NerdWallet's

Best Travel Credit Cards of 2018

Grab your carry-on. The flexible points and miles on these cards let you roam whenever you want.

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More on this card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Review
For an even bigger bonus (and a much higher fee)
Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Benefits

Unlike cards tied to a specific airline or hotel brand, you can use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card’s rewards in many places. You earn 2 points per $1 spent on dining and travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Points are worth 25% more when you use them to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, or you can transfer them at a 1:1 rate to several other loyalty programs. Plus, the card comes with a sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Finally, the card is metal, not plastic, which gives it a certain wow factor.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

As a general travel card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card lacks the special perks — such as free checked bags and priority boarding — that airline-specific co-branded cards offer.

Bottom line

Bottom line

If you mostly fly on one airline, a co-branded card might provide specific benefits that the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card does not. But if you want flexibility in earning and redeeming rewards, this is the best card around.

For similar benefits with no annual fee
Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

Benefits

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is one of the most flexible travel cards available. You earn 2 miles per $1 spent on everything, and you redeem miles for a credit against most travel expenses. You’re not restricted to one airline or hotel, as is the case with co-branded cards, and unlike with many cards, there’s no minimum amount required to redeem — so you can even use rewards to pay for a $5 cab ride. Just book your own travel, then pay for it with your rewards. This card also comes with a great sign-up bonus: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

You won’t find airline-specific perks with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. If you’re loyal to one particular airline, it might be worth comparing this card with that airline’s co-branded card.

Bottom line

Bottom line

When it comes to easy miles earning and redemption, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is tough to beat. Whether you want to redeem miles for hotel stays, flights, cab rides or cruises, it has you covered.

For a double-miles promo with no annual fee
Discover it® Miles

Benefits

The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card earns 1.5 points per $1 spent on anything, and each point is worth 1 cent. That’s a relatively high rewards rate considering that the annual fee is $0. Plus, if you’re a Bank of America®, Merrill Lynch® or Merrill Edge® customer, you can earn a bonus of 10% to 75% when you redeem, depending on how much you have in your accounts. Points can be redeemed for a credit against travel purchases, giving you the freedom to book during any season, with any carrier or hotel chain. Further, you can use points for credit against travel purchases for up to 12 months after those purchases post to your account — a much longer window than most other cards offer. There's even a decent sign-up bonus.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

The sign-up bonus is relatively small: 20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases. If you aren't a Bank of America® banking customer, your earning power is limited. Bigger spenders could earn greater rewards with other cards, even with an annual fee.

Bottom line

Bottom line

The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card is very competitive if you’re a Bank of America® customer, especially if you have a lot of money in your accounts. You’ll enjoy the flexible redemption policies and you won’t pay an annual fee. Without a Bank of America® account, though, you’ll lose out on a big part of this card’s value.

Benefits

The Bank of America® Premium Rewards credit card is a good option for any traveler, but it’s stellar for people with high balances in checking, saving or investment accounts at Bank of America®, Merrill Lynch and Merrill Edge. Those customers can earn 25% to 75% more rewards. The base rewards rates are 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining and 1.5 points per dollar on all other spending. (Bank of America® has a broad definition of travel spending, including museums, zoos, amusement parks and more.) Points are worth the same whether redeemed for travel or cash back. Reimbursements include a $100 annual credit for airline fees and up to $100 reimbursement for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application every five years. The sign-up bonus is great, too.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

To earn the highest rewards rate, you need to have a combined balance of at least $100,000 at Bank of America®, Merrill Lynch or Merrill Edge. (At that level, you earn 3.5% on travel and dining purchases and 2.625% on everything else.) There is also an annual fee of $95.

Bottom line

Bottom line

Bank of America® customers with big balances can reap big rewards with this card.

For less lavish perks at a lower fee
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Benefits

The Platinum Card® from American Express is a high-end card designed for high-end travelers. The rewards are decent: 5 points per dollar on airfare and hotels when booked the right way (terms apply) and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. But the real value lies in the perks. There’s an annual credit of $200 for airline fees and up to $200 a year in Uber credit. You’ll be reimbursed for the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every five years. You have access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. You get exclusive perks at hotels, concierge service to help wherever you are, and access to restricted events. And don’t forget the big offer for new cardholders.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

The $550 annual fee is about as high as it gets for a mainstream card. If you don’t spend a lot on travel, the rewards are poor. And while this card is geared to world travelers, American Express isn’t as widely accepted globally as Visa and Mastercard.

Bottom line

Bottom line

The luxury benefits come at a high cost, but if you’re willing to pay to be treated like a VIP when you travel, this card will be rewarding.

More on this card
Chase Sapphire Reserve® Review

Benefits

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® gives you 3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar on all other spending. Points are worth 1.5 cents apiece when redeemed for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them on a 1:1 basis to a dozen hotel and airline partners, possibly giving you even more value. You get $300 a year in credit for travel expenses, and every four years you can get reimbursed for the application fee for TSA PreCheck ($85) or Global Entry ($100). Add in the big sign-up bonus, and this card can easily pay for itself and then some, even with an annual fee of $450.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

The $450 annual fee is a significant out-of-pocket expense. Much of the value of this card is tied to the $300 annual travel credit; if you don’t travel much, this isn’t the card for you.

Bottom line

Bottom line

The best premium travel card on the market gives you both top-notch rewards (what you get for using the card) and valuable perks (what you get just for carrying the card).

For a 2% flat-rate business travel card
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business

Benefits

Business owners want maximum value for every penny, and the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card can help them get it. New cardholders can earn a jumbo sign-up bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards® You earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel, telecommunications, shipping and advertising on social media and search engines, on up to $150,000 in combined spending each year. All other spending earns 1 point per dollar. Points are worth 1.25 cents apiece when used to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; they can also be transferred on a 1:1 basis to travel partners such as United, Southwest, Marriott and Hyatt.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

As with most credit cards with generous rewards, the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card has an annual fee: $95. There’s a limit to how much spending earns 3 points per dollar; it’s a fairly high limit, but it’s still a limit.

Bottom line

Bottom line

If your business needs a good travel card, the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card offers great rewards in common spending categories, and the sign-up bonus is outstanding.

More on this card
United℠ Explorer Card Review

Benefits

For many people, the airline card that’s best for them is determined mostly by where they live — specifically, which airports they can fly out of, and which airlines serve those airports. The major airlines’ credit cards are roughly similar, but the United℠ Explorer Card has a few features that make it stand out. Its rewards match the industry standard for airline cards: You earn 2 miles per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United and 1 point per $1 on everything else. You and a companion each get a free checked bag when you travel. You get two free passes each year to the United Club airport lounge. The card offers primary rental car insurance. And don’t forget the sign-up bonus.

Drawbacks

Drawbacks

Cards from competing airlines offer free checked bags for more travelers. And you’re limited to redeeming rewards for flights with United and other Star Alliance partners. General-purpose travel cards have more flexibility.

Bottom line

Bottom line

If you fly United regularly (or could do so), this card deserves a long look.

» IF YOU DON'T FLY UNITED: See our best airline cards for other options

Methodology

NerdWallet’s credit cards team selects the best cards in each category based on overall consumer value. Factors in our evaluation include fees, promotional and ongoing APRs, and sign-up bonuses; for rewards cards, we consider earning and redemption rates, redemption options and redemption difficulty. A single card is eligible to be chosen in multiple categories.

Last updated July 13, 2018.

Ellen is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet. She has been a writer and editor at Bloomberg and Time Inc. Email: ecannon@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ellencannon.

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's Best Travel Credit Cards of 2018

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