Key takeaways

  • Travel credit cards can offer significant rewards and benefits for travelers, like complimentary checked baggage, airport lounge access, bonus points and elite status.
  • Some travel cards come with high annual fees, but you can offset the fee if you earn rewards, travel often and tap into your benefits.
  • If you don’t travel often or are still building your credit score, a travel credit may not be the right fit.

Whether you’re an experienced globetrotter or just entering your travel era, you can go even further with rewards from a travel credit card.

The annual fees for many travel cards  — which can get pricey — might make you wonder if a travel credit card is worth it. But earning points or miles toward flights and hotels, plus other card benefits, could sway your decision.

We’ll explore the pros and cons of travel credit cards, so you can find the right choice to fuel your next vacation.

Are travel cards worth it?

Travel cards require some strategy to maximize their value. To decide whether a travel card is worth it for you, weigh the pros and cons below.

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  • Points or miles on travel purchases
  • Travel benefits
  • Flexible rewards redemption
  • Authorized user perks
  • Welcome bonuses
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  • High annual fees
  • Difficult to maximize value
  • High credit score requirements
  • Fluctuations in rewards value
  • High APRs

Pros of travel credit cards

From saving on trips to traveling in style, there’s a lot to love about travel credit cards. Here are some of the advantages of a travel card:

Points or miles on travel purchases

Travel credit cards let cardholders earn bonus points or miles on travel purchases like airfare, hotels, car rentals, trains, taxis and rideshares. These rewards are appealing and easy to maximize for frequent travelers.

Depending on the card, you could earn anywhere from 3X to 10X points or miles per dollar on travel-related purchases. To earn rewards on airfare and hotels, you may have to book through your card issuer’s travel portal.

Once you have a stash of points or miles, you can put your rewards toward your next trip. Many people have traveled the world on credit card points. For instance, you might redeem your rewards for a business-class flight to the Maldives or a luxury hotel stay in Miami.

“I do my best to maximize every single dollar I spend,” says Genni Franklin, travel blogger. She has 16 credit cards in her wallet.

“I’m strategic about which card I use for my everyday purchases so that I’m earning at least 2X on every purchase, but most of the time it’s at least 3X,” Franklin says. “This gives me the best bang for my buck for stuff that I was going to buy anyway.”

Travel benefits

Many travel cards come with perks like airport lounge access or elite status through an airline or hotel loyalty program, which can make long layovers and hotel stays more pleasant. These benefits can help offset the card’s annual fee.

For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card offers complimentary access to Delta Sky Club lounges when flying Delta-operated or Delta-marketed flights. You’ll also get four annual guest passes. (Effective February 1, 2025, Reserve card members will receive 15 visits per year to the Delta Sky Club.)

Other benefits include a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, a first checked bag free on Delta flights (for up to nine travelers on the same reservation), a Delta companion certificate (available each year after card renewal; additional terms apply) and more.

The card comes with an annual fee of $650. Considering that the Delta Sky Club membership alone costs $695 per year, it might be worth it for frequent Delta travelers to get this card.

Here are some travel card benefits to look for:

  • Having elite status with airlines or hotels can make your travels more comfortable — and save you a ton of cash. Airline elite status may offer you privileges like free checked bags, free upgrades and priority boarding. Likewise, hotel elite status often comes with perks like:
    • Free room upgrades
    • Late checkout
    • Meal credits
    • Free breakfast
    • Annual free night awards at hotels
    Some travel cards offer these perks directly to cardholders — so you might not even need elite status. And while you may have to work your way up to elite status with a travel card, hotel credit cards and airline credit cards usually offer some level of status to their cardholders.
  • Global Entry and TSA PreCheck are programs that let you skip the line when returning to the U.S. from abroad or going through airport security, respectively. It costs $100 to apply for Global Entry and $77.95 to $85 to apply for TSA PreCheck.

    Many travel credit cards offer a statement credit to cover your application fee for these programs, including:
  • Some cards offer annual travel statement credits from $100 to $300 that cover a wide range of travel purchases. These credits can offset high annual fees on premium travel cards. For instance, the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card charges a $395 annual fee but offers an annual $300 Capital One travel credit.
  • Many credit cards, including travel cards, offer travel insurance that covers things like trip cancellation, delayed baggage and car rental damage. This coverage can help prevent you from paying for additional insurance or losing money on a travel mishap.

Flexible rewards redemption

There’s more than one way to redeem your travel points or miles. Many of the best travel rewards cards allow you to transfer your points or miles to airline or hotel partners, often at a higher redemption value. You could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars using your points and miles for hotels, airfare and upgrades — beyond what most cash back cards can give you.

Travel cards also tend to have issuer travel portals where you can use your points or miles to book travel. While these portals don’t always offer the best value, some do offer bonuses. Plus, they tend to be a straightforward way to redeem rewards.

“I believe that flexible and transferrable travel rewards points are the best way to maximize my spending,” Franklin says. “There have been times when I’ll apply for a credit card because of other benefits like airport lounge access, but it’s almost always a credit card that earns flexible and transferrable travel rewards.”

Authorized user perks

Your travel partner doesn’t have to feel left out while you tap into card perks. Travel cards may extend benefits to authorized users, like airport lounge access. Some cards don’t charge a fee for adding an authorized user, but others do.

If you want company on your next trip without the commitment of an authorized user, you might be able to earn an airline companion pass with your co-branded travel card. That means your friend or family member gets a free or discounted flight alongside your ticket purchase.

Welcome bonuses

One of the best ways to get yourself closer to a free flight or hotel stay is applying for a new travel credit card and meeting the requirements to earn the welcome bonus.

For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers a welcome bonus of up to 80,000 points after you spend $8,000 within six months of account opening — worth $800 when redeemed through American Express Travel. However, Bankrate’s points and miles valuations place Amex points at around $0.02 each on average when redeemed with high-value transfer partners. This type of redemption could boost the offer’s value to $1,600 in travel.

“If I’m going to get a new rewards credit card, it has to be because I’m going to get a good welcome bonus,” Franklin says. “I will never put myself in a situation where I apply for a new credit card without a plan to meet that minimum spend.”

I like to make sure that the points I will be earning can be easily redeemed for travel. That’s what I value most.

— Genni FranklinTravel blogger at Traveling Franklins

Cons of travel credit cards

Here are some of the risks of a travel card to consider before you apply:

High annual fees

Premium travel credit cards can come with hefty annual fees, like the Amex Platinum’s annual fee of $695. To get the full value out of a pricey travel rewards card, you’ll want to make good use of the benefits. But if you don’t travel often, it might be hard to get your money’s worth.

Luxury travel cards aren’t for everyone, and you could reap the benefits of a travel card without a sky-high annual fee. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card — one of the best beginner travel rewards cards — has an annual fee of just $95 and comes with perks that outweigh the cost. There are even travel cards without annual fees, like the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card.

“I don’t put as much spending as I could on my Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card, so I’m losing out on rewards value,” says Ariana Arghandewal, Bankrate contributor. “The card has a $450 annual fee and offers generous category bonuses that I’m not utilizing.”

“However, I will keep it in my wallet for two reasons: Hilton Diamond status and the annual free weekend night award. Both perks provide me with exceptional value,” she explains.

Difficult to maximize value

Maximizing your travel rewards card can take research and strategy. Ensuring your rewards don’t expire and scouring through the terms and conditions to secure each benefit can feel like a full-time job, especially if you have more than one travel credit card.

If you don’t travel often, a travel card likely isn’t worth it. You won’t be able to take advantage of the benefits — like statement credits for hotel stays and airline fees — or earn bonus points or miles for travel purchases. And redeeming your rewards for cash back instead of travel means you’ll exchange those points for a lower value.

Franklin shares: “If I could go back in time with the information I have now, I would have approached it differently. I would have prioritized my efforts on more flexible and transferrable travel rewards rather than sticking to cash back, hotel or airline credit cards.”

High credit score requirements

Most travel credit cards require a good to excellent credit score from 670 to 850. If you don’t have a credit score of at least 700 or any credit history at all, you’ll probably need to build your credit before applying for a travel card.

But “having more credit cards has only improved my credit score,” Franklin says. “My credit score with Experian is 848 and the highest is 850. I treat my credit cards like debit cards and always pay the statement off on time and in full.”

Fluctuations in rewards value

Many airlines and hotels regularly revamp their loyalty programs, so what you can get with your points and miles may change. Sometimes these fluctuations can make your points and miles worth more, but often it makes them worth less.

Stockpiling rewards until you earn enough for your dream vacation is one thing, but don’t sit on a huge rewards balance forever. By using them quickly, you can avoid future devaluations from airlines and hotels.

High APRs

Travel credit cards are only worth it if you can pay off your bill in full each month. Like most rewards cards, travel cards tend to have high annual percentage rates (APRs). Premium travel cards can have a variable APR of up to 30 percent, compared to the average credit card APR of just above 20 percent.

Paying high interest rates on a balance will outweigh the value of any travel rewards. If you struggle to pay your balance every month, consider a card with a lower APR.

Should you get a travel credit card?

Before you apply for a travel credit card, consider these aspects of your lifestyle and finances:

  • Spending habits: If you travel often and can earn rewards on travel-related category bonuses, you’ll get plenty of value from a travel card. But if you tend to spend money locally on dining and entertainment — or if you only put a few hundred dollars monthly on a card — a cash back card might be a better option.
  • Cheaper alternatives: Many cardholders love the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card for its luxury benefits. But if you don’t use the perks, the $395 annual fee isn’t worth it. If a high annual fee isn’t in your budget, consider low- or no-annual-fee cards.
  • Travel goals: Are you the type to visit faraway destinations in luxury hotels, or do you prefer driving to a remote campsite for the weekend? Travel cards are ideal for aspirational travelers who can frequently tap into the card’s benefits and value on flights and hotels. Consider whether points, miles or alternative rewards like cash back could get you where you want to go.

In addition, here are a few questions that Franklin asks herself before applying for a new travel card: “How long has it been since I got a new credit card? Do I have a big purchase coming up? Are there any welcome bonuses that I can benefit from? Will this credit card earn me points that I can easily use for future travel?”

When getting a travel credit card makes sense

Here’s when a travel card might be right for you:

  • Your credit is in great shape
  • You pay off your statement balance in full each month
  • You’re already a frequent traveler or want to travel more often
  • An annual fee doesn’t bother you if the rewards outweigh it
  • You’re detail-oriented and have time to max out the perks and benefits

When getting a travel credit card doesn’t make sense

Here’s when a travel card might not be a good fit for you:

  • Sticking to a budget is difficult
  • You don’t spend much on your credit card
  • You only travel a couple times a year
  • You don’t like annual fees
  • Past credit mistakes are negatively affecting your credit
  • Maximizing your rewards seems too complicated
  • You usually carry a balance on your credit card

The bottom line

The best travel credit cards can get you to your next destination in style — as long as you’re able to maximize the rewards and benefits. But if you don’t travel often or are still building your credit score, another type of card might be a better fit.

Bankrate’s CardMatch tool can help you find the right travel card for your spending. Plus, it calculates your approval odds before you apply — although the issuer always has the final say on any application, regardless of approval odds. Once you’ve found a travel credit card that you love, you can start earning rewards and traveling in no time.