Best for your first travel card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now On Chase's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Welcome Offer: Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Purchase APR: 15.99%-22.99% Variable
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for overall travel

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
  • Welcome 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
  • Purchase APR: 17.24% - 24.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for flexible travel miles with no annual fee

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day.
  • Welcome Offer: Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Purchase APR: 15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for international travel

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Apply Now On American Express's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on your new Card at U.S. Gas Stations and U.S. Supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership. That’s an additional 9 points on top of the 1 point you earn for these purchases. Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. Starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Purchase APR: See Pay Over Time APR
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)

Best first-year miles bonus

Discover it® Miles

Apply Now On Discover's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.
  • Welcome Offer: Unlimited Bonus: Only Discover will automatically match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year. For example, if you earn 35,000 Miles, you get 70,000 Miles. There's no signing up, no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a Miles-for-Miles match.
  • Purchase APR: 11.99% - 22.99% Variable
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)

Best for extra points value

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Apply Now On Chase's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Purchase APR: 16.99%-23.99% Variable
  • Recommended Credit Score: Excellent  (740 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for qualifying travel purchases

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

Apply Now On Bank of America's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: 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.
  • Welcome Offer: 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
  • Purchase APR: 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for travel rewards on everyday purchases

Citi Premier® Card

Apply Now On Citi's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Purchase APR: 15.99% - 23.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for travel rewards on dining

American Express® Gold Card

Apply Now On American Express's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X). Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Welcome Offer: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
  • Purchase APR: See Pay Over Time APR
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)

Best Bank of America travel card

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card

Apply Now On Bank of America's secure website
Top Features
  • Rewards Rate: Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 you spend on travel and dining purchases. Earn 2 points for every $1 spent on grocery store purchases - now through 12/31/21. Earn 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all other purchases.
  • Welcome Offer: Receive 50,000 online bonus points - a $500 value - after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
  • Purchase APR: 15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
  • Recommended Credit Score: Good to Excellent  (670 - 850)
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Some of the offers on this page may have expired.

The information about the Citi Prestige® Card, Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.


A guide to choosing the best travel credit card

Anyone who travels can benefit from the rewards and perks that come with a travel credit card. With a little planning and careful budgeting, you can easily use your points or miles to help cover some of the costs of your next trip.

A travel rewards credit card can also provide:

  • Benefits that make the journey more convenient, such as priority boarding
  • Insurance against the unexpected, including trip cancellations and lost luggage
  • A touch of luxury, with airport lounge access and room upgrades
The more you know…
Due to the pandemic, many Americans have been affected by canceled events. According to Bankrate’s study, 59 million have lost money on canceled plans including hotel stays, flights, concerts, and more.

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.

In this guide:


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 2x points per $1 spent on dining and travel;
1x points on everything else
4.8 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card Overall travel 2x miles per every dollar spent 4.7 / 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 4.4 / 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 (Annual Fee: $550) 4.8 / 5
(Read full card review)
Discover it® Miles Best first-year miles bonus 1.5x miles for every dollar on every purchase 4.8 / 5
(Read full card review)
Chase Sapphire Reserve® Best for extra points value 3X points on dining and travel worldwide immediately after earning your $300 travel credit and 1X points on everything else 5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card Qualifying travel purchases 1.5x points on qualifying purchases 4.3 / 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 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
American Express® Gold Card Travel rewards on dining 4X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants (Annual Fee: $250) 4.4 / 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. 4.6 / 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 100,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening (worth $1,250 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.

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.

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.

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 at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets, on up to $15,000 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 $550 annual fee really grabs your attention, but the Fine Hotels & Resorts® benefits have an average total value of (you guessed it) $550. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


How to choose a travel credit card

As with other types of cards, travel credit cards offer a lot of variety to choose from. If it seems like too much variety, you can easily narrow down the options by focusing on who you are as a traveler and a consumer. Here’s how:

If you value flexibility over brand loyalty…

General-purpose travel cards are issued by a credit card company, bank or other financial business. They offer the most flexibility for earning and redeeming your rewards. This type of card isn’t tied to a single airline or hotel chain, so you’re free to fly who you want and stay where you want.

You earn rewards by using the card to make eligible purchases, which are often directly related to travel (airfare, hotel rooms, etc.) but sometimes include non-travel purchases as well.

You can 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 include: Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, American Express® Gold Card, Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

If you’re loyal to a particular airline or hotel chain…

In some cases, a credit card issuer partners with an airline or a hotel chain to offer a co-branded travel card. The most common examples are airline rewards cards and hotel rewards cards. You earn air miles by using an airline card to book flights with the partner airline, along with making in-flight purchases and other eligible purchases. A hotel card earns rewards much the same way, mainly by using the card to book hotel rooms.

You redeem your rewards through the airline’s or hotel chain’s loyalty program, usually for free or discounted flights or hotel stays. Although you can’t transfer miles or points, you don’t have to worry about the loss in value that sometimes accompanies the transfer process.

Examples include: Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, United MileagePlus® Club Card, Radisson Rewards™ Premier Visa

If you’re traveling for business…

A number of general-purpose and co-branded cards offer two versions: one for personal travel and another for business travel. Like business credit cards in general, business travel cards tend to offer higher credit limits and rewards categories geared toward business expenses.

Examples include: The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, Capital One Spark Miles for Business, Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

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 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 the 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.

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.

What are points and miles worth?

Here are the June 2021 valuations for some of the leading credit card issuers and travel loyalty programs from The Points Guy. (These valuations are not provided by credit card issuers.) 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 June 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 0.6
Capital One 1.7
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

Do travel miles or points expire?

Although many credit card issuers have adopted no-expiration policies, some holdouts remain. Don’t make any assumptions — read the terms and conditions of your credit card and loyalty programs carefully.

Letting your rewards expire essentially forfeiting money. It pays to know the details, including whether your rewards will expire if you let your account go inactive for a certain period of time. Check your online dashboard or printed monthly statement on a regular basis.

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:

Frequent travelers

Naturally, the ideal candidate for a travel card is someone who travels a lot — several flights and hotel stays every year. In some cases, though you don’t have to be a frequent traveler to reap the benefits of a travel rewards card. A number of cards offer good rewards rates on general purchases, such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Card (2X miles earned for each $1 spent).

Travel beginners

You can take one of two routes here. The first is a card that has a straightforward rewards program and a simple redemption process, like the Discover it Miles card. If you’re interested in going beyond the basics, you can try your hand at the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.

Fans of brands

Some people like to fly with the same airline whenever possible or stay at the same hotel brand wherever they go. If you belong to a loyalty program, a co-branded card will probably provide you with the best value. They often feature brand-related purchases as a bonus rewards category and other perks for loyal customers. For example, eligible Hilton purchases earn 7X points per dollar with the Hilton Honors American Express Card. The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card earns 3X miles on Delta Air Lines purchases.

Business travelers

Some of the most valuable travel credit cards are business cards. Whether you’re a freelancer on the go or the CEO of a Fortune 500, the right travel credit card can help you earn high rewards rates on everyday business purchases. Examples include the Bank of America® Business Advantage Travel Rewards World Mastercard® credit card and the Capital One Spark Miles for Business.

International travelers

If you travel out of the country frequently, a card with no foreign transaction fees like the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve help you avoid extra costs on overseas purchases. And if you hate waiting in line at airport security or customs, a lot of travel cards provide statement credits to reimburse you for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, including the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.

Luxury travelers

If you’re really looking for a luxury travel experience, you need a top-tier travel card. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a well-rounded selection of perks and The Platinum Card® from American Express includes access to Centurion Lounges. While top-tier cards also tend to charge annual fees, you can compensate for the cost if you take full advantage of the trip insurance, travel credits and other perks.

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.

Advantages 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.

Disadvantages 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 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 $550 annual fee, but Amex assigns estimated dollar values to benefits such as:

  • Complimentary benefits through American Express Travel with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts® program
  • 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 $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue (enrollment required)

Used to their full extent, these benefits could have a combined value of $850 — quite a bit more than the $550 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
Travelers checks still exist. Although they might seem outdated, they do have the advantages of being secure, replaceable if lost or stolen and accepted at many places worldwide. You can buy them at banks and credit unions. You can also use American Express Membership Rewards Points to buy them online.

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.

Read more: Cash back vs. points and miles credit cards

Survey finds many cardholders missing out on rewards offers

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing travelers and restaurant-goers to become homebodies last year, credit card issuers responded by adjusting their rewards programs. However, many cardholders might be missing their chance at upgraded rewards on everyday purchases as opposed to traveling and dining out.

A recent Bankrate.com survey on American consumers’ preferred payment methods found that 31% of rewards credit cardholders who pay their bills in full each month didn’t redeem any rewards in 2020.

By not redeeming, cardholders failed to capitalize on changes to rewards programs adopted by many credit card issuers. For example, travel cards that normally earn their highest rates on purchases such as airfare and hotels expanded their rewards categories to include groceries, gas, take-out delivery or streaming services.

“Many credit card issuers leaned hard into groceries, food delivery, streaming services and other everyday categories in 2020, so it’s easier than ever to earn and burn rewards for routine expenses,” said Bankrate.com credit card analyst Ted Rossman.

Also, a number of issuers changed their redemption policies so that cardholders could receive better value for redeeming travel rewards as cash back.

So if you’ve let your travel rewards credit card gather dust or neglected to redeem any rewards, you might have left money on the table.

CardSmart: Travel credit card pro tips

Expert advice on choosing and using credit cards from Bankrate

The best travel credit cards provide all the value you’re looking for, but in some cases you might want to try a new wrinkle to make your travel dollar go even further. Here are some travel pro-tips on maximizing the value of your travel card and travel rewards:

Some cards go better together

Pairing a travel card with a rewards card from the same issuer can create a lucrative combination. The keys are whether the cards allow you to pool or transfer rewards or whether the cards earn the same type of rewards currency.

For instance, you can pair the Chase Sapphire Preferred with the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and transfer points to the Sapphire Preferred for maximum value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

If you have multiple American Express cards that earn Membership Rewards Points, you can ask Amex to link the cards so that the points accumulate into one account. So if you linked your American Express® Business Gold Card with The Platinum Card from American Express, you could use the points from both cards to book travel through the Amex Travel portal.

Look for second-stage benefits

A lot of travel card benefits are automatic, meaning that you become eligible when you sign up for the card. In some cases, though, you might be able to expand on an automatic benefit when you reach another eligibility threshold.

Here’s an example using the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. Cardholders get one free weekend night reward automatically. However, you can also earn a second free weekend night reward if you spend $15,000 with the card in a calendar year. And any free night awards you earn through the end of the year can be used on any night — not just weekend nights.

Get lounge access without a card

Complimentary airport lounge access is a signature perk of many travel credit cards, but what if your card doesn’t include it?

One option is to buy lounge access directly. Buying a membership could be cost-prohibitive, though, since the annual fees can run to hundreds of dollars. If it’s just a rare indulgence, some lounges sell one-time day passes.

You might find another way into the lounge through your travel card’s terms and conditions. Some airline cards offer lounge access if you have elite membership status, so check the fine print carefully to see if you qualify.

Remember to enroll and activate

Check your card’s terms and conditions to see which benefits require activation or enrollment. You might have to enroll online or call a toll-free number to enroll by phone.

For example, with The Platinum Card from American Express, make sure to activate the Airline Fee Credit on the American Express website. You’ll also need to enroll on the Amex website for Hilton Honors Gold status and call 800-525-3355 for Marriott Bonvoy Gold status.

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.

Travel insurance options

When it comes to travel, there’s nothing more important than peace of mind. By highlighting all of the added perks that a card offers — including the option for travel insurance — you’ll know about the protection you’re being offered before you apply.

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
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. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to bbridges@bankrate.com. ...
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 ...

* 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.