Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by Bankrate.com staff. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.
Author: Bankrate Staff | Last Updated: November 13, 2018
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In this article:
Best travel credit cards of 2018
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
||2x miles per every dollar spent
||$95, waived in the first year
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
||2x per $1 spent on dining and travel; 1x on everything else
||$95, waived the first year
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
||2x AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent at gas stations, at restaurants, and on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1x miles on everything else (terms apply)
||$99 (waived for the first 12 months)
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card
||3x points on eating out, ordering in, gas stations, rideshare spending, transit, travel (flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals). 1x points on everything else
|Discover it® Miles
||Unlimited 1.5x miles per $1 spent
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card
||1.25x miles on every purchase. Plus 10x miles on thousands of hotels at hotels.com/venture
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
||1.5 points per $1 spent
|American Express® Gold Card
||4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in spend each year, then 1X)
|Citi PremierSM Card
||3X points on travel & gas, 2X points on dining & entertainment
||$95, waived for the first 12 months
|The Platinum Card® from American Express
||5X Membership Rewards points on airline & hotel purchases
Why you should trust Bankrate
Bankrate’s team of experts have many years of experience providing great advice for every stage of your financial life. Whether you’re looking for help choosing a credit card or a personal loan, the crew here at Bankrate can help you with thoughtful and well-researched commentary. Finding the right travel credit card can be complicated because there are so many different types of travel rewards cards to choose from. From points and miles to co-branded airline or hotel cards, we cut through the noise to give you the information you will need to make an informed choice.
The travel cards industry is home to some of the most lucrative and expensive rewards cards. At Bankrate, we score each card out of 100 against our matrix, which was devised to take into account various card attributes, such as the card’s annual fee, rewards value, sign-up bonus, and any extras or discounts. However, everyone is unique: Just because a card has a lucrative welcome offer doesn’t mean it is the right card for your regular spending habits. Wherever possible, we have identified where we think a card will suit a particular type of spender or traveler.
- Travel rewards value: Travel rewards are the main motivation for travelers. Our scoring method measures the rewards structure, how you earn them, and how to make the most of them.
- Annual fee: An annual fee can give the cardholder access to rewards and benefits and many cards waive the fee for the first year. We assess the annual fee against the benefits to determine if the fee is worth it, how to best use the card to make back the expense of the annual fee, and what type of user would most benefit.
- Foreign transaction fees: A foreign transaction fee is usually around 3% of every purchase you make abroad. We assess the foreign transaction fees for our recommended travel cards to help you avoid the unwanted surprise extra charges.
- Extras and Discounts: Advantages such as no checking fee for baggage and trip insurance are useful benefits for travelers.
What is a travel rewards card?
A travel rewards card is a credit card where you earn rewards back on your spending that can be redeemed for travel expenses. So, similar to a cash-back card, you’ll earn a percentage back on your spending — in the form of points or miles — typically ranging from 1 percent to 5 percent. Some travel rewards cards let you use the rewards to book travel through their own Website, which is sometimes called a portal. Other cards let you book your travel any way you like and then will issue a statement credit toward the cost of your purchase by using your rewards. Hotel and airline co-branded cards typically have you apply the points or miles earned as a redemption for free or reduced cost flights or nights.
There is a big range in the travel rewards credit card space with some great no annual fee cards and some of the most expensive annual fees in the credit card industry. The most premium of these cards can offer a ton of travel-centric extras like annual flight credit, hotel credit, insurances, lounge access, and bonuses or discounts. These cards are often designed for frequent travelers valuing luxuries (like upgrades and lounge access) and business travelers who clock a lot of miles.
The best travel rewards cards will offer generous rewards rates and flexible redemption. Blackout dates and restrictions on when and where you can use your points and miles can reduce the real value of the card for you. Make sure to check out how your points or miles are redeemed to ensure that they work best for your travel habits.
The good news is that there is so much choice. If you travel a lot already or want to start turning your everyday spending into flights, hotel stays, or road trips then there will be a travel rewards card that suits you. Make sure that the points and miles you earn can be redeemed in the way you want and make use of the bonus features that often come with travel credit cards.
Editor’s notes on our picks for the best travel credit cards
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best overall travel credit card
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a straightforward travel rewards credit card that can help you earn points toward your next trip without having to worry about categories or caps on earning. Partnerships with a growing number of airline loyalty programs allow for exponential transfer value for earned miles, giving cardholders the ability to maximize their travel rewards with their favorite airlines. Factor in the modest annual fee that is waived in the first year, and the sign-up bonus valued at an estimated $500 in rewards, and you can see why this is Bankrate’s favorite travel credit card.
For a limited time, Capital One is offering a massive introductory bonus offer for new cardholders – 75,000 miles for spending $5,000 in the first three months of ownership. This bonus equates to more than $750 in travel benefits, with the flexibility Venture cardholders have come to enjoy. To find out more about this offer, visit Capital One or The Points Guy.
- Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months of card ownership.
- Earn 2 miles per dollar with no caps or expiration dates.
- Flexible rewards that can be redeemed on any airline, hotel, or rental car.
Read our full Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for your first travel credit card
If you’re ready to take the plunge and apply for your first travel rewards card, look no further. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card pays generous rewards of 2X the points on all dining and travel. Plus, Chase’s definition of travel includes expenses that other cards typically exclude like tolls, parking fees and ride-sharing costs.
- One of the best perks of this card is that rewards points take on 25% more value when used to book travel through the Chase portal. So, if you have 50,000 points saved, they’re worth $625 when you use them to book travel this way.
- The $95 annual fee is waived the first year, giving you 12 months to enjoy the card’s benefits for free.
- This card comes with auto and travel insurances and protections.
Read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred review.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®: Best for loyal AA travelers
The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard is one of two consumer credit cards offered in partnership between Citi and American Airlines. It offers modest travel perks, a nice sign-up bonus and fairly standard everyday rewards.
- Earn 40,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $2,000 within the first three months of opening your account. Earn another 10,000 bonus miles after spending $6,000 in the first 12 months.
- Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations and 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at restaurants.
- Earn 2 AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on eligible AA purchases, while earning 1 miles per $1 spent on everything else.
- Enjoy one free checked bag with every flight and priority boarding, along with other travel protections that come standard with many Citibank cards.
Read our full Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard review.
Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card: Best for dining out and gas spending
If your paycheck regularly goes on travel expenses like fueling up your car and on dining out then this could be the car for you. With high rewards rates, the Wells Fargo Propel card offers valuable rewards incentives on both restaurant spending and ordering in. So if you like getting pizza delivered to your door more than sit-down dinners, you will still be richly rewarded with 3x points.
- Earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
- Earn 3X points for eating out and ordering in, on gas station spending as well as for rideshares and transit.
- Earn 3X points for travel, which includes flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals.
- Earn 1X points on other purchases.
- There’s no annual fee with this card.
Read our full Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card review.
Discover it® Miles: Best for first-year bonus
With this card, you earn unlimited 1.5x miles on every dollar spent on all purchases, all for no annual fee. The best part? At the end of your first year, Discover will match all of the miles you have earned on your spending during the last 12 months. That means if you earn 40,000 miles at the end of your first year, you would get another 40,000 from Discover, that’s $800 towards travel. This card could help you fund your next flight or vacation stay.
- Unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar.
- Discover will match all the miles you earn in your first year automatically.
- No blackout dates – fly any airline, stay at any hotel.
- Redeem miles towards travel purchases.
Read our full Discover it Miles card review.
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card: Best for hotel stays
The Capital One VentureOne Rewards card is the little brother to the Capital One Venture card. It’s a great option for anyone looking for decent returns without paying an annual fee. Though the standard rewards rate isn’t the most competitive, you can earn 10x miles on bookings and purchases made through Hotels.com/Venture. To boot, Capital One is partnering with airlines all over the globe to offer miles transfer privileges for cardholders to maximize their miles. If you hate the idea of paying an annual fee, and you are a frequent flyer, this card is a good choice.
- 20,000-mile bonus ($200 in travel) after you spend $1,000 in the first three months.
- 1.25x miles on every dollar you spend with your VentureOne card.
- Flexible rewards, which means that miles can be redeemed for any hotel, airline, or car rental company (including travel discount sites).
- 10x points on purchases made with the card at Hotels.com/Venture.
Read our full Capital One VentureOne Rewards card review.
Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card: Best for no annual fee
If you’re looking for a no-fee card that pays decent and flexible travel rewards, you’ve found it. The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card pays an unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 spent. Your rewards never expire and can be used on any flight or any hotel without any blackout dates or other restrictions.
- Like any good travel rewards card, there are no foreign transaction fees on this card.
- This card comes with a 0% introductory APR on purchases for 12 billing cycles, after that, the regular variable APR is 16.99% – 24.99%.
- For anyone who already has a banking relationship with Bank of America, the rewards on this card go from decent to outstanding. Customer bonuses range from a 10% increase in points to as high as a 75% reward increase based on the total of your qualifying accounts.
Read our full Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card review.
American Express® Gold Card: Best for luxury travel and dining perks
The American Express Gold Card is a luxury travel card that comes with a solid rewards structure along with some uniquely valuable travel and dining perks. The $250 annual fee may seem like a relatively large price to pay for card ownership, but keep in mind that you will receive a $100 airline fee credit each year and that you can earn up to $120 each year by enrolling in a program that allows you to earn up to $10/mo. when you pay with your gold card. That is $220 in perks annually, not including the value of the points that you will earn with this card.
- New card owners will enjoy a whopping 20% back at U.S. restaurants, up to $100 back, within the first 3 months. Make sure to apply soon because this offer is only available for consumers who apply before 1/9/2019.
- Earn 4X Membership Rewards Points at both U.S. restaurants and U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 in purchases each year, then 1X. That’s up to 100,000 membership points!
- Earn 3X Membership Rewards Points when you book your flights directly through airlines or on amextravel.com.
Read our full American Express® Gold Card review.
Citi PremierSM Card: Best for entertainment rewards
The Citi Premier Card is a valuable credit card to have in your wallet if you spend a significant amount on both travel (including gas) and entertainment. There are tons of cards out there with rewards on one or the other, but this is a unique card that features both as bonus rewards categories. For the right consumer, this card has the potential to earn major rewards. Additionally, this card has an incredible sign-up bonus: spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of account opening to earn 50,000 points. Those 50,000 points are worth $625 in travel or $500 in giftcards when redeemed through Citi’s rewards portals.
- Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new card in the first 3 months.
- Citi Price Rewind gives you a refund (equivalent to the price difference) if you buy something and it is found for sale for a lower price within 60 days.
- Cardholders will enjoy member benefits like pre-sale access to some event tickets and travel insurance
Read Bankrate’s full Citi Premier Card review.
The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for big spenders
The Platinum Card from American Express is one of Bankrate’s highest rated cards. If you are a frequent traveler, the rewards structure and perks that this card offers justify the hefty annual fee.
- Up to $200/year for Uber rides
- Up to $200/year for airline incidentals (non-ticket costs)
- 5 Membership Rewards points 5X Membership Rewards points on airline & hotel purchases made directly through the airline or through Amex’s travel portal.
Read Bankrate’s full review of the Platinum Card from American Express.
Who should get a travel rewards card
It goes without saying but individuals who travel frequently for business or pleasure may benefit greatly from a travel card. Travelers can rack up frequent flier miles, discounts on car rentals and hotels, and receive other incentives when traveling, like lounge access or status benefits. These cards can also be a boon for those who travel overseas. Good travel rewards cards offer no foreign transaction fees, a perk that can keep you from racking up extra charges every time you swipe your card abroad. Foreign transaction fees are charges levied by the credit card issuer for transactions you make outside the U.S. and are usually around 3%.
Airline and travel cards are typically offered to individuals with good to excellent credit. You may not qualify if your credit is subpar. If your credit standing isn’t great, you should work on improving your score first before applying for a travel rewards card.
These cards offer the ability to earn miles for everyday purchases. Some even offer bonus miles and perks on hotel stays, saving you cash every time you’re away from home. That’s a plus. But many airline credit cards come with annual fees, and some are high enough that they can put a dent in the overall rewards you receive. This is especially true if you aren’t spending enough to earn bonuses or don’t pay off your balance each month, negating your rewards with interest payments.
Make sure to pay your bill in full and on time. A travel rewards card can be a great way to save money and enjoy other benefits just for spending the way you normally would. Anyone who typically carries a balance will likely fare better with a low-interest credit card over a travel rewards card as the value of any rewards are far likely to be outweighed by the interest charges accrued on your debt.
Types of travel rewards credit cards
There are many different types of travel rewards credit cards; from a co-branded airline or hotel card to luxury high-annual fee cards to basic travel rewards cards. No matter your spending level, if you’re looking for travel benefits there are plenty of options. Generally, travel rewards credit cards fall into one of the following categories:
- General purpose travel rewards cards. These cards earn flexible rewards that can be redeemed for multiple types of travel including airfare, hotels or rental cars. Some come with a low cost of ownership while others can cost hundreds of dollars but include plush perks and other extras.
- Co-branded travel rewards cards. These are cards offered in conjunction with a specific hotel or airline brand and usually include an enhanced rewards rate and other brand-specific perks like free checked luggage or free room upgrades. Usually, the higher the annual fee for the card, the greater the “extras” that come with ownership.
- Premium travel rewards cards. If a credit card charges you hundreds of dollars in annual fees, it’s likely to come with high-end perks and benefits. Examples of these bonuses include premium airport lounge access, increased rewards earning potential, annual travel credits that can reduce the overall cost of owning the card. These cards are best for those who travel often and can take full advantage of the extras.
Are you interested in a co-branded credit card so you can get points or miles with a specific frequent flyer or hotel rewards program? Read more about our top choices for each of those categories.
Which travel credit card is best for me?
Before choosing a travel rewards card consider your lifestyle. If you favor road tripping over globetrotting, you may prefer hotel rewards over airline ones. If you regularly commute for work, it might be best to choose a card that rewards gas or transit spending.
You also need to take a look at your budget, as even though some of pricier cards sound enticing, if you aren’t going to take advantage of the accompanying perks, it may not be the best card for you. Look at the amount of travel you plan to do and do the math on whether the additional perks that come with a high-annual fee card make sense for you. Finally, consider your travel goals and think about how a potential card’s earning power will help you attain that next trip.
If you’re torn between two cards that seem pretty similar, you may want to choose the one that offers a more valuable welcome bonus if you can meet the card’s minimum spending requirement. Some of the best travel rewards cards offer juicy introductory offers to lure you into applying. But, if there’s no value to you beyond that bonus, it may not be worth the cost of ownership over the long term.
How to redeem your travel rewards points
Each card has its own redemption program. Some issuers prefer that you book your rewards travel through their online Web portal, or by calling a rewards representative to book the travel for you. Other cards require you to book the travel first and then apply the redemption towards the cost of the trip as a statement credit. Still, other cards require enough rewards to pay for an entire trip while some let you use your rewards for partial payment.
Before applying for a travel rewards card, consider carefully the type of spender you are and how much travel you’re likely to do. If you rarely take a plane, a premium travel rewards airline card is likely not worth the high cost of ownership for you. But if you fly at least several times a year and typically with luggage, an airline card with a free checked baggage perk could save you hundreds of dollars a year.
Need to do more travel cards research?
If you still feel like you need to do more research to find the right credit card to fund your next vacation, we have plenty for you. Check out our reviews section (below) to browse through our reviews of every single major travel card on the market, and then some. Feel free to shoot us an email or message on social if you have any questions!