Credit cards may be a helpful tool for anybody who travels when it comes to planning and paying for your vacation. Your out-of-pocket expenditures can be greatly reduced by rewards, and card perks frequently pay for themselves via money saved and stress abated.
The issue with travel credit cards, though, is that there may be an excessive number of choices.
According to a recent Forbes Advisor study, the majority of Americans (63%) would want to use any additional incentives they earn as cash back instead of redeeming them for travel or other items.
But choosing travel cards isn’t just about the rewards; they may also be a quick and convenient way to get money-saving features, upgrades, and other exclusive perks while you’re traveling.
And it’s these perks that may set apart travel credit cards from the competition.
That’s where we come in: we’ve rounded up the best travel credit cards to keep you focused on which ones are worth your attention.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Travelers looking to dip their toe in the water will appreciate the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card as a place to start. It carries a mid-range annual fee, but packs in everything you need. Cardholders earn valuable Ultimate Rewards points for access to transfer partners or for easy, no-strings-attached redemptions in the Chase travel portal. There’s no foreign transaction fee and a wide selection of travel insurance.
Rewards: 5 points per dollar on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3 points per dollar on dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs), 2 points per dollar on all other travel purchases and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
Welcome Offer: 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Annual Fee: $95
Other Benefits and Drawbacks: Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed through Chase’s travel portal or using the Pay Yourself Back option or transferred to Chase’s airline and hotel transfer partners, like United MileagePlus and World of Hyatt, at a 1:1 ratio. The card also offers a $50 hotel credit when booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal and a 10% anniversary points boost. This means that if you spend $10,000 on the card, you’ll earn an additional 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points when renewing your card.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card changed the game in the travel rewards space and is not only our best travel card, it’s among the best cards on the market in any category. The points are easy to earn and simple to redeem, the card comes with a bevy of benefits and the credits can easily make the annual fee worthwhile. Just make sure you value using your rewards for travel.
Rewards: 2 miles per dollar on all eligible purchases, 5 miles per dollar on flights booked through Capital One Travel and 10 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars when booking via Capital One Travel
Welcome Offer: 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
Annual Fee: $395
Other Benefits and Drawbacks: The annual fee may give you pause, but the card comes with up to a $300 annual travel statement credit for bookings through the Capital One Portal and a 10,000 point anniversary bonus worth $100 in travel. A Priority Pass membership also provides value, giving you access to more than 1,300 lounges worldwide.
Capital One miles are easy to redeem as they can either be applied towards travel purchases or transferred to travel partners. The main downside to the Venture X is a lack of domestic airline transfer partners, meaning that points will take a bit more knowledge to redeem than American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® makes our list of best travel rewards cards for many reasons. While it does charge a high annual fee, it earns valuable rewards at a solid rate with transfer partners that cover redemption options all over the world. There’s also best-in-market travel insurance benefits and no foreign transaction fee. As a Visa card, it’s also widely accepted worldwide. If you travel at least a couple times per year, this card deserves serious consideration.
Rewards: 5 points per dollar on flights and 10 points per dollar on hotels and car rentals when purchasing travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3 points per dollar on other travel and dining and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Welcome Offer: 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Annual Fee: $550
Other Benefits and Drawbacks: Chase Ultimate Rewards® points earned with the Sapphire Reserve and redeemed for travel through the Chase travel portal are worth 1.5 cents each or points can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to Chase’s travel partners. Cardholders can also make up for a chunk of the annual fee with the $300 annual travel credit, a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership and up to a $100 credit to cover your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, all of which make far-flung travel easier to bear.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
If you’re looking for a giant welcome bonus to get things started, The Platinum Card® from American Express (terms apply, see rates & fees) might be for you. After meeting initial spending requirements, you’ll earn valuable Membership Rewards points redeemable toward travel and other options. The downside is it carries the largest annual fee on our list.
Rewards: 5 Membership Rewards Points per dollar for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel on up to $500,000 per calendar year, 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel and 1 point per dollar on other eligible purchases
Welcome Offer: 80,000 Membership Rewards Points after spending $6,000 on purchases on the card in the first 6 months of card membership
Annual Fee: $695
Other Benefits and Drawbacks: The Amex Platinum has become a luxury coupon book of sorts and the benefits can easily offset the annual fee and then some—as long as you use them. Many of the perks are very specifically applied and may also require enrollment. Examples include annual statement credits toward Uber, Saks Fifth Avenue, digital entertainment, select hotel stays and airline incidental fees. Lounge access to more than 1,200 locations worldwide will also appeal to travelers.
United Club℠ Infinite Card
As a general rule, if you’re looking for an airline-specific card, you’ll want to get a card with the airline you fly the most. In terms of the airline card that offers the best earnings potential, valuable points and additional useful benefits including lounge access, the United Club℠ Infinite Card comes out ahead.
Rewards: 4 miles per dollar on United® purchases, 2 miles per dollar on all other travel, on dining including eligible delivery services and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases
Welcome Offer: 80,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Annual Fee: $525
Other Benefits and Drawbacks: The most prominent benefit of the United Club Card is access to United Club airport lounges and other Star Alliance Gold lounges. You’ll also benefit from two free checked bags for yourself and another person traveling on the same reservation, Premier Access, 25% back on in-flight purchases, expanded access to award flights and Premier Upgrades on award tickets if you have status. Other travel protections and benefits are also included.
IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card
For those who frequently stay at IHG properties, the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card* offers generous rewards on IHG-brand hotel stays, a complimentary annual anniversary night, automatic Platinum Elite status and the perk of a free fourth night on award bookings, all for an annual fee of $99.
Rewards: 10 points per dollar at IHG® Hotels and Resorts as an IHG® Rewards Premier Credit cardmember, 10 points per dollar at IHG Hotels and Resorts as an IHG® Rewards member, 6 points per dollar from IHG with Platinum Elite Status (a benefit of this card), 5 points per dollar on travel, dining and at gas stations and 3 point per dollar on all other purchases
Welcome Offer: 140,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
Annual Fee: $99
Other Benefits And Drawbacks: The IHG Rewards Club Premier benefits list includes a Complimentary 4th Night Benefit—when booking four consecutive nights with points, you will receive your fourth night free. Additionally, on your cardmember anniversary, you can enjoy a Free Anniversary Night at properties that cost 40,000 points or less per night. You can also qualify for a credit of up to $100 for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS membership every four years.
Aeroplan® Credit Card
The Aeroplan® Credit Card provides a generous rewards program, but for those who fly Air Canada and and Air Canada Rouge, the card also provides an accelerated route to elite status. Like most airline cards, this card only makes sense for those who predominantly fly Air Canada.
Rewards: 3 points per dollar spent on dining, takeout and eligible delivery services, grocery stores and each dollar spent directly with Air Canada including vacations and cruises and 1 point per dollar for all other eligible purchases
Welcome Offer: 50,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months
Annual Fee: $95
Other Benefits And Drawbacks: The Aeroplan® Credit Card offers 25K status through the rest of the calendar year and the next with $15,000 of spending on the card in a calendar year. Existing status holders can upgrade to 35K status with $50,000 in spending per calendar year. Cardholders receive the first checked bag free for themselves and up to eight travel companions on the same reservation when flying Air Canada.
A $100 Global Entry, TSA Precheck or NEXUS application fee credit every four years as well as preferred pricing on award flights sweeten the deal, which includes a fairly standard-for-Chase-issued list of protections such as trip cancellation/interruption insurance, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, secondary auto rental collision damage waiver and purchase protection.
United Quest℠ Card
The United Quest℠ Card is a midrange United card: it’s a bit pricier than the Explorer card, but not nearly as much as the United Club Infinite Card. But with a $125 annual credit on United purchases, two 5,000 MileagePlus credits earned annually after your first cardmember anniversary valid for eligible flight redemptions (see offer for details) and two free checked bags when flying United, the Quest could be just right for you.
Rewards: 3 miles per dollar on United® purchases, 2 miles per dollar on dining, select streaming services and all other travel and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases
Welcome Bonus: 60,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
Annual Fee: $250
Other Benefits and Drawbacks: In addition to offering extra travel benefits, the Quest card is also a better option for earning miles than the cheaper Explorer card. You’ll earn miles at an elevated rate and can also earn 500 Premier qualifying points (PQP) for every $12,000 in net purchases (including purchases made by authorized users) up to a maximum of 6,000 PQP in a calendar year.
British Airways Visa Signature® Card
For those who can make the most of the British Airways’ mileage redemption award chart, the British Airways Visa Signature® Card can make sense. It usually offers a sizable sign-up bonus, providing solid value against its relatively-low annual fee of $95. Big spenders have an opportunity to gain a companion ticket, making it attractive to people who travel regularly back and forth across the Atlantic.
Rewards: 3 Avios per dollar on purchases with Iberia, British Airways, Aer Lingus, and LEVEL, 2 Avios per dollar on hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel and 1 Avios per dollar on all other purchases
Welcome Offer: 75,000 Avios after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening, plus an additional 25,000 Avios after spending $20,000 in the first 12 months of account opening
Annual Fee: $95
Other Benefits And Drawbacks: The British Airways card offers Visa Signature benefits such as extended warranties and fraud liabilities, but it also offers several airline-specific benefits. Each calendar year you spend more than $30,000 on the card you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket, which adds an additional seat on the same flight and in the same cabin when booking a British Airways flight originating in and returning to the United States (business class inclusive).
Cardholders can also earn credits of $100 for economy and premium economy or $200 for business and first class, up to three times per year. You can also use this card to earn 10% off British Airways flights originating in the U.S. when using a special link provided to cardholders.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card bests other Southwest cards in terms of value, rewards and perks, but it may not seem as impressive compared to other options—especially Chase Ultimate Rewards®-earning cards which permit users to transfer their rewards at a 1:1 ratio to Southwest.
Rewards: 3 points per dollar on Southwest purchases, 2 points per dollar on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental purchases, 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting, including rideshare, 2 points per dollar on internet, cable, phone services and select streaming and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
Welcome Offer: 50,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
Annual Fee: $149
Other Benefits And Drawbacks: The Southwest Priority Card provides a $75 annual travel credit, 7,500 bonus points each anniversary year and four upgraded boardings (subject to availability). Cardholders also get 25% back on inflight drinks and Wi-Fi when they pay with their card, but unlike other airline cards, there’s no need for a baggage credit, since all passengers’ first two checked bags fly for no extra charge. For those seeking companion passes with Southwest airlines (an industry favorite among domestic travel hackers) the card provides 10,000 extra qualifying points as a boost each year.
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
In addition to earning points at a relatively quick rate, the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express* also offers complimentary top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond status. Other Hilton benefits include a night award annually and up to $250 in resort statement credits each year.
Rewards: 14 Hilton Honors bonus points at participating hotels or resorts within the Hilton Portfolio, 7 points per dollar on eligible purchases for flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and U.S. restaurants and 3 points per dollar on other eligible purchases
Welcome Offer: 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of opening an account
Annual Fee: $450
Other Benefits and Drawbacks: While the Hilton Aspire card earns more points per dollar than some other cards on this list, hotel points are generally not as valuable as airline miles or flexible rewards points. That said, the Hilton Aspire Card packs in the benefits.
In addition to hotel perks, cardholders also receive a complimentary Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership with enrollment and up to $250 in airline fee statement credits for incidental purchases at an eligible airline you select each year.
Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card
The Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card* stands out as the only Marriott card without an annual fee. Although the rewards aren’t as posh as its peers, cardholders still gain Silver Elite status and other hotel-related perks, including 15 Elite Night credits each calendar year.
Rewards: 3 points per dollar at over 7,000 hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy program, 2 points per dollar on other travel purchases (from airfare to taxis and trains) and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
Welcome Offer: 30,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Annual Fee: $0
Other Benefits And Drawbacks: The Marriott Bonvoy Bold provides automatic Silver Elite status and 15 elite night credits toward higher status, making it a helpful tool to assist in accessing extra rewards within the Marriott Bonvoy program. The card charges no foreign transaction fees and includes Visa Signature benefits that offer protection for lost luggage, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement and travel accident insurance. Purchase protection also covers new purchases against damage or theft for 120 days up to $500 per claim with a maximum of $50,000 per account.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card
Travelers that love Hyatt love Hyatt. While The World of Hyatt Credit Card* isn’t necessarily the best way to earn World of Hyatt points, between the annual free night and the ability to spend towards status it is a good option for people who frequent Hyatt hotels.
Rewards: 9 points total per dollar spent at Hyatt – 4 bonus points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels and 5 base points per dollar from Hyatt as a World of Hyatt member. Earn 2 bonus points per dollar spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airlines, on local transit and commuting and on fitness club and gym memberships and 1 point per dollar on all other eligible purchases
Welcome Offer: 30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, plus up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning 2 points per dollar in the first six months on purchases that normally earn 1 point, up to $15,000 spent
Annual Fee: $95
Other Benefits and Drawbacks: In addition to the ability to earn points in a wide range of categories, The World of Hyatt Credit Card* offers cardholders a free hotel night valid at Category 1 to 4 Hyatt hotels each cardmember anniversary year and the ability to earn a second one after spending $15,000 on the card in a calendar year.
Depending on how much you spend on non-Hyatt travel purchases and at restaurants, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® could offer you the ability to earn more Hyatt points in a year because Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio.
Wyndham Rewards Earner® Plus Card
The Wyndham Rewards Earner® Plus Card is an ideal card for those who frequently travel on wheels, as it offers rewards on hotels and gas. It is, however, important to find out if the brand family offerings meet your expectations before deciding to join the rewards program—Wyndham isn’t renowned for its luxurious accommodations and reward nights are typically the best redemption option.
Rewards: 6X points on eligible purchases made at Hotels by Wyndham as well as on qualifying gas purchases, 4X points on eligible dining and grocery store purchases (excluding Target® and Walmart®) and 1X points on other purchases
Welcome Offer: 45,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days, resort fees may apply
Annual Fee: $75
Other Benefits And Drawbacks: The Wyndham Rewards Earner Plus Card offers complimentary Wyndham Rewards Platinum membership, 7,500-point anniversary bonuses and a cardmember booking discount. With Visa Signature benefits included, cardholders also receive auto rental collision damage waiver, extended warranty benefits and more. The card also charges no foreign transaction fees.
Bilt World Elite Mastercard®
The Bilt World Elite Mastercard® offers a unique opportunity to earn rewards on rent without paying processing fees, but it has value for anyone seeking transferable points without an annual fee. This new card is impressive enough to stand as a travel card on its own even if you don’t pay rent.
Rewards: 1 point per dollar on rent payments with no fees (on up to 100,000 points each calendar year), 2 points per dollar on travel (when booked through the Bilt Travel Portal or directly with an airline, hotel, car rental or cruise company), 3 points per dollar on dining and 1 points per dollar on all other purchases
Welcome Offer: This card does not offer a welcome bonus
Annual Fee: $0
Other Benefits and Drawbacks: The Bilt card has a few limitations—you’ll only earn points when making at least five transactions per statement period and earnings on rent are capped at 100,000 points per year—but it’s otherwise a strong card. Bilt points are transferable to a number of valuable transfer partners including World of Hyatt and American Airlines or you can redeem through their travel portal where point values vary with your redemption option. You can also save your points towards a down payment on a home if you decide travel takes a back bench to homeownership.
Credit One Bank Wander® Card
If your credit score isn’t quite ready for a premium travel card, take a look at the Credit One Bank Wander® Card. The card earns at exceptionally high rates on travel purchases and there’s no foreign transaction fee. Sadly, the card isn’t perfect: you’ll miss out on fancy extras like airport lounge access or the ability to transfer points to other programs.
Rewards: 10 points per dollar on eligible hotels and car rentals booked through the Credit One Bank travel partner, 5 points per dollar on eligible travel, dining and gas and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
Welcome Bonus: 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on eligible purchases in the first 90 days which can be redeemed for a $100 statement credit, gift cards, or travel
Annual Fee: $95
Other Benefits and Drawbacks: Don’t be fooled by this mostly no-frills card. The earning rates alone will have you traveling in no time. The card is also well-suited to simultaneously work on improving your credit, with options to choose your own due date and track your credit score. Eventually, this could lead you to even more card options in the future.
Citi Premier® Card
The Citi Premier® Card earns cardholders great rewards for its annual fee, but compared to other top-tier travel cards on this list, it may come up short when it comes to extra benefits. For the welcome bonus and the everyday rewards, the card may be worthwhile for those in search of ThankYou Points.
Rewards: 3 ThankYou points per dollar at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels, 1 point per dollar on all other eligible purchases and a total of 10 points per dollar on hotels, car rentals, and attractions (excluding air travel) booked on the Citi Travel℠ portal through June 30, 2024
Welcome Offer: 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
Annual Fee: $95
Other Benefits And Drawbacks: The Citi Premier® Card assuages its annual fee with an annual $100 hotel savings benefit on eligible stays when you book through ThankYou.com, so for those who use the benefit, the card can otherwise be evaluated as a no-annual-fee card. The reward program’s multiple redemption options includes airline transfer partners but otherwise only offers a small collection of mostly convenience benefits.
American Express® Gold Card
Some cards offer bonuses on dining, some on groceries, but you can earn bonus points on basically anything you put in your mouth with the American Express® Gold Card (Terms apply. See rates & fees). This is an appealing option for anyone who wants to redeem travel rewards but doesn’t spend enough on flights or hotels to require elevated earning categories on travel itself.
Rewards: 4 Membership Rewards® points per dollar at restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., 4 Membership Rewards® points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1 point per dollar), 3 Membership Rewards® points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through American Express travel and 1 point per dollar on other eligible purchases
Welcome Offer: 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 6 months of card membership
Annual Fee: $250
Other Benefits and Drawbacks: Although this card earns Membership Rewards, which are great for travel, it doesn’t pack travel specific benefits. Instead, it includes monthly credits, some requiring enrollment, that are great for more common expenses, such as Uber Cash and dining credits valid at GrubHub (including Seamless) and more. For someone who wants to transform everyday expenses into a vacation, this card seamlessly blends the experience.
Forbes Advisor considered dozens of airline, hotel and flexible-reward credit cards to create this list of the best travel credit cards. Cards were graded based on numerous factors including:
- Annual fees
- Welcome bonus offers
- Ongoing earning rates
- Value of individual points of miles
- Included travel credits
- Additional cardholder benefits
Card features we expect cardholders to use the most often were weighted more heavily in our ratings. Altogether, the factors came together to provide a star rating for each individual card.
Afterwards, cards were compared amongst similar cards in their primary card category (e.g. airline cards) as well as within the travel credit card category as a whole. This allowed us to rank each card and determine the best travel rewards credit cards for this list.
To learn more about our rating and review methodology and editorial process, check out our guide on How Forbes Advisor Rates Credit Cards.
What Is a Travel Credit Card?
A travel credit card is a card that earns rewards on travel. Those rewards come in a variety of ways. It can earn airline miles, hotel points or flexible points that can be redeemed either with transfer partners or applied towards travel charges.
Many travel credit cards also come with additional benefits such as free checked bags, priority boarding, access to airport lounges and even discounts on hotels or rental cars. Some cards offer welcome bonuses when you sign up, which can provide a nice cache of points or miles to help you start redeeming for valuable rewards.
Travel credit cards may offer value for frequent travelers who want to earn rewards quickly and easily while they’re on the go. These credit cards can be used in any country that accepts major card networks (Visa, Mastercard, Amex, etc) and they often charge no foreign transaction fees, which means there is no extra charge from the credit card company to make purchases abroad.
By using a travel credit card, it’s possible to rack up points over time and redeem them toward flights, hotel stays or other travel expenses.
How Do Travel Credit Cards Work?
A travel rewards credit card accrues miles or points for each purchase made with the card. After earning miles or points, there are usually a few redemption options including redeeming for airline tickets, gift cards or statement credits. As a general rule, redeeming miles and points for travel will result in the most value.
How Do Credit Card Points Work?
Credit card points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards, are earned for each purchase made with the card. Every card has a different earning structure, so one card may earn high rewards on travel and dining purchases while another may earn more points on groceries and gas spending. Often, credit card points will have multiple redemption options, like for cash, travel or gift cards vs. a co-branded card, which tends to earn rewards that can only be redeemed for one thing like travel with a specific airline or hotel or merchandise.
How Do Credit Card Travel Miles Work?
Airline and hotel point values often are variable, which means that the worth of a point may fluctuate depending on the specific redemption. Some programs will tie the value of their points or miles to the cash equivalent of a ticket or hotel night. Others have a tiered system based on something like peak or off-peak travel times, seat class or hotel category—or a combination of the two.
Since airline and hotel rewards are primarily redeemed towards nights or flights, it makes sense to do the research before cashing in a stash of points to make the most of your redemption. Forbes Advisor’s guide to redeeming points and miles is a good place to start.
Types of Travel Credit Cards
Not all travel credit cards are alike. Here’s how the various types break down, so you can choose which type of rewards card is best for your unique circumstances.
Transferable Rewards Credit Cards
These types of credit cards earn rewards that can be transferred to other programs, like airline or hotel loyalty programs. Transferable rewards include Capital One miles, Bilt Rewards, Brex Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points. Barclays also allows points to be converted to travel partners on select cards.
Airline Credit Cards
Airline credit cards earn miles that can be used to redeem for future purchases with that airline. You can also use that airline’s miles to book flights on partners or other carriers within the same airline alliance, which may yield greater value for your earnings.
Many airline credit cards offer perks beyond earning miles. Usually the higher the annual fee, the more benefits you’ll get. Some common airline credit card extras may include free checked baggage, priority boarding, a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee credit and airport lounge access. If you’re able to max out these extras, the perks can often be worth more than the annual fee.
Hotel Credit Cards
Anyone who stays in hotels at least semi-regularly and who can pledge loyalty to one brand may find that a hotel credit card is right for them. With these cards, you’ll earn rewards in the hotel’s currency, like Marriott Bonvoy points, Hilton Honors points or World of Hyatt points, which are redeemable towards any eligible hotel property under that brand’s umbrella.
Owning a hotel credit card can be a much faster path towards accruing points than earning them on stays alone. Some cards confer automatic elite status upon ownership, which comes with its own set of benefits that can range from late check-out to free breakfast to room upgrades. Some cards will also offer one night free annually every year you renew your card membership as well as other perks such as airport lounge access.
Fixed-Value Credit Cards
Credit card points may often have a fixed-value when redeemed for things like cash back or travel, where the issuer publishes the cash value per point. For example, a card may offer a value of a penny per point when redeemed for any valid travel purchase.
With some cards, fixed-value points currencies can also vary by redemption type. For example, points on a card might be worth 1.5 cents each when redeemed for travel rewards but only be worth 1 cent each when redeemed for cash back.
Business Credit Cards for Travel
If you’re traveling for work and you want to keep your business expenses separate from your personal expenses, a travel business credit card may be worth considering. Business credit cards for travel function the same as consumer credit cards for travel, although the business versions often offer different earning rates and perks, as well as a different annual fee structure.
Co-Branded Travel Cards vs. General Travel Cards
A co-branded card generally makes sense if you tend to stay loyal to that brand when you travel. Using a co-branded card can fast-track you towards elite status with a hotel or airline and often comes with other valuable benefits. If you’d prefer to fly any airline you choose and stay at any hotel brand you’d like, a general travel card is likely a better choice for your needs.
What You Get With General Travel Credit Cards
With travel credit cards, the level of benefits will most likely be associated with the annual fee. A premium card might come with airport lounge access, travel protections including trip cancellation and delay insurance and exclusive privileges at luxury hotels. A mid-range card might still offer auto rental insurance and a Global Entry or TSA Precheck benefit. Even a card with no annual fee might offer some basic benefits depending on the card.
What You Get With Co-Branded Travel Credit Cards
A co-branded travel card will offer benefits specific to that brand. For airline cards, you might see a checked bag benefit or a rebate on in-flight purchases. For hotel cards, you might see a status level, a free annual night award or anniversary points. Both types of cards might offer you the ability to spend towards higher levels of status.
How To Choose a Travel Credit Card
With so many types of travel credit cards to choose from—before even considering the specific products within each category—selecting a travel credit card can feel like a complicated process. However, it should be relatively easy for you to prioritize which benefits you’ll actually use and determine what type of rewards best fit your lifestyle.
Evaluating General Travel Credit Cards
General travel cards can be great options for travelers who aren’t loyal to a single brand of airline or hotel. Despite not being branded, these cards can still come with a wide assortment of perks that travelers appreciate, including statement credits toward travel bookings, select trip insurance, airline lounge access, valuable rewards and generous welcome bonuses.
When evaluating general travel credit cards, consider:
- Annual Fees: Some travel cards may be available without an annual fee while others cost $500 or more per year.
- Redemption Options: Some cards have the ability to transfer to partner airlines or hotels while others may only be redeemable for travel through in-house portal bookings. Some may also offer the option to redeem for non-travel rewards, such as cash back.
- Luxe Benefits: Premium cards may come with statement credits, lounge access or trusted traveler application reimbursements. Determine if you’ll actually use these perks.
- Trip Protections: Travel insurance might not be glamorous, but cards that offer protection against trip cancellation, flight delays or lost baggage could save you money.
Evaluating Airline Credit Cards
Airline credit cards typically earn frequent flyer miles on every purchase which may lead to outsized value when booking award tickets. Airline credit cards also frequently come with perks while traveling, like free checked bags, enhanced award space or lounge access. They may also help you achieve elite status more easily.
When evaluating airline credit cards, think about:
- Earning Rates: Many airline credit cards don’t offer elevated earnings on categories other than airline spending, so you’ll need to choose carefully if that’s important to you.
- Perks While Flying: Typically, only cards with an annual fee include benefits while flying such as priority boarding or complimentary checked bags.
- Elite-Qualifying Bonuses: Some cards include bonus elite-qualifying miles when hitting spending thresholds, which can further enhance your flying experience.
- Companion Fares: Some airline cards offer the opportunity to earn a companion certificate, which allows you to bring a second traveler on your trip for a reduced price.
Evaluating Hotel Credit Cards
Hotel credit cards will earn points toward future free stays, but this is one case where the benefits can often outshine rewards. More often than not, hotel cards come with automatic elite status as well as a fast track to even higher levels of status. Plus, annual free night certificates or statement credits add to their value proposition.
When evaluating hotel credit cards, consider:
- Elite Status Offers: Generally speaking, cards with higher annual fees may automatically bump you to higher elite status levels which can be invaluable on frequent stays.
- Free Night Certificates: Many, but not all, hotel cards offer free night certificates either upon renewal of your card or when hitting spending thresholds. Each certificate may come with restrictions on when or where you can redeem it, so compare fine print.
- Earning Rates: Hotel cards may offer huge multipliers on bonus categories, allowing you to earn five to 10 times on certain purchases. However, keep expectations in check: hotel points may not be worth a full penny per point.
- Statement Credits: Some cards may include statement credits toward eligible purchases made at hotels and resorts or even on airline fees or restaurant purchases, which can be valuable, but you’ll need to actually use them.
Pros and Cons of Travel Credit Cards
Pros of Travel Credit Cards
- Fast-track to free or discounted travel. You’ll earn rewards on your spending that can be used to reduce the cost of future travel.
- Elite perks and benefits. Many cards offer money-saving extras like free luggage or complimentary breakfast.
- Lack of foreign transaction fees. Some of the best travel credit cards won’t charge you extra for using your card abroad.
Cons of Travel Credit Cards
- Limited-use rewards. The best value in owning and using a travel rewards card comes from redeeming the rewards for more travel.
- Annual fees can be high. Cards with the most premium perks tend to also have the most premium price.
- Redemptions can be complicated. For some reward programs, squeezing the most outsized value out of your points or miles can require some work.
When Should You Use a Travel Credit Card?
- Business travel. If your work requires you to travel, having a dedicated travel card can make it easy to keep your business expenses separate from your personal expenses.
- International travel. If you’re planning to travel abroad, travel credit cards often come with perks like no foreign transaction fees, airport lounge access and application fee reimbursements for Global Entry or TSA Precheck that can make your journey more comfortable.
- Luxury travel. If you want an upscale experience like access to exclusive airport lounges, automatic hotel room upgrades and property credits, a travel credit card with these features can grant you access to these features.
How Many Travel Credit Cards Should I Have?
The number of travel credit cards you should have will depend on how often you travel, which benefits you value, your financial situation and whether you’re willing to spend time tracking multiple cards. Frequent travelers will find value in holding at least one travel card, but may consider holding several. For example, having both an airline card and a hotel card can provide complementary benefits and the ability to earn rewards for all aspects of your travel plans.
Why You Should Consider a Travel Credit Card
Travel cards often include numerous membership benefits such as elite status when traveling with partner programs, free checked bags, lounge access or discounts on ancillary travel fees. These benefits can make your trips easier, more comfortable and more affordable. Additionally, travel credit cards offer the opportunity to earn valuable rewards and in some cases may provide higher yields than cash back or other types of rewards.
Source | Forbes