Annual fee

$450 For First Year

$450 Ongoing

Rewards

3X points on travel and dining, 1 point on everything else

APR

16.99%-23.99%

Variable

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.

Fees and terms: The Chase Sapphire ReserveSM card comes with a $450 annual fee, with an additional $75 for each authorized user per year. Your APR would range from 16.99% to 23.99% variable, based on your creditworthiness.

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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • $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.

Read our full review of the Chase Sapphire ReserveSM

 

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Annual fee

$550

Rewards

5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, 5X Membership Rewards® points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com

APR

-

APPLY NOW Secured

on American Express Bank’s secure website

Terms Apply

Rates & Fees

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.

Terms and fees
Because The Platinum Card® from American Express is a charge card, there is no APR on balances — you will be required to pay off the entire balance every month. The annual membership fee is $550, while the annual fee for additional cards is $175 for up to three additional cards. The annual fee for the fourth or more additional cards is $175 for each card.

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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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®

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard<sup>®</sup>

Annual fee

$89 - waived first year

Rewards

2X miles on all purchases

APR

16.99%-23.99%

Variable

APPLY NOW Secured

on Barclaycard’s secure website

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.

Fees and terms
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® comes with an $89 annual fee, waived in the first year. Your variable APR for purchases will be 16.99%, 20.99% or 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness.

Rewards program
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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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

Uber Visa Card

Annual fee

$0 For First Year

$0 Ongoing

Cashback Rate

4% back on dining, 3% back on hotel and airfare, 2% back for online purchases, and 1% on everything else

APR

15.99%-24.74%

variable

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.

Fees and terms
This card has no annual fee, and your APR for purchases would be 15.99%, 21.74% or 24.74%, variable based on your creditworthiness.

Rewards program
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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.

Read our review of the Uber Visa Card

 

Best travel card with no annual fee

Discover it® Miles

Discover it® Miles

Annual fee

$0

Rewards

Unlimited 1.5x Miles per dollar on all purchases, every day, with no annual fee. We'll match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year.*

APR

11.99%-23.99%

Variable

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Why we like it: While the Discover it® Miles compares closely to other cards with no 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.

Fees and terms
If you qualify for the promotion, your introductory purchase APR would be 0% for 14 months. Afterwards, your APR would range between 11.99% to 23.99% variable, based on your creditworthiness. There is no annual fee with this card.

Rewards program
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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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

First Tech FCU Odyssey™ Rewards World Elite MasterCard®

Odyssey™ Rewards World Elite MasterCard® from First Tech FCU

Annual fee

$0 For First Year

$75 Ongoing

Rewards

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

APR

11.99%-18.00%

Variable

APPLY NOW Secured

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.

Fees and terms
The card comes with a $75 annual fee, which is waived in the first year. Your APR will be between 11.99% and 18.00% variable when you open your account, based on your creditworthiness. There are no international transaction fees, cash advance fees or balance transfer fees.

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.

Rewards program
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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.

 

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Joe Cortez
Joe Cortez |

Joe Cortez is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Joe here

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Earning Cashback

Sam’s Club MasterCard Cash Back Review

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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The Offer

The Sam’s Club MasterCard has some generous category bonuses for a no annual fee card. According to the Sam’s Club website, the card can be used “to earn cash back everywhere you shop.” This credit card is for not just for die hard Sam’s Club shoppers, and not just for Sam’s Club purchases.

The card can be used to earn up to $5,000 cash back per calendar year and offers a big 5% cash back on fuel, 3% on dining and travel, and 1% cash back on other purchases.

There is no annual fee but it does require a Sam’s Club membership. The cheapest Sam’s Club membership is $45 per year.

Pros

  • 5% cash back on fuel
  • 3% cash back on dining and travel
  • 1% cash back on other purchases
  • No annual fee
  • Signup bonus available
  • The card is EMV chip-enabled. The EMV chip improves card security. They are also a must when traveling abroad to places such as Europe where the technology is common place. According to The Wall Street Journal, this is the first mass retail credit card in the United States to include chips on all cards.
  • Includes identity theft resolution services
  • Offers a product extended warranty coverage
  • No foreign transaction fees

Cons

  • Rewards are only paid out once per year (in February) in the form of a mailed check which must be cashed inside a Sam’s Club location.
  • $5,000 annual cap on total cash back rewards
  • 5% cash back on fuel is limited to your first $6,000 in fuel purchases each eyar

Fine Print

There is some fine print to consider. First, 5% cash back on fuel applies everywhere in the United States and Puerto Rico… except at other big box retailers. The fine print may as well say, “We’re sorry, fuel rewards do not apply when pumping at Costco.”

Synchrony manages the card and handles customer service. Customer service reviews are unimpressive. Rewards on fuel also stop after $6,000 worth of fuel is purchased. That’s not a big deal for most card users but it’s worth noting.

Yes, there is a signup bonus but it’s only… $20 – and it takes some effort to redeem. Many other rewards cards offer much higher bonuses. The $20 can only be earned if the new user spends at least $50 at SamsClub.com the same day the credit card is opened.

Cash rewards are forfeited if the cardholders Sam’s Club membership lapses. Rewards of less than $5 cannot be redeemed. Rewards checks expire after 180 days. Although there is no annual fee, the card requires a Sam’s Club membership (cheapest membership costs $45 per year).

Who This Card Would Benefit Most

Loyal Sam’s Club shoppers may want to pick this card. This way, the Sam’s Club membership requirement is a non-issue. People who drive a lot would do well with this card as long as they don’t enjoy the low-cost Costco fuel. The card enables frequent drivers to earn $300 cash back per year just on fuel. With a car that gets 30MPG at $3.00/gallon gas, that driver could earn 3,000 miles of free fuel. This card is a strong candidate for users living in rural locations where driving long distances is necessary or those living where Sam’s Clubs are more prevalent than Costco’s.

Sams Club MasterCard

APPLY NOW Secured

on Sam's Club’s secure website

How it Stacks Up Against Competition

Citi® Double Cash Card

The Sam’s Club MasterCard offers 5% cash back on fuel, 3% on travel and dining, and 1% on everything else. However, the Citi® Double Cash Card is a worthy adversary. When using this card, 1% is earned on all purchases. Once paid one time, the card holder receives another 1%. Essentially, all purchases paid in full each month come with a 2% cash back reward. If a person averages out the 5%, 3%, and 1% rewards with the Sam’s Club card, they may not make the 2% this card offers. The Citi® Double Cash Card may rein superior.

Other Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Equipped with an EMV chip
  • Late fee waiver: the first late payment is forgiven
  • Price Rewind: After a purchase is made, Citi will search online retailers to see if the product could have been purchased at a lower price. If, within 60 days, Citi finds a lower price on the same item, the difference in price will be refunded to the card. The maximum refund amount is $300 per item and $1,200 per year. This could be the end of price hunting.
  • Pre-qualification available

Cons

  • No bonus
  • High interest rates after the 0% APR 18-month introductory period. The entire premise of this card is to not carry a balance so avoid doing so when possible. After the first 18 months, expect an APR of 14.49% – 24.49%.
  • If the card is paid using cash back funds, there is no additional 1% reward upon payment.
Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

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on Citibank’s secure website

AARP Credit Card from Chase

The information related to AARP Visa credit card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

AARP membership is not required for this card. Nor does a person need to be over 50 or retired.

A big positive to using this card is the unlimited cash back rewards. 3% cash back at restaurants, 3% cash back at fuel stations, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Other Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Plenty of ways to redeem cash back: Direct deposit to a checking or savings account, statement credit, gift card (choose from over 75 retailers), or travel (with no blackout dates or restrictions).
  • Rewards do not expire unless account is closed.
  • No reward caps
  • Equipped with EMV chip
  • $100 bonus cash back after $500 is spent on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

Cons

  • Although the card comes ready with an EMV chip, there is a 3% foreign transaction fee. This card is not ideal for foreign travel.
AARP® Credit Card from Chase Bank

Learn more at AARP.org

Evaluate Your Spending Habits

While there is no ‘best’ rewards card for everyone, there are a lot of great cash back cards available. To decide which is best, it really comes down to a person looking at their spending habits and credit card which will give them the highest rewards. Enjoy the rewards.

Customize your cash back rewards offers with magnifymoney tool

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Will Lipovsky
Will Lipovsky |

Will Lipovsky is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Will at will@magnifymoney.com

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