Best Travel Credit Cards of 2018
Grab your carry-on. The flexible points and miles on these cards let you roam whenever you want.
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.
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.
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.
Our pick for
Flat-rate travel rewards
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
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.
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.
Our pick for
No annual fee
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bank of America® customers with big balances can reap big rewards with this card.
Our pick for
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 MileagePlus® 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.
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.
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
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 April 27, 2018.
To recap our selections...
NerdWallet's Best Travel Credit Cards of 2018
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
: Best for Airline miles and a large bonus
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
: Best for Flat-rate travel rewards
- Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
: Best for No annual fee
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card
: Best for Relationship rewards
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
: Best for Luxury perks
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
: Best for Premium travel rewards
- Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
: Best for Business travelers
- United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
: Best for Best airline credit card