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Author: Bankrate Staff | Last Updated: September 13, 2018
Bankrate uses a proprietary scoring matrix devised by our experts to study 300 credit cards and award our unique Bankrate score. Each card is assessed to generate a final score out of 100. We have devised this method to cut through the fine print and help you find the card that’s right for you.
Our experts devised a scoring matrix to shine the light on the best travel rewards credit cards. Each card has been evaluated based on certain attributes: The annual fee, foreign transaction fees, rewards value, sign-up bonus, APR, and any extras or discounts. We then weight each category accordingly to give us the final score. For travel rewards credit cards we have focused more heavily on travel rewards, foreign transaction fees, the cards’ annual fee, and any other discounts or perks.
|Card Name||Rewards Rate||Annual Fee|
|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 miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1x mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases||$99, waived for the first year|
|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||$0|
|Discover it® Miles||Unlimited 1.5x miles per $1 spent||$0|
|Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card||1.25x miles on every purchase. Plus 10x miles on thousands of hotels at hotels.com/venture||$0|
|Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card||1.5 points per $1 spent||$0|
|Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express||3x points on flights booked directly with airlines. 2x points at US restaurants, US gas stations, and at US supermarkets. 1X points on everything else||$195, waived for the first year|
|Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®||2x AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1x miles on everything else||$450|
|Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card||3 miles per $1 spent on the airline, 1x mile on everything else||$75|
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.
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. 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 cards.
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.
The Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard is the middle tier of three 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.
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.
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.
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. If you hate the idea of paying an annual fee, and you often spend on hotel stays, this card is a good choice.
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.
If you fly frequently and want to earn maximum points then the Premier Rewards Gold Card is a great option. Despite the card’s steep annual fee ($195, waived for the first year), it offers the right user a lot of value. Its 3x Membership Rewards points per $1 spent on airfare (purchases made directly with the airlines), is hard to beat. On top of that, the card has a lot of travel-centric features like $100 incidental airline credit with an airline of your choosing, $75 hotel credit on qualifying charges when available with The Hotel Collection, and auto and luggage protections.
Anyone who aspires to attain tourist status in multiple time zones can benefit from this card’s Famous Companion Fare offer. If you buy one round-trip coach ticket on Alaska Airlines you can get a second companion ticket for $99 plus taxes and fees which start at $22. This could save you hundreds, if not thousands off the price of a ticket. The offer is only available to holders of an Alaska Airlines credit card and it renews every year.
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.
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:
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.
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.
* See the online application for details about terms and conditions for these offers. Every reasonable effort has been made to maintain accurate information. However all credit card information is presented without warranty. After you click on the offer you desire you will be directed to the credit card issuer's web site where you can review the terms and conditions for your selected offer.