Best travel credit cards

Whether it's a vacation or business trip, travel credit cards help you earn valuable points and miles. You might even be able to earn rewards without leaving town. Bankrate is here to help you choose the right card for your journey. Check out the best travel rewards cards from our partners and start planning your trip today.

Best Travel Credit Cards of December 2020

Best for your first travel card

Chase Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Chase's secure website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Rewards Rate:
2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out. Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services. 1 point per dollar 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 $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
Annual Fee:
$95
Regular APR:
15.99%-22.99% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for flexible travel miles with no annual fee

Capital One Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website

Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

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
Annual Fee:
$0
Regular APR:
15.49% - 25.49% (Variable)

Card Details

  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 1.25X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates and fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Transfer your miles to over 10+ travel loyalty programs
  • Enjoy 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months; 15.49% - 25.49% variable APR after that
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for overall travel

Capital One Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Capital One's secure website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day.
Welcome Offer:
Ends December 14, 2020: 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
Annual Fee:
$95
Regular APR:
17.24% - 24.49% (Variable)

Card Details

  • 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
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Redeem on travel—from vacation rentals to car rentals and more. Plus transfer your miles to over 10+ travel loyalty programs
  • No foreign transaction fees
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best first-year miles bonus

Discover Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Discover's secure website

Discover it® Miles

Rewards Rate:
Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases - 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.
Annual Fee:
$0
Regular APR:
11.99% - 22.99% Variable

Card Details

  • 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.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent on all purchases - with no annual fee.
  • Turn Miles into cash in any amount, any time. Or redeem as a statement credit for travel purchases like airfare, hotels, rideshares, gas stations, restaurants and more with no blackout dates. However you redeem, Miles keep the same value. And Miles never expire.
  • No Blackout Dates. Simply pay for travel purchases like airlines, hotels, rental cars, and more with your Discover it® Miles card.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • Freeze your account in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.
  • Get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.

Best for loyal Hilton customers

American Express Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On American Express's secure website

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio. Earn 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card
Welcome Offer:
Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
Annual Fee:
$95
Regular APR:
15.74%-24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn a Weekend Night Reward from Hilton Honors after you spend $15,000 on purchases on your Card in a calendar year.
  • Earn 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio.
  • Earn 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
  • Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
  • Spend $40,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn Hilton Honors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.
  • $95 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Best for travel rewards on dining

American Express Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On American Express's secure website

American Express® Gold Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, 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.
Annual Fee:
$250
Regular APR:
See Pay Over Time APR

Card Details

  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, 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.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.

Best for international travel

American Express Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On American Express's secure website

The Platinum Card® from American Express

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 on amextravel.com.
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.
Annual Fee:
$550
Regular APR:
See Pay Over Time APR

Card Details

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member and Additional Centurion Cards only.
  • 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 on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy complimentary access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits through American Express Travel with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts® program at over 1,100 properties. Learn More.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. That’s up to $50 in statement credits semi-annually. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Best for extra points value

Chase Image

Recommended Credit Score

Excellent (740 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On Chase's secure website

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

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 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Annual Fee:
$550
Regular APR:
16.99%-23.99% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 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
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best Hilton card with no annual fee

American Express Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On American Express's secure website

Hilton Honors American Express Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio. Earn 5X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card
Welcome Offer:
Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Card after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
Annual Fee:
$0
Regular APR:
15.74%-24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Card after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio.
  • Earn 5X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
  • Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees. Enjoy international travel without additional fees on purchases made abroad.
  • Enjoy complimentary Hilton Honors Silver status with your Card. Plus, spend $20,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn an upgrade to Hilton Honors Gold status through the end of the next calendar year.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Best for annual bonuses

American Express Image

Recommended Credit Score

Good to Excellent (670 - 850)

A FICO score/credit score is used to represent the creditworthiness of a person and may be one indicator to the credit type you are eligible for. However, credit score alone does not guarantee or imply approval for any financial product.

Apply Now On American Express's secure website

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Rewards Rate:
Earn 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy Hotels 3 points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines. 2 points on all other eligible purchases.
Welcome Offer:
Earn up to 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 bonus points after your first anniversary of Card Membership. Offer Expires 1/13/2021.
Annual Fee:
$450
Regular APR:
15.74%-24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn up to 125,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn an additional 25,000 bonus points after your first anniversary of Card Membership. Offer Expires 1/13/2021.
  • Enjoy complimentary Platinum Elite status with your Card for the 2021 status year. Offer Expires 1/13/2021.
  • Enjoy up to $300 in statement credits each year of Card Membership for eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels.
  • Earn 6 Marriott Bonvoy points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy Hotels. 3 points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines. 2 points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive 1 free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Award can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points) at a participating hotel. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy unlimited airport lounge visits when you enroll in Priority Pass™ Select membership.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $450 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Some of the offers on this page may have expired.

The information about the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business, and the 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

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.

Compare the best travel credit cards of 2020

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 VentureOne Rewards Credit Card Flexible tavel miles with no annual fee 1.25x miles on every purchase 4.4 / 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)
Discover it® Miles Best first-year miles bonus 1.5x miles for every dollar on all purchases 4.8 / 5
(Read full card review)
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card Loyal Hilton customers 6X points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
American Express® Gold Card Travel rewards on dining 4X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide (Annual Fee: $250) 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)
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)
Hilton Honors American Express Card Hilton card with no annual fee 7X Hilton Honors bonus points at hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio
5X points at U.S. gas stations, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. restaurants
3X points on everything else
4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card Annual bonuses 6X points at participating Marriott Bonvoy locations
3X points at U.S. restaurants
3X points on flights booked directly with airlines
2X points on all other purchases
4.4 / 5
(Read full card review)
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card Multiple rewards categories 3X points on: travel; gas stations, rideshares and transit; eating out and ordering in 4.5 / 5
(Read full card review)
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card Airline card with no annual fee 2X miles at restaurants worldwide
2X miles on purchases made directly with Delta
1X miles per dollar on other eligible purchases (Annual Fee: $0)
4.1 / 5
(Read full card review)
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card Travel with no annual fee 1.5 points per $1 spent 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business Business travel 2X miles back on every purchase 4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)

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 customers.

Categories 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 Reserve®, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card

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, United MileagePlus® Club 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, Radisson Rewards™ Premier Visa

Ideal for: Travelers exclusively loyal to a certain hotel chain

Consumer travel cards and business travel cards

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.

No foreign transaction fee cards

A no foreign transaction fee credit card can be considered a travel card, a consumer card, a business card, or even a combination of any of the three. Its defining characteristic is that it doesn’t charge currency-related fees on eligible purchases from sellers outside the United States, whether in-person or online. The lack of foreign transaction fees makes these cards well-suited for international travelers.

How do miles work on travel credit cards?

Miles work the same way as credit card points. When you use miles to book travel directly through an airline or travel portal, the airline or issuer will assign a set number of award miles to each ticket. Some airlines have established award charts that give you insight into what each flight would cost in miles, but many have switched to a dynamic pricing model that bases award pricing on multiple factors, including seasonality and route popularity.

When you’re redeeming miles as a statement credit, they’re assigned a monetary value (typically 1 cent per point, though that isn’t the case with all issuers). If you want to stay updated on the value of your points and miles, ThePointsGuy tracks valuations on a monthly basis.

Speaking of keeping track, be aware that miles and points can expire. A recent Bankrate survey found that almost half of travel loyalty program members have let airline and hotel rewards expire at some point.

Make a point of knowing your card issuer’s policy on expirations and checking your online dashboard or printed monthly statement on a regular basis. If you don’t use your rewards before they expire, you’re essentially forfeiting money.

CardSmart: How to earn travel rewards for non-hotel stays

Expert advice on choosing and using credit cards from BankrateAirbnb and VRBO offer travelers the feeling of a home away from home, but that’s not all. You can also earn miles or points with these popular vacation rental options when you book your stay with a travel rewards card.

Bankrate has the resources to help you maximize your travel rewards:

Had to cancel your trip? Find out how to get a refund for an Airbnb cancellation.

Survey finds a lot of travel rewards are left on the table

If you’re not utilizing your travel rewards credit card to the fullest, you’re probably forfeiting travel rewards that could be worth hundreds of dollars every year.

That’s one of the conclusions from a Bankrate.com survey on American consumers’ preferred payment methods. Overall, the survey found that 55 percent of rewards credit cardholders who pay their bills in full each month fail to use their cards to pay for purchases that could be earning travel rewards. Their mistake is in using cash or a debit card instead of their rewards card.

Here are the percentages of people who paid with debit or cash instead of a rewards card, by category:

Rewards category Paid with debit/cash
Groceries 44%
Restaurants 43%
Gas stations 37%
Airfare 15%
Hotel 16%

Neglecting to use a rewards card for airfare and hotel stays isn’t the only way of missing out. Some travel cards also earn miles or points for purchases that might not be directly related to travel, including groceries, restaurant meals and gas fill-ups that you buy without even leaving your hometown.

Who should get a travel credit card?

In most cases, it helps to be someone who regularly spends some money on travel, since travel purchases usually have the highest rewards rate. But you don’t have to be a frequent traveler to reap the benefits of a travel rewards card. A number of travel cards that offer good rewards rates on general purchases, too. So if you’re a very casual traveler, you may do best with a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Card, which offers 2X miles per every dollar spent.

There is a travel card out there for every type of traveler. Once you have a better understanding of the type of traveler you are, you can seek cards with perks that will best benefit your situation.

In short, travel credit cards are worth it for:

Travel beginners

If you’re new to traveling, it might be best to start out with a card that offers simple yet flexible rewards. If you’re learning the ins and outs of points and miles, the last thing you need is a complicated rewards structure and redemption process. A luxury card with a steep annual fee might not be the best for your current situation.

Brand loyalists

Some people like to fly with the same airline whenever possible or stay at the same hotel brand wherever they go. If you are the same way, a brand-specific card will probably provide you with the best value. Most of the time, brand-specific cards have brand-related purchases as a bonus category and other perks for loyal customers.

Business travelers

Some of the most valuable travel credit cards are business cards. Whether you are a freelancer who travels a lot to meet new clients or the CEO of a Fortune 500, the right travel credit card can help you reap the rewards of everyday business purchases while helping you keep your personal and business expenses organized.

International travelers

If you travel out of the country for business or leisure frequently, consider opting for a card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee. And if you hate waiting in line at airport security or customs, there are a lot of travel cards that will provide reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees, including the Capital One Venture and others.

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.

Frequently asked questions about travel points and policies

What credit score is needed for a travel credit card?

You’ll likely need at least a 670 credit score if you want to get a travel credit card. Though most credit cards don’t come with an explicit credit score requirement, rewards cards usually are geared toward people with good to excellent credit. With better perks come stricter requirements.

Alternatives for those who need to build their credit a bit include the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students and the Journey Student Rewards from Capital One. Neither one is technically a travel credit card, but they do waive foreign transaction fees. Also, with responsible use, your credit score could improve enough to qualify you for a top-tier travel rewards card.

How can I earn miles without traveling?

Whether you’re worried that scaling back travel could lead to your elite status and miles expiring, or you simply don’t want to miss out on valuable rewards opportunities, you have options for maximizing rewards even at home. Fortunately, most major airlines are offering elite status and mile extensions — many through the end of 2021.

The easiest solution is a flat-rate travel card you can use on everyday purchases. For example, the Capital One Venture Rewards card earns 2X miles on everything, travel-related or not.

Review your travel card’s terms and conditions for opportunities to earn rewards without boarding a plane or leaving the house. Some cards earn 2X to 4X miles/points on dining and take-out from restaurants. Even eligible delivery services can earn rewards depending on the card.

For instance, not only does the American Express Gold Card offer 4X points on restaurants (including select delivery services), but you can also earn up to $120 annually in dining credit (enrollment required) by using the card to pay for services like Grubhub and Seamless. The Platinum Card from American Express is one of the best credit cards for Uber since it offers up to $200 in Uber credit each year, including up to $35 in December for both rides and UberEats orders.

Should I use miles on anything other than travel?

Generally, no. Miles are most valuable when redeemed toward booking travel, but a few other options exist that you might consider in a pinch, depending on your card’s redemption choices. For instance, Capital One miles keep their full value if you redeem them for gift cards, but they lose 50 percent of their value when redeemed for cash back.

Save your miles or even pool your travel points unless they’re near expiration. You shouldn’t have to worry about expiration unless you’re planning on closing your card, though, since most issuers’ miles are good for the life of your account. Otherwise, try to redeem for rewards with a 1:1 value like gift cards to maximize your miles.

Do travel cards reimburse you for trip cancellation?

Your canceled flight or trip refund hinges on a few factors: whether the flight/trip is refundable, whether your travel insurance covers it and whether your card issuer accepts the circumstances of your cancellation.

If the trip was refundable or you had outside travel insurance with a cancel-for-any-reason policy, you’re covered. Otherwise, your first step is to contact the airline, cruise or travel company for a refund and cancellation fee waiver — especially if you booked a flight with that airline’s frequent flyer miles. You may also find success with your issuer if you booked with your credit card or its rewards.

The best-case scenario is that you used one of the best credit cards for travel insurance. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s trip cancellation/interruption insurance (up to $20,000 per trip) and emergency evacuation coverage (up to $100,000) could get you home safe and reimbursed. If your card has similar insurance or you booked with rewards, your refund may depend on whether your cancellation circumstances fall within the refund terms.

Luckily, many airlines and cruise lines are currently offering generous cancellation reimbursements and cancellation/change fee waivers to help get your money back.

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.

Fees

Annual fees are common among travel credit cards, but our top picks make it easy to get your money’s worth. For variety, we do include some luxury cards with very high annual fees, noting that only a specific type of traveler will find value in such cards — frequent flyers for whom comfort is paramount.

A prime example is the foreign transaction fee, which tacks on extra cost for purchases made overseas. International travelers should lean toward cards that don’t charge this fee.

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.

Find out more about rewards cards for travelers


Senior Editor Barry Bridges has been writing about credit cards, loans, mortgages and other personal finance products for Bankrate since 2018. His work has also appeared on websites including Nasdaq.com, Zillow.com and The Simple Dollar. He was previously an award-winning newspaper journalist in his native North Carolina. Send your questions about credit cards (and fantasy baseball) to bbridges@bankrate.com.

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

* 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.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, is accurate as of the publish date. All products or services are presented without warranty. Check the bank’s website for the most current information.