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Updated on Thursday, October 1, 2020
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 which travel rewards credit card to apply for can be a difficult decision. Consider these four factors before you hit that “apply now” button:
- No foreign transaction fees. While up to 3% in foreign transaction fees may not sound like much, it can add more than 30 cents to every $10 you spend abroad. If you plan on traveling abroad, choose a card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
- Good rewards for spending. For every dollar you spend, you should be able to earn rewards that 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. The sign-up bonus should offer a substantial award that justifies the spending needed to get it.
- Annual fee. Although most travel cards come with an annual fee, the perks, along with 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 Reserve® offers solid rewards for what effectively turns into a $150 annual fee ($550 annual fee minus up to $300 in statement credits for travel purchases). Additionally, if you renew your card membership from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, your annual fee will be reduced to $450.
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 three 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. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers a generous amount of 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.
- High annual fee. One of the biggest cons of this card is the $550 annual fee, due immediately in the first year. However, if you renew your card membership from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, your annual fee will be reduced to $450.
- Points limit. You won’t earn higher Chase points for travel until you spend the card’s $300 annual travel credit before the end of your cardmember anniversary.
- 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 Reserve® 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
- Regular Purchase APR
- See Pay Over Time APR
- Annual fee
- Rewards Rate
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5X Membership Rewards® points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
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 18 airline and two hotel loyalty programs, 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.
- High annual fees. While the card may offer the most status and immediate benefits, it also comes with an expensive annual 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.
To see rates & fees for The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.
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
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Why we like it: The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has a simple rewards program earning you the same amount of miles for all your spending. So, no need to worry about bonus categories — simply use your card on all purchases to rack up miles.
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers 2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. You can redeem miles in several ways: as a statement credit for travel purchases via Purchase Eraser®, for new travel purchases made with the Rewards Center, for a check, account credit, gift card and more. Travel purchases eligible for Purchase Eraser® include: airlines, hotels, rail lines, car rental agencies, limousine services, bus lines, cruise lines, taxi cabs, travel agents and timeshares. Keep in mind that these redemptions must be made within 90 days from the date your travel purchase posts to your account.
- Easy to use rewards. You can easily redeem your points in a variety of ways and Purchase Eraser® makes is simple to get a statement credit for travel purchases made within the past 90 days.
- New points transfer. You can now transfer the miles you earn to 15 travel loyalty programs.
- Visa Signature® benefits. As a Visa Signature® card, you can benefit from travel perks including lost luggage reimbursement, travel accident insurance, the Visa Signature® Luxury Hotel Collection with over 900 properties and more when you use your card. Certain restrictions, limitations, and exclusions apply.
- Annual fee. The card is slightly expensive for earning two miles per dollar toward travel, currently $95. If you don’t travel abroad often, there are other cards that offer the same cash back with no annual fee, though they may lack some of the travel perks this card offers.
- Fewer points. There are other cards on the market that offer more miles for travel-related spending.
Best travel card for millennials
Uber Visa Card
The information related to Uber Visa Card has been independently collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.
Uber Visa Card
- Regular Purchase APR
- 17.24% - 27.99% Variable
- Annual fee
- Rewards Rate
- 5% back in Uber Cash on Uber, Uber Eats, and JUMP, 3% back in Uber Cash on dining, hotels, and airfare and 1% back in Uber Cash on all other purchases
Why we like it: The Uber Visa Card offers high cash back rewards at some of the places millennials spend the most — including restaurants, Uber and UberEATS — along with up to $600 in mobile phone protection and a $0 annual fee.
The card offers 5% back in Uber Cash on Uber, Uber Eats, and JUMP, 3% back in Uber Cash on dining, hotels, and airfare and 1% back in Uber Cash 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. The Uber Visa Card offers a generous rewards rate on Uber, UberEats, dining, travel and other purchases. Using this card as your primary option for restaurants and Uber purchases 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 Card 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.
- 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: The details make this card a real winner. Discover will match ALL the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. That’s $700 towards travel! The more you earn, the more you get. 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 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.
- 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 Odyssey Rewards™ World Elite Mastercard®
- Regular Purchase APR
- 6.99% to 18.00% Variable
- Annual fee
- Rewards Rate
- Earn 3 Rewards Points for every $1 spent on travel; 2 Rewards Points for every $1 spent on dining; 1 Reward Point for every $1 spent on all other purchases
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 First Tech Odyssey Rewards™ World Elite Mastercard® offers competitive bonus categories (Earn 3 Rewards Points for every $1 spent on travel; 2 Rewards Points for every $1 spent on dining; 1 Reward Point for every $1 spent on all other purchases), but comes with a lower interest rate than its competitors. The annual fee is $75.
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 First Tech Odyssey Rewards™ World Elite Mastercard® are comparable to other major rewards cards. Earn 3 Rewards Points for every $1 spent on travel; 2 Rewards Points for every $1 spent on dining; 1 Reward Point for every $1 spent on all other purchases. This gives it strong value with better terms for the cardholder.
- Flexible rewards options. Like other programs, points earned on the First Tech Odyssey Rewards™ World Elite Mastercard® 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.