Travel Cards

Updated September 17, 2020

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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.

Pros and Cons of Travel Rewards Credit Cards
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.

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 2020-with benefits all the way into 2021.

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

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.

Highlights of the Marriott Bonvoy Bold™

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 3X Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy™.
  • 2X Bonvoy points for every $1 spent on other travel purchases (e.g. airfare, taxis, trains).
  • 1X point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Receive 15 Elite Night Credits annually, which qualifies you for Silver Elite Status. 
  • No foreign transaction fees.

Who This Card Is Best for

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. 

Intro OfferAnnual FeeRegular APRIntro APR
30,000 bonus points$015.99% - 22.99% variableN/A

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Credit Card

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.

Highlights of the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

  • Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months 
  • No annual fee
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for each $1 spent at grocery stores and on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
  • Save 25% on in-flight food and beverage purchases when using your card on American Airlines flights

Who This Card Is Best for:

The frequent American Airlines traveler who wants to be rewarded in miles for their purchases. 

Intro OfferAnnual FeeRegular APRIntro APR
10,000 bonus miles$015.99% - 24.99% (Variable)N/A

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

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.

Highlights of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

  • Earn 35,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in purchases on your new card (within the first 3 months).
  • Your first checked bag is free.
  • Main cabin 1 priority boarding on Delta flights.
  • If you spend $10,000 in purchases on your card within a calendar year, receive a $100 Delta Flight Credit (expires 12/31/21)
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide and US supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 20% savings in the form of a statement credit after using your Card on eligible Delta in-flight purchases of food, beverages, and audio headsets.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $99.

Who This Card Is Best for:

Frequent Delta Airline travelers who pay more than $99 in checked bag fees each year. 

Intro OfferAnnual FeeRegular APRIntro APR
35,000 miles$0 for the first year (then $99 after that)15.74% - 24.74% variableN/A

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®

Citibusiness Aadvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

This business credit has some perks you will want to take advantage of, including 70,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 within the first 4 months of opening your account. 

Highlights of the CitiBusiness®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of opening your account.
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines flights 
  • 25% savings on American Airlines inflight Wi-Fi when you use your card
  • Preferred boarding on American Airlines flights
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on purchases at telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and at gas stations.
  • Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile per $1 spent on other purchases
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees

Who This Card Is Best for:

The business owner who travels frequently for work, or whose employees travel often for work on domestic American Airlines flights. 

Intro OfferAnnual FeeRegular APRIntro APR
70,000 miles$99 after the first year15.99% - 24.99% (Variable)N/A

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 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 60,000 ultimate rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. That’s the equivalent of $750 towards travel, which makes this an ideal card for the jetsetter.

Highlights of the Chase Sapphire PreferredⓇ Credit  Card

  • Introductory offer of 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. 
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Ultimate RewardsⓇ points carry 25% more value when they’re redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate RewardsⓇ. 
  • Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022.

Who This Card Is Best for:

Frequent travelers who don’t mind the annual fee and can meet the spending requirements to  redeem points for airfare, hotels, cruises, car rentals. 

Intro OfferAnnual FeeRegular APRIntro APR
60,000 points$9515.99% - 22.99% variableN/A

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

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).

Highlights of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

  • Earn 40,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months
  • 3,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases, as well as Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • All points earned count towards your Companion Pass.
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions.
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events, and more.

Who This Card Is Best for:

The frequent traveler who can make targeted purchases in order to earn travel rewards points and companion passes. 

Intro OfferAnnual FeeRegular APRIntro APR
40,000 Rapid Rewards points$6915.99% - 22.99% VariableN/A

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card

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.

Highlights of the Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account ($750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®).
  • $300 annual travel credit reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary. 
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 
  • 3X points on dining at restaurants 
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. 
  • $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. 
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • One year complimentary Lyft Pink ($199 minimum value). 
  • Complimentary DashPass subscription from DoorDash if activated by 12/31/21.

Who This Card Is Best for:

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. 

Intro OfferAnnual FeeRegular APRIntro APR
50,000 bonus point (and more)$55016.99%-23.99% VariableN/A

American Express® Green Card

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.

Highlights of the American Express® Green Card

  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Earn 30,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $2,000 on purchases on your new card within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on all eligible travel, from subway swipes and window seats to hotel stays and city tours.
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide.
  • Receive up to $100 per year in statement credits when you use the American Express® Green Card to pay for your CLEAR® membership at select airports and stadiums across the US. This extends to Permissible Biometric Scanning Technology terms: eye, iris, and fingerprints scanning.
  • Use the American Express® Green Card to purchase lounge access through the entire LoungeBuddy network: No memberships, elite status, or first-class tickets required. 
  • Earn up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year on your LoungeBuddy purchases.
  • Terms Apply for APR- you must see the website for current offers

Who This Card Is Best for

The traveler who is a self-proclaimed foodie and plans to explore everything a new city has to offer with their card. 

Intro OfferAnnual FeeRegular APRIntro APR
30,000 points$150Terms ApplyN/A

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

Discover IT Miles Credit Card

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. 

Highlights of the Discover itⓇ Miles

  • Discover will automatically match all of the miles you've earned at the end of your first year. 
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x miles for every dollar spent on all purchases
  • No annual fee
  • No blackout travel dates

Who This Card Is Best for:

Annual domestic travelers who take advantage of travel rewards earned from everyday purchases. 

Intro OfferAnnual FeeRegular APRIntro APR
Discover Mile Match$011.99% - 22.99% variable0% for 14 months

Best Hotel Travel Rewards Cards

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

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.

Highlights of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card:

  • Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points when you spend $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of opening your account. 
  • Earn a Weekend Night Reward from Hilton Honors after spending $15,000 on purchases within a calendar year.
  • Earn 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for eligible purchases made at a Hilton hotel or resort.
  • Earn 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at US restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations.
  • Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your card.
  • Spend $40,000 on eligible purchases within a calendar year and earn Hilton Honors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.

Who This Card Is Best for:

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).

Intro OfferAnnual FeeRegular APRIntro APR
125,000 points$9515.74% - 24.74% variableN/A

The World Of Hyatt Credit Card

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.

Highlights of The World Of Hyatt Credit Card:

  • Earn 25,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months of opening your account. 
  • Earn 25,000 Bonus Points after spending $6,000 total within 6 months of opening your account. 
  • Free nights start at 5,000 points. 
  • Receive 1 free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt Hotel or Resort for your Cardmember Anniversary.
  • Earn an extra free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt Hotel if you spend $15,000 during your Cardmember Anniversary year. 
  • Get automatic World of Hyatt Elite status – and 5 qualifying night credits every year – as long as your account is open.
  • Earn 2 qualifying night credits towards tier status each time you spend $5,000 on your card.
  • Earn 9 points total for Hyatt stays
  • Earn 2 Bonus Points per $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airlines, on local transit and commuting, as well as on fitness club and gym memberships.

Who This Card Is Best for:

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). 

Intro OfferAnnual FeeRegular APRIntro APR
N/A$9515.99% - 22.99% VariableN/A

Get a Personalized CARDMATCHTM

Tired of searching the travel rewards card that will be worth it for you? Creditcards.com has a solution called CARDMACTHTM. Simply answer a few questions and then get a personalized list of recommended credit cards.

Ask the Experts About Travel Rewards Cards

At InvestingAnswers, every piece of content is approved by a financial expert. Below, the experts answer reader questions about travel reward cards.

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.