Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards for 2021 and How to Get the Most Out of Them
This travel rewards guide will give you the essential information you need to choose the best card for you.
Our Picks for the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Ready to start earning rewards for your next trip? Take a look at our top picks for the best travel reward credit cards in 2021-with benefits all the way into 2022.
Travel Rewards Cards with No Annual Fee
If you do not want to pay an annual fee – but still want to have the perks of a travel credit card – look no further.
Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card
Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card is from Chase®, but unlike many of their point rewards cards, this one doesn’t carry an annual fee. Want to earn unlimited point rewards for Marriott/Bonvoy hotel stays? This is the point rewards credit card for you.
This credit card is best for the frequent traveler who is loyal to a hotel chain or whose company allows business trip stays to be booked on a personal credit card.
30,000 bonus points
15.99% - 22.99% variable
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Credit Card
The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ credit card is made for those who love getaways but don’t want the annual fee.
The frequent American Airlines traveler who wants to be rewarded in miles for their purchases.
10,000 bonus miles
15.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
If you’re an airline loyalist, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is a great travel rewards credit card that rewards you in airline miles.
Frequent Delta Airline travelers who pay more than $99 in checked bag fees each year.
$0 for the first year (then $99 after that)
15.74% - 24.74% variable
Table of ContentsOur Picks for the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards Best Business Travel Reward Card Travel Rewards Cards for Good-to-Excellent Credit Travel Rewards Cards for Fair Credit Best Hotel Travel Rewards Cards
Best Business Travel Reward Card
If you are a business owner and travel often (or your employees do), this could be the most rewarding travel business credit card.
CitiBusiness®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®
This business credit has some perks you will want to take advantage of, including 65,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 within the first 4 months of opening your account.
The business owner who travels frequently for work, or whose employees travel often for work on domestic American Airlines flights.
$0 for the first year, $99 after that
15.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Travel Rewards Cards for Good-to-Excellent Credit
If you have good-to-excellent credit, then you’re likely eligible for some seriously rewarding travel credit cards, including the Chase Ultimate Rewards Points.
Chase Sapphire PreferredⓇ Credit Card
Chase Ultimate RewardsⓇ points are some of the most valuable credit card points in existence. With the Chase Sapphire PreferredⓇ introductory offer, you’ll receive 100,000 ultimate rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. That’s the equivalent of $800 towards travel, which makes this an ideal card for the jetsetter.
Frequent travelers who don’t mind the annual fee and can meet the spending requirements to redeem points for airfare, hotels, cruises, car rentals.
15.99% - 22.99% variable
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® credit card could be a great partner to the Chase Saphire Preferred® credit card since Ultimate Rewards® points can be transferred to Southwest (though not the other way around).
This kind of point flexibility is great, but so is the introductory offer of 40,000 Rapid Rewards points – and the possibility of the companion pass when you earn 150,000 Rapid Rewards points. If you play it right, you’ll end up with free flights, which is a major reason this earned a spot on our best point rewards cards list.
The frequent traveler who can make targeted purchases in order to earn travel rewards points and companion passes.
40,000 Rapid Rewards points
15.99% - 22.99% Variable
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Despite the steep annual fee of $550, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card has a series of sign-up bonuses and regular perks that help offset this cost, making this an appealing credit card for the frequent traveler.
The serious traveler who spends serious time in airports, can activate the fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®, and plans to meet the spending requirement of $4000 within the first 3 months.
50,000 bonus points (and more)
American Express® Green Card
The American Express® Green Card is a versatile travel rewards card that doesn’t have a wide range of rewards. It has zero foreign transaction fees and is designed for exploring new cities with major rewards for hotel stays, city tours, and restaurants.
The traveler who is a self-proclaimed foodie and plans to explore everything a new city has to offer with their card.
Travel Rewards Cards for Fair Credit
If you’re building your credit history and have fair credit, the Discover itⓇ Miles could be the perfect rewards card for you.
Discover itⓇ Miles
The Discover itⓇ Miles card is a travel credit card that rewards you in airline miles. Your rewards never expire, you can earn an unlimited number of miles, and there’s no annual fee.
Annual domestic travelers who take advantage of travel rewards earned from everyday purchases.
Discover Mile Match
11.99% - 22.99% variable
0% for 14 months
Best Hotel Travel Rewards Cards
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card provides Hilton Gold Elite status. This means free complimentary breakfasts and room upgrades based on availability, making it one of our top picks for those who love Hilton stays.
Semi-frequent guests of Hilton or Hilton properties who do not spend enough to earn Gold Elite status organically (but would still like to benefit from Hilton Rewards).
15.74% - 24.74% variable
The World Of Hyatt Credit Card
The World Of Hyatt Credit card offers cardholders a free night’s stay every year. In addition, you can cash in just 5,000 points for a free night stay, making this a highly-rewarding hotel credit card.
Those who are loyal to the Hyatt chain and will stay at least one night per year in their hotels (to utilize the free night and make up for the annual fee).
30,000 Bonus Points
15.99% - 22.99% Variable
Best Travel Rewards Cards
It’s amazing to board a plane or check into a hotel knowing that you won’t be paying a dime. The best travel rewards credit cards make this possible. If you’re ready to plan your next vacation or business trip, the travel rewards guide below will give you the essential information you need to choose the best card for you.
How Do Travel Rewards Cards Work?
Depending on the kind of travel rewards credit card, you can earn points or miles when you:
Use your card for your regular spending.
Strategically use your card for purchases that offer a higher reward rate. For example, some travel reward cards offer 3x the points when you spend in a specific category like restaurants.
Find a travel rewards card with a big sign-up bonus. You will need to meet a spending requirement in order to receive the sign-up bonus.
When you have earned enough points or miles, you can redeem them for your next trip. This is done through the credit card issuer rewards portal.
How Do Travel Rewards Work?
There are two main flavors of travel card rewards: points and miles. Earning and redeeming these points might seem tricky until you know what to look for.
Travel Reward Points
Points are a common type of travel reward. Look for a high reward rate with an easy-to-understand point redemption system.
A high reward rate typically involves:
Extra points for certain purchases in a specific category (such as 5 points per $1 spent on travel).
A high-value flat rate (such as 2 points for every dollar spent).
A combination of these two offers.
Earning points isn’t everything though: You also want to make sure that points convert for a fair redemption rate. Generally speaking, your points should be redeemable for at least $0.01 per point in value. Some rewards points are actually worth more than their dollar equivalent if redeemed through the credit card’s preferred booking system. For example your points may be worth 20% more than the cash equivalent if spent on travel through that credit card’s reward site.
Transferable Points Are the Best
Transferable points are flexible and make rewards very valuable. The best point travel rewards card should have the option to transfer points. This can take one of two forms:
Points transfer to “cash” and are applied to your balance for eligible travel purchases, or
Moving points to a “transfer partner” (which may include other airline and hotel companies).
Travel Reward Miles
Just like points, airline miles are earned when you use the credit card. If you fly often, this type of travel rewards system might benefit you best – as long as you find a high reward rate.
A high reward rate for airline mile credit cards is 1 mile for every $1 spent on normal purchases, combined with a higher rate for purchases in specific categories (i.e. 3 miles per $1 spent on travel).
Most of the time, travel credit cards that offer miles are co-branded travel rewards cards. This means they are offered by a credit card issuer (like Chase or American Express) who have partnered with an airline like Delta or Southwest. Miles earned on these credit cards can only be used with that specific airline or an airline transfer partner. Before you sign up for a miles travel rewards card, make sure the airline offers flights to your desired destinations.
How to Choose the Best Travel Rewards Credit Card
To choose the best travel rewards credit card, you’ll need to compare multiple cards. The most important features to take note of are the introductory offers, rewards rates, travel perks, and annual fees.
1. Find the Best Introductory Offer for Your Next Trip
Introductory offers (or sign-up bonuses) are what make so many travel reward cards worth it. The opportunity to earn a huge amount of points or miles can make your next trip close to free.
The trick is to find a travel credit card with a high-value sign-up offer and a spending requirement you can easily meet with regular purchases. You don’t want to end up in credit card debt just to earn a sign-up bonus!
2. Review the Rewards Rate
The rewards rate should be high enough that you can accumulate points or miles at a reasonable rate (i.e. 1 point/mile per $1 or more).
You’ll also want to choose a card that gives rewards in an area you spend often. This way, you can earn as many points as possible. That could be a card with a high flat rate for all purchases or a card that rewards in a specific category.
For example, if you spend regularly at restaurants and a travel card offers 3x the points for every dollar spent dining out, this might be your perfect match.
3. Check out Travel Perks
Travel rewards credit cards allow you to earn free travel credit and perks. A few perks may include:
Elite status with a hotel chain or airline
Airport lounge access
A Companion Pass (that allows you to take a friend on a flight for free)
Free checked bags
Free stays at hotels for a certain number of nights
No foreign transaction fees
While these perks are a major plus, your choice of travel credit card should really be influenced by the rewards rate and introductory offer. Also, to state the obvious, the value of the benefits from a travel rewards card is highly dependent on how much you anticipate travelling.
4. Don’t Forget About the Annual Fees
Travel credit cards may have an annual fee attached. The fee can range from $90 all the way to $400+ for premium cards.
No one wants to pay a fee, but in some cases, the travel credit card’s annual fee might be wiped out by rewards. See what the credit card offers and if you’ll use all of the perks (plus sign-up bonus) before making your decision.
Note: If you can’t stomach the thought of paying to maintain a card, it’s also possible to find zero annual fee travel reward credit cards.
Why Choose a Travel Rewards Card?
Debating between a travel rewards and another type of credit card? These pros and cons should help you make a decision.
How to Benefit from a Travel Rewards Cards
In order to get the most out of your travel reward credit card, you will want to follow these 4 steps.
1. Get the Sign-up Bonus
The sign-up bonus is a huge part of why you would apply for a new travel credit card. Make sure you are eligible for the card’s offer and that you can meet the requirements to earn said offer.
2. Use the Card Regularly
The more you use your travel reward credit cards, the more you’ll accumulate points or miles. Also be sure to use the card for purchases that offer a higher reward rate.
3. Pay off your Credit Card Balance
While you should use your card for your regular purchases (to earn the most rewards), you need to be able to afford it. Pay off the credit card balance at the end of each month. Additionally, restructure your money management to keep cash in your bank account in order to pay off your card.
4. Redeem Your Rewards for Travel
Travel rewards cards are meant to be redeemed on travel for the biggest benefit. While some card issuers will allow you to redeem points for a statement credit or online purchases, it’s usually at a less valuable ratio. Redeeming points or miles for anything other than travel means you’re not getting the optimal value for your hard-earned rewards.
How often should you apply for travel reward credit cards?
Each time you apply for a credit card, you will incur a credit inquiry. Usually this is considered a ‘Hard inquiry’ meaning they are actually checking your credit and it will very likely reduce your credit score slightly. We suggest you apply for one credit card at a time, and not to apply for more than 3 within a 6 month window, as more could impact your credit score negatively. It’s also important to avoid applying for credit cards if you anticipate needing a larger loan such as a home mortgage in the near future.
A good rule of thumb is to wait until you have used the sign- up bonus for travel and paid off the credit card before you apply for a new one. Also certain cards will limit the number of bonuses you can claim in a 1-2 year period, even if applying for different cards from that company.
Are travel reward credit cards worth it?
If you follow these general guidelines, then a travel rewards card is definitely worth it:
You can qualify for the sign-up bonus with your current credit score
You can meet the spending requirement without overspending
You can pay off the credit card in full each month
You will use the rewards for travel
If you are someone who only takes a trip every few years, then a travel rewards card won’t benefit you. Instead, look into cash back reward cards.
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All of the opinions expressed herein are the author's alone, and not those of any bank, brokerage, credit card issuer, lender, insurance company, outside financial institution, or any other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post or any other third parties.