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Best Travel Credit Cards

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by Sam Lipscomb | Updated Nov. 17, 2020

Overview of the Best Travel Credit Cards

Travel credit cards are excellent at getting you where you want to go easily and comfortably. Using travel and pricing data, our credit cards rewards model calculated which travel credit cards will get you the farthest. Taking into account factors like rewards earning potential and the redemption opportunities available to each card, we estimated how much a typical travel credit card user can expect to get in rewards each year. To make the comparison experience more straightforward, we've also included the dollar value in rewards you can expect to get from each of the cards. Read on to learn more about the top travel cards offered today! See More



Best Credit Card for Travel Redemptions

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  • Earn 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. When you redeem your points for travel through Chase that equals $750!
  • Receive a $300 travel credit each anniversary year to reimburse you for travel purchases charged to your card. After you earn your $300 travel credit, you will earn 3 points on travel purchases.
  • Earn 10 points on Lyft rides (7 points in addition to the 3 points you already earn on travel) through March 2022. When you dine at restaurants worldwide earn 3 points, and earn 1 point per dollar spent on everything else.
  • Points are worth 50% more when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards for Travel. One to one point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs. There are no foreign transaction fees when traveling abroad
  • Receive complimentary Priority Pass™ Select Membership to 1,000+ airport lounges after an easy one-time enrollment
  • Receive an application fee credit of up to $100 for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Receive one year of complimentary Lyft Pink when you or your authorized user activates by 3/1/2022 with your card. This is a minimum of $199 value and includes benefits like 15% off car rides and priority airport pickups.
  • You and your authorized users will receive at least 12 months of complimentary DashPass from DoorDash when the subscription is activated with your card by 12/31/21. Plus, earn up to $120 in statement credits on qualifying DoorDash purchases - $60 through 2020 and another $60 through 2021.

Annual Fee

$550

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

16.99% - 23.99% Variable

Details

The Chase Sapphire Reserve will earn you 3x points on travel purchases after earning the card’s $300 annual travel credit and 3x points on all dining purchases. These categories are broadly defined and will apply to a broad range of purchases in both categories. You’ll also earn 1x points on all other purchases. If you spend your points on travel through Chase’s travel portal, they’ll receive a 50% bonus, making one point worth 1.5 cents.

This card comes with a lofty $550 annual fee, but also a $300 annual travel credit, knocking the effective annual fee down to $250 as long as you spend at least $300 per year on travel. You’ll also be able to take advantage of up to $100 in statement credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® every four years, and you’ll receive $60 in DoorDash credits each year for the next two years (through 2021). The card also now gives users a free Lyft Pink membership for a year, a $199 minimum value, and you’ll earn 7x points on Lyft purchases through March 2022 in addition to the 3x points you’ll already earn on those purchases. You can earn a 50,000 point early spend bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, which is worth $750 if you spend it on travel through the Chase travel portal. This card carries no foreign transaction fees.

Why We Like It

While it certainly carries a high annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the best all-around travel cards on the market. You’ll earn a solid early spend bonus to get you started and you’ll earn 3x points on an incredibly wide variety of purchases that fall into the category of travel and dining. By comparison, the American Express Gold Card gives users 3x points specifically on airfare booked directly with the airline or on the Amex travel portal and 4x points at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets. While this might seem like a better deal, those categories are relatively limited compared to the travel and dining categories on the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel credit is also a huge positive for a card with such a high annual fee. With the card’s travel category being so broadly defined, it’s easy for cardholders to take advantage of this credit. The card also gives you access to trip delay and cancellation protections, purchase protections and other valuable perks that you might not get from another card.

Finally, when it comes to redeeming points, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the best cards out there. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are incredibly versatile. You can transfer them (usually at a 1:1 ratio) to a variety of airline and hotel partners, or you can redeem them through the Chase travel portal. When you choose to redeem points through the Chase travel portal, you’ll receive a 50% bonus on each point, making each point worth 1.5 points. That means that instead of a $300 ticket costing 30,000 points (at one cent per point), you’ll only need to redeem 20,000 points for the same ticket.

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Best Credit Card for Flat-Rate Travel Rewards

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  • Receive a one-time early spend bonus of 100,000 miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases during the first 12 months of card membership. Or, you can still earn a bonus of 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in purchases during the first 3 months of card membership.
  • On every purchase, you will earn 2 miles per dollar
  • There's no limit to the number of miles you can earn and your miles won't expire as long as your account is in good standing
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for either Global Entry or TSA Precheck when you use your Venture Card
  • Redeem your miles without blackout dates. You can fly any airline and stay at any hotel; anytime. Transfer your miles to over ten loyalty travel programs for additional flexibility
  • No foreign transaction fees when you travel abroad

Annual Fee

$95

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

17.24% - 24.49% Variable

Details

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card earns you unlimited 2x miles on all purchases, all for the relatively low annual fee of $95. Miles are transferable or redeemable as a statement credit for travel expenses. You’ll also receive up to a $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck® statement credit every four years. You can receive an early spend bonus of 100,000 miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases during the first 12 months of card membership. Or, still earn a 50,000 mile bonus after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. The card has decent built-in perks, such as travel accident insurance and roadside assistance. There are no foreign transaction fees.

Why We Like It

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is one of the simplest travel cards on the market. While others make you keep track of bonus categories, the Venture Card simply earns 2x miles on all purchases. These miles are quite versatile. While you can redeem them to cover the cost of any travel purchase, you can also transfer them to a variety of hotel and airline transfer partners. The transfer rates are typically 2 Capital One miles for 1.5 partner miles, so there’s some devaluation when you transfer. The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is great for anyone who doesn’t want things to get too complicated when it comes to redeeming travel rewards.

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Best Travel Card for Flights and Hotels

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  • If you make $5,000 in purchases in the first 6 months of card membership, you will receive a welcome bonus equal to 75,000 Membership Rewards points
  • Earn 10 points on eligible purchases (9 points in addition to the 1 points you already earn for these purchases) at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations up to $15,000 in combined purchases during the first 6 months
  • Receive Uber VIP status, including free rides in the U.S. – up to $15 each month, with a bonus $35 in the month of December. Annually, this can total up to $200 in Uber savings
  • Earn 5 points for flights booked with American Express Travel or directly with airlines. Beginning 1/1/2021, Earn 5 points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per year. Earn 5 points for eligible hotel rooms booked and paid for online through amextravel.com
  • Receive access to the Global Lounge Collection which includes access to airport lounge locations around the world
  • Receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year with one qualifying airline to cover incidental fees such as baggage fees and in-flight refreshments. If you make purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card, you can get up to $100 in statement credits annually – enrollment required
  • Annual fee of $550
  • Terms Apply

Annual Fee

$550

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

See Pay Over Time APR

Details

The Platinum Card from American Express earns an impressive 5x points on airfare booked directly with the airline (read: not on Kayak or Orbitz) or with American Express Travel. Beginning January 1, 2021, Earn 5 points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per year. You’ll also get 5x points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com. During the first 6 months of card membership earn 10 points on eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets on up to $15,000 in combined purchases. All other purchases earn 1x points.

The card has one of the heftiest annual fees on the market, coming in at $550. However, there are a number of ways to offset the fee. First, you’ll receive $200 worth of airline fee credits on your airline of choice each year. This credit is available for fees such as seat selection charges and checked bags, but not for tickets themselves. You’ll also receive Uber VIP status and $15 Uber credits every month with a bonus $35 in credits in December (only available in the U.S.). There is a $100 statement credit for Global Entry available every four years or an $85 credit for TSA Precheck® available every four and a half years. You can also receive $50 in Saks credits every six months upon enrollment. There are no foreign transaction fees.

Other benefits include access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection, gold status with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy, memberships with Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred and National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive and full access to American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts. The cherry on top is a 75,000 welcome bonus points after you make $5,000 in purchases in your first 6 months. Some targeted offers have welcome bonuses as high as 100,000 points.

Why We Like It

The Platinum Card from American Express has a reputation as a high-end credit card, but it’s a great option for anyone who spends a lot of money on airfare. With 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and a generous welcome bonus, cardholders are likely to see their points multiply quickly. The $550 annual fee is a deterrent for many, but anyone who flies and uses Uber enough to take advantage of the credits is going to find themselves paying a lower effective annual fee than they would with many other credit cards.

The Amex Platinum also has a bevy of perks beyond points and credits. Even if you’re not a frequent traveler, having elite status with hotel chains and car rental companies could save you hundreds of dollars or make your travel experience that much easier. For anyone that values lounge access at airports, this card could be worth much more than the annual fee.

The points you earn with the Amex Platinum are called Membership Rewards points and are an extremely valuable point currency. You can transfer your points to an even wider range of transfer partners than you can with Chase, almost all at 1:1 or a more favorable ratio. Doing this can allow you to get additional value out of each point. You can also redeem points directly with Amex, and while the value usually stays closer to just one cent per point, you’ll regularly find deals that increase the value of your award redemptions.

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Best Travel Credit Card with No Annual Fee

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  • There are no foreign transaction fees when you travel abroad and there is no annual fee with the VentureOne® card
  • Receive an early spend bonus of 20,000 miles when you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months. When redeemed for travel, this equals $200!
  • Earn 1.25 miles per dollar on every purchase
  • Redeem your miles when you want with no blackout dates, you can fly any airline and stay at any hotel; anytime
  • No limit to the number of miles you can earn and miles won't expire as long as your account is in good standing
  • Transfer your miles to over twelve loyalty travel programs for added flexibility
  • Low 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first 12 months; receive 15.49% - 25.49% variable APR after that depending on creditworthiness

Annual Fee

$0

Purchase Intro APR

0% for 12 Months

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

15.49% - 25.49% Variable

Details

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offers 1.25x points on all purchases with no limits and doesn’t impose an annual fee or foreign transaction fees. You’re able to redeem these miles to offset any travel purchases or you can transfer them to one of Capital One’s more than 10 travel loyalty programs. The VentureOne Card offers a 20,000 mile early spend bonus after you spend $500 in the first 3 months of card membership.

Why We Like It

Like its big brother, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, the VentureOne Card simplifies travel rewards far more than most other cards, and it does so while charging no annual fee. While 1.25x points on all purchases can’t match the triple points you get on select categories from other cards, it’s a good everyday earning rate. Indeed, if a lot of your spending happens outside of these typical bonus categories (like travel and dining), then you might be better off having a 1.25x rate and not having an annual fee.

You can use your Capital One miles to offset a variety of travel expenses on your statement, or you can transfer them to a variety of hotel and airline transfer partners. Again, the transfer rates aren’t as good as you’ll find with other cards, but they aren’t too bad - typically two Capital One miles to 1.5 partner miles. The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card is a great option for anyone who wants a travel rewards card, but doesn’t necessarily want to take a deep dive into the world of complicated award redemptions. Plus, there’s no annual fee on this card, so there’s not much reason to keep it out of your wallet.

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Travel Credit Card with the Best Early Spend Bonus

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  • When you spend $15,000 in your first 3 months from account opening, earn 100,000 bonus points. If you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards towards travel, this would be equal to $1,250!
  • Earn 3 points per dollar spent on the first $150K in combined purchases on travel and select business categories each anniversary year
  • All other purchases earn one point per dollar with no limit to the amount you can earn
  • Receive 25% more points when you redeem for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal
  • Points can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, cash back + more. Plus, your points don't expire as long as your account remains open and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees if you need to travel overseas on business
  • Receive additional cards for your employees at no additional cost
  • There is an annual fee of $95

Annual Fee

$95

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

15.99% - 20.99% Variable

Details

The Ink Business Preferred Credit Card earns 3x points on travel; shipping purchases; internet, cable and phone services; and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines. You’ll earn these 3x points on up to $150,000 in combined purchases every calendar year, after which you’ll earn the same 1x points that you do on all other purchases.

The Ink Business Preferred has an annual fee of $95 and does not charge foreign transaction fees. You can earn a generous early spend bonus of 100,000 points after spending $15,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of card membership. Points are worth 25% more when redeemed through the Chase travel portal and are also available to transfer to a variety of travel programs. You’ll also get certain travel and purchase protections when you pay with your card.

Why We Like It

The Ink Business Preferred Credit Card is a great option for businesses who want to earn and redeem points for travel across the board, and it also offers one of the best early spend bonuses available. Like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the travel category for this card is broadly defined, meaning that you can earn points for everything from public transit to hotels to airfare.

As with other premium Chase cards, you can redeem points through Chase directly or you can transfer them to a variety of airline and hotel transfer partners, typically at a rate of one to one. If you choose to redeem your points with Chase directly, you have a number of options. You can redeem points at a value of one cent per point for things like cash back or statement credits, or you have the ability to redeem through the Chase travel portal, where each point is worth 1.25 cents. That means that instead of paying 25,000 points for a $250 ticket, you’ll only need to pay 20,000 points. With such a generous early spend bonus and a relatively inexpensive annual fee, this card has plenty of perks that make it well worth it as a business credit card.

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Best Travel Card for Businesses

More Details

  • Earn 75,000 welcome bonus points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months
  • Earn 5x points for flights and prepaid hotels that you book on amextravel.com
  • Get 50% more points on eligible purchases of $5,000 or more. You can earn up to an additional 1 million points per year
  • 35% pay-with-points rebate - When you pay with points for all or part of your airline ticket you can get 35% of those points back up to 500,000 points back per year when booked on amextravel.com
  • Receive up to $200 in statement credits for U.S. purchases on your card with Dell each year ($100 semi-annually) - you must be enrolled and terms apply
  • Option to Pay Over Time: Card feature that provides card members with an option to revolve certain charges with interest
  • Terms Apply

Annual Fee

$595

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

14.24% - 22.24% Variable

Details

With The Business Platinum Card from American Express, you’ll earn 5x points on airfare and hotel purchases made with Amex Travel. You’ll also earn 1x points on all other eligible purchases and 1.5x points on eligible purchases of more than $5,000 (with a maximum of one million extra points per year). You can also earn 75,000 points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases made within the first 3 months of card membership.

When you book airfare with your selected qualifying airline using Membership Rewards Pay with Points, you’ll get 35% of your points back (with a maximum of $500,000 points back per year). You’ll also receive up to $200 in statement credits for U.S. purchases with Dell each year and up to $200 in airline fee credits on one qualifying airline that you select each year. This card also reimburses cardholders who enroll in Global Entry or TSA Precheck®.

When it comes to other travel specific benefits, the Business Platinum really stands out. The card grants access to Amex’s concierge service as well as access to the Global Lounge and Global Dining Collections. You’ll also get complimentary Hilton Honors Gold Status, Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status. Finally, there are no foreign transaction fees. All of these perks come at a high price, though: This card comes with a very high annual fee of $595.

Why We Like It

While The Business Platinum Card from American Express has one of the highest annual fees out there, it’s more than possible for high-spending businesses and frequent travelers to get more than their money’s worth. Some may find that features such as elite status at Hilton and Marriott plus the Amex Concierge are already worth the hefty fee. For others who aren’t convinced, you can get up to $500 back in statement credits every year.

You’ll earn Amex Membership Rewards points when you spend with the Business Platinum. These points are very valuable, plus you’ll get a 35% discount when you book airfare with points, for a maximum of 500,000 points back per year. If you decide not to redeem your points for airfare directly through Amex, you have the option of transferring them to a variety of hotel and airline partners, mostly at a 1:1 ratio. You can also redeem points for a variety of other expenses through Amex directly.

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Best Co-Branded Airline Travel Credit Card

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  • Earn a welcome bonus of 40,000 miles and 5,000 MQMs (Medallion Qualification Miles) after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, after you make a Delta purchase with your card in the first 3 months, you will earn a $100 statement credit
  • Earn 2 miles at supermarkets in the U.S. and at restaurants worldwide including takout and delivery
  • Receive a statement credit to reimburse you for Global Entry or TSA Precheck® application fee
  • Receive Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta Flights and your first checked bag free
  • Earn 3 miles on Delta purchases which include Delta flights and Delta vacation packages. You can also earn 3 miles on purchases made directly with hotels. Plus, earn 1 mile on all of your other eligible purchases
  • You and two guests can enter the Delta Sky Club for an exclusive rate of $39 when traveling on a Delta flight
  • There are no foreign transaction fees. However, there is an Annual Fee of $250
  • Terms Apply

Annual Fee

$250

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

15.74% - 24.74% Variable

Details

The Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card earns 3x miles per dollar on purchases made with Delta or directly with hotels; 2x miles per dollar spent at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) and U.S. supermarkets; and 1x point per dollar on all other eligible purchases. You can also earn 40,000 miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, if you make a Delta purchase in the first 3 months with your card, you can earn a $100 statement credit. This card has an annual fee of $250. Other benefits include priority boarding, a free checked bag, and 20% off in-flight purchases on Delta flights. You’ll also get Delta Sky Club access for you and up to two guests for $39 per person, travel protections and shopping protections. Another perk is that you can receive either a $100 statement credit for Global Entry or an $85 credit for TSA Precheck®. Only one credit will be given in a 4 year period for Global Entry or in a 4.5 year period for TSA Precheck®, depending on whichever application fee is charged to your Card first. You won’t be charged any foreign transaction fees for using this card abroad.

This card can also help you earn elite status with Delta. If you spend $25,000 in a calendar year on your card, the Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) requirements are waived for Platinum, Gold or Silver Medallion Status. You can also earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) for every $25,000 you spend on the card, for a maximum of 20,000 MQM each year. You’ll also receive a valuable companion travel certificate each year after your first anniversary of getting the card.

Why We Like It

The Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card is great for Delta flyers because it can help you earn status if you typically have trouble meeting MQD and MQM requirements. You’ll also have access to valuable perks like the companion fare, priority boarding and SkyClub access, though frequent fliers may already have access to these perks. The bonus categories that come with the card are good, but you might find better elsewhere, such as with the American Express Gold Card.

We typically don’t recommend co-branded airline cards to our readers, as they’re typically only useful to someone who frequently flies that specific airline. However, among all the airline cards out there, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card stands out due to its bonus categories, status earning abilities, early spend bonus and more. If you live in a city without a Delta hub or simply fly other airlines more often, check out our page of the best airline credit cards.

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Best Co-Branded Hotel Travel Credit Card

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  • Earn a welcome bonus of 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months
  • Earn 12 Hilton Honors points for every dollar of eligible purchases made with your card direct with a resort or hotel in the Hilton portfolio
  • Earn 6 Hilton Honors points for every dollar of purchases deemed eligible on your card at U.S. gas stations, U.S. restaurants, and U.S. supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Hilton Honors points for every dollar of your other eligible purchases
  • Receive complimentary Gold Status, and if you spend $40,000 on eligible purchases in a year you can earn Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year
  • There are no foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee
  • Terms Apply

Annual Fee

$95

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

15.74% - 24.74% Variable

Details

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card earns an impressive 12x points when used directly within the Hilton network of hotels. You’ll earn 6x points at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations. All other eligible purchases earn 3x points. The annual fee for this card is just $95 and there are no foreign transaction fees. Plus, you’ll earn a 130,000 point welcome bonus after spending $2,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.

The holder of this card is automatically granted Hilton Honors Gold status, and $40,000 in eligible purchases in a year can grant you Hilton Honors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year. You’ll also earn a free weekend night reward upon spending $15,000 on eligible purchases in a year. The card comes with Priority Pass Select, granting you 10 free lounge visits a year. Plus, you’ll have access to the Global Assist Hotline as well as rental car insurance.

Why We Like It

Anyone who consistently stays at Hilton properties will be able to take advantage of this card’s membership perks, like the complimentary elite status and free weekend night certificate. It’s also easy to compile Hilton Honors points through spend alone due to the cards generous bonus category multipliers. While Hilton Honors points aren’t typically as valuable as others, you should be able to find a use for your points relatively easily.

As is the case with the Delta SkyMiles Platinum card and any other co-branded card, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card is most valuable to anyone who stays at Hilton properties often and can take advantage of the Hilton-specific perks of the card. However, since the card has a relatively low annual fee, even occasional Hilton guests may still be able to get solid value from the card. For a wider, more comprehensive selection of hotel co-branded cards that may better fit your needs, take a look at our list of the best hotel credit cards.

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Honorable Mentions

American Express Gold Card

Quick Look

The American Express Gold Card is a great option for anyone who spends a significant chunk of money on groceries, dining at restaurants and airfare. The Gold card earns 4x points on up to $25,000 per year in purchases at U.S. supermarkets, after which you will receive 1x points. You’ll earn unlimited 4x points at restaurants worldwide plus 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com and 1x points on all other purchases. The card has a $250 annual fee but charges no foreign transaction fees. Plus, you can offset the annual fee by taking advantage of the card’s $100 annual airline fee credit, which covers incidental fees for one airline of your choosing each year. You'll also receive a $10 monthly statement credit when you dine at select restaurants with your card, Seamless, Grubhub or a handful of other vendors once you enroll. You can also earn a 60,000 point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 6 months of card membership.

The Gold card is a solid option for anyone who is looking for a card with great bonus categories, a low effective annual fee and the ability to redeem points for a variety of purposes. As with other Membership Rewards-earning Amex cards, you can use your points to book travel directly with Amex or you can transfer your points to a variety of transfer partners.

SA First Year Rewards
$2,775
Pros
  • Solid bonus categories
  • Earns versatile and transferable points
  • Variety of statement credits available
Cons
  • $250 annual fee
  • Mediocre welcome bonus
Qualifying Credit Score

More Details

  • Earn a 60,000 point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 in the first six months of card membership
  • Earn 4 points at supermarkets in the U.S. (on up to $25,000/year in purchases, then 1 point). Earn unlimited 4 points at restaurants worldwide (including takeout and delivery)
  • Earn 3 points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com and 1 points on all other purchases
  • Earn up to $10 in monthly statement credits when you dine at select restaurants with your card, Seamless, Grubhub or a handful of restaurant vendors once you enroll, this can be a savings of up to $120 per year
  • There are no foreign transaction fees
  • $250 annual fee
  • Terms Apply

Annual Fee

$250

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

See Rates and Fees

Quick Look

The American Express Gold Card is a great option for anyone who spends a significant chunk of money on groceries, dining at restaurants and airfare. The Gold card earns 4x points on up to $25,000 per year in purchases at U.S. supermarkets, after which you will receive 1x points. You’ll earn unlimited 4x points at restaurants worldwide plus 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com and 1x points on all other purchases. The card has a $250 annual fee but charges no foreign transaction fees. Plus, you can offset the annual fee by taking advantage of the card’s $100 annual airline fee credit, which covers incidental fees for one airline of your choosing each year. You'll also receive a $10 monthly statement credit when you dine at select restaurants with your card, Seamless, Grubhub or a handful of other vendors once you enroll. You can also earn a 60,000 point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 6 months of card membership.

The Gold card is a solid option for anyone who is looking for a card with great bonus categories, a low effective annual fee and the ability to redeem points for a variety of purposes. As with other Membership Rewards-earning Amex cards, you can use your points to book travel directly with Amex or you can transfer your points to a variety of transfer partners.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Quick Look

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a lite version of its big brother, the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The Sapphire Preferred earns 2x points on travel and dining; these categories are broadly defined to include public transit as well as restaurants. You’ll also earn 5x points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's 3x points in addition to the 2x points you already earn on travel. This card only has a $95 annual fee and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. You can earn a solid 60,000 early spend bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a great option for those who want a versatile travel card without paying an expensive annual fee. This card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which can be redeemed in a variety of ways, such as for cash back, as gift cards or by being transferred to a variety of hotel and airline transfer partners. You can also redeem points on the Chase travel portal, where each point will be worth 1.25x more than when redeemed elsewhere.

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SA First Year Rewards
$1,850
Pros
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Purchase and travel protections
  • Versatile points can be redeemed in a number of ways
Cons
  • $95 annual fee
  • Only 2x points on bonus categories
Qualifying Credit Score

More Details

  • When you spend $4,000 in your first three months with the card, earn 60,000 bonus points. When redeemed for travel through Chase that equals $750!
  • Earn 2 points on travel purchases, 2 points on dining purchases at restaurants, eligible delivery and take out worldwide, and earn 1 point per dollar on everything else.
  • If you choose to redeem your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel, your points are worth 25% more.
  • Receive complimentary DashPass from DoorDash - you and your authorized users will receive at least 12 months of complimentary DashPass when the subscription is activated with your card by 12/31/21. Get unlimited deliveries on orders over $12, with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees.
  • Earn 2 points on grocery store purchases (including eligible delivery and pick-up services) up to $1,000 per month from November 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021.

Annual Fee

$95

Purchase Intro APR

N/A

Balance Transfer Intro APR

N/A

Regular APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable

Quick Look

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a lite version of its big brother, the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The Sapphire Preferred earns 2x points on travel and dining; these categories are broadly defined to include public transit as well as restaurants. You’ll also earn 5x points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That's 3x points in addition to the 2x points you already earn on travel. This card only has a $95 annual fee and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. You can earn a solid 60,000 early spend bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a great option for those who want a versatile travel card without paying an expensive annual fee. This card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which can be redeemed in a variety of ways, such as for cash back, as gift cards or by being transferred to a variety of hotel and airline transfer partners. You can also redeem points on the Chase travel portal, where each point will be worth 1.25x more than when redeemed elsewhere.

Compare Other Chase Offers

Wells Fargo Propel American Express card

Quick Look

The Wells Fargo Propel American Express card earns 3x points on travel (flights, hotels, homestays, rideshares, transit and car rentals), dining, gas stations and popular streaming services. All other purchases earn 1x points. There is also a 20,000 point early spend bonus after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. This card has no annual fee or foreign transaction fees.

While this card is part of our list of the best cash back credit cards, it proves to be a valuable option for those who spend a significant chunk of money on travel related expenses. While points are just redeemable at a rate of 1 cent per point and aren’t transferable to airline or hotel partners, it could be a great option for anyone who is interested in a more straightforward card that will produce returns on travel expenses.

Compare Similar Offers

SA First Year Rewards
$610
Pros
  • No annual fee
  • Solid bonus categories
  • Straightforward to use
Cons
  • Lackluster early spend bonus
  • Fewer travel related perks
  • No bonus for spending points through travel portal
Qualifying Credit Score

More Details

  • Earn a one-time bonus of 20,000 points when you spend $1,000 in eligible purchases in the first 3 months of card membership
  • No annual fee and no foreign currency conversion fees
  • Earn 3 points per dollar when you dine out or order in
  • Earn 3 points per dollar on travel purchases including car rentals, cruise lines, flights, hotels, homestays and more
  • Earn 3 points per dollar at gas stations, transit, and rideshare purchases
  • Earn 3 points per dollar on qualifying streaming services
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other qualifying purchases
  • Select "Learn More" to read more about the features of this card including terms and conditions

Annual Fee

$0

Purchase Intro APR

0% for 12 Months

Balance Transfer Intro APR

0% for 12 months (on qualifying balance transfers)

Regular APR

13.99% - 25.99% Variable

Quick Look

The Wells Fargo Propel American Express card earns 3x points on travel (flights, hotels, homestays, rideshares, transit and car rentals), dining, gas stations and popular streaming services. All other purchases earn 1x points. There is also a 20,000 point early spend bonus after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. This card has no annual fee or foreign transaction fees.

While this card is part of our list of the best cash back credit cards, it proves to be a valuable option for those who spend a significant chunk of money on travel related expenses. While points are just redeemable at a rate of 1 cent per point and aren’t transferable to airline or hotel partners, it could be a great option for anyone who is interested in a more straightforward card that will produce returns on travel expenses.

Compare Similar Offers

Methodology

SmartAsset has developed a quantitative and independent system for evaluating the relative value of a credit card offer versus other offers in the marketplace. Our system evaluates cards based exclusively on their features, such as their rewards earning rate (if applicable), fees, perks, and rewards program redemption options. The annual rewards values on this page are calculated using annual spending assumptions in various categories such as, but not limited to, gas, restaurants, airfare, and US supermarkets. These spending assumptions are built on research that SmartAsset has conducted on existing cash back credit cardholders. Our promise with our credit card recommendations is that we will always strive to have the most comprehensive, accurate, and objective method of evaluating credit card offers. Any recommendations are solely determined by the result of this research and model, and is never influenced by any fees, commissions, or other forms of compensation that SmartAsset may receive from credit card issuers for leads generated on our website.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which SmartAsset.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). SmartAsset.com does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.


Travel Credit Cards:

Everything You Need To Know

The Basics

A travel credit card offers travel-related rewards. As your rewards add up, you may be able to swap them out for all sorts of prizes and benefits, from free flights and priority boarding to discounted hotel stays. You may even be able to donate your rewards to charity. Some of the best travel credit cards make it easy for cardholders to earn airline miles or points. Knowing as much as you can about travel credit cards and what they have to offer can help you pick the right card for your wallet.

Credit Card Miles vs. Points

Depending on the kind of travel credit card you apply for, the terms points and miles could be used interchangeably. But that’s not true with every travel credit card. With points, you may have more flexibility when you’re ready to redeem them. For example, you may be able to exchange your points for gift cards, cheap airfare and cash. Or you may be able to transfer them to a frequent flyer program. You may also be allowed to redeem your points for a statement credit that can be used to pay for cruises and rental cars.

With some programs (like frequent flyer programs), you can only use your miles to buy plane tickets and make other purchases through a specific commercial airline. With others, you can redeem your airline miles for hotel rooms, gift cards, merchandise and flights through different airlines.

Either way, points, miles and even cash back are earned in a similar manner. For every dollar you spend on qualifying purchases, you’ll be able to earn a certain number of rewards. In many cases, you’ll earn one point or mile for every dollar you spend. Of course, with many travel credit cards there are strategies you can implement to earn double or triple the amount of rewards you would normally earn. Shopping with a preferred merchant, for example, may be an easy way to score bonus points and miles.

With some travel credit cards, the rewards system is structured in a way that gives you more points or miles for making specific purchases. For instance, a credit card may give you two points for every dollar you spend on travel and restaurant meals and one point for every dollar you spend on everything else. With other cards, you may earn two miles for every dollar you spend regardless of where you’re shopping.

Types of Travel Credit Cards

Travel credit cards can be divided into several different categories. There are airline credit cards that are usually attached to frequent flyer programs. In most cases, you must book a flight with a specific airline or buy one of its products in order to earn miles. If you have a generic airline miles credit card, you’ll be able to trade in your miles for plane tickets and merchandise sold by multiple airlines.

There are travel credit cards that let you earn points that you can use to book flights directly or use through an airline loyalty program. But you may not have access to some of the benefits that you’d get with an airline miles card (like baggage fee waivers and seat upgrades). There are also general travel credit cards that give cardholders the freedom to redeem their rewards for flights and various travel-related expenses.

When a travel credit card is sponsored by more than one company, it’s known as a co-branded credit card. Examples include the credit card sponsored by both Delta and American Express and the one sponsored by Visa and Amazon. Hotel credit cards fall under the umbrella of co-branded cards.

A hotel credit card usually gives consumers the chance to earn points that they can redeem for hotel room upgrades and free nights. Normally, you can earn rewards for making everyday purchases at gas stations and grocery stores and purchases at airports and car rental agencies. But you’ll get extra points when you use your card to pay for a stay at the hotel chain that sponsors your card. Some of the best travel credit cards that are sponsored by hotels let you swap out your rewards for a statement credit that you can use at the spas, restaurants and other establishments that you visit during your stay at a particular hotel. Other hotel credit cards let you redeem your rewards for theme park tickets and other perks.

The Benefits of Travel Credit Cards

The perks that go along with using a travel credit card can be pretty sweet. Just by using your credit card, you’ll be able to earn points or miles that can save you money on baggage fees and other expenses. Travel rewards cards can also come with benefits that you may never have thought a credit card could have, like roadside assistance, travel accident insurance, luggage protection and concierge services.

Travel rewards also make it possible to take trips around the world or go on cruises without spending a fortune. Foreign transaction fees can add up. These fees usually range from 1% to 3% of each charge. Luckily, there are many credit cards that don’t charge a fee when you use them abroad.

Travel credit cards tend to come with the biggest sign-up bonuses. If you can earn thousands of points or miles within 90 days of opening an account, it won’t take as long to earn enough rewards for your dream vacation to Barcelona or Cape Town.

If you have an airline credit card, you may get access to buddy passes and discounts on in-flight food and drinks when you earn a certain number of rewards. Joining an airline’s loyalty program may pay off in the long run if you consistently use the same airline. And becoming a frequent flyer could be convenient. Traveling could be more rewarding if you get to relax in a comfortable private lounge and board your flight before everyone else.

By applying for a hotel credit card, you may automatically qualify for elite status at a hotel (or get a shortcut to elite status). As an elite member of a hotel loyalty program, you may be eligible for late or express checkout, free access to hotel fitness centers, complimentary breakfast and gift shop discounts.

How a Travel Credit Card Could Save You Money

If you’re trying to trim your budget or reduce your travel costs, applying for a travel credit card could be a good idea. You’ll earn rewards that you can use to offset the cost of a hotel room, a trip to an amusement park, a cruise to the Caribbean or an international flight. Travel credit cards can also save you money on travel-related fees and any snacks you want to buy while you’re on a flight.

Depending on the kind of card you apply for, you could save money on purchases that have nothing to do with traveling. If your travel credit card has a complimentary extended warranty policy, for example, you could get a refund on an appliance or another item that you charged to a card after the original warranty expires. Extended warranties purchased separately can cost over $100.

Credit card companies usually issue travel credit cards to borrowers with high credit scores. But if you wanted to raise your credit score from 700 to 750, you could use a travel rewards card to do that (as long as you’re making good financial decisions). With a higher credit score, you’ll quality for lower interest rates when you apply for other loans and lines of credit. That’s another way to save money with a travel credit card.

Of course, it’s worth nothing that a travel credit card will only save you money when you pay very few fees and little or no interest. That’s why these kinds of cards are best for consumers with good money management skills.

The Drawbacks of Travel Credit Cards

While there are many benefits to having a travel credit card, there are some disadvantages that you’ll need to watch out for. For one thing, redeeming your rewards may not be easy (especially if your schedule isn’t flexible). Some travel credit card programs have blackout dates that restrict your ability to redeem your rewards. Using your miles to book a flight for Thanksgiving or Labor Day weekend may not be possible if there are blackout dates around the times of year when most people travel.

Furthermore, your travel rewards may not be around forever. In many rewards programs, points and miles eventually expire. You could also lose your rewards by closing your credit card account. That could be an issue if you can only use your miles to buy plane tickets and you only fly a couple of times per year. Even if your rewards don’t expire, there may be a cap on the number of points you can earn annually.

Loyalty programs can also change regularly. That can affect your ability to redeem your points and miles. Specifically, it can reduce the value of your rewards so that you need to earn more before you can claim a certain prize or product.

And if you think you’ll be able to trade in your miles or points for a free flight, think again. You’ll still be responsible for paying fees and taxes. For domestic flights, that shouldn’t be a big deal. But for international flights, those extra charges could leave you with a big bill.

There’s another downside to travel credit cards: The annual percentage rates and fees associated with them are typically higher than the ones tied to standard credit cards. An annual fee may be unavoidable, particularly if you’re looking for a card that will allow you to earn a large amount of rewards. You could also get stuck paying an international transaction fee.

How a Travel Credit Card Can Affect Your Credit Score

Filling out a credit card application will cause your credit score to dip slightly. Applying for new credit is considered a hard inquiry (or an action that affects your credit). Multiple new credit inquiries within a few months could indicate that you’re desperate for additional credit. Someone with good credit may not even qualify for a new credit card if a card issuer believes that he or she has recently submitted a large number of applications for new credit.

Opening a new credit card account may also lower your credit score by lowering the average age of your accounts overall. This factor accounts for 15% of your score in the FICO scoring model. That’s the credit score that’s most widely used among lenders and creditors.

If you can qualify for a travel credit card, the way it affects your credit score will vary based on how you use your card. If you’re paying your credit card bill on time and keeping your credit utilization ratio below 30% (that’s the amount of credit you’re using as a percentage of your total credit limit), your credit score may rise. But going over your credit limit every month or failing to make the minimum credit card payments can hurt your credit.

Canceling credit cards in particular can cause your credit score to fall substantially. Getting rid of an account could raise your credit utilization ratio. According to the FICO scoring model, 30% of your score depends on your credit utilization ratio (also referred to as your debt-to-credit ratio) and the total amount of debt you haven’t paid off. Often, the higher your credit utilization ratio, the lower your credit score.

Opening and closing lots of credit cards could also be a problem if you’re planning to apply for a mortgage or a car loan in the near future. If you want to cancel your travel credit card for any reason, you may need to wait at least six months before filling out an application for an installment loan (debt that’s paid off over time according to a set schedule).

Who Should Apply for a Travel Credit Card?

Generally, you’ll need a good or excellent credit score in order to qualify for one of the best travel credit cards. You’ll also need to have a good credit history without bankruptcies, foreclosures, liens and other derogatory marks.

If your credit isn’t in tip-top shape (meaning that it’s below 700) and you have some negative marks on your credit report, you may have to do some research in order to find a card that you’re eligible for. If you find yourself in that boat, it’s probably best to improve your credit score before applying for a travel credit card. You can build credit by trying to pay down your existing debt and paying your credit card bill by the deadline every month. Going to annualcreditreport.com and requesting a free copy of your credit report could be a good idea. That way, you can dispute any errors that may be dragging down your credit score.

It’s also important to keep in mind that every travel credit card isn’t a good fit for every traveler. Some travel credit cards are ideal for business travelers who take trips abroad regularly. Other cards work well for people who take trips every once and a while.

The ideal candidate for a travel credit card is someone who never carries a credit card balance. If you pay your credit card bill in full (and on time) every month, you’ll never have to set aside extra money for late fees or interest payments. And then you’ll be able to maximize your travel rewards and save money.

Which Type of Travel Credit Card Do You Need?

A generic airline credit card could be perfect for anyone who isn’t loyal to a particular airline. If you’re always hunting for a bargain when you’re booking flights, signing up for an airline credit card and a frequent flyer program probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

On the other hand, if you usually go through the same airline whenever you need to buy a plane ticket, you could be better off with an airline credit card. Being loyal to one airline and its affiliates could work well for you. And being able to waive your baggage fees and get access to priority boarding could reduce some of the expenses and stress associated with traveling. Being able to change your flight plans at the last minute or adjust your schedule to catch a plane can help you make the most your airline miles.

If you travel often and you always stay at the same hotels, you may want to apply for a co-branded hotel credit card. If your budget can handle it and you want the best deals on hotels and flights, you may need a hotel credit card and an airline credit card.

Anyone who isn’t loyal to a particular hotel or airline may want a general travel credit card. Best of all, you’ll be able to redeem rewards for just about any travel-related expense. You won’t be as affected by blackout dates. And if you’re trying to book a flight and the airline lowers the value of its rewards, you can simply buy a plane ticket from another airline. But the downside is that you may not be able to take advantage of the kinds of perks available to frequent flyers (like lounge access and companion passes).

If you’re mainly trying to save money on flights and you don’t care about applying your rewards to other kinds of travel expenses (and you have no loyalty to a single airline), you may want to apply for a travel credit card that simply lets you earn points.

Still not sure which kind of card is right for you? Looking at a list of the best travel credit cards and evaluating those offers can help you decide what appeals to you. It’s important to search for cards that will help you meet your goals, whether you’re trying to qualify for free hotel rooms or avoid bank fees whenever you travel outside of the country.

How to Pick the Best Travel Credit Card

Before applying for a travel credit card, it’s best to evaluate various offers carefully. It’s a good idea to look at the kinds of benefits that credit cards offer and decide which ones are most important to you. Would you prefer to have a credit card with a sign-up bonus? If so, it’s best to find a card with a low minimum spending requirement. Or could you live without a sign-up bonus as long as you can earn points or miles every time you use your credit card?

If having an online bonus mall is important to you, that’s something else to look out for. These shopping portals can help you earn bonus points and score discounts on products sold by your favorite retailers.

You’ll also need to take a look at the interest rates and fees that’ll apply to the credit card you want and weigh them against the card’s benefits. According to Value Penguin, the average annual percentage rate attached to travel rewards credit cards is around 15.99%. On average, APRs for hotel and airline credit cards are 16.12% and 16.24% (respectively). Many of the best travel credit cards have 0% interest promotions for balance transfers and/or regular credit card transactions. Avoiding interest payments for a year after opening your account can save you quite a bit of money and help you make the most of your travel rewards.

As you’re reviewing travel credit card offers, you may want to look for cards that make it easy to earn rewards. If a rewards earning structure seems too complicated or has too many limitations, you may need to consider other options. What’s more, you wouldn’t want a travel credit card that forces you to spend money on items that you wouldn’t normally buy just to rack up rewards.

What Matters Most When Applying for a Travel Credit Card

Your lifestyle is perhaps one of the most important factors to consider when comparing the best travel credit cards. Considering where your hard-earned dollars go can help you choose the card that best fits your needs. So if you enjoy traveling and trying out different restaurants, you might want to consider a card that gives you two points for every dollar you spend on travel expenses and dining.

You’ll also need to think about your credit card payment habits and how much debt you can afford to take on. All of the money you spend with your credit card will need to be paid off at some point. Thinking about your budget is particularly important if you’re considering a travel credit card with a sign-up bonus. If you can’t pay your balance in full every month after opening your account, you’ll need to be prepared to pay interest.

Fees matter, too. Some travel credit card programs come with an annual fee but waive the charge for the first year the account is open. Annual fees attached to travel cards can be as high as $500. If that’s out of your price range, you may want to look for a card that charges fewer fees. Biting the bullet and paying a high annual fee may pay off, however, if a card has perks that you can’t pass up on (like a free plane ticket every year). If there are foreign transaction fees and fees for transferring points to other rewards programs, that’s something you’ll need to take into consideration.

Ultimately, you may need to do some calculations before you can decide whether it’s worth it to get a credit card with a high annual fee. If a travel card has a $100 annual fee and every point you earn is worth 1 cent, you would need to earn at least 10,000 points per year to make up for the high fee.

While you’re busy crunching numbers, you may want to calculate the value of the rewards you’ll be earning. You’ll also need to pay attention to the number of points or miles you can earn with every dollar you spend. Just remember that your miles or points could be worth more depending on how you redeem them.

The credit card issuers’ stance on what qualifies as a travel expense matters, too, when you’re trying to pick a travel credit card. Applying for a credit card probably doesn’t make sense if the services it counts as travel expenses are the ones you never use.

What Counts as a Travel Expense?

Not all credit card issuers agree on what’s considered a travel-related expense. That can make earning and redeeming rewards with a travel credit card a bit tricky. The general consensus is that a handful of purchases always count as travel purchases. For example, you’ll normally be able to earn rewards whenever you use your credit card to rent a car, book a hotel stay or buy a plane ticket.

Sometimes a credit card issuer will include parking fees, tourist attraction costs (like trips to the zoo or the aquarium) and real estate agent fees (charges related to renting out rooms) in its list of qualifying travel expenses. But that’s not the case with every travel credit card.

Something else to consider as you’re trying to figure out what does and doesn’t count as a travel expense is the fact that some expense categories are broader than others. For example, let’s say that a travel credit card says that you can earn rewards for spending money on limousines and taxicabs. Depending on your credit card issuer, that category may include rides secured through apps like Lyft and Uber. This is where merchant category codes (MCCs) come into play.

Merchants have banks that get to choose the type of business that a particular retailer falls under. They use an MCC to distinguish themselves from other kinds of companies. So if your travel credit card lets you earn rewards when you use a travel agency, you may be rewarded for using Kayak or Priceline to book a flight. Many travel websites use the same MCC that traditional travel agencies like AAA use.

Bottom line: It’s important to find out how a particular card issuer defines travel before filling out a credit card application. After all, you’ll be disappointed if you sign up for a credit card that won’t give you credit for all of the toll fees you have to pay or the bus fare that you’re covering on a daily basis. In most cases, this information should be available on a credit card issuer’s website. If you can’t find it, you can call and speak to a customer service representative.

Assessing the Value of Travel Rewards

Not all travel rewards have the same value. That’s why it’s important to find out how valuable a travel card’s points or miles will be before applying for that card. In order to do that, you’ll need to pay attention to two factors: the earn rate and the redemption rate.

The earn rate is simply the amount of points or miles you’ll earn with every dollar you spend. The redemption rate looks at what a single point or mile is worth in dollars. Travel rewards are typically worth 1 cent apiece. But the value of a mile or point could be more or less than that depending on the card issuer, the rewards program and the way you redeem your rewards.

A basic formula can show you the value (or the redemption rate) of your points and miles. You’ll need to find out how many miles or points you need to earn a reward. Then you take the value of that reward (in dollars) and divide it by the number of miles or points you need to claim your prize. So if you need 40,000 points for a $400 flight, the redemption value is 1 cent ($400/40,000).

Just because a travel credit card will give you a lot of points or miles for every dollar you spend doesn’t mean that those rewards are more valuable. Card A may give you two points for every dollar you spend at a hotel chain while Card B may give you one point for every dollar you spend on a hotel stay. But Card B may have a higher redemption rate if a single point is worth 1.25 cents versus 0.70 cents with Card A.

The best travel rewards cards have a high redemption value. But again, it all depends on how you plan to redeem your miles and points. One point could be worth 1 cent if you need 32,000 points for a $320 flight from Atlanta to New York City. But a single point could be worth about 0.78 cents if you transfer your points to a hotel loyalty program that’ll give you a $250 coupon for the 32,000 points you’ve earned.

Transferable points and miles are usually attached to a specific exchange rate (which is usually 1:1). If your credit card points or miles aren’t transferable, they may have a fixed value. That’s something you’ll need to pay attention to.

Fixed-value points can only be redeemed for a set dollar value (which is usually one to two cents). What does that mean? Let’s say that you want to use your points to buy a $300 plane ticket. If you have fixed-value credit card points that are always worth 1 cent per point, you would need 30,000 points in order to book your flight. So if you’re trying to exchange your fixed-value points for an expensive item, making that happen might take a while.

In addition to assessing the value of your points and miles, you may want to figure out how much your other credit card perks are worth. Putting an exact value on these kinds of rewards can be difficult. But you can try to base it on how much money you’ve saved by taking advantage of those benefits in the past. Free priority boarding, for instance may save you $30 every time you fly.

What to Do After Choosing a Travel Credit Card

If you’ve found a travel credit card you think you’ll be happy with, you’ll need to apply for it. You can do that by submitting either an online or paper application. Just keep in mind that if you’re sending in an application through snail mail, processing it could take a couple of weeks. In contrast, if you complete your travel credit card application online, you could be instantly approved for it.

Before issuing you a travel credit card, a card issuer will pull your credit report, check your credit score and look for recent hard inquiries, delinquencies and other derogatory marks. It will also calculate your credit utilization ratio and your debt-to-income ratio. The former looks at how close you’ve come to maxing out your existing credit cards. The latter takes your monthly debt payments and divides them by your gross monthly income. Essentially, your debt-to-income ratio indicates whether you would have enough money to pay the monthly bill for a new credit card.

Another factor that a credit card company will likely consider before approving or rejecting your application is your credit mix. That looks at whether you have other loans and lines of credit and your experience with managing those accounts. But it only accounts for 10% of your FICO credit score. The length of your credit history (which accounts for 15% of your FICO score) and the number of new credit accounts that you have (which accounts for 10% of your FICO score), will be taken into consideration as well.

If your credit card application is approved, you can expect to receive it within seven to 10 business days. Once your travel credit card arrives, you’ll need to set up your account.

Redeeming Your Travel Rewards

There may be multiple ways to redeem the points you earn through your travel credit card. But you’ll often get the most out of them by using them toward travel. In contrast, the worst redemption rates are often the ones attached to points redeemed for products and merchandise. Before you redeem a single point or mile, it’s a good idea to read your credit card’s terms and conditions. Knowing what’s in the fine print is important if you have questions about applying your travel rewards.

Besides looking at the rules for trading in your miles and points for discounted goods and services, you’ll need to figure out how to squeeze the most value out of your travel credit card. Is transferring your travel points to programs owned by travel partners the key to maximizing your rewards? Or do you need to book your travel through a specific website or travel agency to get the most bang for your buck?

There will always be good redemption options and bad redemption options where your rewards are worth less than 1 cent. Doing your homework and learning as much as you can about your travel rewards program is essential to becoming a savvy travel credit card user.

How to Earn as Many Travel Rewards as Possible

Eager to do whatever it takes to rack up travel points or miles? If you’re strategic, you can figure out how to accumulate thousands of miles within a short time span. With many travel credit cards, you don’t even need to get on an airplane or book a hotel room to earn rewards.

The easiest way to earn rewards is to use your travel credit card on a regular basis. If you can find a card that offers you rewards for every purchase you make, your points and miles can quickly add up. You may be able to earn two or three times as many rewards at once by using your credit card’s online bonus mall or travel portal. Carefully reading your card’s terms and conditions should show you whether there are other ways to double or triple dip. For example, you may earn more rewards by linking your credit card account with another rewards program account. It also doesn’t hurt to find out if you can earn points or miles by using your travel credit card to pay bills or purchase gift cards.

Looking for a travel credit card with a sign-up bonus is another way to earn extra rewards. In order to receive bonus miles or points, you’ll likely have to spend a certain amount of money within the first three months of activating your credit card account. You may also be able to earn additional rewards by making someone in your family an authorized user. Regardless of whether your sign-up bonus is an additional 10,000 miles or 30,000 points, you’ll need to be sure to make room in your budget for your credit card payments. If you’ve applied for one of the best travel credit cards, hopefully, you won’t have to spend too much money before you can claim your sign-up bonus.

How to Maximize Your Travel Rewards

Earning as many travel rewards as you can is one thing. But learning how to make the most of them is a different story. There’s no point in taking the time to earn rewards if you’re going to let them sit in your account and eventually expire.

In order to maximize your rewards, you’ll need to know the ins and outs of your credit card’s rewards program. Understanding how blackout dates affect your ability to use your rewards can help you plan ahead. And if they will expire at some point, having that date in the back of your mind can be helpful. If you can never remember any due date, you may need to set a reminder on your smartphone or make a note on your calendar.

Once you get a good sense of how your travel credit card works in terms of earning and redeeming rewards, it may be a good idea to set goals. Would you like to earn enough miles for a free trip to Croatia? Or would you prefer to use your points to save money on hotel rooms because you’re always out of town for work? Having a clear sense of why you’re earning rewards in the first place is important when you’re trying to be intentional about the way you redeem them.

You’ll also need to make sure you’re being a responsible credit card user. If you consistently forget to pay your credit card bill on time or you have a tendency to go over your credit card limit, the amount of fees you’re paying could exceed the amount of points or miles you’re earning. If that happens, your travel rewards won’t save you much money. This means that it’s also important to avoid spending money just to earn rewards, knowing that you’ll eventually have to pay off your credit card debt.

When it comes to redeeming travel rewards, it helps to be flexible. One of the best ways to maximize your points or miles may involve booking a last-minute flight to another continent.

Transferring Travel Rewards

Should you transfer your miles or points into hotel or airline loyalty programs? Converting the airline miles you’ve earned into hotel points could make sense if you have a good exchange rate. Otherwise, transferring your rewards wouldn’t work in your favor. In fact, you could waste your rewards by transferring them haphazardly without thinking about the consequences of your actions. For instance, if you have a hotel credit card, transferring your points to an airline’s rewards program may be possible. But the exchange rates for those kinds of transfers usually aren’t great.

Not all miles and points are transferrable. For the most part, you can’t transfer miles from one frequent flyer program to another. An exception to that rule may apply if your airline loyalty program has a partnership with another airline. In many cases, travel credit cards tied to a bank’s rewards program have the highest number of transfer partners. You may be able to transfer your rewards to dozens of airlines and a handful of hotels.

Your credit card’s program contract should have information about the rules for transferring miles and points. To make the transfer, you may need to call customer service. Or you may be able to transfer your rewards through your account online. Transferring your travel miles or points to another person may also be possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is an airline mile?

An airline mile isn’t the equivalent of walking or running a mile on the ground. It’s just a rewards card unit. In some cases, points and miles mean the same thing. Miles may be redeemed for flights booked through a frequent flyer program or through a general travel rewards card program. Miles may also be transferred between loyalty programs.

2. How many rewards do you need to earn a free flight?

It depends on the travel rewards credit card program, where you’re planning to travel and the kind of seat you want. This means that a first-class ticket will require more miles or points than a seat in economy class. Just note that a free flight technically won’t be free. You’ll still be responsible for paying applicable taxes and fees.

3. Do I need good credit in order to qualify for a travel credit card?

You may not need great credit in order to be eligible for certain credit cards. But if you’re interested in applying for one of the best travel credit cards, you’ll probably need a good or excellent credit score. Taking the time to fix your credit could be a good idea if you don’t want to get stuck with a high annual percentage rate and a low credit line.

4. What should I look for when I’m comparing travel credit cards?

It’s important to look for a credit card that will fit your needs and help you meet your goals. You’ll need to consider all of the perks that go along with a particular credit card and see how they stack up against the card’s fees and interest rates. If you want a card with a sign-up bonus, the best travel credit cards have low minimum spending requirements.

5. How many travel credit cards should I sign up for?

Some of the savviest travelers and frequent flyers have dozens of credit card accounts. Some folks apply for almost every credit card promotion that they come across. For the average person, however, it’s probably best to space out your credit card applications and only apply for the cards that will help you meet your goals. Don’t forget to figure out how getting a travel credit card will affect your credit score and your overall financial situation.

6. How can I tell whether a travel credit card offer is a good deal?

You’ll need to crunch some numbers. You’ll need to figure out how many miles or points you need to earn a reward. Then, you can take the dollar value of that reward and divide it by the number of miles or points you need for redemption. Next, you’ll need to calculate the dollar value of your other credit card perks (based on how much money you could save by earning those rewards). Finally, you can combine the value of all of your rewards and compare that total amount to the fees that you’d have to pay.

If the fees you’re required to pay are higher than the monetary value of the card’s rewards, you’re better off finding another travel credit card to apply for.

7. Can travel rewards lose their value?

The value of points and miles can increase and decrease when credit card companies and their sponsors change their awards charts and redemption rates. In contrast, the value of cash rewards tends to stay the same over time.

8. How can I protect myself from travel reward devaluations?

When travels rewards are devalued, it becomes more difficult for cardholders to earn and redeem those rewards. Reward devaluations can be particularly troubling for members of frequent flyer programs who can’t transfer their rewards to other loyalty programs or redeem their miles for anything other than flights and merchandise from a single airline and their partners.

Before you apply for a travel rewards card, it’s important to consider that the value of your rewards could change. If you’re concerned about reward devaluations, you may want to choose a general travel credit card. That way, you’ll have more options when you’re ready to redeem your rewards.

9. Are all travel rewards transferrable?

Different travel rewards cards programs have different rules. Sometimes, transfers between loyalty programs are permissible. With other kinds of credit cards, rewards transfers may be prohibited. You’ll need to do your own research to find out what you can and can’t do with your travel points and miles.

10. How can I make the most of my travel rewards?

Understanding the way your rewards program works is essential if you’re trying to maximize your rewards. Generally, you’ll make the most out of your rewards when you use them for travel instead of redeeming them for merchandise. Paying your balance in full each month by the due date can help you avoid fees and interest payments that would reduce the value of your rewards.

Final Thoughts

You’ll likely come across many enticing offers during your hunt for a travel credit card. Taking the time to consider all of the pros and cons of applying for a card can be helpful when you’re trying to pick the card that’s best suited to your budget and lifestyle.

Photo credits: ©iStock.com/Choreograph, ©iStock.com/martin-dm, ©iStock.com/Squaredpixels

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Cities with the Most Airline Rewards

SmartAsset's interactive map highlights the places in the country where people could potentially rack up the most airline rewards. Click between states and the national map to see where people are leaving the most credit card airline rewards on the table.

Least
Most
Rank City Passengers Originating in City Average Ticket Cost Total Estimated Airline Spending ($ in Thousands) Total Airline Rewards ($ in Thousands)

Methodology Our study aims to find the cities where people could be earning the most airline rewards. We determined the cities where people spend the most on airline travel and then determined a dollar value for that spending. We used data from the Bureau of Transportation, in addition to SmartAsset's own rewards valuation model.

First, we looked at the number of passengers taking domestic flights that start from each city for all major carriers. The data comes from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. We then paired the number of passengers originating from each carrier in each city with data on the average airfare for domestic flights originating in each of the cities in our study. Data on average fares comes from the Bureau of Transportation statistics Airline Origin & Destination survey.

Using the average fare and number of originating flights by carrier, we were able to estimate consumer spending by carrier for each city. We ran the spending for each carrier through SmartAsset's rewards valuation model, which values major miles programs based on a simulation of dollar and the value of travel miles for more than 200 domestic flights.

Finally, we ranked each city in our study by the value of the travel by the people in the city. The cities at the top are places where people could be earning the most rewards from current travel patterns.

Sources: Bureau of Transportation Statistics Airline Origin and Destination Survey Q1 2017, Bureau of Transportation Statistics T100 data table Q1 2017, SmartAsset Reward Valuation Model