Best Travel Credit Cards and Points Earning Strategies During the Pandemic

Michael McHugh
By Michael McHugh 
Edited by Jeanette Margle

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With travel practically halted, you may be wondering what you can do to earn cash back, miles or points to book future travel. Good news: There are credit cards and earning strategies to increase your balances even while you are not in the air or on the road.

Best travel credit cards

During normal travel times, co-branded credit cards that pay points with a specific airline or hotel group are a great way to earn award travel. But now that travelers are mostly grounded, award programs operated by banks and financial services companies are worth a second look. The programs of Chase Bank, American Express and others let you earn points you can redeem for travel or other rewards directly through the program. Or you can transfer your points to airline, hotel or other travel partners. Here you can find information about which airlines and hotels partner with any of four popular programs:

Each of these programs offers credit cards tailored to different types of users. Look for cards with high earn rates in “bonus categories” that pay you extra points for shopping at specific types of merchants, like gas stations and supermarkets. Then simply align your spending on credit cards that have high point earn rates for those spend categories, and you will continually earn cash back or points to book future award travel.

American Express cards

American Express Platinum Credit Card
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American Express Premier Rewards Gold Credit Card
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American Express continues to adapt to changing consumer behavior by updating the earn rates and benefits on some of its cards. Looking for a personal card? Keep your eye on The Platinum Card® from American Express (5x points on airfare), American Express® Gold Card (4x points on dining and U.S. supermarkets) and American Express® Green Card (3x points on dining and travel). Terms apply.

Business owners may find value in The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, which pays 2x points on all transactions up to $50,000, above which it pays 1x points. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express earns 5x points on airfare and hotels booked on AmEx Travel. Terms apply.

Capital One credit cards

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
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Capital One Spark Miles Credit Card
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The Capital One Miles program is relatively new among transferable points programs. Unlike Chase and Citi, whose points transfer to all partners at a 1:1 ratio, Capital One Miles transfer to partners at ratios that vary from 1:1 to 2:1.

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a personal credit card you should consider. This card earns 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One travel and 2x miles on every other transaction. In terms of business credit cards, the Capital One Spark Miles for Business also earns 2x miles per transaction and 5x on hotels and rental cars booked through the travel portal.

Citi credit cards

Citibank ThankYou Premier Credit Card
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The Citi ThankYou Rewards program offers a limited number of credit cards that pay transferable ThankYou points.

One of the more well-known Citi ThankYou cards is the Citi Premier® Card, a premium card, earning 5x points on dining and airfare. Also popular is the Citi Prestige® Card, which pays 5x points on restaurants and travel.

Another Citi credit card to keep on your radar is the Citi® Double Cash Card. Until recently, this card earned only cash back, but thanks to some recent changes, you can now turn your cash-back rewards into Citi ThankYou points, which you can then transfer to any of Citi’s partner airline programs.

Chase credit cards

Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card
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Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
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Like American Express, Chase continues to push the envelope with its personal and business credit cards. It can be argued that the Chase Ultimate Rewards® program has the most well-rounded lineup of credit cards that earn transferable points.

Chase personal credit cards to consider applying for are the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. You are not able to apply for both. Of these two cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card could be a good choice if you are new to earning transferable points.

The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card is the lone Chase business card that earns transferable points. This card earns 3x points on cable, internet and phone services, travel, shipping, and social media and search engine advertising purchases.

Similar to Citi, you can earn cash back with Chase cards and convert the cash into Chase Ultimate Rewards® points. To make these conversions, you must be a Chase Sapphire Reserve®, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card holder.

Personal cash back cards to consider applying for are the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. The current welcome offer is: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back! That means you'll get 6.5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 4.5% on dining at restaurants and drugstores, and 3% cash back on all other purchases on up to $20,000 your first year.

Business owners can also take advantage of cash back to points conversions. The Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card earns 1.5% cash back on all transactions. Think of this card as the business equivalent of the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. Ink Business Cash® Credit Card holders earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent on cell phone, landline, internet and cable TV services, and at office supply stores.

Best points earning strategies

Before you do any online shopping, consider using a shopping portal to earn additional cash back, miles or points on your spend. If you are not focused on earning specific airline miles or credit card points, Cashback Monitor is a great place to see what your earning potential is across myriad merchants.

Cashback Monitor

Cashback Monitor is a helpful website that shows your cash back, miles and points-earning options at merchants you are looking to use. Enter the merchant you want to shop in the top left “Search Store Here” field and Cashback Monitor shows your cash back, airline and credit card points-earning options.

For example, let’s say you want to shop at Lululemon. After you search for Lululemon, Cashback Monitor shows the highest-earning cash back, travel miles/points, credit card points and other rewards points options. Simply click through to your preferred option and you will earn rewards on your purchase.

Cash back portals

Earning cash back when you shop is ideal for travelers who do not want to deal with airline award charts or transferring credit card points to airline or hotel loyalty programs. Examples of shopping portals, among the many that are available, include Mr. Rebates and TopCashback.

Airline shopping portals

Many airlines have shopping portals, which let you earn miles by shopping hundreds of big-name and specialty retailers online. Just register with the shopping portal then start at its website to navigate to the store you want to shop. You’ll automatically earn miles when you make a purchase. Airline shopping portals include:

Credit card portals

There are several credit card portals where you can pad your credit card point balance when you shop. You must be a cardmember with a card that earns points in order to earn additional credit card points. Examples of credit card portals include:

Other rewards portals

Rakuten is a hybrid portal option that allows you to earn either cash back or points. This website previously was strictly a cash back portal. In 2019, Rakuten opened up the option to earn American Express Membership Rewards points in addition to cashback. For example, a merchant that used to offer 1% cash back now offers 1% cash back or 1 AmEx point per $1 on your purchase.

Additional ways to earn points and miles

American Express, Chase, Delta Airlines, Hilton Hotels and other loyalty programs offer unique ways to earn points or miles. American Express and Chase have what are called AmEx and Chase Offers, respectively. Enroll your points-earning card in an offer and you can earn additional points when you make a purchase with a select merchant.

Chase, Delta and Hilton partner with Lyft. By linking your loyalty program accounts with your Lyft account, you earn additional Chase, Hilton or Delta SkyMiles on Lyft rides. Delta also partners with Airbnb to let you earn SkyMiles with your Airbnb spending.

The United MileagePlus X app is an interesting way to earn United Airlines miles. Use the app for your online shopping and you will earn miles shopping at select merchants.

The bottom line

Now is a great time to earn cash back, miles or points. By choosing the right credit card or taking one or two extra steps before you shop, you can build the points and miles balances in your accounts. When travel opens back up, you will be well-positioned to book your next trip.

All information about the American Express® Green Card and Chase Freedom® has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The American Express® Green Card and Chase Freedom® are no longer available through NerdWallet.

The information related to Citi Prestige® Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:

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