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Credit Cards

Here are the best travel credit cards that can save you hundreds on your next vacation

We analyzed 35 popular travel cards using an average American's annual budget and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best travel credit cards based on your spending habits.

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The best travel credit cards offer more than just great cash-back incentives — they also come with a range of perks and upgrades that can take your next trip from basic to bougie without spending extra money.

To help you choose the best travel card for your needs, we analyzed 35 popular travel cards using an average American's annual spending budget and digging into each card's perks and drawbacks to find the best of the best based on your consumer habits. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)

In recent years, travel cards have become one of the most competitive categories. As a result, some features are nearly standard across the board: no foreign transaction fees, travel credits and upgrade programs.

Where it gets interesting, and confusing, is when you start to look beyond those features. Before you sign up for a new card, consider how you'll use it and how you can best optimize the points so you're getting the most out of the rewards program, especially if you're paying a steep annual fee. It's also important to make sure you can pay off your balance on time and in full each month, because many of these cards also have high interest rates.

The good news: If you choose a card from this list, you could earn over $2,000 in rewards over the next five years based on our calculations

Here are Select's picks for the top travel rewards cards:

FAQs

Winner

American Express® Gold Card

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    4X Membership Rewards® points on restaurants (including takeout and delivery, plus, Uber Eats purchases) and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 6 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $250

  • Intro APR

    Not applicable

  • Regular APR

    See Pay Over Time APR

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees and our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Up to $120 dining credit annually ($10 a month) for purchases made with Grubhub, Seamless and eligible restaurants (after a one-time enrollment)
  • Up to $120 Uber Cash annually ($10 a month) for U.S. Uber Eats orders and U.S. Uber rides (card must be added to Uber app to receive the Uber Cash benefit)
  • Strong rewards program with 4X points earned at restaurants and 3X points earned on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com
  • Baggage insurance plan covers up to $1,250 for carry-on baggage and up to $500 for checked baggage that is damaged, lost or stolen
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • No introductory APR period
  • $250 annual fee
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,074
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,969

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The American Express® Gold Card is a smart choice for consumers who love travel and dining out. While the card comes with a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees), it offers a number of luxury rewards that help offset the cost.

One big perk for travelers to take advantage of is the annual statement credits. Cardholders get $120 to cover restaurant charges ($10 per month at Seamless, Grubhub and other participating restaurants) and $100 in hotel credits when you book rooms through The Hotel Collection with American Express Travel.

As a welcome bonus, new cardholders earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after spending $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first six months following card activation.

When using the American Express Gold Card, users earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 4X Membership Rewards® points on dining at restaurants and purchases made at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year, then 1X) and 1X Membership Rewards® points earned on everything else.

Membership Rewards® points value varies depending on how cardholders redeem them. You can use them in a variety of ways, from paying with points at checkout at retailers like Amazon to redeeming for gift cards or a statement credit to booking travel. (See more on how the value of points is calculated.)

In addition to the point rewards, there are also special travel perks, such as room upgrades at specific hotels and special travel discounts and amenities for those who enroll with The Travel Collection by Travel Leaders Group at no extra cost.

Unlike the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card, there is no special credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees.

Runner-up

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Information about the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠, 2X miles per dollar on every other purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    17.24% to 24.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit up to $100 every 4 years

Cons

  • No introductory APR
  • There’s a $95 annual fee
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,466
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,931

Rewards totals incorporate the miles earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers no shortage of travel benefits and rewards, and if you're looking to book a bunch of travel this fall, it could be an ideal time to take advantage of this card. Card members earn 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠ and unlimited 2X miles on every dollar spent.

You can redeem your points for travel purchases by either using a statement credit or by booking travel through Capital One's Reward Center. You can also redeem your points for actual cash in the form of a check, but points are worth half a cent per point if you go this route.

Travelers going overseas can take advantage of no foreign transaction fees. And cardholders also get a one-time credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. As an added plus, you can use your Venture Rewards card to get access to exclusive sporting and music events, plus premiere culinary experiences, including the New York City Wine and Food Festival and the iHeartRadio Music Festival.

A downside: There's no introductory 0% APR period. And Capital One indicates on its website this card is for people with excellent credit scores.

Learn more: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card review: For frequent travelers in search of luxury benefits with a low annual fee

Best welcome bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 2X points on all other travel purchases, 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, and 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    15.99% to 22.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Transfer points to leading frequent travel programs at a 1:1 rate, including: IHG® Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy™ and World of Hyatt®
  • Free DashPass subscription for a minimum of a year when you activate by December 31, 2021
  • Travel protections include: auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance and trip delay reimbursement
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • No introductory 0% APR
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,506
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,528

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a loyal following among travelers looking for a travel-centric rewards program and robust suite of perks. This card also has one of the most generous welcome bonus offers: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. The bonus is worth up to $1,250 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards® or for eligible purchases with the new Pay Yourself Back tool.

The rewards program offers 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3X points on dining and 2X points on all other travel purchases. Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, which is a great way to get more value from the rewards program.

Beyond rewards, this card comes with a number of helpful benefits, such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, no foreign transaction fees and baggage and trip delay insurance.

Sapphire Preferred card members can also benefit from 5% cash back on Lyft purchases through March 2022 and a complimentary DashPass membership for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2021.

Best for luxury travel

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    Earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases plus, 10X points on Lyft rides through March 2022

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $550

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    16.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit for travel purchases
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit up to $100 every four years
  • Priority Pass™ Select lounge access at 1,000+ VIP lounges in over 500 cities worldwide
  • Points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Special benefits at The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
  • Free DashPass subscription for a minimum of a year when you activate by December 31, 2021
  • $60 DoorDash credit in 2021
  • Complimentary year of Lyft Pink membership

Cons

  • High $550 annual fee, but it can be offset by taking advantage of all the card’s perks
  • No introductory APR
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,469
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $3,346

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? Chase Sapphire Reserve is enormously popular among travelers for its luxe perks and strong rewards program. Cardholders earn 5X points on air travel and 10X points on hotels and car rentals when purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards (after using the $300 annual travel credit). Plus, they earn 3X points on other travel and dining and 1X point on all other purchases.

But it's the perks that really make this card stand out for globetrotters. You can get a statement credit of up to $100 (every four years) to help cover Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees as well as enroll in Priority Pass Select, which gives you access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide with free amenities, such as Wi-Fi, snacks, beverages and more.

The Chase Ultimate Rewards portal has everything you need to plan a vacation from booking rental cars to cruises. You can also use the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection to book rooms and take advantage of upgrades upon arrival, complimentary meals, flexible check-in times, extra amenities and special discounts.

The value of Chase rewards points varies depending on how you use them. If you redeem points for cash and gift cards, each point is worth $.01, which means that 100 points equals $1 in redemption value. (See more on how the value of points is calculated.)

The value of points increases 50% when you redeem for travel on Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruise reservations when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards. This is a great way to maximize the value of your rewards and makes this card stand out from the pack.

While this card does come with a substantial annual fee of $550, the many statement credits help to offset the costs. Cardmembers traveling internationally also don't need to worry about foreign transaction fees.

Don't miss: How to find out if your premium travel card is still worth the high annual fee

Best for no annual fee

Discover it® Miles

On Discover's secure site
  • Rewards

    Automatically earn unlimited 1.5x Miles on every dollar of every purchase - with no annual fee.

  • Welcome bonus

    Discover will match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year.

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% Intro APR for14 months on purchases and 10.99% Intro APR for 14 months on balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    11.99% - 22.99% Variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good / Excellent

Pros

  • Miles program
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • No blackout dates
  • No limit to the amount of miles you can earn and miles never expire

Cons

  • No Global Entry or TSA PreCheck statement credit offerings
  • Travel spending does not receive additional rewards
  • No airport lounge access
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $664
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,991

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Discover it Miles card comes with a generous rewards program — all for zero annual fee — that makes it a standout among travel cards.

The Discover it Miles card offers users unlimited 1.5X miles for every dollar spent on all purchases. But for higher spenders, Discover offers a welcome bonus that's hard to beat: It will do a mile-for-mile match of all miles earned the first year (for new card members in their first year only). If you rack up 35,000 miles within the first 12 months, Discover will match you with 35,000 miles. That's a total of 70,000 miles or $700 toward travel. (Based on our calculations, the average card user will earn around 32,777 miles in the first year.)

With this card, there are no blackout dates when you pay for travel purchases using your card. And, you can easily redeem miles as a statement credit for travel, restaurant or gas station purchases, as well as a deposit to your bank account. The best part is, miles earned never expire even if your account is closed. (Discover credits your account with your rewards balance if your account is closed.)

Best for low interest

TD First Class℠ Visa Signature® Credit Card

Information about the TD First Class℠ Visa Signature® Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    3X miles earned on every $1 spent on travel and dining, plus 1X mile earned on every $1 spent on everything else

  • Welcome bonus

    25,000 miles when you spend $3,000 within the first 6 billing cycles

  • Annual fee

    $89, waived for the first year

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    14.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    $5 or 3% of transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    N/A

See our methodology, terms apply

Pros

  • 3X miles on every $1 spent on travel and dining
  • 25,000 miles when you spend $3,000 within the first 6 billing cycles
  • 0% APR during the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • No additional travel credits, like TSA PreCheck/Global Entry application credit
  • Points aren’t worth more if you book travel through a special portal
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $752
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,403

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? If you're looking for a travel card that also offers an introductory APR, you should consider the TD First ClassSM Visa Signature® Credit Card. It made our list of the top travel cards for its unique welcome bonus, impressive rewards program and relatively low 14.99% variable APR.

New cardholders can earn 25,000 miles when they spend $3,000 within the first six billing cycles. Typically, cards require you to spend that much in the first three months to qualify for the bonus offer.

The rewards program offers 3X miles on every $1 spent on travel and dining. For all other purchases, users earn 1X mile per $1 spent. You can easily redeem rewards for cash back, gift cards or travel rewards.

In addition to offering 0% APR during the first 12 billing cycles on balance transfers, the variable APR rate is 14.99%, which is significantly lower than many other competitor cards (though we recommend that you pay off your card in full and on time each month). There are no foreign transaction fees, and the annual $89 fee is waived for the first year.

Best for students

Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students

  • Rewards

    Unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    25,000 bonus points after you spend at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening, which can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward qualifying travel purchases

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for the first 12 billing cycles on purchases

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $10 or 3%, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Good/Excellent

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Points can be redeemed for flexible travel expenses, including flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars or baggage fees
  • No limit or expiration on points
  • Strong welcome bonus of 25,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days
  • Intro 0% APR for 12 billing cycles on purchases
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to apply for this card

Cons

  • Promotional 0% APR does not apply to balance transfers
  • No student-centric benefits or incentives to practice responsible credit behavior
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $466
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,528

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

Who's this for? The Bank of America Travel Rewards for Students is a great choice for students who plan on studying abroad or traveling during breaks. The rewards program is geared toward travel, and cardholders earn 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases.

You can redeem rewards as a statement credit to cover the cost of travel purchases — a simple way to reduce the cost of taking a spring break vacation or buying a plane ticket home. There are no foreign transaction fees, making it an ideal card for students studying abroad.

Cardholders can redeem their rewards at any time and at any amount, including when shopping on Amazon.

This card also comes with a longer-than-average special financing offer of no interest for 12 billing cycles (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR). A full year of no interest is a great way for you to pay off new purchases over time, without incurring interest charges. We recommend you pay off your balance on time and in full each month.

You must be 18 or older and enrolled in school (college, vocational or trade school) to qualify for this card.

Latest: Does your credit card travel insurance cover coronavirus cancellations?

FAQs

Should you get a travel credit card?

If you travel often and pay for purchases with cash or debit, you're missing out on rewards and perks that can make travel more affordable. It can be in your best interest to get a credit card that awards high rewards rates on airfare, hotels, rideshares and other common travel expenses.

Using one of the travel cards mentioned above can earn you more than $2,000 in rewards over five years, which can help you offset the cost of past travel expenses or an upcoming vacation.

Who should apply for this type of card?

If you're interested in submitting a travel credit card application, keep in mind that card issuers usually require you to have good credit or excellent credit (scores above 670). Therefore, it's key to check your credit score before applying for a travel card.

Once you know your credit score and can check if you prequalify for a travel card, choose the best card for your needs and apply.

How to choose a travel credit card

There is a variety of travel credit cards available, from general to airline- and hotel-specific, and all the choices can make it hard to settle on one. In order to choose the best card for your needs, you should consider several factors. Here are some tips on how to choose a credit card.

Consider whether you're willing to pay an annual fee. Some travel cards have steep annual fees over $500, which can be worthwhile, but not for everyone. Make sure you do the math to see if an annual fee travel card is for you.

Another key factor to consider is the type of travel you do most. If you travel within the U.S., then it doesn't really matter if a card charges foreign transaction fees. But if you're off to Mexico or Spain, then it's important to have a no foreign transaction fee card.

Rewards should also play a part in your decision. Do some research to determine which card offers a rewards program more geared toward your spending habits. If you dine out a lot when you travel, consider the American Express Gold Card with 4X points on dining at restaurants. But if you want a competitive rewards rate on all sorts of purchases, the Discover it Miles has no annual fee and unlimited 1.5X miles on every dollar of every purchase.

You can compare card benefits side by side to see if one card rates better than another. The Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, offers complimentary lounge access, while the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card gives cardholders a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

How to compare travel credit cards

If you're having trouble narrowing down the best travel card for you, it can be helpful to compare credit cards. You should first list the benefits you're looking for and any deal breakers, such as an annual fee. Then consider cards that have those benefits.

For instance, if you want both travel and dining rewards, the Amex Gold Card is a better choice than the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card since the rewards rate is 4X versus 2X.

But if you don't want to pay a high annual fee, the Venture Card is only $95 compared to the $250 you'll pay for a Gold Card. (See rates and fees.)

Making the most of your card

In order to make the most of your travel card, you should familiarize yourself with the various credit card benefits and fees. Take note of any annual fees, foreign transaction fees and the APR associated with your account. Also consider the rewards rates and added perks, such as annual statement credits.

Once you're familiar with the terms of your card, you can start optimizing them. That may include setting reminders to use the annual $300 travel credit provided by the Chase Sapphire Reserve or submitting a Global Entry application with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to take advantage of the up to $100 credit.

If you have multiple credit cards, you might want to have a plan for the best time to use each card. Let's say you have the Discover it Miles and American Express Gold Card. Use the Amex Gold Card for dining expenses at restaurants to earn 4X points, then use the Discover card for all your other purchases to earn unlimited 1.5X miles.

Other types of credit cards to consider

Travel credit cards aren't for everyone. If you travel infrequently, you should consider alternative credit card options, such as cards with dining, grocery or gas rewards. There are cards that can provide up to 6% back in those categories, allowing foodies, meal-preppers and commuters to benefit.

Beyond rewards, you might benefit from a card that offers a 0% APR period. Some cards offer no interest for over a year on new purchases and balance transfers, such as the Citi Simplicity® Card with 0% for the first 18 months on purchases and balance transfers (after 14.74% to 24.74% variable APR; balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.) When used responsibly, these cards can help you get out of debt without high interest charges.

Best travel credit cards

Category Credit card
WinnerAmerican Express® Gold Card
Runner-upCapital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Best welcome bonusChase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Best for luxury travelChase Sapphire Reserve®
Best for no annual feeDiscover it® Miles
Best for low interestTD First Class℠ Visa Signature® Credit Card
Best for studentsBank of America® Travel Rewards for Students

Our methodology

To determine which cards will put the most money back in your pocket, Select evaluated 35 popular travel credit cards offered by major banks, financial companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join. We compared each card on a range of features, including travel rewards (points and miles), annual fee, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, one-time perks, annual perks, redemption rates, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available.

Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

We then estimated how much the average consumer would redeem over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee and assume that you are paying your credit card balance on time and in full each month so as not to incur interest charges.

It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming points/miles for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)

Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your travel habits.

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.

For rates and fees of the Discover it® Miles, click here.

Information about the Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.