Best Rewards Credit Cards for Travelers

The greatest tool in a traveler’s wallet is a rewards card.
woman holding credit card and phone


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What are travel credit cards, and how do they work?

Travel credit cards are financial products that offer various rewards and benefits geared towards frequent travelers. They typically earn you points or miles for every dollar spent on eligible purchases. These rewards can be redeemed for flights, hotel stays, car rentals, and other travel-related expenses. Travel credit cards may also include perks like travel insurance, airport lounge access, and no foreign transaction fees.

How do I choose the best travel credit card for my needs?

Choosing the best travel credit card depends on your travel habits, spending patterns, and preferences. Consider factors like the type of rewards offered (points, miles, or cash back), the card’s annual fee, sign-up bonuses, earning rates, redemption options, and additional travel perks. Analyzing these features will help you find a card that aligns with your lifestyle and offers the most value.

What are the benefits of using a travel credit card over other types of credit cards?

Travel credit cards provide unique advantages for travelers, such as earning rewards specifically tailored to travel expenses. Additionally, many travel credit cards offer travel-related perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, and travel insurance. Some cards also waive foreign transaction fees, making them ideal for international travelers.

What is a sign-up bonus, and how can I qualify for it?

A sign-up bonus is a promotional offer provided by the credit card issuer to entice new cardholders. To qualify for a sign-up bonus, you usually need to meet specific spending requirements within a certain timeframe after opening the account. The bonus can be in the form of points, miles, or cash back, and it’s a great way to jump-start your rewards earning.

Do travel credit cards charge foreign transaction fees?

Not all travel credit cards charge foreign transaction fees. Many of the top-tier travel cards waive these fees, making them ideal for international travel. However, it’s essential to read the card’s terms and conditions to confirm this before using it abroad.

How can I maximize the rewards earned with my travel credit card?

To maximize rewards, use your travel credit card for everyday expenses and large purchases. Take advantage of bonus categories and special promotions to earn more points or miles. Consider combining your travel credit card with loyalty programs to stack rewards and get even more value out of your purchases.

Credit cards come in all shapes and sizes. Well, I suppose that’s not right. They’re all the exact same size and shape. But you understand the meaning—they come in all different types of earning styles.

At the core of things, we can break them down into two categories: rewards cards and cash back cards. Both hold their own place in the credit sphere and benefit different users in different ways. But today, we’re going to focus on the best rewards cards.

The greatest tool in a traveler’s wallet is a rewards card. While cold hard cash might seem the better option, rewards, particularly travel rewards, are flexible, making hugely outsized redemptions possible. While a cash back card might offer only $750 in straight value, the best rewards cards can stretch to $2,000 in the right hands.

To help get you started, we’ve listed some of the best rewards cards on the market at different price points. 

Best for premium perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Best for: Premium perks and a huge bonus
  • Earning rate: 5x points per dollar on up to $500,000 spent on airfare per year and 5 points per dollar on hotel stays and flight and hotel packages booked through the Amex travel portal; 1x points per dollar on everything else
  • Notables: Priority Pass Membership, hotel statement credits, hotel elite status, shopping credits, and more
  • Intro bonus: 80,000 points after spending $8,000 in the first six months of account opening
  • Cons: Earning rate is poor, the annual fee is brutal, lounge access is being limited
 
Terms apply.

The rundown: As rewards cards go, the Platinum Card® from American Express is top of the line. Loaded with luxury perks like unlimited lounge access and statement credits on hotels, fitness, streaming, and shopping, it’s easy to recoup the hefty $695 annual fee. See rates and fees

Its current bonus of 80,000 points is one of the largest out there for a personal card and often increases into the six figures, so keep an eye on changes. Thanks to their transferability, a hoard of Amex rewards points is hugely valuable.

The downside to the Platinum Card® from American Express is its earning ability. Most spending is capped at 1x point per dollar, so if earning is your goal, you’ll want another card to bolster your reserves once the bonus drops into your account. 

The Platinum Card® from American Express

80,000 Membership Rewards® Points

after you spend $8,000 on purchases in your first 6 months of card membership

Annual Fee: $695  |  Terms Apply  |  Rates & Fees

Best for straightforward earning: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

  • Best for Customers who don’t want multiple cards
  • Earning rate: 10x miles per dollar on hotels and rentals in Capital One’s travel portal, 5x miles per dollar on flights in Capital One’s travel portal, 2x miles per dollar on everything else 
  • Notables: Priority Pass Membership, $300 travel statement credit
  • Intro bonus: 75,000 miles after spending $4,000 in the first six months of account opening 
  • Cons: Limited specialized earning, premium fee

The rundown: The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card is one of the best rewards cards out there. Why? Because it’s very much a premium card that’s priced as a mid-tier one (as long as you spend $300 a year on travel). It costs $395 a year, but the $300 statement credit for travel effectively reduces that to $95, the same as its less premium sibling.

Despite the low cost, cardholders still enjoy a substantial 75,000-mile bonus, unlimited lounge access, and a number of other perks. Of course, Capital One’s angle is simplified earning, so you’ll earn 2x miles per dollar on every purchase. There are no specialized categories but a consistently high yield on everything. That’s an outstanding card.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

75,000 Bonus Miles

after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee: $395  |  Terms Apply  |  Rates & Fees

Navigator Tip

Many rewards cards come with annual fees. While some offer enough benefits to offset these fees, it’s essential to evaluate whether the perks and rewards you’ll earn justify the cost. The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, for instance, provides a $300 travel statement credit, effectively reducing the annual fee.

Best all-around card: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • Best for: Strong spending categories and premium perks
  • Earning rate: 3x points per dollar on dining, 3x points per dollar on travel, up to 10x points per dollar on Chase travel portal
  • Notables: Priority Pass, $300 statement credit, TSA PreCheck
  • Intro bonus: 60,000 points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening
  • Cons: $550 annual fee

The rundown: The Chase Sapphire Reserve® is a fan favorite, along with its cheaper sibling card, the Preferred. Its premium perks, like unlimited lounge access, are immediate winners, and the $300 statement credit for travel helps lessen the sting of the $550 annual fee. While that still leaves $250 to pay, its outsized intro bonus of 60,000 points can balance things out for more than triple that amount.

Earning is easy with big spending categories like restaurants and travel earning 3x points per dollar. At the same time, its strong transferability, including the rare ability to transfer to the ultra-valuable World of Hyatt, can help squeeze every bit of power from your points. Paired with a free or $95 card with flat-rate earnings, you’re in great shape.

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

60,000 Bonus Points

after you spend $4,000 on purchases in 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee: $550  |  Terms Apply  |  Rates & Fees

Best for eating out: American Express® Gold Card

  • Best for: Foodies
  • Earning rate: 4x points per dollar at restaurants and U.S .supermarkets, 3x points per dollar on flights booked through Amex travel
  • Notables: Uber cash, dining credits
  • Intro bonus: 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months
  • Cons: Slightly higher annual fee of $250 (See rates & fees), perks are limited

Terms apply.

The rundown: If you eat out a lot, the American Express® Gold Card should be in your wallet. No card gets you so many points for your culinary indulgences. At 4x points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, you cover two of the most significant expenses in many people’s lives. Its 60,000-point bonus is phenomenal, too, especially considering how powerful Amex points are.

The downside is the limited chances to use its perks. It’s possible to cancel out the $250 annual fee using the dining credit and Uber cash credit, but it will depend on where you live and your lifestyle habits.

American Express® Gold Card

60,000 Membership Rewards® Points

after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first 6 months of card membership

Annual Fee: $250  |  Terms Apply  |  Rates & Fees

Best mid-tier card: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Best for Customers trying to keep annual fees down
  • Earning rate: 5x points per dollar on Chase travel portal, 3x points per dollar on dining, 2x points per dollar on travel
  • Notables: 10% annual points bonus, $50 hotel credit
  • Intro bonus: 60,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months
  • Cons: Perks are significantly less impressive than its premium sibling

The rundown: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is similar to its premium sibling, the Reserve, albeit with a stripped-down perk selection. With 3x points per dollar on dining out and 2x points per dollar on travel, there are more robust options for day-to-day earning, but it’s perfect for a relative newcomer to learn the basics of spending categories or to fill a space left by other premium cards.

It does come with some perks, though. A 10% annual points bonus is a nice gesture, and the $50 hotel credit effectively makes the annual fee $45 for regular travelers, helping add to its low-risk, high-reward reputation. It’s a solid card to have in your wallet—and that’s not even considering the 60,000-point intro bonus.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

60,000 Bonus Points

after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening

Annual Fee: $95  |  Terms Apply  |  Rates & Fees

Best card for beginners: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

  • Best for: Beginners
  • Earning rate: 2x miles per dollar on everything, 5x miles on hotels and rentals on Cap One Travel
  • Notables: N/A
  • Intro bonus: 75,000 miles after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months
  • Cons: No notable perks, no major spending categories

The rundown: The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is effectively a stripped-down version of the Venture X. Boasting the same huge intro bonus of 75,000 miles and the same flat-rate 2x miles per dollar on everything, it’s got everything but the premium perks.

And that’s not a bad thing. This card is perfect for two kinds of people: complete beginners who want simple earning with a low annual fee and more experienced users who already have a premium card and want to cover all their spending with at least 2x miles. There’s little to criticize with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, making it one of the best rewards cards available.

75,000 Bonus Miles

after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

Annual Fee: $95  |  Terms Apply  |  Rates & Fees

Best free rewards card: Bilt Mastercard®

  • Best for: Earning rewards on rent
  • Earning rate: 1x points per dollar on rent, 2x points per dollar on travel, 3x points per dollar on restaurants
  • Notables: Earning on rent, Rent Day Special, no annual fee
  • Intro bonus: N/A
  • Cons: N/A

The rundownThis card is a piece of brilliance. Rent makes up an immense portion of millions of people’s spending, yet it’s one of the most complex things to earn points on. The Bilt Mastercard® changes that. It’s a free card that allows you to pay for rent and make a point for every dollar spent—regardless of whether your landlord accepts the card. Bilt will send them a check on your behalf.

With this ability under your belt, it doesn’t matter what the perks are; it’s a free card, the points can be transferred to some excellent partners, and you’ve converted your most significant expense into your greatest supply of points. 

Bilt Mastercard®

No Welcome Bonus

Annual Fee: $0  |  Terms Apply  |  Rates & Fees

Frequently asked questions

Some rewards cards, particularly those from American Express and Chase, offer the flexibility to transfer points to various airline and hotel loyalty programs. This feature can increase the value of your rewards, especially if you have specific travel goals. Check the terms and conditions of each card for details on point transferability.

When traveling with a rewards card, take advantage of the travel-related benefits, such as lounge access, TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fee credits, and travel statement credits. Additionally, consider carrying a backup card from a different payment network (e.g., Visa or Mastercard) to ensure you have payment options wherever you go.

To maximize the benefits of your rewards card, use it for everyday expenses in categories where you earn the most points or cash back. Pay attention to bonus categories and introductory bonuses. Additionally, consider combining multiple cards to cover a broader range of spending and earning opportunities.

Ask the Navigators: What's the best travel credit card?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone. This post contains references to products from one or more of our partners and we may receive compensation when you click on links to those products.

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