Best Travel Credit Cards

How to choose the right travel credit card

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Travel credit cards are the best way to enhance trips using the dollars you spend every day. Whether you’re a budget backpacker or a business class loyalist, a travel credit card can offer everything from hotel and flight credits to luxury perks like upgrades and lounge access. But many cards come with strings; some charge annual fees, while others set strict rules on when and where you can redeem your hard-earned points.

The best travel credit cards help you earn points easily and convert them into travel even easier. They have top-rated partners for you to maximize points for hotel, airfare, and other travel perks. Here are our selections for the best travel credit cards to help you maximize the benefits.

Best Travel Credit Cards for May 2021: Find the Right Card for You

Best Overall, Best Airline : United Explorer Card

Rating as a Travel Card
4.8
United℠ Explorer Card
Current Offer

40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first 6 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 United purchases. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United ClubSM with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
Balance Transfer Fee Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose It
  • Pros & Cons
Why We Chose It

We chose United Explorer as the best overall pick for its high rewards value, low fee, and attractive signup offer. The card also 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. 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

Best General Travel : Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Rating as a Travel Card
4.8
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Current Offer

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 total travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

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 It
  • Pros & Cons
Why We Chose It

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is our best general travel card because of its competitive one-time point bonus, annual travel credit, and high rewards earning rate. In addition, points are worth 50% more if you redeem them for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, and you can 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 to a single airline or hotel. In the short term, if you don'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 with 50% more for travel bought through Chase Ultimate Rewards

Cons
  • $550 annual fee

  • Limited high-rewards categories

  • Strong credit is recommended

Best Premium Hotel Card : Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Rating as a Travel Card
4.4
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
Current Offer

Earn 125,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Plus, earn up to $200 in Statement Credits for eligible purchases at U.S. Restaurants within the first 6 months of Card Membership. Offer Expires 5/12/2021.

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.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

See rates and fees

  • Why We Chose It
  • Pros & Cons
Why We Chose It

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 commit to Marriott as the hotel chain that will get your business so that you can extract the maximum value from it. 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 Marriott

Best for Premium Travel Benefits : The Platinum Card® From American Express

Rating as a Travel Card
4.4
The Platinum Card® from American Express
Current Offer

Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 6 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 (%) 15.99% - 22.99% 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.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%

See rates and fees

  • Why We Chose It
  • Pros & Cons
Why We Chose It

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 reward of 5 points per dollar 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


Best for Travel Points Earning with Modest Annual Fee : PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card

PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card
Current Offer

Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on the first 90 days

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 (%) 14.99% - 17.99% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate 4x points on all travel categories for PenFed Honors Advantage Members, 3x points on all travel categories, and 1.5x points on all other purchases
INTRO BALANCE TRANSFER APR 0% for 12 Months
Balance Transfer Fee 3% per transaction
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose It
  • Pros & Cons
Why We Chose It

The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards Visa Signature Card gives the highest rewards rate for an annual fee under $100, offering 3x points for every dollar spent on travel (4x points if you’re a PenFed Honors Advantages member), and 1.5x points on everything else. If the $95 annual fee still makes you uneasy, keep in mind that the $100 annual statement credit for travel expenses will effectively cancel it out, assuming you spend at least that much per year on trips. Additional perks include a statement credit up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA Pre-check and a complimentary Priority Pass airport lounge membership.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Rich points earning on travel purchases

  • Low annual fee

Cons
  • Requires PenFed Credit Union membership to apply

  • Must be an Honors Advantage member for higher tier rewards

Best for Travel with a Sub-$100 Annual Fee : Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Rating as a Travel Card
4.5
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Current Offer

Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in 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
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 17.24% - 24.49% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase. Redeem on travel-from vacation rentals to car rentals and more. Plus transfer your miles to over 10+ travel loyalty programs.
Balance Transfer Fee 3% of the amount of each transferred balance that posts to your account at a promotional APR that we may offer you. None for balances transferred at the Transfer APR.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose It
  • Pros & Cons
Why We Chose It

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 two miles per dollar on every purchase and an excellent one-time bonus of 100,000 after spending $20,000 in the first three months or 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • 2 miles per dollar spent

  • Transfer to over 10 travel loyalty programs

  • Reasonable annual fee: $95

  • No foreign transaction fees

Cons
  • No airline loyalty status

Best for Annual Travel and Lounge Credits : U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card

Rating as a Travel Card
4.0
U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card
Current Offer

Starting with an enrollment bonus of 50,000 points worth $750 on travel. Just spend $4,500 in the first 90 days of 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 $400
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 5X points on prepaid hotels and car rentals booked directly in the Altitude Rewards Center. Earn 3X points for every $1 on eligible travel purchases and mobile wallet spending. For a limited time enjoy 3X points for every $1 on takeout, food delivery, and dining. Valid on purchases through 6/30/21.
Balance Transfer Fee Either 3% of the amount of each transfer or $5 minimum, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose It
  • Pros & Cons
Why We Chose It

The U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card provides the best travel and lounge credits for travelers whose annual expenditures already dominate a large chunk of their budget. Although the $400 annual fee is higher than most competitors at face value, most of this fee is negated by a $325 travel statement credit each year. Get an additional $100 towards your Global Entry or TSA Pre-check application fee every four years, plus a complimentary Priority Pass airport lounge membership and 12 Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi passes every year.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Rich travel benefits

  • Strong rewards, especially when used for travel

  • Bonus worth $750 if points are used for travel

Cons
  • You must be a U.S. bank customer to apply

  • No points-transfer options

Best for General Business Travel : Capital One Spark Miles for Business

Rating as a Travel Card
4.0
Capital One Spark Miles for Business
Current Offer

Earn 50,000 miles when you spend $4,500 in the first 3 months of 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 (%) 20.99% variable
Annual Fee $0 for the first year, then $95
Rewards Earning Rate Unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day.
Balance Transfer Fee There is no standard balance transfer fee for this card.
Cash Advance APR (%) 26.99%
Cash Advance Fee Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater.
  • Why We Chose It
  • Pros & Cons
Why We Chose It

The Capital One Spark Miles for Business card is our choice for best business travel because it offers a simple and generous 2x miles on every purchase, regardless of spending category. And, with no annual fee the first year, it's an easy card to test drive for even the smallest of business entities. By leveraging business expenses, this card should enable small business owners to fund future business or personal travel without having to dip into their petty cash.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Solid bonus, albeit with high required spending

  • Simple rewards program

  • Flexible travel-redemption options

Cons
  • Your personal credit history could be affected

  • Not as flexible as cash-back

Best for Bank of America Customers : Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card

Rating as a Travel Card
4.0
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
Current Offer

Earn 50,000 bonus points after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of 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% - 22.99% variable
Annual Fee $95
Rewards Earning Rate Earn unlimited 2 points per $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Balance Transfer Fee Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose It
  • Pros & Cons
Why We Chose It

If you’re a current Bank of America or Merrill customer, you may be in luck. The Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card offers certain account holders exclusive travel rewards not available to the general public. While this card’s base-level points and rewards schemes are comparable to other cards, cardholders with at least $20,000 in a Bank of America or Merrill account get a free 25% bonus on every point earned. That extra reward goes up to 50% for accounts with a $50,000 minimum balance and 75% if you have a balance over $100,000.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Rewards rates range between solid and standout

  • Generous travel-fee credits

  • Large bonus

Cons
  • Relatively high interest charges

  • No points-transfer partners

  • No choice in travel vendors

Best for Travel With No Annual Fee : Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Rating as a Travel Card
3.8
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
Current Offer

Earn 20,000 miles once you spend $500 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 3% of the amount of each transferred balance that posts to your account at a promotional APR that we may offer you. None for balances transferred at the Transfer APR.
Foreign transaction fee (%) 0%
  • Why We Chose It
  • Pros & Cons
Why We Chose It

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
  • 1.25 miles per dollar

  • No annual fee

  • No foreign transaction fees

  • Transfer to over 10 travel loyalty programs

Cons
  • No airline status earning ability

Best Premium Business Travel Card : The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

Rating as a Travel Card
3.8
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
Current Offer

Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards(R) points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

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 (%) 14.24% - 22.24% variable
Annual Fee $595
Rewards Earning Rate Get 5X Membership Rewards points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com. 1x for each dollar spent on other eligible purchases.
Cash Advance Fee This card does not offer cash advances.

See rates and fees

  • Why We Chose It
  • Pros & Cons
Why We Chose It

The Business Platinum Card from American Express wins our vote in the premium business travel category, albeit at a high annual fee. The card provides high-value rewards to business owners who spend a lot of time and money traveling. From a rewards perspective, points are earned at a rate of 5x per dollar spent on flights and prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com. All other spending is awarded one point per dollar with the exception of large purchases over $5,000, which earn 1.5x points. The card comes with additional statement credits for TSA Pre-check or Global Entry, incidental airline fees, and Dell purchases.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Large bonus

  • Rich points multiple on flights and hotels through Amextravel.com

Cons
  • $595 annual fee

Best Airline Business Card : United℠ Business Card

Rating as a Travel Card
3.8
United℠ Business Card
Current Offer

60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of 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 (%) 16.49% - 23.49% variable
Annual Fee $0 Intro fee for the first year. After that, $99
Rewards Earning Rate Earn 2 miles per $1 on United purchases, at restaurants, gas stations, eligible local transit, and office supply stores. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. 5,000 mile loyalty anniversary bonus.
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 transaction, whichever is greater.
  • Why We Chose It
  • Pros & Cons
Why We Chose It

We chose the United Business Card as the best airline business card because of its generous rewards structure and annual bonus. Earn two miles per dollar in several broad categories including restaurants, gas stations, local transit, and office supply stores–and, of course, on United purchases. For every year that you remain a cardholder, you’ll receive a 5,000 mile bonus if you also have a personal Chase United card, an excellent value for a card with just a $99 annual fee after the first year.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Huge bonus

  • Annual miles bonus if you also own a personal United card

  • Annual statement credit opportunity and complimentary United Club passes

Cons
  • Fewer free checked bags than other airlines

Final Verdict

For most travel rewards credit cards, the key determination is whether the card’s rewards are worth the annual fee. For frequent travelers, the answer is typically affirmative since the combination of a one-time bonus and ongoing rewards provides significant value. However, if you rarely travel or don’t anticipate spending enough to generate rewards that offset the annual fee, another type of card might better suit your needs.

If you’ve never had a travel credit card before, consider starting with the low-commitment Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, our pick for the best no-fee travel credit card. Chase Sapphire Reserve® is another great option for general travelers who are comfortable committing to a sizable travel budget that justifies the $550 annual fee. Seasoned travel pros who already have a favorite airline or hotel should look into that brand’s credit card options; examples are the UnitedSM Explorer Card and the Marriott Bonvoy BrilliantTM American Express® Card.

Credit Card Rewards Earning Rate Annual Fee
United℠ Explorer Card Best Overall, Best Airline Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays, and on United purchases plus 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 for the first year, then $95
Chase Sapphire Reserve® Best General Travel 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. $550
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card Best Premium Hotel Card 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. $450
The Platinum Card® from American Express Best for Premium Travel Benefits Earn 5x points per dollar spent on flights and hotels booked directly through American Express. Earn 1x point per dollar on all other purchases. $550
PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card Best for Travel Points Earning with Modest Annual Fee Earn 3x points on travel purchases (4x points for PenFed Honors Advantages members) and 1.5x points on all other purchases. $95
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Best for Travel with a Sub-$100 Annual Fee Earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase. $95
U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card Best for Annual Travel and Lounge Credits Earn 5x for every $1 on prepaid hotels and car rentals booked directly in the Altitude Rewards Center. Earn 3x points for every $1 on eligible net travel purchases and mobile wallet spending. Until 6/30/21, earn 3x points for every $1 on takeout, food delivery, and dining. $400
Capital One Spark Miles for Business Best for General Business Travel Earn unlimited 2x miles per dollar on every purchase, every day. $0 for the first year, then $95
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card Best for Bank of America Customers Earn unlimited 2x points per $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and 1.5x points per $1 spent on all other purchases. $95
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card Best for Travel with No Annual Fee Earn 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase. $0
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express Best Premium Business Travel Card Get 5x Membership Rewards points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com with 1x for each dollar spent on other eligible purchases. $595
United℠ Business Card Best Airline Business Card Earn 2 miles per $1 on United purchases, at restaurants, gas stations, eligible local transit, and office supply stores. One mile per $1 spent on all other purchases with a 5,000 mile loyalty anniversary bonus if you have a personal United card too. $0 for the first year, then $99

Editorial Picks for Best Travel Credit Cards

United℠ Explorer Card

Best Overall, Best Airline

We picked the United℠ Explorer Card not just for best airline, but also best overall travel credit card as it provides the highest value out of any competing rewards program. Unlike most airline cards, points can be redeemed for non-United flights with any Star Alliance member.

Read the full United℠ Explorer Card Review.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Best General Travel

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is best for everyday travelers who don’t want to be locked into a specific airline or hotel chain. Get extra points for all travel and dining purchases and get 50% more value when you redeem them through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.

Read the full Chase Sapphire Reserve Review.

Marriott Bonvoy BrilliantTM American Express Card

Best Premium Hotel Card

The Marriott Bonvoy BrilliantTM American Express Card offers the best value of any hotel credit card, awarding six points per dollar spent at the chain. Becoming a complimentary Gold Elite Status member is just the cherry on top.

Read the full Marriott Bonvoy BrilliantTM American Express Card Review.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Best for Premium Travel Benefits

The Platinum Card from American Express gives you benefits that you won't find with another card. Members gain access to more than 100 American Express Global Lounges as well as receive additional rewards for Uber and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Read the full The Platinum Card® from American Express Review.

PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card

Best for Travel Points Earning with Modest Annual Fee

The PenFed Pathfinder® Rewards Visa Signature® Card gives you the highest points value without breaking the bank in annual fees, handing out three points per dollar spent on travel at just $95 per year.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Best for Travel with a Sub-$100 Annual Fee

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is best for travelers who don’t want to commit to a three-figure annual fee. Cardholders earn two miles per dollar on all purchases, which can be transferred to more than 10 different loyalty programs.

Read the full Capital One Venture Rewards Card Review.

U.S. Bank AltitudeTM Reserve Visa Infinite® Card

Best for Annual Travel and Lounge Credits

If your annual budget breakdown includes a sizable travel fund, the U.S. Bank AltitudeTM Reserve Visa Infinite® Card’s annual travel and lounge credits may help offset some of the expenses you already pay for. Card perks include a $325 statement credit for travel expenses each year and a complimentary Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership.

Read the full U.S. Bank AltitudeTM Reserve Visa Infinite® Card Review.

Capital One Spark Miles for Business

Best for General Business Travel

No matter what type of travel you do for your business, the Capital One Spark Miles for Business card offers the best rewards with two miles for every dollar spent in any category. The low $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, a great opportunity to try the card risk free.

Read the full Capital One Spark Miles for Business Review.

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card

Best for Bank of America Customers

Account holders with Bank of America and Merrill should take a close look at the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card, which offers tiered points bonuses up to 75% based on your account balance.

Read the full Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card Review.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Best for Travel with No Annual Fee

If annual fees are the only thing stopping you from using a travel credit card, the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is the best choice. The 1.25 miles you earn for every dollar spent can be used to book flights on any airline without blackout dates.

Read the full Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card Review.

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express

Best Premium Business Travel Card

The Business Platinum Card® from American Express is the best credit card for business owners hoping to upgrade their frequent travel experience. Points are earned at a rate of five per dollar on flights and hotels through amextravel.com.

Read the full The Business Platinum Card® from American Express Review.

United℠ Business Card

Best Airline Business Card

The United℠ Business Card is the best business travel card for airline rewards, offering two miles per dollar in five generous categories plus an annual bonus of 5,000 miles.

Read the full UnitedSM Business Card Review.

Frequently Asked Questions

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. Some cards are associated with specific airlines or hotels, meaning any miles earned must be spent exclusively with that carrier. Other cards offer points or generic miles that can be redeemed through the card issuer's website for travel across multiple airlines or hotels. 

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

Airline Credit Cards

Airline credit cards earn frequent flyer miles or points with their co-branded airline for regular card spending; cashback, miles or points can be pooled with those you receive when you fly. In addition to earning miles, cardholders usually earn elite status with the carrier's frequent flyer program to allow for higher priority boarding. The best rewards rate is typically for spending with the airline itself, although you may also be awarded extra points for spending in categories like dining or hotels. However, you won’t have much flexibility in where you can redeem or transfer your points.

The UnitedSM Explorer Card is a great example of this. While everyday purchases earn just one point per dollar, points are doubled when you use the card to book United flights, eat at restaurants, and stay in hotels. Cardholders also enjoy priority boarding and two single-use United Club℠ passes every year.

Hotel Credit Cards

Hotel credit cards award points with the co-branded hotel’s loyalty program on spending at the chain, and sometimes with brand partners, too. Like airline cards, there are often additional spending categories that earn bonus points to be redeemed with the hotel. Many hotel cards automatically confer elite status within the loyalty program, entitling cardholders to special privileges. 

For example, the Marriott Bonvoy BrilliantTM American Express® Card returns six points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels, plus an impressive three points per dollar spent at any U.S. restaurant and flights booked directly through the airline. Cardholders are given complimentary Gold Elite status with Marriott.

Fixed-Value Credit Cards or General Travel Credit Cards

General travel credit cards earn points or miles on purchases from any brand in select categories that might include flights, hotels, restaurants, and more. These points can be redeemed for travel, merchandise, and gift cards through the issuer’s rewards portal. Some provide automatic statement credits for specific travel-related purchases, such as incidental airline fees and TSA Pre-check or Global Entry application fees. Cardholders might also benefit from perks like rental car insurance and airport lounge memberships.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card offers three points per dollar spent on all travel and dining plus a $300 annual credit for travel expenses. While points can be converted into cashback or transferred to partner airline and hotel programs, they’re worth 50% more if you use them to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Reward portal.

What Credit Score Is Needed for a Travel Credit Card?

While there’s no specific credit score threshold that will guarantee approval for a travel card, most issuers expect to see impressive numbers. Each of the travel credit cards on our list has a minimum recommended score of 670 or higher. Some, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Marriott Bonvoy BrilliantTM American Express® Card, recommend an excellent credit score of at least 800.

If you need to improve your credit score before applying for a travel card, there are credit cards that are best credit for bad credit.

Is a Travel Rewards Card Right for Me?

Travel rewards credit cards can be an excellent tool to earn discounted trips to vacation destinations or help pay for essential travel. But they’re not for everyone. Weigh these upsides and downsides to decide if this card type works well for you:

Pros
  • Allows 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 benefit

Do Travel Rewards Credit Cards Have Annual Fees?

An annual fee is not a given, and the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is a travel credit card with no fee. 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 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 easily justify a sizable annual fee. The extra luxury benefits you enjoy with the card then might essentially seem to be free, though in reality they are subsidized by the annual membership fee itself.

How Do A Choose the Best Travel Rewards Credit Card?

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

Welcome Offer:

  • Can you realistically meet the spending requirements to earn the one-time bonus, if one is offered?
  • Would you be able to comfortably repay that spending without incurring interest charges?

Rewards Program:

  • Are you loyal to a particular card issuer, such as Chase or American Express, including having a points balance in their loyalty program?
  • 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?

Travel Benefits:

  • Are you looking for special card features like airport lounge access or rental car insurance?
  • Is elite status with a particular airline or hotel important to you, or do you book flights and hotels based on the least expensive option regardless of brand?

Fees:

  • 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?
  • Do you plan to travel to international destinations?

How Can I Maximize Rewards Earnings?

There are plenty of strategies to gain the most value possible from a particular card:

  • 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, 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.

Should I Get a Travel or Cash-Back Credit Card?

The key difference between travel credit cards and cash-back credit cards is the type of "currency" earned. 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. Travel cards also tend to carry an annual fee while the majority of cash-back cards do not.

If earning award travel appeals to you and your spending patterns justify paying an annual fee, you may get more value out of a travel rewards card. However, if you 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.

How We Chose the Best Travel 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. We weighed over 300 cards in our scoring database to find the best choices in categories like airline and hotel rewards and business travel. Since card bonuses, rewards, pricing, and features tend to evolve over time, and new cards continually enter the market, we revisit this list every month to make adjustments as needed.

Our travel credit scoring system is broken down into five categories: rewards, benefits, fees, security/customer experience, and interest. Within each category, we rate cards on a scale of 1 to 5, taking the weighted average of these ratings to arrive at an overall score for each travel credit card.

While we occasionally make adjustments to scoring categories and rankings, we ultimately believe that consumers are best served by travel credit 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

Meet Our Credit Cards Expert

Ben Woolsey is Investopedia's Senior Editor for Credit Cards. He has more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry, including marketing for banking and financial institutions such as Associates First Capital and Bank One. Prior to Investopedia, he managed credit card content for CreditCards.com and Bankrate.com.

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