Best Travel Credit Cards

Our objective rating of the best travel cards in the market

We publish unbiased product reviews; our opinions are our own and are not influenced by payment we receive from our advertising partners. Learn more about how we review products and read our advertiser disclosure for how we make money.

We've spent thousands of hours analyzing travel credit cards in order to identify the best cards for a range of needs and objectives. The best travel rewards credit cards provide significant benefits that make trips more convenient and enjoyable. This list represents our top rated travel cards across a number of categories, all driven by our rating methodology, comprehensive card database and proprietary points valuation models. We focus on highlighting the best cards possible and do not give any preference to cards from which we receive compensation. These are the cards we'd recommend to our family and friends, and they're the same ones we're recommending to you.

The impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the global economy and travel may influence your perspective on whether it's the right time for you to apply for a travel credit card. Over the long term, we still expect these cards to deliver solid value and be worthy of consideration.

Best Travel Credit Cards for August 2020

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best Overall
  • United Explorer: Best for Airlines, Best for Miles
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express: Best for Hotels
  • The Platinum Card from American Express: Best for Premium Travel Benefits
  • Capital One Venture: Best for Travel with a Sub-$100 Annual Fee
  • Ink Business Preferred: Best for Business Travel
  • Capital One VentureOne: Best for Travel with No Annual Fee

Best Overall

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Rating as a Travel Card
4.8
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Full Review
Apply Now
On Chase's Website

Current Offer:

50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.99% - 23.99% variable
Annual Fee $550
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 3x points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit, 3X points on dining at restaurants, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    The Chase Sapphire Reserve is our best overall travel card because of its competitive one-time point bonus, annual travel credit, high rewards earning rate, the fact that points are worth 50% more if you redeem them for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, and the ability to transfer points on a 1:1 basis to eligible hotel and airline partners. While the annual fee is high, if you're an avid traveler the annual travel credit can help justify it and it has numerous other travel-related benefits that make this the best card for travel if you're not ready to commit yourself to a single airline or hotel. In the short term if you didn't want to save your points for travel, you could use them towards a statement credit.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Excellent points rewards rate for travel and dining
    • Large bonus for new cardholders
    • Premium travel features
    • Points are worth 50% more for travel bought through Chase Ultimate Rewards

    Cons

    • $550 annual fee
    • Limited high-rewards categories
    • Strong credit is recommended
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Receive 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months from account opening.
    • Get an annual $300 travel credit for eligible purchases charged to your card each anniversary year.
    • Earn 3 points on travel (excluding purchases eligible for the travel credit), restaurants, and dining. Earn 1 point per $1 spent on other purchases.
    • Points are worth 50% more when you redeem them for travel through Chase's Ultimate Rewards portal.
    • Transfer points 1:1 to eligible Ultimate Rewards airline and hotel partner programs.

Best for Airlines, Best for Miles

United℠ Explorer Card

Rating as a Travel Card
4.6
United℠ Explorer Card
Full Review
Apply Now
On Chase's Website

Current Offer:

Limited-time offer - apply by 9/30/2020. Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 16.49% - 23.49% variable
Annual Fee $0 for the first year, then $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    Based on our analysis, the United Explorer offers the highest value per mile earned of any airline credit card, and miles can be redeemed in multiple ways, including for flights with participating member airlines in its Star Alliance, one of the largest global airline partnerships. As with our best hotel card, you'd need to be committed to United as the airline you'll primarily fly with in order to extract the maximum benefit from the card. The compelling introductory bonus of the card really adds to the value of the card because of the high value placed on redeeming those points with United. The $95 annual fee is in line with its competitors and is waived the first year. The card does not charge foreign-transaction fees which helps make it a good choice for international travel.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Valuable rewards program
    • Special benefits every time you fly United
    • Several travel benefits and protections

    Cons

    • Fewer free checked bags than some competing airline cards
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Earn 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months your account is open.
    • Get 2 United Club one-time passes each anniversary year.
    • Save up to $140 per roundtrip with a free checked bag for you and a travel companion on the same reservation.
    • Get 25% back as a statement credit on inflight United purchases.

Best for Hotels

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Rating as a Travel Card
4.3
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
Full Review
Apply Now
On American Express' Website

Current Offer:

Earn 75,000 bonus points with the Marriott Bonvoy after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.74% - 24.74% variable
Annual Fee $450
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 6X points for every $1 spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3X points at U.S. restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines, and 2X points everywhere else.
Balance Transfer Fee If eligible, either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is our best for hotels because of its large one-time bonus coupled with a rewards earning and redemption value rate that is best in class. Although it has a high annual fee, you can partially justify it through the annual credit of $300 for Marriott purchases and an anniversary night. If you're going to pick this card, you definitely need to be ready to commit to Marriott being the hotel chain that will get your business so that you can extract the maximum value from the card. The complimentary Gold Elite Status with Marriott that comes with the card is a nice added benefit.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Good all-around for travel, but most rewarding on Marriott purchases
    • Annual credits for Marriott purchases and Marriott Bonvoy property credits
    • Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status
    • No foreign transaction fees

    Cons

    • No introductory APR offer for purchases or balance transfers
    • Annual fee is at the higher end of what many travel cards charge
    • Only 2 points per dollar in rewards at hotels other than Marriotts'
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Earn 75,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
    • $300 annual Marriott Bonvoy statement credit for eligible purchases.
    • $100 Marriott Bonvoy property credit on eligible stays.
    • Card Members can enroll in Priority Pass Select, which offers unlimited visits to over 1,200 lounges in over 130 countries.

Best for Premium Travel Benefits

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Rating as a Travel Card
4.1
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Full Review
Apply Now
On American Express' Website

Current Offer:

Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) N/A variable
Annual Fee $550
Rewards Earning Rate 5X Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com. 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
Balance Transfer Fee This card does not offer balance transfers.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    The Platinum Card from American Express is our pick for the best premium travel benefits because it offers some that you just won't find in another card. You get access to 100-plus American Express Global Lounges, credits for incidental airline fees, and credits for Uber and Saks Fifth Avenue. It also offers a very high 5-points-per-dollar rewards for flights booked through Amex’s travel portal or directly with airlines. The $550 annual fee is substantial even for an ultra-premium rewards card, but the expense can be justified by the card’s rewards, complimentary airport lounge access, Uber credits, and breaks on airline incidental fees if you make sure to use them all to their maximum benefit.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Outstanding rewards on flights and hotel stays
    • Generous one-time offer for new cardholders
    • Exceptional luxury travel benefits

    Cons

    • $550 annual fee, which is high even for a premium travel card
    • Restrictive options for booking airlines and hotels
    • No non-travel high-rewards categories
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • Enjoy a welcome bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after making $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
    • Get Uber credits each month for rides in the U.S. $15 each month, with a bonus $20 in December.
    • Chose an eligible airline and recieve a $200 annual airline fee credit.
    • Enjoy Global Lounge Collection access as a cardholder, which includes access to the Centurion Lounge.

Best for Travel with a Sub-$100 Annual Fee

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Rating as a Travel Card
4.0
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Full Review
Apply Now
On Capital One's Website

Current Offer:

Earn 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.24% - 24.49% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase.
Balance Transfer Fee There is no standard balance transfer fee for this card.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    The Capital One Venture offers exceptional yet simple rewards and flexible redemptions. Those pluses readily make up for its $95 annual fee. It offers an unlimited 2 miles per dollar on every purchase and an excellent one-time bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • High rewards rate with no cap on earnings
    • Sizable one-time bonus
    • Flexible redemption options
    • Credit for Global Entry TSA Precheck every 4 years

    Cons

    • Poor cash-back redemption rate
    • Limited transfer partners
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • 2X miles on all purchases. Earn unlimited miles with no caps.
    • Earn 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.
    • Use miles as a statement credit against any airline or hotel booking with no blackout dates. Or, transfer miles to eligible travel loyalty programs.
    • Get a credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ - up to $100 application fee credit every 4 years.

Best Business Travel

Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

Rating as a Travel Card
3.8
Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
Full Review
Apply Now
On Chase's Website

Current Offer:

Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.99% - 20.99% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year. Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases.
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Cash Advance APR (%) 24.99%
Cash Advance Fee Either $15 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    The Ink Business Preferred card ranks as our top pick for business travel because of its bonus points on travel and select business category spending and its 25% points premium when redeemed for travel through Chase's Ultimate Rewards platform. The card also pairs well with other Chase cards that earn or can transfer rewards into the Ultimate Rewards program, allowing small business owners to optimize earnings across most popular spending categories.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Potential to earn a large bonus
    • Flexible rewards program
    • High rewards on select business expenses

    Cons

    • Low base rewards rate
    • Not a lot of business-related benefits
    • Chase card service to businesses has been below par
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. That's $1,250 toward travel rewards when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
    • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year.
    • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
    • Stay on top of your business with Fraud Protection, Purchase Protection, personalized Account Alerts, and more.
    • Employee cards at no additional cost.

Best for Travel with No Annual Fee

Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Rating as a Travel Card
3.6
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
Full Review
Apply Now
On Capital One's Website

Current Offer:

Earn 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Recommended Credit Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 15.49% - 25.49% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 12 Months
Balance Transfer Fee There is no standard balance transfer fee for this card.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • WHY WE CHOSE THIS CARD

    The Capital One VentureOne card is our choice for the best travel rewards card with no annual fee because it offers a flat-rate earning structure for all spending and the flexibility of Capital One's miles. These miles can be redeemed for travel on any airline without blackout dates - which presents an excellent value for a card with no annual fee. VentureOne also charges no foreign transaction fees, making it an ideal and inexpensive travel card.

  • PROS & CONS

    Pros

    • Earn unlimited rewards
    • Decent one-time offer
    • Flexible redemption options
    • No annual fee
    • No commitment to specific brands or types of travel

    Cons

    • Mediocre rewards rate on every purchase
  • HIGHLIGHTS
    • 1.25X miles on all purchases. Earn unlimited miles with no caps.
    • Earn 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.
    • Use miles as a statement credit against any airline or hotel booking with no blackout dates. Or, transfer miles to eligible travel loyalty programs.
    • Enjoy an introductory APR on purchases for the first 12 months.

How Do Travel Rewards Credit Cards Work?

Travel rewards credit cards allow consumers to earn points or miles with each dollar they spend with the card. The cards are often associated with specific airlines or hotels, although some instead offer points or generic miles that are redeemed through the card issuer's website for travel with multiple airlines or hotels.  

What Types of Travel Rewards Credit Cards Exist in the Market?

Co-branded Airline Credit Cards

These earn frequent-flier miles or points with their branded airline for regular card spending; those miles or points can be pooled with those you receive when you fly. The best rewards rate is typically for spending with the airline itself.

Pros
  • Ability to earn airline-specific miles on a favored carrier

  • Higher bonus-miles rewards rate usually offered for airline purchases, and sometimes for other categories like dining or hotels

  • Often confers status in the carrier's frequent-flyer program to allow for higher-priority boarding

Cons
  • Significant annual fees

  • Lack of flexibility in redemptions or transfers

Co-branded Hotel Credit Cards

These earn points with the hotel brand's loyalty program on regular card spending at the chain, and sometimes on spending at brand partners, too. 

Pros
  • Ability to earn points through spending at the branded hotel chain, and sometimes on other spending

  • May automatically confer elite status with the hotel loyalty program

Cons
  • Significant annual fees

  • Lack of flexibility in redemptions or transfers

General Travel Credit Cards

These earn points or miles from the card issuer that can be redeemed for travel or other rewards through the issuer’s rewards portals. Some additionally provide automatic statement credits for select travel-related purchases, such as incidental airline fees.

Pros
  • Some offer exceptional benefits like airline lounge access, priority boarding, and primary rental-car insurance

  • Usually offer higher rewards rates for spending on airfare, and sometimes for other categories such as dining and gasoline

  • Some allow you to earn further incentives (like enhanced bonus-points redemption value) if you book travel through the issuer’s reservation portal

  • May offer statement credits for certain travel expenses, such as incidental airline fees

Cons
  • Many or most have an annual fee

  • Lack the airline-specific benefits, such as elite status, of co-branded airline or hotel cards



Do Travel Rewards Credit Cards Have Annual Fees?

Not always but since many travel credit cards carry annual fees, it's important to determine if you'll derive sufficient value from a card to justify the expense. That requires understanding the card’s rewards, analyzing your spending patterns, and assessing the appeal of any luxury benefits to decide if the card is financially worthwhile for you.

If you travel rarely, and don’t spend much on other potentially-bonused categories each month, a no-annual-fee travel card might be a better option. A travel rewards card may neither earn you enough in rewards to justify its cost nor be justifiable on the basis of luxury benefits you may seldom use. For example, airport-lounge access certainly enhances waiting for flights, but may not be worth paying for if you fly infrequently or, if you do, you rarely arrive at the airport early enough to check in at a lounge. 

Alternatively, for some road warriors the higher rewards rates of a premium card may allow it to easily justify a sizable annual fee. The extra luxury benefits they enjoy with the card then might essentially seem to be free, though in reality they are subsidized by the annual membership fee itself.

How Can Someone Decide if an Airline Credit Card is Best?

Choosing a co-branded airline credit card can be wise if you have a strong brand preference for a particular carrier, and so want to maximize the miles or points you earn in its frequent-flyer program. Those miles or points can help you both to redeem for flights and to reach a higher status level in the carrier’s frequent-flyer program. 

Here are some tips to help you decide on whether to get an airline card and, if so, which one to choose: 

  • Only consider the cards of carriers that serve your city and the destination(s) you travel to most often.
  • If you have desired destinations for rewards flights, consider if the carrier also flies to those.
  • Consider the features and benefits you value the most, and whether you’re ready and able to pay for them through cards’ annual fees.
  • Consider a card’s annual fee relative to the value of the rewards you might earn with it in a typical year.
  • Evaluate the value of the one-time introductory bonus, and how feasibly and comfortably you could meet its spending requirements.
  • If elite status is among your goals, determine if the card will more quickly get you to a particular status level.

How Can Someone Decide if a Hotel Credit Card is Best?

Even if you travel frequently, acquiring a credit card that’s associated with a particular chain isn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion. Here are some tips to help you evaluate if such a card is a wise choice for you and, if so, which one might be most suitable: 

  • Only consider major hotel chains that adequately serve the cities you travel to the most, including having properties at those destinations that are conveniently located for you.
  • If you have most-desired destinations for rewards hotel stays, consider if the chain’s presence in those as well.
  • Assess how many points you’re likely to earn within a certain period. If the points expire, as they do for some chains, make this calculation based on the period until the first points expire.
  • Determine how many points you will need to redeem for award hotel nights at various properties, and especially those you may most want to visit.
  • Compare the value in nights earned of the one-time introductory bonuses for hotel-branded cards you’re considering, and how easily you can meet their qualifying spending requirements
  • Consider whether the card provides instant elite status, and at what level.
  • Consider the value of any anniversary nights awarded by the card.
  • Do the math to see to what extent the value of the card's rewards and benefits justify its annual fee.

How Can Someone Decide if a General Travel Credit Card is Best?

Those considering a general travel credit card, with its flexible points or miles, should consider the following questions:

  • How readily can you satisfy the amount and timing of the spending requirements to earn the one-time introductory bonus, if one is offered?
  • Can rewards points or miles be transferred to a preferred airline or hotel through a travel alliance and, if so, do the points or miles transfer on a 1:1 basis? Are there transfer fees? 
  • Does the value of rewards earned plus additional benefits justify the annual fee, if any?
  • Are other redemption options available aside from travel transactions? Examples might include gift cards, merchandise, and statement credits.  
  • What are the redemption rates for the various options offered? 
  • Is the card highly rated in the travel rewards category?

How do General Travel Credit Cards Differ From Co-branded Travel Credit Cards?

Trying to decide between a general travel rewards credit card or an airline or hotel-specific reward card? You're not alone. Both options have their pluses. Carrier and hotel cards allow you to accumulate your rewards in a single basket, perhaps earning higher loyalty status as you do so. General cards give you the flexibility to both earn and spend rewards with an array of airlines and hotel brands, and so make it easier to take advantage of the best deals on tickets and hotels, regardless of brand.

The ultimate goal with travel rewards cards is to leverage card spending to earn future award travel. So your choice between types should hinge on how best to leverage your spending patterns to earn that rewards travel. If you’re loyal to particular brands that match your preferences, and that serve you well in the places you travel most, you should probably favor a branded card. On the other hand, if you tend to play the field with your travel providers, and want a card that rewards that strategy, a general card might serve you best.  

How do Travel Credit Cards Differ from Cash Back Credit Cards?

The biggest difference between all the different types of travel credit cards and cash-back credit cards is the type of "currency" each earns. Travel cards earn miles or points that can be redeemed for travel through the card issuer or with airlines or hotels. Cash-back cards earn a percentage rebate on purchases, most often paid in the form of statement credits, gift cards, or checks payable to the cardholder. (However, some cash-back cards technically earn points, which are then converted to statement credits, gift cards, or checks.) 

During the current pandemic lockdown consumers may potentially realize more near-term value from a cash back credit card given travel earning and redemption options will likely be limited in 2020.

Another major difference between the card types is that most travel cards carry annual fees while most cash-back cards do not. When deciding between a travel or cash-back card, then, you typically need to determine whether your yearly spending is likely to generate enough value to justify the travel card’s annual fee.  

For those who don't spend much on credit cards, or simply don't like the financial risk involved with paying an annual fee, a cash-back card with no annual fee can be a safe choice. However, those who wish to earn award travel, and whose spending patterns justify paying an annual fee, may get more value out from a travel rewards card. 

How Can Someone Compare Travel Rewards Credit Cards?

Comparing rewards and benefits among travel credit cards can be a complex exercise. But it’s well worth the effort. Consider these terms and features when comparing card offers, regardless of the card type you have chosen:

  • Annual membership fee: Among travel credit cards, products that don’t charge an annual fee tend to be the exception rather than the rule. But the presence of fees shouldn’t necessarily deter you, provided your spending on travel is likely to reap rewards that justify their cost. 
  • Rewards earning structure: Based on your spending patterns, do the math to establish what you would likely earn in rewards with a particular card relative to other cards in the category.
  • One-time bonus: Determine its value. That’s most easily done with cards that offer cash rewards, which unsurprisingly tend to offer their bonuses in cash form. With an airline or hotel card, you’ll need to use valuations such as those Investopedia carries out to assess the value of the bonus’s points or miles when they are redeemed.
  • Foreign-transaction fees: Most travel rewards cards waive these charges, which are usually 3% of the value of purchases in foreign currency. For cards that don’t, however, and that you plan to use abroad, estimate what you might pay in these fees over a year, based on your travel spending and any other purchases you may make from foreign vendors in their local currency. 
  • Global acceptance: While Visa, Mastercard and Discover are accepted by comparable numbers of international merchants, American Express has lesser acceptance than those networks outside the country. However, for any card, acceptance can vary by country or even region, and it’s worth consulting the acceptance maps that all four card networks publish on their respective websites. 
  • Travel-related insurance: Consider important and useful insurance protections that many cards offer like those covering trip cancellation/interruption, lost luggage, flight delays, and travel accidents. Some premium travel rewards credit cards offer enhanced coverages like primary collision-damage-waiver insurance for rental cars.

How Can Someone Choose the Best Travel Rewards Credit Card?

Ask yourself the following questions before deciding which travel rewards card best suits your goals and spending:

  • Can you realistically meet the spending requirements to earn the one-time bonus, if one is offered? And would you be able to comfortably repay that spending without incurring interest charges? 
  • To what extent are you willing to concentrate your spending on a particular card in order to maximize its potential to earn you travel rewards?
  • Are you loyal to a particular card issuer, such as Chase or American Express, including having a points balance in their loyalty program?
  • Are you loyal to a particular airline or hotel chain, and are carrying a points balance with their loyalty program?
  • Is elite status with an airline or hotel important to you, for its perks and prestige? Or are you a traveler who tends to seek out the least expensive flight or hotel, regardless of brand?
  • Do you plan to travel to international destinations?
  • Are special card features like airport lounge access or primary rental-car insurance important to you?
  • What level of annual fee are you willing to pay, knowing that higher fees can bring a higher risk that the fee will not be justified by the card’s rewards and other credits and features?

How Can Someone Maximize Rewards Earnings?

There are plenty of ways to gain the most value possible from a particular card. Here are some of those strategies:  

  • Put all of your spending on the card.
  • Qualify for one-time bonuses. Spending a certain sum within a particular time frame can earn you a cash bonus or tens of thousands of bonus points or miles worth hundreds of dollars or more.
  • Time major purchases with one-time bonuses in mind. It can be well worth buying planned big-ticket items a little early or late in order to include them in the required spending for a card you just received or plan to receive soon.
  • Take advantage of bonus-spending categories. If your card offers a higher-than-standard number of points or miles on certain types of spending, avail yourself of such opportunities whenever possible.
  • Redeem points/miles for airline tickets or hotel nights during shoulder seasons. Peak travel seasons usually bring higher ticket prices, and correspondingly worse redemption values for points or miles. If you can, then, plan trips to avoid popular seasons and holidays in order to maximize the return on your rewards.
  • Redeem miles with the card issuer. Several general travel cards offer opportunities to get a bonus multiplier when redeeming miles through the card issuer's rewards portal.

Are Travel Rewards Credit Cards Worth It?

Travel rewards credit cards can be excellent tools for earning award travel to vacation destinations or paying for required personal travel. But they’re not for everyone. Weigh these upsides and downsides to decide if this card type works well for you:

Pros
  • Allow you to leverage your normal spending to amass general travel rewards or partner-specific points or miles

  • Many offer significant bonuses

  • Foreign transaction fees are typically waived

Cons
  • Annual fees are common

  • Co-branded travel cards only earn partner-specific rewards

  • General travel rewards cards don’t provide partner loyalty benefits

Bottom Line

For most travel rewards credit cards, the key determination you should make is whether the card’s rewards are worth the annual fee that is likely charged. For many travelers, the answer is affirmative, since the combination of a one-time bonus and ongoing rewards provide significant value. But for others, including many infrequent travelers, typical spending won't generate sufficient rewards to justify paying an annual fee, or the fee may create anxiety about whether its cost will or won't be justified by rewards. For these travelers, another type of card might better suit your finances and temperament.

About Our List of Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Our list of the best travel rewards cards considered both general travel-rewards credit cards and co-branded cards marketed by major card issuers in partnership with specific air carriers and hotel chains.

Among the travel rewards cards, we also considered the best choice within certain subcategories, such as the best airline and hotel cards and the top choices that offer a one-time bonus. Since card bonuses, rewards, pricing, and features tend to evolve over time, and new cards continually enter the market, we will revisit our picks every month and adjust them as needed. 

Methodology

Information Gathering

In order to track and assess the U.S. domestic credit card market, we gather scores of data points on more than 300 cards. This data is collected manually from both card-issuer websites and publicly available sources. 

To ensure our information is as up-to-date as possible, we deploy automated tools that monitor changes in such key data as annual percentage rates, introductory rates, introductory periods, bonus offers, rewards earnings rates, fees and card benefits. We then rapidly make any needed updates to our card listings, reviews, and recommendations to ensure that readers have the most reliable information and advice. 

Initial Scoring

Once we collect credit card data we organize it in our database according to features, which roll up into feature sets (such as rewards, interest, fees, benefits and Security/Customer Service). Each individual card feature is assigned a star rating score on a 1 to 5 scale using a formula. For instance, for a one-time bonus score we would use a formula like (if bonus is $500 or greater, then assign a score of 5; if $300-$499 then 4, and so forth). Weighting of scores. Once all of each card’s features have received a score we apply a weighting factor to each feature to arrive at a weighted average score for each card (according to the general category in which it resides, such as travel rewards). 

This weighting process allows us to assign significantly more emphasis to the attributes important to a particular category, and downplay those that are less relevant to it. That allows us to objectively identify cards that stand out in their category, and why they do. For example, we apply significantly higher weight to such travel-specific features as airport lounge access or primary rental car insurance than we do to attributes such as interest rates or fees that might be more strongly considered for other categories, such as balance-transfer cards.

Earnings rates

Another critical factor we consider when rating and ranking travel cards and other types of rewards cards are the cards’ effective earnings rates. We first calculate the average value of points or miles for all the rewards cards in our database, a painstaking process that entails collecting all airline fare data by carrier across scores of popular domestic and international city-pairs along with per-night hotel charges at all major hotel brands. 

The required points and miles for air travel or hotel stays from the various reward programs is then used to calculate an effective earnings rate for each card. That allows our readers to make the most informed choices. By putting a card’s large one-time bonus or earnings rates into context across many dimensions and card features, they can more readily weigh the card’s benefits relative to its costs. Uncovering the true but often opaque redemption value of rewards points or miles is, we feel, the only reliable way to make cogent choices among competing value-based cards.  

Card Features We Score

As mentioned in our methodology explanation, we place significant weight on certain travel-related features in determining our ratings for each card. Specifically, we place over 50% of our overall assessment score on the combination of the following factors:  

  • Maximum value of any one-time bonus, whether in points or miles.
  • Initial card spending required to earn any bonus.
  • Redemption value of the bonus miles or points.
  • Global card acceptance, as detailed by the four card networks (Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover).
  • Options to redeem points or miles with travel partners, both airline and hotel.

Another consideration are the cards’ coverage, if any, in these travel-related areas: 

  • Car-rental collision insurance, whether primary or secondary.
  • Travel accident insurance.
  • Lost or delayed luggage insurance.
  • Insurance for trip cancellation, interruption, or delay.
  • Cell phone loss or damage.
  • Roadside assistance and towing.
  • Emergency travel medical/dental benefits.

General, non-travel related features that we consider and score include:

  • Interest rates, including both introductory and regular APRs for purchases and balance transfers.
  • Fees, including those for annual membership, late payments, cash advances and foreign transactions.
  • Security/customer service features.
  • Other non-travel benefits, such as free credit scores, ID theft protection and contactless payment capability.

How We Reach Our Final Assessments

We rely mostly on the objective scores created by our rating algorithms to determine which card is chosen as the best travel rewards credit card, as well as the ones deemed best for one-time bonuses and as co-branded airline and hotel choices. 

However, we may make some adjustments from time to time, to both features and weightings that could affect rankings, which can be influenced by subjective input from our credit card experts. Any potential modifications will be consistent with Investopedia’s belief that consumers are best served by travel cards that:

  • Provide superior value in earning awards travel.
  • Charge reasonable interest rates in the event that balances are carried month to month.
  • Charge fewer and/or more reasonable fees.
  • Provide solid customer service, based on the number and quality of customer service features
  • Have helpful and protective security features.