The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards For Any Type of Traveler

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Whether you spend a little, spend a lot, travel frequently, or just travel occasionally, you’ll find tremendous value in having the right travel rewards-earning credit card.

The right travel rewards-earning credit card does more than help you offset the cost of travel. It can:

  • Let you linger with late checkouts and freshen up with early check-in at hotels
  • Reimburse you for airline checked luggage fees
  • Allow you to experience some of the best hotels in the world
  • Provide discounted (or free) flights, hotel rooms, and experiences
  • Give you priority access to special entertainment and sporting events
  • Provide a 24/7 concierge service
  • Cover your rental vehicle for theft and damage
  • Give you access to some of the nicest airport lounges in the world

And this is just a sampling of the benefits of having a travel rewards credit card. The perks you’ll receive with the actual card you carry will vary, but they should compliment your travel profile and reward your spending habits.

Let’s take a look at some of the best travel rewards credit cards available, review their perks/benefits, and consider which card might be a perfect match for you depending on how you like to travel.

The Best Travel Rewards Card for Luxury International Travelers

When you prefer the best travel experiences, you want only the best travel rewards credit card. And if you’re an international traveler who won’t settle for anything less than a nice comfy seat, lounge access, and premium travel perks/benefits, you’re going to want the Platinum Card® from American Express.

The benefits of the Platinum Card® from American Express collectively create a stunning package of everything a luxury international traveler needs to elevate their travel experience.

  • The Best Travel Earnings: With the Platinum Card® from American Express, earning valuable Membership Rewards points is simple. Make your flight and prepaid hotel purchases through American Express Travel and you’ll earn 5 points/dollar spent.
  • The Best Lounge Access: Whether you want to visit a Delta Sky Club, a Priority Pass lounge, or treat yourself to a Centurion Lounge visit, your card will grant you access.
  • Savor Those Upgraded Hotel Rooms: Enjoy the benefits of complimentary hotel elite status with Hilton and Starwood/Marriott.
  • The Best Seat on the Plane: Use your Membership Rewards points to purchase your business or first class flight, and receive 35% of your points back as a rebate.
  • Make Checked Luggage Fees Disappear: With $200 in incidental airline fees reimbursed each year, there’s no worrying about checked luggage fees or other incidental airline charges.
  • Take Uber for Free: Each month you’ll receive a $15 statement credit toward Uber purchases. In December, you receive $20.
  • No Reservations? No Problem!: Just call your own private concierge.
  • Ease Through Security: Purchase Global Entry or TSA Pre® and receive a statement credit of up to $100.
  • Enjoy Those Hotel Perks: Stay for 2 nights at a Fine Hotels and Resorts property and receive a room upgrade, $100 property amenity, late checkout, and more.

Bottom Line: The Platinum Card® from American Express sets the standard for a premium rewards travel credit card. If its benefits are some you can use, the value will far exceed the annual fee. 

Arctic Club Seattle - a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
Enjoy the complimentary hotel elite status that comes with the Platinum Card from American Express. Image courtesy of Hilton.

The Best Travel Rewards Card for First-time Cardholders

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

One of the most compelling reasons to hold a travel rewards credit card is to fund your travel goals, and one of the most valuable ways to accomplish this is to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

That’s because Chase Ultimate Rewards Points are easy to earn, offer flexible redemption options, and increase in value when redeemed through a premium Chase credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

You’ll earn a sign-up bonus when you complete the required initial spending on the card, and then you’ll go on to earn 2 points/$1 on every travel and restaurant purchase you make.

When it comes time to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points — whether you’re transferring your points to hotel/airline partners, or using the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal to book your own travel — the experience will make you a fan forever.

Bottom Line: You can’t go wrong beginning your travel-rewards journey with any Chase credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards points. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is an especially fine first choice because it allows you to redeem your points for 25% more in value. 

The Best Travel Rewards Card for Travelers Who want Simple Earnings and Redemptions

Capital One Venture Rewards Card

Capital One VentureOne

Keeping track of bonus spending categories, quarterly registrations, and complicated redemption processes may have deterred you from securing a travel rewards-earning credit card. If that’s the case, you’ll find the Capital One Venture (learn more) and Capital One VentureOne (learn more) travel rewards cards refreshingly simple.

Whether you’re earning 1.25 miles/$1 with your VentureOne Rewards Credit Card or 2 miles/$1 with your Venture Rewards Credit Card, you’re earning miles on every purchase, every day. No need to wonder which category of expenses earns more than others — you’ll earn the same on any purchase you make. It’s that simple!

There is one exception to the flat-rate everyday earnings that I’m sure you can embrace. Need to book a hotel? You’ll earn 10 miles/$1 when you book via the hotels.com/venture travel site.

Then, when it comes time to redeem your rewards, you simply sign in to your account and select the travel purchase you want to erase with your miles. You’ll receive 1 cent per mile in value. Done deal!

Bottom Line: For straightforward earnings and redemptions, Capital One travel rewards credit cards allow you to forget about managing your rewards and let you concentrate on planning your next trip instead.

Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa
Carrying a premium hotel-branded credit card can deliver benefits beyond those granted to members of the hotel loyalty program. Check out the Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa! Image courtesy of Hilton.

The Best Travel Rewards Card for the Frequent Domestic Traveler

Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card

The Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card is not just another premium travel rewards credit card. Yes, it earns rewards on travel and dining, offers a fine collection of premium travel benefits (including lounge access), and grants annual statement credits for travel purchases.

But it also does something that no other travel rewards credit card does: when you redeem your points for travel on the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, 50% more value is added to your points.

For example, if you redeem 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Points, you’ll receive $750 in value toward your travel purchase.

While expensive long-haul premium flights can be better secured utilizing Ultimate Reward airline transfer partners, a sweet spot for redeeming your Ultimate Rewards Points is for first class domestic flights.

If you’re a frequent domestic traveler, this means you can basically travel in first class for the price of economy.

Redeeming your Ultimate Rewards for travel with the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card gives you 50% more value. Image courtesy of chase.com/ultimaterewards.

We should also talk about earning Ultimate Rewards too, as the card is clearly a winner with earnings of 3 points/$1 spent on travel and on dining. All other purchases earn 1 pt/$1, and purchases using the Ultimate Rewards Shopping portal can earn as much as 20 pts/$1.

Benefits of this card include Priority Pass lounge access — there are more than 70 lounge and restaurant locations domestically.

A $300 travel credit each card anniversary year automatically reduces travel expenses, and up to $100 statement credit every 4 years for Global Entry/TSA Preè just adds more value.

The road warrior will find value in the additional travel coverage that comes with the card, including auto rental collision damage coverage and 24/7 travel/emergency assistance.

Bottom Line: The world traveler can certainly find value in having the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card, but the frequent domestic traveler who likes to fly first class, enjoys Priority Pass lounge/restaurant access, and spends a lot on travel/dining will fare very well by having the card. 

Chase Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card

For the traveler who values choice when it comes to hotels, you won’t find a hotel chain with more properties around the world than Marriott. And each year after your card anniversary, you’ll receive a complimentary night’s stay at one of the properties (up to 35,000 points in value).

Additional benefits of having the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card include:

Complimentary Elite Status: Your card comes with complimentary Silver elite status. In 2019, you’ll receive 15 night credits toward a higher elite status.

Accelerated Earnings: Earn 6 points/$1 at the Marriott family of properties and 2 points/$1 on all other purchases.

You’ll also receive a variety of Visa Signature travel perks with the card including:

Bottom Line: If you’re loyal to a particular hotel brand, it makes sense to be earning additional rewards on those hotel expenditures with a hotel-branded travel rewards credit card…especially when those rewards can be turned into more free nights. 

The Best Travel Rewards Card for the Traveler With No Airline Loyalty

No need to be loyal to 1 airline — with the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, you’re going to earn 3 valuable Membership Rewards Points for each dollar spent at any of your airlines. You can redeem those Amex points for travel on any airline, any hotel, and for other travel purchases.

You don’t need status with your favorite airline to enjoy the perks of free checked bags or other incidentals, since your $100 statement credit each calendar year will take care of these travel-related costs.

When it comes to hotels, you can book a 2-night stay at an American Express Hotel Collection property and receive a $75 hotel credit that can even be used toward an extra night.

Continue to use your card while traveling internationally too! You won’t be charged foreign transaction fees, and you’ll earn 3 points per dollar for travel-coded purchases plus 1 point/$1 on all other purchases during your trip.

Back at home, your Membership Rewards points add up fast with more earnings from your everyday spending.

  • 2 points/$1 at U.S. gas stations
  • 2 points/$1 at U.S. supermarkets
  • 2 points/$1 U.S. restaurants
  • 1 point/$1 everywhere else

Everything you need to know about the benefits of the Premier Rewards Gold Card and how to book travel through the Amex Travel website can be found in our expert guides.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find value in a travel rewards-earning credit card. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

The Best Travel Rewards Cards for the Low Spender

You don’t have to be a big spender to earn travel rewards either. With a relatively low spend once you get these cards, you can earn a sign-up bonus and jumpstart the rewards-earning process.

The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card is a solid card for earning valuable Membership Rewards points on every single purchase, and up to 2.4 points/$1 on grocery purchases. If you spend as little as $500/month on groceries, you’ll maximize the annual earnings in this bonus category.

Another reason this card is great for the low spender? If you make 20 purchases each month (even small purchases), you’ll earn 20% more rewards on your card. That’s a total of 2.4 points/$1 on your first $6,000 in grocery purchases, 2.4 points/$1 spent on Amex Travel, and 1.4 points/$1 on all other purchases.

Additional travel benefits include:

  • 2 Membership Rewards points/$1 spent at Amex Travel
  • Roadside assistance services
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance
  • Global Assist hotline
  • Travel accident insurance

The card does charge a foreign transaction fee for international purchases, so it’s best to use it when traveling domestically.

Redeem your Membership Rewards points for the best value (1 cent per point or better) by transferring to travel partners, purchasing gift cards, or purchasing travel.

Perhaps you haven’t pursued a rewards-earning credit card because you don’t spend a lot and might be wondering whether it’s worth the effort at all. You may be surprised to learn that the purchases you’re already making can earn rewards to help you fund a trip, or just add some cash to your bottom line.

Because you’ll be earning rewards on your everyday purchases with the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, you don’t have to spend big for the cash-back to start adding up. On groceries alone, you’ll earn $180 after getting 3% back from $6,000 in annual grocery purchases.

Add that to your 2% earnings at gas stations and department stores, and you’ve paid for your hotel nights without spending any more than you’d normally spend! And remember this card has an annual fee of $0.

Whether your travel goal is a weekend trip away with the family or a flight to visit an old friend, you can utilize the cash-back you earn on the Blue Cash Everyday® Card to help offset the cost of your adventure.

Hot Tip: If you’re working toward a travel goal and using a cash-back credit card, you may want to purchase gas, hotel, or other travel-related gift cards with your rewards to help save for your trip. 

Travel with Kids Tips Cover
Be a road-trip hero with the right travel rewards credit card. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

The Best Travel Rewards Card for Family Road Trippers

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

It’s Friday afternoon and the work week is done. You’re ready to high-five the family when you arrive home, because you’re hitting the road for a weekend adventure. It doesn’t happen often…but this weekend it’s on!

I’m certain the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express was created with family road trippers in mind. After all, you’ll earn cash-back on all the purchases you’ll be making during your trip, and you can use the cash-back you earned previously on everyday expenses to actually help fund your trip.

It’s a win-win cash-back solution for the family that hits the road together, or those who just want a little extra cash flow.

Earning 6% cash-back on grocery purchases (up to $6,000 per year) delivers $360 each year in cash-back. Add all the cash you’ll earn with 3% cash-back on your gas purchases plus a generous cash-back sign-up bonus, and you’ll have plenty of travel funds for that weekend road trip.

Your earnings add up with 3% cash-back at department stores too (perfect for school clothes shopping and Christmas), plus 1% cash-back on every other purchase you make.

Hopefully you won’t have to take advantage of the roadside assistance hotline that comes with the card, but if you do it’s there 24/7. The entertainment access benefit also grants you pre-sale privileges for scoring tickets to that special event.

The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express just might make you a family road trip hero!

The Best Travel Rewards Card for the Budget Traveler

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Do you like to travel but have a tight budget? The Chase Freedom Unlimited® has a little secret that might help you out.

You see, the cash-back you earn on all of your purchases with the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is not just cash-back; it can actually be redeemed for travel or transferred to Chase premium credit cards for even greater value.

If you like to travel on a budget, Ultimate Rewards Points are perfect for securing economy flights on the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel site. Booking travel is easy, and you can redeem your points for airline tickets, hotels, car rentals, and travel experiences.

To step up the value of your Ultimate Rewards Points, you can transfer them to a Chase premium card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ or Chase Sapphire Preferred®,  where the value of your Ultimate Rewards Points is increased by up to 50% more.

Chase Ultimate Rewards deliver great value when purchasing economy tickets. Shown in this example are 4 tickets to Florida for just 66,772 points. Image courtesy of chase.com/ultimaterewards.

With no annual fee, a simple earning structure, and the value you can receive when redeeming Ultimate Rewards Points, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® is a fine choice for the budget traveler.

Now go tell your family they’re going to Disney World!

Bottom Line: When redeeming Ultimate Rewards Points for travel, you can pick any airline, hotel, or travel experience without worrying about award availability or blackout dates — redeeming your points is just like paying with cash. 

The Best Travel Rewards Cards for the Hotel Loyalist

If either Hilton or Marriott is your hotel brand of choice, you’ll be happy to learn that the perks and benefits you receive in their loyalty programs will be elevated to a new level when you carry and use their hotel-branded credit cards.

Let’s take a look at how your experience can be enhanced with the addition of the hotel’s branded credit card.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

It’s unusual that a credit card alone would grant top elite status to the cardholder, especially without a required level of spending each year — but that’s exactly what you’ll receive by having the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. And it’s not the only premium benefit that comes with this card!

  • Top Diamond Elite Hilton Honors status: Valid for as long as you have the card, you’ll receive room upgrades (including suites), breakfast, hotel amenities, bonus points, internet, and more. Diamond Elite members receive 20 Hilton Honors points/$1 spent at Hilton properties, and the Hilton Honors Aspire Card elevates that to a total of 34 points/$1.
  • Free Hotel Room Nights: Receive 1 free hotel room night each card anniversary year, plus another when you spend $60,000 on the card each year. You’ll also receive your 5th night free when booking award nights with your points.
  • Airline and Hotel Statement Credits: Get $250 in incidental airline fees, a $250 Hilton Resort credit, and a $100 property credit at Conrad or Waldorf Astoria properties.
  • Worldwide Lounge Access: Your Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card comes with a full Priority Pass lounge membership.

Earning Hilton Honors points is easy: you’ll receive 14 points/$1 at Hilton properties; 7 points/$1 on airlines, Amex Travel purchases, U.S. restaurants, and U.S. rental cars; and 3 points/$1 on all other purchases.

Redeem your Hilton Honors Points for the best value by booking free hotel nights with points or with cash/points. Our expert guide on the best ways to redeem your Hilton Honors points will help make sure you receive maximum value at redemption time.

You’ll receive a free night each year after your card anniversary at a category 1-5 Marriott property. Image courtesy of Christine Krzyszton.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to selecting a travel rewards-earning credit card. Fortunately, each card has its own distinct characteristics that match up with certain travel and spending profiles. This makes it possible to zero in quickly on which travel rewards credit card might be a good fit for you.

Remember: because Chase plays a prominent role in the travel-rewards credit card arena, you’ll want to consider the Chase 5/24 rule in your selection process.

Regardless of which card you choose, we know for sure that travel rewards credit cards can change the way we travel and the way we live. They allow us to earn points/cash/miles on purchases we would be making anyway, and give us the ability to offset the cost of travel we may have never considered otherwise.


*Featured image credit: Christine Krzyszton

FAQ

How do travel rewards credit cards work?

Travel rewards credit cards earn points or cash-back on every dollar charged to the credit card. They’re called travel rewards credit cards because you either earn points/cash on travel-related purchases, redeem points/cash for travel, or both.

Travel rewards credit cards can earn points/cash-back for travel purchases, dining, gas, groceries, or other categories. The rewards can be used for free travel or to offset the cost of travel.

Which is the best travel rewards credit card?

The best travel rewards credit card for you is the one that earns rewards you can use and fits your spending habits.

For example, if your everyday spending is on groceries, gas, and at department stores but you rarely travel, you won’t find value in a premium travel rewards credit card that offers global lounge access and luxury hotel perks. You probably won’t want to pay the high annual fee either.

You may fare much better with a cash-back or flexible rewards-earning credit card that doesn’t charge an annual fee but allows you to earn rewards to offset the cost of an annual vacation.

What credit score do I need to get a travel rewards credit card?

You will generally need to have excellent credit to secure the best travel rewards credit cards.

There are many sources of credit scores as each of the 3 major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) have their own, and then there are combination scores such as FICO and VantageScore. According to Experian, an excellent VantageScore (which is widely used by creditors) is considered to be 750 or higher.

Which credit card is the best for international travel?

If you frequently travel internationally, you’ll want a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Most of the travel rewards credit cards we covered in this article do not charge these fees.

If you value premium travel perks and don’t mind paying an annual fee, you can’t go wrong with the Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠. Both offer global lounge access, flight credits, and great redemption value for your points when redeemed for flights.

If you can use the benefits these cards offer, you’ll receive value that more than offsets the annual fee.

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