Best for your first travel card

Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5X Earn 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3X Earn 3X points on dining.
  • 2X Earn 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.
Intro bonus
60,000 points 
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)
Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5X Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get our best prices on thousands of trip options
  • 2X Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
Intro bonus
60,000 miles 
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for flexible travel miles with no annual fee

Apply now
On Capital One's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5X Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get our best prices on thousands of trip options
  • 1.25X Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.
Intro bonus
20,000 miles 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
14.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for travel rewards on everyday purchases

Apply now
On Citi's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 3X Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • 3X Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • 1X Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
Intro bonus
80,000 points 
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for qualifying travel purchases

Apply now
On Bank of America's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 1.5X Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire.
Intro bonus
25,000 points 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for international travel

Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 10X Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • 5X Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
  • 5X Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
Intro bonus
100,000 points 
Annual fee
$695
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best first-year miles bonus

Apply now
On Discover's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 1.5X Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.
Intro bonus
Discover Match® 
Annual fee
$0
Regular APR
11.99% - 22.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for travel rewards on dining

Apply now
On American Express's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 4X Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery.
  • 4X Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • 3X Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
Intro bonus
60,000 points 
Annual fee
$250
Regular APR
See Pay Over Time APR
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best for extra points value

Apply now
On Chase's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 10X Earn 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 5X Earn 5X total points on air travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • 3X Earn 3X points on other travel and dining.
  • 1X Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
Intro bonus
50,000 points 
Annual fee
$550
Regular APR
16.99%-23.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Excellent (740 - 850)

Best Bank of America travel card

Apply now
On Bank of America's secure site
Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 2X Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 you spend on travel and dining purchases.
  • 2X Earn 2 points for every $1 spent on grocery store purchases - now through 12/31/21.
  • 1.5X Earn 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all other purchases.
Intro bonus
50,000 points 
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Recommended credit
Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

Best travel card for fair credit

Apply now
On Credit One Bank's secure site
See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply
Rewards rate
  • 5x Earn 5x points on eligible Recreational & Amusement Park purchases
  • 3x Earn 3x on eligible restaurant & lodging purchases
  • 1x Earn 1x points on all other purchases
Intro bonus
N/A
Annual fee
$95
Regular APR
23.99% Variable
Recommended credit
Fair to Good (580 - 740)

The information about the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, the United MileagePlus® Club Card and Radisson Rewards™ Premier Visa has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.


In the news today: Is the American Express Platinum worth its increased annual fee?

A longtime frontrunner in the premium travel card game, The Platinum Card® from American Express recently announced some changes to its terms and conditions. The kicker: The annual fee is now $695 instead of $550. Amex softened the blow with some new perks, but some cardholders are debating whether to keep or cancel their Amex Platinum Card.


Compare the best travel credit cards of 2021

Card Name Best For Rewards Rate Bankrate Review Score
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Your first travel card 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining and 2X points on all other travel purchases, 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Overall travel 2x miles per every dollar spent 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card Flexible travel miles with no annual fee 1.25x miles per dollar on every purchase 3.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Citi Premier® Card Travel rewards on everyday purchases 3X points on hotel, air travel, restaurant, supermarket and gas station purchases 3.6 / 5
(Read full card review)
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card Qualifying travel purchases 1.5x points on qualifying purchases 3.8 / 5
(Read full card review)
The Platinum Card® from American Express International travel 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.) 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Discover it® Miles Best first-year miles bonus 1.5x miles for every dollar on every purchase 3.8 / 5
(Read full card review)
American Express® Gold Card Travel rewards on dining 4X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants (Annual Fee: $250) 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Sapphire Reserve® Best for extra points value 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card Bank of America travel card 2 points on travel and dining purchases; 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other purchases. Plus, earn 2 points for every $1 spent on grocery store purchases – now through 12/31/21. 4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)
Credit One Bank® Wander™ Card Travel card for fair credit 5X points on eligible recreational and amusement park purchases, which includes national parks and professional sporting events, 3X points on eligible restaurant and lodging purchases (including campgrounds) and 1X points on all other purchases. 3.0 / 5
(Read full card review)

A closer look at Bankrate’s top travel credit cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Best for your first travel card

  • This card is best for: Anyone who wants to explore the ins and outs of travel credit cards, with rewards and benefits that also make it a practical experience.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Those who want premium travel perks such as airport lounge access or free checked bags.
  • What makes this card unique? The Chase Sapphire Preferred has an outstanding sign-up bonus, particularly for a $95 annual fee travel card. You earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening (worth $750 when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards).
  • Is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card worth it? The rewards program makes it fairly easy to get your money’s worth with this card (plus 25 percent points value when you redeem for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards online portal).
  • Compare this card with: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Read our full Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Best overall travel card

  • This card is best for: Those who want to earn flat-rate rewards on all eligible purchases, even those not directly related to travel, and the option of transferring their rewards to travel partners.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Anyone who’s fiercely loyal to a single airline or hotel chain.
  • What makes this card unique? Several Capital One travel partners offer instant transfers and a few others have turnaround times of less than 36 hours. Although individual results may vary, long waits should be rare.
  • Is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card worth it? The $95 fee isn’t unreasonable compared with many competing travel cards, and you get some valuable Visa Signature perks.
  • Compare this card with: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Read our full Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Best for flexible travel miles with no annual fee

  • This card is best for: Those with modest travel schedules who don’t want to worry about maximizing rewards to offset an annual fee.
  • This card is not a great choice for: If you fly exclusively with one airline or stay exclusively at one hotel chain, you can probably get more value out of a co-branded airline or hotel card.
  • What makes this card unique? Capital One’s virtual assistant Eno, whose features include account monitoring and fraud alerts, could come in particularly handy if you encounter the unexpected while you’re traveling. Eno is accessible through your phone and other compatible devices, making it a good fit for on-the-go access.
  • Is the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card worth it? Although it’s not a premium-level card, budget-minded travelers who want the flexibility of transferring points to travel partners might find it suitable.
  • Compare this card with: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Read our full Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Citi Premier® Card

Best for travel rewards on everyday purchases

  • This card is best for: Travelers who want to earn better-than-average rewards rates in a variety of travel and non-travel categories. Restaurant, supermarket and gas station purchases earn the same 3X points per $1 as air travel and hotel purchases.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who like getting a rewards boost from the issuer’s travel portal. As of April 2021, you no longer get a 25-percent increase in the value of ThankYou Points when you redeem for travel through the Citi Travel Center.
  • What makes this card unique? The Citi Entertainment® program, offering special access to concerts, sporting events and more, could be a handy way to fill out your travel itinerary.
  • Is the Citi Premier® Card worth it? This card might not travel in the same circles as elite-level cards, but the variety of rewards-earning purchase categories could take the edge off the $95 annual fee. Don’t forget the annual $100 hotel savings credit on a single hotel stay of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, when you book through thankyou.com.

Read our full Citi Premier® Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

Best for qualifying travel purchases

  • This card is best for: Anyone who prefers a broader definition of “travel expense.” With this card, purchases redeemable for statement credits include zoos, art galleries, aquariums, travel agencies and more.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Travelers who want luxury perks and special rewards categories that offer bonus rates (this card earns 1.5 points per $1 on all qualifying purchases).
  • What makes this card unique? When you use this card to book airfare, hotels and rental cars through the Bank of America Travel Center, the rewards rate jumps from 1.5 points per $1 to 3 points per $1.
  • Is the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card worth it? The broad range of travel purchases redeemable for statement credits is a nifty wrinkle. However, some travelers will prefer a more high-octane card even if it charges an annual fee, which this one doesn’t.
  • Compare this card with: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Read our full Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card review.
Jump back to offer details.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Best for international travel

  • This card is best for: People who want high-level perks, such as access to a worldwide network of luxurious airport lounges, to take the edge off of international travel.
  • This card is not a great choice for: People who never (or rarely) venture overseas and view travel as transportation, not an experience.
  • What makes this card unique? During your first 6 months as a new cardholder, you’ll earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the card at restaurants worldwide and when you shop small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases. Despite the relatively short window, that rate and spending limit are among the highest you’ll find with any rewards card.
  • Is The Platinum Card® from American Express card worth it? The $695 annual fee really grabs your attention, but the Fine Hotels & Resorts® benefits add great value to the card. Keep in mind, that perk is just one of several ways to offset the fee.
  • Compare this card with: Citi Prestige® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

Read our full The Platinum Card® from American Express review.
Jump back to offer details.

Discover it® Miles

Best for earning unlimited miles

  • This card is best for: Travelers who dislike complex redemption programs and are content to redeem for statement credits they can apply to recent travel purchases.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Anyone who wants the higher rewards rates and richer perks that come with a premium travel card.
  • What makes this card unique? Discover will match every Mile you’ve earned at the end of your first year owning the card. It’s like earning 3 Miles per $1 instead of 1.5 per $1 during your first year as a cardholder.
  • Is the Discover it® Miles card worth it? It’s simple, the miles you can earn are unlimited and there’s no annual fee. This card is a good choice if you prefer function over flash.

Read our full Discover it® Miles review.
Jump back to offer details.

American Express® Gold Card

Best for travel rewards on dining

  • This card is best for: Travelers who, like an army, travel on their stomachs. The rewards rate on dining at restaurants and Uber Eats sets the table for earning a lot of points.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Those who want flexibility in booking flights without sacrificing rewards. This card’s 3X rate on travel applies only to flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com
  • What makes this card unique? If you think plain old gold just doesn’t stand out enough, you can choose the “Rose Gold” tint. It’s an easy and aesthetically pleasing way to add a little more prestige to an already prestigious card.
  • Is the American Express® Gold Card worth it? On one hand, it has a $250 annual fee. On the other hand, it has generous rewards rates, up to $120 in annual dining credits (enrollment required) and up to $120 in annual Uber Cash toward U.S. Rides and U.S. Eats orders, among other perks (add your card to your Uber app account and you’ll automatically get $10 in Uber Cash that expire at the end of each month).
  • Compare this card with: The Platinum Card® from American Express.

Read our full American Express® Gold Card review.
Jump back to offer details.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Best for extra points value

  • This card is best for: Travelers who want maximum points value with only one small string attached: You can boost the value of your points by 50 percent when you redeem for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Casual, infrequent travelers uninterested in the mental calculations required to balance the value of rewards and perks against a $550 annual fee.
  • What makes this card unique? The perks include access to not one but two luxury booking experiences: The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection℠ and Relais & Châteaux.
  • Is the Chase Sapphire Reserve® worth it? If you’re a serious traveler looking for a serious rewards card, this credit card is one of the industry’s all-stars.
  • Compare this card with: The Platinum Card® from American Express.

Read our full Chase Sapphire Reserve® review.
Jump back to offer details.

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card

Best Bank of America travel card

  • This card is best for: Frequent travelers who are also Bank of America Preferred Rewards members.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Those who want premium travel perks such as airport lounge access and don’t want their choice of bank to dictate their choice of travel card.
  • What makes this card unique? The Premium Benefits included with this card include Warranty Manager, which does more than the dry-sounding name implies. It doubles the length of the manufacturers’ warranty (up to one additional year) for eligible items purchased with your card.
  • Is the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card worth it? Membership in the Preferred Rewards program (which involves having sizable deposit or investment accounts with BofA) is the key to unlocking this card’s maximum value. If that perk doesn’t apply to you, the travel card market has many appealing alternatives.

Read our full Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card review.
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Credit One Bank® Wander™ Card

Best travel card for fair credit

  • This card is best for: People who have fair-to-good credit and are looking to earn decent rewards on travel.
  • This card is not a great choice for: Anyone looking to avoid an annual fee or people who prefer to earn rewards on flight travel versus outdoor recreational activities.
  • What makes this card unique? Cardholders can earn a substantial 5X points on eligible recreational and amusement park purchases (including national parks and professional sporting events). There’s also a unique new card member offer of an $80 statement credit when you purchase a qualifying National Park pass with your Wander card in the first year.
  • Is the Credit One Bank® Wander™ Card worth it? If you enjoy a lot of outdoorsy activity like camping or visiting national parks, this card offers some great benefits. However, if you want to avoid an annual fee or you’re more into flight travel, there may be a better fit out there for you.

Read our full Credit One Bank® Wander™ Card review.
Jump back to offer details.


What is a travel credit card?

Travel credit cards allow cardholders to earn points or miles on a variety of purchases (typically travel-related) that can then be redeemed in the form of travel bookings, statement credits, gift cards, and more.

The best travel credit cards do more than help you foot the bill for your next flight — they’ll also offer perks to upgrade your entire travel experience. Trip insurance, annual travel credits, concierge services and lounge access are all common benefits. Airline and hotel co-branded credit cards sometimes offer specific discounts and perks for loyalty program members.

Bankrate experts offer an in-depth look at the best travel credit cards available from our partners, as well as general advice on getting the very most out of your travel experience.

Different types of travel rewards credit cards

As with other types of cards, travel credit cards offer you a lot of variety to choose from. To zero in on which card might best fit your needs, consider the different categories of travel cards.

General travel cards

Issued by a credit card company, bank or other financial business, a general-purpose travel card typically offers the most flexibility for how you choose to travel and redeem your rewards. The easiest option is to redeem rewards directly through the issuer’s travel program, which ensures they’ll always have the same value. However, some cards also let you transfer rewards to the issuer’s travel partners (usually airlines and hotel chains but sometimes cruise lines as well).

Examples: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express

Ideal for: Travelers who want flexibility in earning and redeeming their rewards and aren’t necessarily loyal to particular airlines or hotels

Co-branded airline cards

A travel card co-branded by an airline and a credit card issuer is known as an airline rewards card. You can earn miles or points by using the card to book flights with the airline, make in-flight purchases and so on. You redeem the rewards through the airline’s loyalty program.

Examples: Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Ideal for: Travelers exclusively loyal to a certain airline

Co-branded hotel cards

A co-branded hotel credit card is similar to an airline card, except with a hotel chain instead of an airline. Likewise, using the card to book stays at the hotel’s properties earns points that you redeem through the hotel loyalty program.

Examples: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card

Ideal for: Travelers exclusively loyal to a certain hotel chain

How do points and miles work on travel credit cards?

The rewards you earn with a travel card can take the form of points or miles depending on the card and the rewards program. Some cards might use the terms points and miles interchangeably, but in any case they refer to specific units of “currency” that you can earn and redeem.

Earning: Each dollar you spend on eligible purchases is worth a fixed amount of points or miles. Credit cards and loyalty programs assign different values per purchase, including flat rates across the board or tiered rates for special purchase categories.

Redeeming: Redeeming miles and points to pay for travel usually provides the most value. Many credit cards and loyalty programs offer the option to redeem for cash back, merchandise or gift cards, but in most cases you won’t get the same bang for your buck.

How travel miles work

Travel miles are usually associated with an airline frequent flyer program. You can earn these “air miles” by using an airline card to book flights with the co-branded airline or, depending on the card, by making other kinds of eligible purchases.

Some general-purpose travel cards also use miles as their reward currency without tying them to a single airline or hotel brand.

The most common way of redeeming air miles is to use them for free flights, sometimes called award flights. Some airlines have established award charts that give you insight into what each flight would cost in miles. Others have switched to a dynamic pricing model that bases award pricing on multiple factors, including seasonality and route popularity.

Want to learn more? Read our full guide to earning and redeeming frequent flyer miles.

How travel points work

Travel points tend to come in two varieties: all-purpose points earned with non-branded cards and points earned with co-branded hotel cards. You earn points by using your card to book travel and make other eligible purchases.

Co-branded hotel points are typically redeemed for free nights at that particular hotel chain. All-purpose points offer more flexibility in how you redeem them since they aren’t tied to any single brand. Depending on the card, your options could include redeeming points for statement credits to help pay for previous travel purchases, booking current travel purchases or transferring them to the issuer’s hotel and airline partners.

Want to learn more? Read our full guide to credit card points

What are points and miles worth?

Here are the October 2021 valuations for some of the leading credit card issuers and travel loyalty programs from The Points Guy. You can click on the program names to see Bankrate’s expert advice and analysis.

(Note – These valuations are not provided by card issuers.)

Program October 2021 Value (cents)
Alaska Mileage Plan 1.8
American Airlines AAdvantage 1.4
American Express Membership Rewards 2.0
Bank of America 1.0
Best Western Rewards 0.7
Capital One 1.85
Chase Ultimate Rewards 2.0
Citi ThankYou Points 1.7
Delta SkyMiles 1.1
Hilton Honors 0.6
IHG Rewards Club 0.5
JetBlue TrueBlue Rewards 1.3
Marriott Bonvoy 0.8
Radisson Rewards 0.4
Southwest Rapid Rewards 1.5
United MileagePlus 1.3
Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards 1.5
World of Hyatt Loyalty Program 1.7

Who should get a travel credit card?

There’s a card out there for every type of traveler. A travel credit card can be worthwhile for the following people:

Pros and cons of travel credit cards

Although a well-chosen travel card can pay huge dividends, it might not be the right move for every traveler. Before you apply, take time to weigh the benefits vs. the drawbacks.

Pros of travel cards

  • Rewards optimized for travel. Rewards categories are often designed to earn more points or miles for purchases directly related to travel, mainly expenses such as airfare, hotel rooms, rental cars and more.
  • Travel-friendly benefits. Many travel cards offer perks such as travel insurance, free checked bags and credits for Global Entry and TSA Precheck.
  • High reward rates. Travel credit cards typically have some of the most generous rewards rates. It’s not uncommon to see travel purchases earn 5, 6 or 7 points or miles per dollar, and in some cases higher.
  • The convenience of travel portals. Many card issuers have their own online travel portals where you can book travel and redeem your rewards toward those purchases in one session.

Cons of travel cards

  • Credit score requirements. The typical baseline credit score requirement for a travel card is good to excellent, which could make it difficult to qualify with a credit score below 670.
  • Using rewards can be complex. Redeeming rewards and transferring miles or points to travel partners can require some effort on your part. You’ll frequently have to calculate points, check for eligibility requirements for flights and hotel stays and otherwise navigate your way through the process to get full value for your rewards.
  • Annual fees are common, and occasionally quite high. Some of the top travel credit cards have annual fees starting in the $95 to $100 range. Upper-tier hotel and airline cards and luxury travel cards could have annual fees exceeding $200 or even $500.
  • Losing value on non-travel redemptions. This factor represents the other side of the coin of cards optimized for travel. Points or miles frequently lose value if you redeem them for cash back, gift cards or merchandise rather than travel.
Bankrate insight
Airbnb and VRBO offer travelers the feeling of a home away from home, but that’s not all. You can also earn miles or points if you book your stay with travel cards that reward eligible vacation rentals.

How to choose a travel credit card

A good travel credit card can help make traveling easier and more affordable. The best travel credit cards help cardholders earn free or heavily discounted trips, assist in the event of a travel emergency and keep fees to a minimum (or skip them all together). With the right information, you can find the best travel credit card for you and your travel habits. When deciding on a travel credit card, keep these questions in mind.

Do you have an airline or hotel preference?

A co-branded credit card will carry the name of a specific airline or hotel. You’ll get the most value out of its reward when redeeming them with that airline or hotel. While your options for redeeming points are limited, these cards also give you access to exclusive perks, like priority boarding or free room upgrades, with the carrier or chain in question.

If you’re not loyal to a specific hotel or airline brand, a general travel card gives you access to a more flexible rewards structure. They usually allow you to book travel with your points directly or book by redeeming points as a credit for a variety of travel-centric purchases, though you won’t get as many perks directly related to a particular airline or hotel. When deciding between a general or a co-branded card, really think about whether you frequent a specific brand or a wide variety of travel providers.

Does the card offer the travel protections you need?

Travel protections are an essential part of wisely planning a trip. A credit card that helps you protect your travel plans is a great investment. Many credit card issuers offer cards that provide protections like trip cancellation/interruption insurance, rental car coverage in case of an accident, emergency assistance, lost luggage insurance and concierge services. Be sure to look closely at a card’s travel protection offerings to determine what you need.

Can you offset the annual fee?

If you have a luxury travel card, chances are high that the card carries a steep annual fee that could be upwards of $500 a year. The card’s high cost can typically be offset by lucrative rewards and added perks, such as airport lounge access and free checked bags.

Before you receive a bill for your card’s annual fee, calculate whether it’s still worthwhile. Compare the cost of the annual fee to the value you receive from rewards, statement credit offers and added perks that you actually plan to use.

Does the card offer a sign-up bonus?

The windfall of points you can earn by putting a certain amount in purchases on the card in the first few months you have it is another important factor to consider. A good sign-up bonus could translate into free airfare or other travel purchases. As a rule of thumb, the higher the annual fee, the higher the sign-up bonus should be.

Sign-up bonuses aren’t quite as important as ongoing rewards, especially if you plan on keeping your card long term, but they can be a very beneficial perk. Before you sign up, ensure that you can reasonably cover the spending required to earn the bonus.

Bankrate insight
You might’ve heard that Tuesday is the best day of the week to book a flight, but Expedia’s 2021 Travel Trends Report says it’s actually Sunday. Booking on Sunday instead of Monday could save you 15 percent on domestic flights, according to the report, and you could save more than 20 percent on an international flight by booking on Sunday instead of Friday.

How can you tell if the annual fee is worth it?

Some of the top travel credit cards charge annual fees, which could range from less than $100 to more than $500. Before you make the commitment, it’s entirely reasonable to ask whether the card’s annual fee is worth the cost. Here are some tips that can help you judge a card’s overall value and put annual fee sticker shock in perspective:

Look for dollar values

Many travel cards make an attempt to specify how much money the features and benefits could be worth. Take The Platinum Card from American Express, for example. The card has a $695 annual fee, but Amex assigns estimated dollar values to benefits such as:

  • Complimentary benefits through American Express Travel
  • Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the U.S. annually (Uber Cash and Uber VIP status available to Basic Card Member and Additional Centurion Cards only)
  • Up to $300 Equinox Credit: Get up to $25 back each month on select Equinox memberships. Enrollment required.

Used to their full extent, these benefits could have a combined value well over the annual fee — quite a bit more than the $695 annual fee.

If a card lists the estimated cash value of its features and benefits, be sure to measure them against annual fees and other costs. The key is to be realistic about which benefits you’re likely to take advantage of (not everyone shops Saks Fifth Avenue, for example).

See what the benefits would cost separately

Do some comparison shopping to find out how much you might pay if you purchased benefits on your own instead of getting them included with a credit card.

In the case of airport lounge access, the cost of a Priority Pass membership could be higher than the annual fee for some of the top travel cards. As of May 2021, Priority Pass listed the following annual fees:

  • Standard — $99
  • Standard Plus — $299
  • Prestige — $429

Still, bear in mind that some of the details might differ between benefits purchased directly from the provider and benefits included with credit cards. Finding an apples-to-apples comparison could involve a lot of sifting through fine print.

It can also be difficult to judge monetary value for some benefits, such as travel insurance. Many credit cards offer some kind of travel protections without estimating a dollar value, and you would probably have to get a quote from an insurance provider to see what a travel policy could cost.

Use estimated point values

One of Bankrate’s affiliate sites, The Points Guy, estimates the value of points and miles and updates the numbers every month. These monthly valuations are calculated independently and not issued by the credit card companies or loyalty programs themselves.

Using the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card as an example, here’s how you can judge the relationship between annual fee and point value:

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

  • Annual fee: $95
  • 1 mile is worth 1.7 cents (The Points Guy)
  • 95 divided by .017 = 5,588.24
  • 5,588 miles = $95

Based on the value of the miles, you could cover the $95 annual fee by earning and then redeeming 5,588 miles at full estimated value. Since the card earns 2X miles on all eligible purchases, you would earn 5,588 miles by spending $2,794. Frequent travelers could spend that much in just two or three months.

Point value is just one of the criteria you should use to estimate the value of a travel card. Still, you can do some simple calculations on your own to get a better idea of how much the rewards you earn and redeem could offset an annual fee.

Bankrate insight
Airlines mishandled over 700,000 bags from January to June of 2021, according to the U.S Department of Transportation. Without travel insurance, consumers are typically on the hook for the cost of lost or delayed luggage. Consider a travel credit card that covers the cost of lost luggage in its travel insurance policy.

Travel credit cards vs. cash back credit cards

Credit card rewards generally come in two varieties: cash back or travel. It’s obvious that frequent travelers are better suited for travel credit cards, while those who tend to “staycation” wouldn’t find much value in points and miles. But there are more considerations you should make before applying — which type of rewards is worth more? Which is easier to manage?

You should get a travel credit card if…

  • You purchase plane tickets or hotel stays several times per year.
  • You want to strategically maximize the value of your rewards.
  • You don’t mind doing some research to understand the rewards system, including transfer partners and various redemption options.
  • Comparing and calculating the value of redemption options to find the best deals sounds like a fun challenge that’s worth the effort.
  • You’re comfortable with paying an annual fee (in many cases) in exchange for higher rewards rates and travel perks, such as airport lounge access or free checked bags.

You should get a cash back credit card if…

  • You don’t fly or stay in hotels very often.
  • You plan to use your card only occasionally.
  • You value a straightforward, easy-to-understand rewards system.
  • You like to know exactly how much your spending earns you in rewards value.
  • You want to avoid an annual fee (in many cases) without sacrificing a great rewards rate.

Want to learn more? Read our full guide on cash back vs. points and miles credit cards

Bankrate insight
Though most people plan to revive their travel habits in 2021, a recent Bankrate survey found that a full-fledged travel boom is unlikely this year, even as COVID-19 and travel restrictions recede. A full two-thirds of U.S. adults (66 percent) plan to do some traveling, but just 24 percent will do more than they would in a normal year. The top reason for Americans to travel in 2021? Spending time with friends and family.

How we chose our list of top travel rewards cards

Bankrate evaluates credit cards on a 5-star system that factors in attributes such as annual fees, APR, rewards value and welcome bonuses. To make our list of best travel rewards cards, our writers and editors pay particular attention to:

Rewards structure

The best travel card for you will allow you to earn the most rewards for your specific spending habits. The cards in our lineup cover a variety of programs geared toward hotel lodging, dining, air travel costs and other factors. In general, the best travel cards reward you with two to three points per dollar on bonus categories.

Travel perks

The top travel rewards cards offer travel-specific benefits that take the hassle out of travel. Some perks we looked for are designed to save you money, including trip cancellation insurance, delayed baggage insurance, rental car insurance, checked bag discounts and travel credits. Other perks are all about making your experience more comfortable, such as airport lounge access, flight and hotel upgrades and concierge service.

Annual fees

Annual fees are common among travel credit cards, but our top picks that charge these fees make it easy to get your money’s worth. Some luxury cards with very high annual fees might be worth the expense for frequent travelers who put a premium on comfort.

Sign-up bonus

Though long-term value should always be weighed the most heavily, travel credit cards often come with sign-up bonuses that can be worth a flight or two. We highlight the most competitive offers so that, all other factors equal, the better sign-up bonus can help you make a decision.

Foreign transaction fees

Foreign transaction fees can make or break the value of a travel credit card, especially if you travel outside the country often. This fee typically tacks on an extra 3% to purchases made overseas, so our top-rated travel cards tend to be of the no-foreign-transaction-fee variety.

Find out more about rewards cards for travelers


Video guide: What is a travel credit card?



Have more questions for our credit cards editors? Feel free to send us an email, find us on Facebook, or Tweet us @Bankrate.

Frequently Asked Questions

about the author
Former Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, personal loans, mortgages and other personal finance products since 2017. Before joining Bankrate, he was an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina.
about the editor
Mariah Ackary is a personal finance writer who specializes in credit card rewards and small business credit. Mariah is a lifelong writer, but she began writing about finance in 2018. She joined the Bankrate team in 2019, excited by the opportunity to directly help people make good financial decisions. Send your questions to mackary@bankrate.com ...

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