How to Compare Travel Credit Cards

Every card is different, so it's all about knowing your travel habits and priorities.
Carissa Rawson
By Carissa Rawson 
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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Regardless of whether you’re just starting to look into travel cards or already have a few under your belt, understanding how to compare travel credit cards can quickly get complicated. From cardholder benefits to annual fees, each card is unique.

So how do you know which ones you should get? Let’s take a look at the different aspects of travel cards, some of the best travel credit card perks and how to figure out which ones are right for you.

What to consider when you compare travel credit cards

Your travel credit card selection will ultimately come down to the following four factors: The size of the welcome bonus, the card's benefits and rewards, how you'll earn points and the card's overall cost (or annual fee).

Welcome offers

Banks want your business. In the highly competitive U.S. credit card market, this means they’ll need to stand out in order to attract your attention. One of the ways they do this is by offering welcome bonuses.

Welcome bonuses can vary, but they usually feature a one-time lump sum of bonus points after making enough purchases on your card in a specific amount of time. You can find offers ranging from 15,000 points all the way up to 180,000 points — but not all bonuses are created equal.

You’ll want to consider how you’re going to redeem those points well before you send in your application. Are you a frequent flyer? A co-branded airline card may be a good option for you. Do you prefer a certain hotel chain? You may want to direct your attention toward hotel cards instead. Make sure you can and will use the bonus points on offer before you sign up.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Some card issuers limit how often you can sign up for new credit cards — and even how many times you’re allowed to receive a welcome offer. Research this before applying.

Some of the best travel credit card offers out there are with credit cards that offer flexible point currencies, such as American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards® and Citi ThankYou points. The points these cards earn can transfer to a number of partners, such as airlines and hotel chains. These cards thereby give you more flexibility and ultimately help you avoid pigeonholing yourself into earning points or miles that can only be redeemed with a single loyalty program.

Benefits and rewards

Another way card issuers try to differentiate themselves is by the perks they offer. You’ll find a different range of benefits based on the type of card you’re getting. No-annual-fee and mid-tier cards (those costing an annual fee of $100 or less) inherently offer fewer perks than their more expensive cousins, premium travel cards. These credit cards may cost hundreds to renew every year.

When comparing travel credit card rewards, consider how many of these benefits you can realistically maximize — let alone use. For example, several different travel credit cards come with TSA PreCheck/Global Entry credits, but you only need one membership every four years. If you already have one card that offers this credit, then target other benefits when applying for another travel rewards card.

The same can be said of cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express. As a top-tier card, you’ll enjoy complimentary elite status with hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton. Enrollment required. However, the card also comes with a $25 monthly Equinox credit that may not fit into your existing lifestyle. Terms apply.

Earning bonus points

Once you’ve earned your welcome bonus, the best way to increase your points balance is by putting purchases on the card itself. Each individual card will offer varying amounts of bonus points for different spending categories. Sometimes these are called bonus categories.

You’ll need to decide how diligent you want to be about earning points. Are you fine with switching out cards in order to maximize your bonus points? Or are you content with keeping a select few on hand and leaving some other cards' rewards on the table?

Based on what you decide, you’ll want to compare the earning structure for the travel cards you’ll own. Some, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, offer a flat 3x points on a broad category of travel-related expenses. Others, like The Platinum Card® from American Express, will give you an objectively better 5x points on airfare and hotels — but will restrict how you earn based on how you book your travel. You’ll also face an annual cap of $500,000, after which you’ll earn just 1x point per dollar.

Annual fees

Most travel credit cards aren’t free. True, there are some entry-level cards that’ll provide limited benefits and no annual fee, but the best perks are offered on cards that will cost you money.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Active duty military members can have their credit card annual fees waived by major banks such as American Express and Chase.

The question here is: How much are you willing to spend? Some of the most expensive travel credit cards will charge you upwards of $500 per year. In return, you’ll get best-in-class rewards and the ability to maximize bonus points on your spend.

If you’re not looking to lay out a lot of cash, mid-tier cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card can offer similar but less extensive rewards with a much cheaper annual fee. Figure out the budget you’re comfortable spending each year and take a look at cards that fit your needs.

If you’re looking to compare travel credit cards …

Each travel credit card is unique, and the best way to figure out which one is right for you is by comparing them. Decide what’s important to you, whether it’s a large welcome offer, the ability to earn plenty of points or a whole slew of cardholder benefits, and pick out cards that match what you’re willing to pay.

Not all cards are right for every person, but with the range of available travel credit cards on the market today, odds are you’ll find one that suits your lifestyle.

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 2024, including those best for:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.


Intro offer


Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's over $900 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.


Intro offer

Up to $300

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!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.


Intro offer


Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

See more travel cards
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