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 March 2021

Need more information?

Skip down to read our card profiles and expert advice.

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, plus, earn 4X points for Uber Eats purchases too. 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

  • Rose Gold is back. You can now choose between Gold or Rose Gold.
  • 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, plus, earn 4X points for Uber Eats purchases too.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • $120 Uber Cash: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $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.
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms 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 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 dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. 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 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases.
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 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases.
  • 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.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year 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 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:
Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel
Annual Fee:
$95
Regular APR:
17.24% - 24.49% (Variable)

Card Details

  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel
  • 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✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 10+ travel loyalty programs
  • No foreign transaction fees
Terms and Restrictions Apply

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 150,000 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. Plus, earn a $150 statement credit after your first purchase on the Hilton Surpass Card within your first 3 months.
Annual Fee:
$95
Regular APR:
15.74%-24.74% Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 150,000 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.
  • Plus, earn a $150 statement credit after your first purchase on the Hilton Surpass Card within your first 3 months.
  • 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 qualifying travel purchases

Bank of America 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 Bank of America's secure website

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

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.
Annual Fee:
$0
Regular APR:
14.99% - 22.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Card Details

  • 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
  • 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
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want - you're not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for travel or dining purchases, such as flights, hotel stays, car and vacation rentals, baggage fees, and also at restaurants including takeout
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases. After the intro APR ends, 14.99% - 22.99% Variable APR will apply
  • If you're a Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25% - 75% more points on every purchase
  • Contactless Cards - The security of a chip card, with the convenience of a tap
Terms and Restrictions Apply

Best for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit

Bank of America 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 Bank of America's secure website

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card

Rewards Rate:
Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases. Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent 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
Annual Fee:
$95
Regular APR:
15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers

Card Details

  • 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
  • Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase
  • No limit to the points you can earn and your points don't expire
  • Redeem for cash back as a statement credit, deposit into eligible Bank of America® accounts, credit to eligible Merrill® accounts, or gift cards or purchases at the Bank of America Travel Center
  • Get up to $100 in Airline Incidental Credits annually and TSA Pre✓®/Global Entry Statement Credits of up to $100, every four years
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • Low $95 annual fee
  • Contactless Cards - The security of a chip card, with the convenience of a tap
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.
  • New! Redeem Miles for cash in any amount to pay your bill, including your minimum payment.
  • 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 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. Earn 3X 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 $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. From 6/1/20 through 6/30/21, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit
  • 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
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Earn 3x 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

Some of the offers on this page may have expired.

The information about 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.

In this guide:

Compare the best travel credit cards of 2021

Card Name Best for Rewards rate Bankrate review score
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)
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)
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)
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)
Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card Qualifying travel purchases 1.5x points on qualifying purchases 4.3 / 5
(Read full card review)
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit 2x points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases; 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other purchases 4.6 / 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)
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)
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)
Capital One Spark Miles for Business Business travel 2X miles back on every purchase 4.2 / 5
(Read full card review)

What is the best credit card for travel?

The best credit card for travel will depend on what your spending habits and goals are. Travel credit cards allow cardholders to earn points or miles on a variety of purchases (typically travel-related but not always directly related) that you can redeem for 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 or hotel stay — 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.

How to choose a travel credit card

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
Best 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 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
Best 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
Best 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.

Examples: Capital One Spark Miles for Business
Best for: Business travelers who frequently travel outside of the country

Should you get a travel credit card during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Economic uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant changes to the credit card landscape, especially travel cards. The travel industry was upended by restrictions that affected both international and domestic travel, as well as waves of canceled events.

Given the volatility of the last year, here are some things you should consider before getting a travel credit card right now:

Your travel habits

If you’re planning to travel frequently in the coming months, you could earn considerable rewards with a standard miles or points card. For those who don’t have immediate plans to get on the road or in the air, the value isn’t as apparent. People in the second group should consider a card that earns rewards not only on travel purchases but also on purchases not directly related to travel, such as groceries.

Your credit score

If your credit score is less than stellar, right now may not be the best time to apply for a travel credit card. A FICO Score below 670 could make it difficult to qualify. Most travel cards require a good to excellent score, and many issuers have responded to the economic downturn by tightening their approval standards. Before applying for a travel credit card, consider improving your credit score to increase your odds of approval.

Your current debt

If you have accumulated high-interest debt — on a credit card or any other type of credit account — consider paying it off before applying for a new card. Having less of your available credit tied up in debt can improve your creditworthiness, not to mention your overall financial health.

How do points and miles work on travel credit cards?

How miles work

Miles, sometimes called air miles, work the same way as credit card points but differently from cash back. 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, The Points Guy tracks valuations on a monthly basis.

Miles work the same way as credit card points but differently from cash back. 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.

How points work

Credit card points are typically awarded on a 1:1 value basis, 1 point for every $1 spent. Some points cards can be tiered — meaning you’ll earn more for certain purchases than others — and some cards are flat-rate — meaning you’ll earn the same amount of points for every purchase you make with the card.

When it comes to redeeming your points, you can trade in your points for travel-related purchases, such as airline tickets, hotel stays, upgraded seats and airport lounge access, as well as merchandise, gift cards, and even, in some cases, you donate your points to make a charitable donation. Each issuer will offer a different redemption structure, so keep track of how many points you’ve earned and what that translates to when redeeming your points.

Speaking of keeping track, be aware that miles and points can expire. A Bankrate survey found that almost half of travel loyalty program members have let airline or 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% 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.

Should I 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.

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


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.

Frequently Asked Questions

It might not be the best time to travel, but anyone planning to start or resume a frequent travel schedule in 2021 could benefit from the right card and the right strategy. Several travel credit cards have expanded the number of rewards-eligible purchase categories to include more non-travel items. These changes make it easier to get your money's worth out of a travel credit card even if you're not using it to book flights or hotel rooms at the moment. When travel does become more feasible, you can use the miles or points you've been saving up in the meantime to cut costs and maybe even indulge in a few luxury perks.
While cash back credit cards and travel credit cards are both forms of rewards credit cards, they reward different types of spending and rewards structures. With a cash back card, you'll get rewarded for the eligible purchases you make with a percentage of the purchase price.

With a travel credit card, you'll be rewarded for the eligible purchases you make with points and miles. These points and miles can then be redeemed for things like airline tickets, hotel stays and various travel perks. Many travel cards are branded, so if you're loyal to a specific airline or hotel chain, you could rack up the rewards with a branded card if you're a frequent traveler.
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.
Generally speaking, cards that charge annual fees come with higher rewards structures and better perks, but there are plenty of cards with lucrative rewards that don't charge annual fees. That being said, an annual fee can mean generous benefits or a higher rewards structure, but the annual fee isn't worth it if it cuts into your rewards earning potential. If you aren't earning enough rewards to offset the card's annual fee, then it certainly isn't worth it.
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.
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.
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.

* 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.