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While some people might be home avoiding the COVID-19 crisis with TV binges and copious amounts of ice cream, it’s important to remember that someday travel will again become safe. It's not clear when, and it will certainly look different than pre-COVID travel, but it will return eventually. If you have the travel bug and are itching to get back out there when it’s safe to do so, here are some of the best travel rewards credit cards you can be using now, to reap the benefits later.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card from Capital One makes it easy to earn and redeem miles for travel. With this card, you earn an unlimited 2x Venture Miles per dollar on every purchase. That includes groceries, home improvement stores, online shopping and any other purchases you make.
This card has among the easiest miles or points to use of any travel rewards card. To redeem with the Purchase Eraser, just make any travel purchase with the card. Then log into your online account to redeem points for any specific purchase and effectively wipe the charge from your balance.
Expert travelers may want to transfer points to Capital One travel partners for even more value. It also includes a credit for your Global Entry or TSA Precheck fee so you can get through airport security as quickly as possible.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
One of the best starter credit cards for travel rewards enthusiasts is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, and its benefits also make it perfect for earning travel rewards points when you’re at home.
This card offers 3x points per dollar on dining, online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs) and select streaming services. You’ll get 1x points everywhere else. If you’ve been enjoying a bit more pickup and delivery food and watching shows on streaming services while staying home, this card gives you valuable points for every purchase.
Points can be redeemed for 1.25 cents each in the Chase travel portal or can be transferred to a long list of partners including Hyatt, JetBlue, Marriott, Southwest and United. New customers can earn a hefty bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. It has an annual fee of $95.
» Learn more: Should I pay for my hotel using cash, points … or both?
American Express® Gold Card
If you’re willing to pay a bit more for your annual fee, you can get a lot more back in rewards with the American Express® Gold Card. That includes 4x Membership Rewards points per dollar for restaurant purchases and up to $25,000 per year spent at U.S. supermarkets. It pays 3x on flights booked with airlines or at amextravel.com. Terms apply.
You’ll also get a big chunk of the annual fee back from benefit credits. Earn up to $10 back per month ($120/year) in credits when dining through Grubhub, Seamless or other partner restaurants. Further, you can get up to $10 back per month ($120/year) in Uber Cash, which can be used for Uber rides or Uber Eats orders in the U.S. Note that you must add your card to the Uber app to receive the Uber Cash benefit. Terms apply.
This card is loaded with useful benefits and is great for rewards at supermarkets and restaurants. If you love to travel, the American Express® Gold Card could be a great choice. Terms apply.
United℠ Explorer Card
The United℠ Explorer Card is a top airline-specific card that comes with useful features and benefits for frequent United travelers. The card gives you 2x United miles per dollar for purchases at restaurants, directly with hotels and at United airlines. You’ll get 1x everywhere else.
United operates a huge flight network and is an alliance member with partners that can help you get to virtually any destination in the world. New customers can get a welcome offer: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
It also comes with useful credits and benefits:
Free checked bags on United, worth up to $140 per roundtrip.
A credit for TSA Precheck or Global Entry, worth up to $100 every four years.
Two United Club one-time passes each anniversary — over a $100 value. Terms apply.
» Learn more: United Airlines MileagePlus program: The complete guide
Match your credit card rewards with your spending habits
Now is a good time to review your budget and spending habits when you’re spending more time at home. With no end date to the coronavirus-related restrictions, why not plug your information into the computer to figure out where you spend most?
If you’re not sure where your money is going, consider signing up for NerdWallet’s free app that can break down your spending habits. When you know where you spend most, you can pick the card that gives you the best rewards for your unique needs.
Building up a balance of miles or points with any of these top cards will have you back on the road as soon as it’s safe, and at a fraction of the price — that’s what travel rewards are all about.
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 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card