Paying for your necessary expenses with cashback credit cards is an easy way to make some extra money that you can use for anything, including travel. But if you do a lot of traveling or if you’re planning for an upcoming trip, a good travel rewards credit card may give you more bang for your buck.
Of course, the benefit of a cashback or cash rewards credit card is the fact that you can use the cash in any way that you choose. With a travel rewards credit card, you’ll need to use your rewards for travel (the details will vary by card). It may be a little more restrictive, but the value of those rewards can often exceed the cash that you would earn with a cashback credit card. There may be other additional benefits or perks for travelers as well, like upgrades.
One of the downsides of travel rewards cards is that they can sometimes be confusing. Cashback cards are more straightforward and you know exactly how much you can earn in terms of a percentage of your purchase. Most travel rewards cards use miles or points, so you’ll need to understand the cash value of those miles or points and how it works. The good news is, it’s not difficult.
This article should help you to find the best travel rewards credit cards and to get a basic understanding of how they work, so you can determine the right one for your own situation.
→ Related reading: See our list of the best cashback credit cards here.
Choosing the Right Travel Rewards Card for You
With so many great choices of the best travel rewards credit cards, it can be a little daunting to choose the right card for you. So, when assessing cards, there are some factors that should be considered.
An Impressive Introductory Bonus
While there is almost always a spending requirement, there are some impressive introductory bonuses to jump-start your points or miles. Just remember that if the spending requirement is too high, you may struggle to qualify, so be realistic about your spending habits.
For example, Chase requires a $4,000 spend in the first three months for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card card to receive a bonus of 60,000 points ($750 of travel). The Capital One VentureOne Card only requires that you spend $500 to qualify for the bonus, but that bonus is only worth $200. Although the $750 bonus is attractive, if you will struggle to meet this requirement, you would be better off aiming for the lower reward tier.
There are several different ways that credit cards will allow you to redeem your rewards, and the details will vary by card. Some cards allow you to redeem points/miles by booking hotel rooms or flights. Others may allow you to use your points/miles to cover travel-related expenses that you charge to your card. It’s important to understand these details before you decide which card is right for you.
While the best travel rewards credit cards all offer special perks, look for a card with perks that appeal to your spending habits and lifestyle. These perks will usually increase in importance for those who travel frequently.
No Foreign Transaction Fees
Foreign transaction fees can quickly rack up for frequent travelers, so look for a card that doesn’t charge a fee every time you use the card overseas, unless you are not planning to use the card overseas.
Some of the best travel rewards credit cards come with very high annual fees. The fee may be worth paying if you use the card enough and earn rewards that far outweigh the annual fee, but it really depends on your own usage (for example, the Platinum Card from American Express has a hefty fee, but you can enjoy some serious rewards that can be well worth it, if it matches your spending habits and travel plans). Be sure that you consider the annual fee when you are evaluating cards, and remember that some cards waive the fee for the first year.
The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a must for any travelers who love to dine out and enjoy high rewards. New cardholders can claim a newly upgraded bonus if they spend $4,000 on purchases during the first three months. Qualified cardholders will receive 60,000 bonus points, which is worth $600 of travel, $750 of travel if you redeem the points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. This portal adds 25% more value to Preferred card points, which is a significant perk.
Cardholders can enjoy double points (2 points per dollar) on all travel and restaurant dining, with 1 point for every dollar spent on any other purchase worldwide.
Cardholders of the Chase Sapphire Preferred who also hold a Freedom, Freedom Unlimited or other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards can combine points, so your rewards can add up even more quickly. This makes this card one of the best for big spenders, but casual spenders may find the annual fee ($95) difficult to offset.
In addition to the signup bonus, there are ongoing high reward rates, including the Chase Unlimited Rewards program. This allows you to take advantage of rewards outside of any travel. For example, you can exchange 5,000 points for a $50 gift card, a $50 check, or other eligible merchandise.
- Earn one point for every dollar spent
- Earn double points on travel and dining expenses
- 60,000 points signup bonus, which equals $750 of travel if points are redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- $95 annual fee
Just like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, cardholders of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card can enjoy $750 in travel dollars as their introductory reward. This and the other benefits are the reason why this card was named Money Magazine’s 2018 Best Premium Travel Credit Card. As a new cardholder, you can earn 50,000 points ($500 in travel) when you spend $4,000 in the first three months. When redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards, this is worth $750.
However, this is not the only reason to choose this card. Based on your account anniversary, you will receive $300 in statement credit per year to cover your travel expenses, including airfare and hotels. You will also earn three points for every dollar spent on qualifying travel and dining, with one point per dollar on everything else. You can also increase the value of your points by 50 percent when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, which can save you loads of money.
The Sapphire Preferred Card is the Sapphire Reserve card with some luxury polish, but this is reflected in the $550 annual fee. There is also a $75 charge for each additional authorized user. In addition to the points structure and added bonuses, you can enjoy free access to airport lounges at more than 1,000 locations worldwide.
- Earn one point for every dollar spent
- Earn triple points on travel and dining expenses
- 50,000 points signup bonus, which equals $750 of travel if points are redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- $550 annual fee
- $300 in statement credit each year for travel-related expenses
- Free access to airport lounges
If you love to travel frequently, the Capital One Venture is a very attractive option. In the first year, Capital One will waive the $95 annual fee, and you will receive 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in the first three months. This is equal to $500 of travel.
You can earn two miles for every $1 spent with no limits, making it simple to understand the rewards you’re earning.
There are no restrictions or blackout dates for redemption, and you can stay at any hotel or fly any airline. It is also possible to transfer miles to more than 12 leading travel loyalty programs.
You’re not limited to claiming your rewards on just airlines, as you can redeem them for a myriad of travel expenses, including theme park tickets, auto rentals, and hotel accommodation.
Another benefit of the Capital One Venture card is that you may be eligible for reimbursement of TSA Pre✓® or Global Entry application fee, which is worth up to $100. The card also does not charge foreign transaction fees. This can add up to some serious savings, as the average foreign transaction fee is 3 percent, so frequent travelers will find this a great incentive.
However, if you’re likely to spend less than $10,000 each year, you may be better with a travel rewards card that doesn’t charge an annual fee.
- Earn 2 miles (equal to $0.02) for every $1 spent
- 50,000 mile signup bonus ($500)
- $95 annual fee
- No foreign transaction fees
The Platinum Card from American Express isn’t for everyone; there is a sizable $550 annual fee, and you will need to practice a level of fiscal responsibility that can appear daunting. However, if you have strong financial discipline and excellent credit, the Platinum Card does offer some enticing benefits for those who travel enough to overcome the annual fee.
This card is a charge card rather than a credit card. This means that you are expected to pay your balance in full at the end of the billing cycle. There is no spending limit unless specifically requested, and there is no interest rate. Since the card needs to be paid off every month, you can avoid accumulating hundreds of dollars in interest payments.
You can enjoy a 60,000 point bonus if you make $5,000 of purchases in the first three months and ongoing there is five points for every dollar spent on flights booked using American Express Travel or directly with the airline (which can really add up if you fly a lot). There is also one point for every dollar on every other purchase.
Other benefits of the card include Platinum Club Concierge services to help with your travel arrangements, buying gifts, or obtaining event tickets. You will also receive a credit of $85 or $100 for TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fees, respectively. You can earn up to $200 each year in statement credit to cover your travel fees including in-flight meals, luggage costs, or similar charges associated with a qualifying airline. You may also be eligible for up to $200 per year in Uber savings.
The Platinum Card also allows you to enroll in Priority Pass Select and enjoy complimentary access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection, so you can wait for your flight in complete comfort.
- 60,000 point welcome bonus
- Earn 5 points for every $1 spent on flights
- Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on other purchases
- $550 annual fee
- Many perks for frequent travelers
The Capital One VentureOne card tends to avoid the spotlight in the shadows of the Venture Rewards card, but there are some unique and generous benefits. There is no annual fee, and you can enjoy 1.25 miles for every dollar spent. While this isn’t as high as the reward structure offered with the Venture Rewards card, there are “no strings.”
The most attractive feature of this card is the one-time 20,000 miles bonus if you spend $500 within three months of account opening, which is equal to $200 in travel.
You can also transfer your miles to 12 leading travel loyalty programs with no blackout dates, miles expiration or foreign transaction fees. You will enjoy a zero percent introductory rate on purchases for the first twelve months.
The VentureOne is considered a “no strings” card as there is no annual fee, even after the first year, unlike many cards that implement a sizable annual fee. While you may not earn as many miles or points as some other travel reward cards, you don’t need to try and offset against any annual fees. It’s an ideal travel card for those who don’t travel enough to offset a high annual fee from some of the other leading travel rewards cards.
- 20,000 miles signup bonus ($200 cash value)
- Earn 1.25 miles for every $1 spent
- No annual fee
6. Wells Fargo Propel American Express
This relaunched card has been designed as a rewards card with some nice travel-related features. The Wells Fargo Propel American Express offers generous balance transfer rewards, solid benefits, and some additional perks.
You can receive three points for every dollar spent on your travel-related purchases including hotels, flights, homestays, gas stations, transit, car rentals, and rideshares. You can also qualify for three points for every dollar on your dining purchases and on popular streaming services as part of the “eating out and ordering in” category. All your other purchases will attract one point per dollar. This earning structure encourages you to use the card for more than just booking your flights and hotel stays.
There is also up to $600 of cell phone protection against theft and covered damage when you pay your cell phone bill with your card.
Cardholders can also enjoy a 20,000 point welcome bonus if you spend $1,000 in your first three months, which has a cash redemption value of $200.
Unlike most other travel rewards cards, this one comes with no annual fee.
- 20,000 points signup bonus (cash value of $200)
- Earn 3 points per dollar on travel-related purchases
- Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
- No annual fee
Wells Fargo Propel American Express: Learn How to Apply
7. Bank of America Travel Rewards
If you enjoy the simplicity of no restrictions and flat-rate rewards, then the Bank of America Travel Rewards could be the card for you. Every time you use your card, your rewards will be adding up for your next trip. You can enjoy a 25,000 point bonus if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days, which is equal to $250 in statement credit for your next break.
Unlike many cards in this category, the Bank of America Travel Rewards card does not have an annual fee, and you can enjoy 1.5 points unlimited on every purchase. For the first 12 billing cycles, there is a 0 percent APR.
The Travel Rewards card has no restrictions or blackout dates to redeem your points and booking your trip. The points do not expire, and you have the flexibility to redeem points for statement credit to pay for your rental cars, baggage fees, vacation packages, or cruises.
However, the card offers more innovative ways to earn rewards. If you are a Bank of America banking customer, you will receive a 10 percent bonus just by holding a qualifying checking or savings account. Preferred Rewards clients can increase the rewards by as much as 75 percent depending on the account type.
Cardholders can also access many additional perks, including overdraft protection, Shop Safe and use of Bank of America ATMs and financial centers. There are also no foreign transaction fees, which can add up to some serious savings, given that the average fees are around 3 percent. You can also transfer your points into an eligible savings account, so your reward points can even earn interest.
- 25,000 points signup bonus ($250 cash value)
- Earn 1.5 points per $1 spent
- No annual fee
- No foreign transaction fees
- Several perks for those who also have banking accounts with Bank of America
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card allows you to earn reward nights at Ritz Carlton or Marriott Starwood properties. You can earn six points for every dollar spent at over 6,000 participating properties, with two points on all other purchases. The points do not expire unless your card is not used for 24 months.
There is also a generous introductory bonus of 100,000 points provided you spend $5,000 within 3 months of opening the account. You can use those points for a stay at a huge number or Marriott-owned hotels and resorts. The number of points needed for a night will vary depending on when and where you want to go.
The card also provides a number of travel-related benefits including Free Night Awards valued at 35,000 points, automatic Silver Elite Status and a path to Gold Status.
The main advantage of this card is that you are generously rewarded when you are brand loyal. You can offset the $95 annual fee with stays in over 6,900 locations including an additional free night on your account anniversary.
There are no foreign transaction fees, and you can enjoy coverage with baggage delay insurance, trip interruption insurance, Visa Signature Concierge Service, and lost luggage reimbursement. This excellent package provides you with coverage for unreimbursed expenses such as hotel stays and meals if your flight is delayed for more than 12 hours. There is also up to $100 per day for five days if your luggage is delayed on your trip. If your bags are damaged or lost, there is up to $3,000 per passenger cover for you and your immediate family.
The card also provides access to the Marriott Bonvoy program, so you can progress from Silver to Gold and Platinum Elite status for stays at participating hotels. Higher tiers attract additional bonuses, including complimentary room upgrades, enhanced in-room internet access and guaranteed late checkout.
- 100,000 points signup bonus
- Earn 6 points per $1 spent at participating hotels and resorts
- Earn 2 points per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Free Night Award (up to 35,000 points) every year after your account anniversary
- No foreign transaction fees
- $95 annual fee
The American Express Gold Card has a lot to offer for those whose spending habits will offset the $250 annual fee. For starters, new cardholders can get a bonus of 35,000 membership rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
You’ll earn 4x membership rewards points for purchases at restaurants and grocery stores, 3x membership rewards points for flights booked on amextravel.com, and 1x rewards points for all other purchases.
This card also brings some additional perks, with the most noteworthy one being a $100 per year airline fee credit.
- 35,000 membership rewards points as a signup bonus
- Earn 4x membership rewards points at grocery stores and restuarants
- Earn 3x membership rewards points on flights booked at amextravel.com
- Earn 1x membership rewards points on all other purchases
- $250 annual fee
Which card is right for you? The answer to that question will depend on your spending and travel habits. If you’re just getting started with travel hacking and you don’t travel extensively, the Capital One VentureOne is a safe choice, in part because it has no annual fee. If you travel a little more frequently, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is worth the $95 annual fee. And if you travel extensively, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is as good of a travel rewards card as you will find.