BEST OF

14 Best Travel Credit Cards of December 2021

NerdWalletNov 29, 2021

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

A travel rewards credit card brings your next trip a little closer every time you use it. Each purchase earns points or miles that you can redeem for travel expenses. If you're loyal to a specific airline or hotel chain, consider that company's branded credit cards. Otherwise, check out the general-purpose travel cards on this page, which give you flexible rewards that you can use without the restrictions and blackout dates of branded cards.

Some of our selections for the best travel credit cards can be applied for through NerdWallet, and some cannot.  Below, you'll find application links for the credit cards from our partners that are available through NerdWallet, followed by the full list of our picks.

NerdWallet's Best Travel Credit Cards of December 2021

Best Travel Credit Cards From Our Partners

Our pick for

Flat-rate travel rewards

Apply now

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Capital One's website

Annual fee

$95

Rewards rate

2x

Miles

Intro offer

60,000

Miles

Recommended Credit Score

Simple rewards and flexible redemption have rightly made the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card one of the most popular travel credit cards on the market.

Pros

  • This card earns 5 miles per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel and 2 miles per dollar spent on everything else. Miles can be redeemed for any travel expense. You're not limited to any single airline or hotel chain, and there are no blackout dates or restrictions on your travel. There's a great sign-up bonus, and the card also reimburses the application fee for TSA Precheck or Global Entry.

Cons

  • You won't get the perks of a dedicated airline or hotel card, like free checked bags or upgrades. You can transfer miles to several airline loyalty programs, but domestic options are scant.

Read full review
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel

  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day

  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn

  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®

  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get our best prices on thousands of trip options

  • Use your miles to get reimbursed for any travel purchase—or redeem by booking a trip through Capital One Travel

  • Transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs

  • No foreign transaction fees

Our pick for

Flexibility + point transfers + big sign-up bonus

Apply now

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$95

Rewards rate

1x-5x

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a great option — especially if you transfer points to it from other Chase cards. The sign-up bonus is outstanding for a card with a $95 annual fee.

Pros

  • You earn 5 points per $1 spent on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 3 points per $1 spent on dining (including eligible delivery services and takeout), select streaming services, and online grocery purchases (not including Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs); 2 points per $1 spent on travel not purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; and 1 point per $1 spent on other purchases. Points are worth 25% more — 1.25 cents apiece — when you redeem them for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to a dozen airline and hotel programs.

Cons

  • Chase's no-annual-fee cash back cards now offer competitive rewards on dining and some travel when compared to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. However, those cards don't offer the enhanced redemption value and point-transfer options of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, and they also charge foreign transaction fees.

Read full review
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • Enjoy new benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining and 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.

  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.

  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories

  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.

  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.

  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.

  • See if you qualify for a better offer with Chase:

    Get Pre-Qualified

Our pick for

Travel portal benefits

Apply now

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

4.9

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Capital One's website

Annual fee

$395

Rewards rate

2x-10x

Miles

Intro offer

100,000

Miles

Recommended Credit Score

Capital One's premium travel credit card can deliver terrific benefits — provided you're willing to do your travel spending through the issuer's online booking portal. That's where you'll earn the highest rewards rates plus credits that can make back the bulk of your annual fee.

Pros

  • As with the regular Venture-branded card, you earn 2 miles per dollar on purchases. But when booking through Capital One Travel, you also get 5X miles on airfare and 10X miles on hotel and rental cars. There's up to $300 a year in statement credit for bookings through the portal, a 10,000-point annual bonus, airport lounge access and a jumbo sign-up offer.

Cons

  • The value you'll get from this card is highly dependent on whether you use Capital One to book your travel. If you prefer to reserve directly with airlines or hotels, look elsewhere. The bonus offer is big, but so is the spending required to earn it.

Read full review
  • Earn 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first 6 months from account opening, equal to $1,000 in travel

  • Limited-time Offer: Receive up to $200 back in statement credits for vacation rentals charged to your account within your first year

  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get our best prices on thousands of options

  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary

  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel, plus unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases

  • Escape the airport crowd and recharge before your flight with unlimited access to all-inclusive amenities at the Capital One Lounge and at 1,300+ Priority Pass lounges worldwide

  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®

  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs

Our pick for

Triple points on multiple categories

Apply now

on Citibank's application

Citi Premier® Card

4.6

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Citibank's application

Annual fee

$95

Rewards rate

1x-3x

Points

Intro offer

80,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

The Citi Premier® Card has bulked up its rewards by offering 3 points per dollar not only on air travel and at hotels but also at supermarkets, restaurants and gas stations. Add in the rich sign-up bonus and the annual hotel benefit, and it's a serious contender.

Pros

  • There's a lot to be said for a travel credit card that pays a high rewards rate on non-travel spending. Supermarkets and restaurants are among the biggest line items in many household budgets, and gas can be a major expense, too. Use the annual hotel benefit — $100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more (taxes and fees excluded) booked through thankyou.com — and the card pays for itself.

Cons

  • This card no longer allows you to redeem points for airfare at 1.25 cents apiece, as it once did; travel redemptions are now 1 cent per point. Although you can transfer the points to airline partners, those carriers are mostly foreign-based. JetBlue is the only domestic option.

Read full review
  • Earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets

  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels

  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit

  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com

  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card

  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases

Our pick for

No annual fee

Apply now

on Bank of America's website

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

4.3

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Bank of America's website

Annual fee

$0

Rewards rate

1.5x

Points

Intro offer

25,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card makes its bones with simplicity and value: solid rewards on every purchase for an annual fee of $0.

Pros

  • Get 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases. Redeem miles at 1 cent apiece for any travel or restaurant expense. Bank of America® has an expansive definition of "travel expenses," so your redemption options aren't just limited to plane rides and hotel stays. The sign-up bonus is pretty good for a no-annual-fee card, too: 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.

Cons

  • The sign-up bonus is low compared with the top travel cards on the market. Big spenders and frequent travelers may be better off with a card that offers bonus rewards for travel purchases, even if it means paying an annual fee.

Read full review
  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases, with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees and your points don't expire

  • 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases

  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want - you're not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions

  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for travel or dining purchases, such as flights, hotel stays, car and vacation rentals, baggage fees, and also at restaurants including takeout

  • 0% Introductory APR for 15 billing cycles for purchases. After the intro APR ends, 13.99% - 23.99% Variable APR will apply.

  • If you're a Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25% - 75% more points on every purchase. That means you could earn up to 2.62 points for every $1 spent.

  • Contactless Cards - The security of a chip card, with the convenience of a tap

  • This online only offer may not be available if you leave this page or if you visit a Bank of America financial center. You can take advantage of this offer when you apply now.

Our pick for

Cash back for travel bookings

Apply now

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$0

Rewards rate

1.5%-5%

Cashback

Intro offer

$200

Recommended Credit Score

Once merely a great cash-back card, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® can now be counted as an excellent travel card, too. It earns 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase, and that's just the start.

Pros

  • This card earns 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase; 3% cash back at restaurants and drugstores; and 1.5% on other purchases. New cardholders can snag this sign-up bonus: Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. And earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. Finally, if you have one of Chase's Sapphire cards, you can transfer your rewards to it for greater value and flexibility.

Cons

  • As a cash-back card, it doesn't offer any specific travel perks. And it charges a foreign transaction fee, so it's not the best choice for international travel.

Read full review
  • $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

  • 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

  • 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services

  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases

  • 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

  • Unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases

  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99% - 24.74%.

  • No annual fee

  • See if you qualify for a better offer with Chase:

    Get Pre-Qualified

Our pick for

Luxury travel perks

Apply now

on American Express's website

The Platinum Card® from American Express

4.8

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on American Express's website

Annual fee

$695

Rewards rate

1x-10x

Points

Intro offer

100,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

The luxury benefits come at a high cost, but if you’re willing to pay to be treated like a VIP when you travel, The Platinum Card® from American Express will be rewarding.

Pros

  • This is a high-end card designed for high-end travelers. The ongoing 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, for example. You’ll be reimbursed for the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every five years and enough for a Clear membership. You have access to more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide and exclusive perks at hotels. And don’t forget the big offer for new cardholders.

Cons

  • The $695 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.

Read full review
  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

  • Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.

  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

  • $200 Hotel Credit: Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.

  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases with the Platinum Card® at your choice of one or more of the following providers: Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.

  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax.

  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. Now there are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.

  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.

  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.

  • $300 Equinox Credit: Get up to $25 back each month on select Equinox memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.

  • $179 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $179 back per year on your CLEAR® membership.

  • $695 annual fee.

  • Terms Apply.

  • View Rates & Fees

Our pick for

Big rewards on everyday spending

Apply now

on American Express's website

American Express® Gold Card

4.6

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on American Express's website

Annual fee

$250

Rewards rate

1x-4x

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

If you can stomach the annual fee, the American Express® Gold Card offers handsome returns at restaurants and on airfare, and its rewards for grocery spending are the best of any travel card.

Pros

  • Earn 4X points at restaurants; 4X points on up to $25,000 a year in spending at U.S. supermarkets; 3X on airfare booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com; and 1X on all other spending. There are dining credits and a nice welcome offer, and your points are transferable to airlines and hotels. Terms apply.

Cons

  • The $250 annual fee is steep for cards in its class. The dining credits are somewhat complicated. And this card has eliminated the $100 annual credit for incidental airline fees that once enhanced its value.

Read full review
  • Rose Gold is here to stay. Card Members can choose between a Gold or Rose Gold Card.

  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.

  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).

  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.

  • $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.

  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.

  • Annual Fee is $250.

  • Terms Apply.

  • View Rates & Fees

Our pick for

Road trips

Apply now

on US Bank's website

U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card

4.8

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on US Bank's website

Annual fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $95

Rewards rate

1x-4x

Points

Intro offer

50,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

The U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card earns quadruple points on qualifying travel and gas purchases, which is among the highest rates you'll find on cards in this annual-fee range. You also get a juicy bonus as well as some valuable ongoing credits.

Pros

  • You'll earn a generous 4X back on all eligible travel purchases, which is excellent. And unlike a lot of other travel rewards cards, that high rate also extends to gas stations, making it a perfect highway companion, too. Throw in several other useful bonus categories and recurring credits, and it becomes a good card for everyday use. There's also a sizable sign-up bonus.

Cons

  • The card's 2X back on dining, streaming services and grocery stores is solid, but you can find equal or higher rates in those categories. Plus, a caveat: If you also have the higher-tier version of this card — the U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® Card — you can't pool points and redeem them at that card's higher rate for eligible travel via U.S. Bank.

Read full review
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases within the first 120 days of account opening. That's a $500 value redeemable towards merchandise, gift cards, cash back, travel and more.

  • Earn 4X points on travel and at gas stations.

  • Earn 2X points at grocery stores, grocery delivery, dining and streaming services.

  • $30 credit for annual streaming service purchases such as Netflix and Spotify®.

  • Receive up to $100 in statement credits for reimbursement toward your TSA PreCheck® or Global Entry® application fee once every four years.

  • 1X point on all other eligible purchases.

  • View Rates & Fees

Our pick for

Airline credit card

Not a Delta traveler? Follow the link below for the best options for other airlines.

Apply now

on American Express's website

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on American Express's website

Annual fee

$0 intro for the first year, then $99

Rewards rate

1x-2x

Miles

Intro offer

40,000

Miles

Recommended Credit Score

With double miles not just on Delta purchases but also everyday spending categories, you can pile up rewards fast with the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. And the top-notch checked-bag benefit can save hundreds of dollars a year if you travel often and not necessarily light.

Pros

  • You'll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases, at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. Terms apply. There's a great bonus offer for new cardholders, too. And if you like to travel as a group, this card provides a free checked bag for yourself and up to eight other people traveling on your reservation. You also get priority boarding.

Cons

  • As with other co-branded airline cards, if you’re redeeming miles for flights, your options are limited. You won’t pay foreign transaction fees, but it’s an American Express card, and AmEx isn't as widely accepted outside the U.S. as Visa and Mastercard.

Read full review
  • Earn 40,000 Bonus Miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.

  • Plus, earn up to $50 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.

  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.

  • Earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases, at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.

  • Earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.

  • $100 Delta Flight Credit: After you spend $10,000 in purchases on your card in a calendar year, receive a Credit to use toward future travel.

  • Enjoy a $0 introductory Annual Fee for the first year, then $99.

  • Terms Apply.

  • View Rates & Fees

Our pick for

Cash back for travel bookings

Apply now

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Flex℠

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$0

Rewards rate

1%-5%

Cashback

Intro offer

$200

Recommended Credit Score

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is technically a cash-back card, but the whopping 5% rewards rate for travel booked through Chase makes it a darn good travel card as well.

Pros

  • This card earns 5% cash back in bonus categories that change every three months (on up to $1,500 per quarter in spending, then 1%); 5% on travel booked through Chase; 3% cash back at restaurants and drugstores; and 1% on other purchases. New cardholders can snag this sign-up bonus: Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. And earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year. Finally, if you have one of Chase's Sapphire cards, you can transfer your rewards to it for greater value and flexibility.

Cons

  • Activating and tracking the bonus categories can be a hassle. For an option that does away with the 5% categories in exchange for a higher ongoing rate on "everything else," check the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. Also, since this is a cash-back card, it doesn't offer any travel-specific perks. And it charges a foreign transaction fee, so it's not the best choice for international travel.

Read full review
  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.

  • 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!

  • 3% cash back on dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services

  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases

  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, and 1% on all other purchases.

  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99% - 24.74%.

  • No annual fee

  • See if you qualify for a better offer with Chase:

    Get Pre-Qualified

Our pick for

Bonus travel rewards + high-end perks

Apply now

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

4.7

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$550

Rewards rate

1x-10x

Points

Intro offer

50,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

With its $550 annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® might look like a luxury card. But avid travelers know better. Rich rewards and generous perks make this card a bargain at $550.

Pros

  • You get 10 points per dollar spent on Chase Dining purchases, as well as hotel stays and car rentals purchased through Ultimate Rewards®; 5 points per dollar spent on air travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®; 3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining not booked with Chase; and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Points are worth 1.5 cents apiece when redeemed for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to a dozen hotel and airline partners. You get $300 a year in credit for travel expenses, Priority Pass airport lounge access and reimbursement for the application fee for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. And don't forget the big sign-up bonus.

Cons

  • The fee is a significant out-of-pocket expense, and much of the value of the card is tied up in the $300 travel credit. Get this card only if you are a dedicated traveler.

Read full review
  • Earn 50,000 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®

  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. Through December 31, 2021, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit

  • Earn 5X total points on air travel and 10X total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3X points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel

  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories

  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs

  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®

  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more

Our pick for

Business travelers — bonus rewards + big sign-up offer

Small-business credit cards aren't just for people with storefronts or offices. If you're a freelancer, have a "side hustle" or do gig work, you may a good candidate for a small-business credit card, too. Having a dedicated card for your money-making enterprise helps you keep business and personal finances separate. For more options, follow the link below to see NerdWallet's best travel cards for business.

Apply now

on Chase's website

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$95

Rewards rate

1x-3x

Points

Intro offer

100,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card offers one of the richest sign-up bonuses available on any credit card, anywhere, and it pays handsome rewards in a variety of categories.

Pros

  • The sign-up bonus is especially generous if you redeem points for travel booked through Chase. (You can also transfer points to a dozen or so airline and hotel programs, including United, Southwest, Marriott and Hyatt.) You'll earn 3 points per dollar on up to $150,000 a year in spending on travel, telecommunications (internet, phone and cable), shipping, and advertising on social media and search engines; all other spending earns 1 point per dollar.

Cons

  • This card's bonus categories aren't a good fit for all business owners. There's an annual fee of $95.

Read full review
  • Earn 100k bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 cash back or $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

  • Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year. Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases

  • With Fraud Protection your card transactions will be monitored for possible signs of fraudulent activity using real-time fraud monitoring.

  • With Zero Liability you won't be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information.

  • Redeem points for cash back, gift cards, travel and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open

  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

  • Purchase Protection covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account.

Our pick for

Hotel credit card

Not a Hyatt customer? Follow the link below for options for other hotel chains.

Apply now

on Chase's website

World of Hyatt Credit Card

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$95

Rewards rate

1x-9x

Points

Intro offer

30,000

Points

Recommended Credit Score

Although Hyatt isn't as big as its competitors, the outstanding value delivered by World of Hyatt Credit Card makes it worth considering for anyone who spends a lot of time in hotels.

Pros

  • You earn 4 points per dollar spent with Hyatt, 2 points per dollar on an array of common spending categories (see the product details tab), and 1 point per dollar on other spending. Hyatt points are also worth significantly more than most other hotel points. You get a free night each anniversary year and can earn another with $15,000 a year in spending. There's a decent sign-up bonus, automatic elite status and more.

Cons

  • Hyatt's relatively small footprint — about 850 properties compared with 5,000 or more for other chains — means you won't have as many locations to choose from as you'd get with other hotel cards.

Read full review
  • Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 More Bonus Points by earning 2 Bonus Points total per $1 spent in the first 6 months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 Bonus Point, on up to $15,000 spent

  • Enjoy complimentary World of Hyatt Discoverist status for as long as your account is open.

  • Get 1 free night each year after your Cardmember anniversary at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort.

  • Receive 5 tier qualifying night credits towards status after account opening, and each year after that for as long as your account is open

  • Earn an extra free night at any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel if you spend $15,000 in a calendar year

  • Earn 2 qualifying night credits towards tier status every time you spend $5,000 on your card

  • Earn up to 9 points total for Hyatt stays - 4 Bonus Points per $1 spent at Hyatt hotels & 5 Base Points per $1 you can earn as a World of Hyatt member

  • Earn 2 Bonus Points per $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airlines, on local transit and commuting and on fitness club and gym memberships

FULL LIST OF EDITORIAL PICKS: BEST TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS

Click the card name to read our review. Before applying, confirm details on the issuer’s website.

Our pick for: Flat-rate rewards

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is probably the best-known general-purpose travel credit card, thanks to its ubiquitous advertising. You earn 5 miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel and 2 miles per dollar on all other purchases. Miles can be redeemed at a value of 1 cent apiece for any travel purchase, without the blackout dates and other restrictions of branded hotel and airline cards. The card offers a great sign-up bonus and other worthwhile perks. Read our review.

Our pick for: Flat-rate rewards + no annual fee

One of the best no-annual-fee travel cards available, the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card gives you a solid rewards rate on every purchase, with points that can be redeemed for any travel purchase, without the restrictions of branded airline and hotel cards. Bank of America® has an expansive definition of "travel," too, giving you additional flexibility in how you use your rewards. Read our review.

Our pick for: Bonus travel rewards + high-end perks 

The high annual fee on the Chase Sapphire Reserve® gives many potential applicants pause, but frequent travelers should be able to wring enough value out of this card to more than make up for the cost. Cardholders earn 10 points per dollar spent on Chase Dining purchases, as well as hotel stays and car rentals purchased through Ultimate Rewards®; 5 points per dollar for air travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®; 3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining not booked with Chase; and 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, cardmembers get a fat sign-up bonus, annual travel credits, airport lounge access, and a 50% boost in point value when redeeming points for travel booked through Chase. Points can also be transferred to about a dozen airline and hotel partners. Read our review. 

Our pick for: Flexibility + point transfers + big sign-up bonus

For a reasonable annual fee, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns 5 points per $1 spent on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 3 points per $1 spent on dining (including eligible delivery services and takeout), select streaming services, and online grocery purchases (not including Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs); 2 points per $1 spent on travel not purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; and 1 point per $1 spent on other purchases. Points are worth 25% more when you redeem them for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to about a dozen airline and hotel partners. The sign-up bonus is stellar, too. Read our review. 

Our pick for: Triple points in multiple categories

The Citi Premier® Card earns bonus points on airfare, hotels, supermarkets, dining and gas stations. There's a solid sign-up bonus as well. Read our review.

Our pick for: Road trips

The U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card is one of the most generous cards on the market if you're taking to the skies or the road, thanks to the quadruple points it earns on travel and at gas stations. It's also a solid card for everyday expenses like groceries, dining and streaming, and it comes with ongoing credits that can offset its annual fee: $0 intro for the first year, then $95Read our review.

Our pick for: Travel portal benefits

Capital One's premium travel credit card can deliver terrific benefits — provided you're willing to do your travel spending through the issuer's online booking portal. That's where you'll earn the highest rewards rates plus credits that can make back the bulk of your annual fee. Read our review.

Our pick for: Cash back for travel bookings

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® was already a fine card when it offered 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Now it's even better, with bonus rewards on travel booked through Chase, as well as at restaurants and drugstores. On top of all that, new cardholders get a 0% introductory APR period and the opportunity to earn a sweet cash bonus. Read our review.

Our pick for: Cash back for travel bookings

The Chase Freedom Flex℠ offers bonus cash back in quarterly categories that you activate, as well as on travel booked through Chase, at restaurants and at drugstores. Category activation can be a hassle, but if your spending matches the categories — and for a lot of people, it will — you can rack up hundreds of dollars a year. There's a fantastic bonus offer for new cardholders and a 0% intro APR period, too. Read our review.

Our pick for: Cash back for travel bookings

The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card offers a lot of value for a $0 annual fee: 5% back automatically in your eligible top spending category on up to $500 spent per billing cycle (1% back elsewhere). The list of eligible 5% categories is varied and includes biggies like restaurants, grocery stores and more. And unlike competitors, there's no activation schedule or bonus calendar to keep track of. Read our review.

Our pick for: Luxury travel perks 

The Platinum Card® from American Express comes with a hefty annual fee, but travelers who like to go in style (and aren't afraid to pay for comfort) can more than get their money's worth. Enjoy extensive airport lounge access, hundreds of dollars a year in travel and shopping credits, hotel benefits and more. That's not even getting into the high rewards rate on eligible travel purchases and the rich bonus offer for new cardholders. Read our review.

Our pick for: Big rewards on everyday spending  

The American Express® Gold Card can earn you a pile of points from everyday spending, with generous rewards at U.S. supermarkets, at restaurants and on certain flights booked through amextravel.com. Other benefits include hundreds of dollars a year in available dining and travel credits and a solid bonus offer for new cardholders. There's an annual fee, though, and a pretty substantial one, so it's not for smaller spenders. Read our review.

Our pick for: Airline credit card

The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card pays bonus rewards not only on Delta flights but also at restaurants worldwide and at U.S. supermarkets, making it the rare airline card that's great for everyday spending. A best-in-class checked-bag benefit (first bag free for you and up to eight others on your reservation), priority boarding and the opportunity to earn a flight credit each year make this card a bargain for Delta stalwarts. Read our review.

» Not a Delta flyer? See our best airline cards for other options.

Our pick for: Hotel credit card

Hyatt isn't as big as its competitors, but World of Hyatt Credit Card is worth a look for anyone who spends a lot of time on the road. You can earn a lot of points even on non-Hyatt spending, and those points have a high value compared with rival programs. There's a great sign-up bonus, free nights, automatic elite status and more. Read our review.

» Not a Hyatt customer? See our best hotel cards for other options.

Our pick for: Small business — bonus categories + big sign-up offer 

The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card starts you off with one of the biggest sign-up bonuses of any credit card anywhere (assuming you spend enough to earn it), then gives you bonus rewards in common business spending categories. Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel booked through Chase, or you can transfer them to about a dozen airline and hotel partners. Read our review.

HOW TRAVEL REWARDS WORK

By Sam Kemmis, NerdWallet point and miles expert

Modern-day adventurers and once-a-year vacationers alike love the idea of earning rewards toward their next big trip. According to a NerdWallet study, 68% of American adults say they have a credit card that earns travel rewards.

With a travel rewards credit card, you earn points or miles every time you use the card, but you can often earn more points per dollar in select categories. Some top travel credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, offer bonus points on any travel spending, while the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card grants bonus points only when you use the card at Marriott hotels.

Not all points and miles earned on travel rewards credit cards are the same:

  • General-purpose travel credit cards — including the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the American Express® Gold Card and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card — give you rewards that can be used like cash to pay for travel or that can be exchanged for points in airline or hotel loyalty programs. With their flexible rewards, general-purpose options are usually the best travel credit cards for those who don't stick to a single airline or hotel chain.

  • Airline- and hotel-specific cards — such as the United℠ Explorer Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Card — give points and miles that can be used only with the brand on the card. (Although it's possible in some cases to transfer hotel points to airlines, we recommend against it because you get a poor value.) These so-called co-branded cards are usually the best travel credit cards for those who always fly one particular airline or stay with one hotel group.

How do we value points and miles? With the rewards earned on general travel cards, it's simple: They have a fixed value, usually between 1 and 1.5 cents per point, and you can spend them like cash. With airline miles and hotel points, finding the true value is more difficult. How much value you get depends on how you redeem them.

To better understand what miles are worth, NerdWallet researched the cash prices and reward-redemption values for hundreds of flights. Our results:

AIRLINE MILE VALUES

Program

Mile value

1.1 cents.

1.2 cents.

1.3 cents.

0.7 cent.

1 cent.

1.5 cents.

1.4 cents.

1 cent.

HOTEL POINT VALUES

Program

Point value

0.7 cent

0.5 cent

1.9 cents

0.8 cent

0.7 cent

0.6 cent

0.9 cent

For details about our methodology, see our valuations page.

Our valuations are different from many others you may find. That’s because we looked at the average value of a point based on reasonable price searches that anyone can perform, not a maximized value that only travel rewards experts can expect to reach.

You should therefore use these values as a baseline for your own redemptions. If you can redeem your points for the values listed on our valuations page, you are doing well. Of course, if you are able to get higher value out of your miles, that’s even better.

HOW TO CHOOSE A TRAVEL CREDIT CARD

There are scores of travel rewards cards to choose from. The best travel credit card for you has as much to do with you as with the card. How often you travel, how much flexibility you want, how much you value airline or hotel perks — these are all things to take into account when deciding on a travel card. Our article on how to choose a travel credit card recommends that you prioritize:

  • Rewards you will actually use (points and miles are only as good as your ability to redeem them for travel).

  • A high earning rate (how much value you get in rewards for every dollar spent on the card).

  • A sign-up bonus (a windfall of points for meeting a spending requirement in your first few months).

Even with these goals in mind, there are all kinds of considerations that will influence your decision on a travel rewards credit card.

Travel cards are for travelers

Travel cards vs. cash-back cards

The very first question to ask yourself when choosing a travel credit card is: Should I get a travel card at all? Travel credit cards are best for frequent travelers, who are more likely to get enough value from rewards and perks to make up for the annual fees that the best travel credit cards charge. (Some travel cards charge no annual fee, but they tend to offer lesser rewards than full-fee cards.) A NerdWallet study found that those who travel only occasionally — say, once a year — will probably get greater overall rewards from cash-back credit cards, most of which charge no annual fee, than from a travel card.

Flexibility and perks: A trade-off

Co-branded cards vs. general travel cards

Travel credit cards fall into two basic categories: co-branded cards and general travel cards.

  • Co-branded cards carry the name of an airline or hotel group, such as the United℠ Explorer Card or the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card. The rewards you earn are redeemable only with that particular brand, which can limit your flexibility, sometimes sharply. For example, if your credit card's co-branded airline partner doesn't have any award seats available on the flight you want on the day you want, you're out of luck. On the other hand, co-branded cards commonly offer airline- or hotel-specific perks that general travel cards can't match.

  • General travel cards aren't tied to a specific airline or hotel, so they offer much greater flexibility. Well-known general travel cards include the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Rewards on general travel cards come as points (sometimes called "miles," but they're really points) that you can redeem for any travel expense. You're not locked into using a single airline or hotel, but you also won't enjoy the perks of a co-branded card.

Evaluating general travel credit cards

What you get with a general travel card

The credit cards featured at the top of this page are general travel cards. They're issued by a bank (such as Chase or Capital One), carry only that bank's name, and aren't tied to any single airline or hotel group. With these cards, you earn points on every purchase — usually 1 to 2 points per dollar spent, sometimes with additional points in certain categories.

Issuers of general travel cards typically entice new applicants with big sign-up bonuses (also known as "welcome offers") — tens of thousands of miles that you can earn by spending a certain amount of money on the card in your first few months.

What do you do with those points? Depending on the card, you may have several ways to redeem them:

  • Booking travel. With this option, your points pay for travel booked through the issuer's website, using a utility similar to Orbitz or Expedia. For example, if points were worth 1 cent apiece when redeemed this way, you could book a $400 flight on the issuer's portal and pay for it with 40,000 points

  • Statement credit. This lets you essentially erase travel purchases by using your points for credit on your statement. You make travel arrangements however you want (directly with an airline or hotel, through a travel agency, etc.) and charge it to your card. Once the charge shows up on your account, you apply the necessary points and eliminate the cost.

  • Transferring to partners. The card issuer may allow you to transfer your points to loyalty programs for airlines or hotel chains, turning your general card into something like a co-branded card (although you don't get the perks of a co-brand).

  • Cash back, gift cards or merchandise. If you don't plan to travel, you can burn off your rewards with these options, although you'll often get a lower value per point.

Airline and hotel cards sharply limit your choice, but they make up for it with perks that only they can offer, like free checked bags or room upgrades. General travel cards, on the other hand, offer maximum flexibility but can't provide the same kinds of perks, because the banks that issue them don't operate the airlines or hotels. Still, there are some noteworthy perks on general travel cards, including:

  • Travel credit. This is automatic reimbursement for travel-related spending. Some top travel credit cards offer hundreds of dollars a year in travel credit.

  • Trusted traveler reimbursement. More and more travel credit cards are covering the application fee for TSA Precheck and Global Entry, programs that allow you to move through airport security and customs more quickly.

  • Airport lounge access. Hundreds of lounges worldwide operate separately from airlines under such networks as Priority Pass and Airspace, and several general travel cards offer access to these lounges.

Points programs 

Every major card issuer has at least one travel card with a points program. American Express calls its program Membership Rewards, while Chase has Ultimate Rewards® and Citi pays in ThankYou points. Wells Fargo has Go Far Rewards, and U.S. Bank has FlexPerks. Bank of America® travel cards offer points without a fancy name. Travel cards from Capital One, Barclays and Discover all call their points "miles."

These programs differ in how much their points are worth and how you can use them. Some offer the full range of redemption options, including transfers to loyalty programs. Others let you use them only to book travel or get statement credit.

Evaluating airline credit cards

What you get with an airline credit card

Airline credit cards earn "miles" with each purchase. You typically get 1 mile per dollar spent, with a higher rate (2 or more miles per dollar) on purchases with the airline itself. (Some airline cards have also begun offering extra miles for purchases in additional categories, such as restaurants or car rental agencies.) These miles go into the same frequent-flyer account as the ones you earn by flying the airline, and you can redeem them for free flights with the airline or its alliance partners.

Co-branded airline cards typically offer sign-up bonuses (or welcome offers). But what really sets them apart are the perks they give you. With some cards, for example, the checked-bag benefit alone can make up for the annual fee after a single roundtrip by a couple. Common perks of airline cards include:

  • Free checked bags. This commonly applies to the first checked bag for you and at least one companion on your reservation. Some cards extend this perk to more people, and higher-end cards (with higher annual fees) may even let you check two bags apiece for free.

  • Priority boarding. Holders of co-branded airline credit cards often get to board the plane early — after the airline's elite-status frequent flyers but before the general population. This gives you time to settle in and gives you a leg up on claiming that coveted overhead bin space.

  • In-flight discounts or freebies. You might get, say, 25% off the cost of food and beverages during the flight, or free Wi-Fi.

  • Airport lounge access. High-end cards often include a membership to the airline's airport lounges, where you can get away from the frenzy in the terminal and enjoy a complimentary snack. Some less-expensive airline cards give you only limited or discounted lounge access; others give you none at all.

  • Companion fares. This perk lets you bring someone with you for a lower cost when you buy a ticket at full price.

  • A boost toward elite status. Miles earned with a credit card, as opposed to those earned from actually flying on the airline, usually do not count toward earning elite status in an airline's frequent-flyer program. However, carrying an airline's high-end card might automatically qualify you for a higher tier within the program.

The biggest U.S. airlines — American, United and Delta — offer an array of credit cards. Each airline has a no-annual-fee card that earns miles on purchases but provides little in the way of perks (no free bags or priority boarding). Each has a high-end card with an annual fee in the neighborhood of $450 that offers lounge access and sumptuous perks. And each has a "middle-class" card with a fee of around $100 and solid ongoing perks. Southwest offers three credit cards with varying fees; smaller carriers may just have a single card.

Choosing an airline

Which airline card you get depends in large part on what airline you fly, and that's heavily influenced by where you live. Alaska Airlines, for example, has an outstanding credit card, but the airline's routes are concentrated primarily on the West Coast. So it's not a great option for those who live in, say, Buffalo, New York, or Montgomery, Alabama.

If your local airport is dominated by a single airline, then you're probably flying that carrier most (or all) of the time by default. Delta, for example, is the 800-pound gorilla at Minneapolis-St. Paul and Salt Lake City. United has the bulk of the traffic at Newark and Washington Dulles. American calls the shots at Charlotte and Dallas-Fort Worth. That airline's credit card may be your only realistic option. If you're in a large or midsize market with frequent service from multiple airlines, you have more choice.

Evaluating hotel credit cards

What you get with a hotel card

Hotel credit cards earn points with each purchase. As with airline cards, you typically get more points per dollar for purchases from the co-brand partner, and some cards also give bonus points in additional categories. (Hotel cards tend to give you a greater number of points overall than airline cards, but each individual point is generally worth less than a typical airline mile.) Similar to the airline model, the points you earn with the card go into the same loyalty account as the points you earn from actually staying at a hotel. You redeem your points for free stays.

Hotel cards usually offer a sign-up bonus, but like airline cards, they really make their bones with the ongoing perks. Common perks on hotel cards include:

  • Free nights. Several cards offer this perk, which can make up for the card's annual fee. You may get a free night automatically every year, or you may unlock it by spending a certain amount within a year. In the latter case, it comes on top of the points you earn for your spending.

  • Upgrades and freebies. Cardholders may qualify for automatic room upgrades when available, or free or discounted amenities such as meals or spa packages.

  • Early check-in/late check-out. No one likes having to cool their heels in the hotel lobby waiting for 3 o'clock to check in. And no one likes have to vacate their room by 11 a.m. when their flight doesn't leave till evening.

  • Accelerated elite status. Some hotel cards automatically bump you up a level in their loyalty program just for being a cardholder.

Choosing a hotel group

If you decide to go the hotel-card route, you'll need to decide which hotel group gets your business. Hotels aren't as market-concentrated as airlines, so if your travels take you mostly to metropolitan areas, you'll have a decent amount of choice. Keep in mind that even though there are dozens of nationally recognizable hotel brands, ranging from budget inns to luxury resorts, many of them are just units in a larger hotel company, and that company's card can unlock benefits across the group.

Marriott, for example, includes not only its namesake properties but nearly 30 other brands, including Courtyard, Fairfield, Renaissance, Residence Inn, Ritz-Carlton, Sheraton and Westin. The Hilton family includes DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn and Waldorf-Astoria. InterContinental includes Holiday Inn, Candlewood, Staybridge and Crowne Plaza. Wyndham and Choice have more than 15 mid-tier and budget-oriented brands between them.

HOW TO COMPARE TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS

No travel rewards credit card is going to have everything you want. You're going to be disappointed if you expect to find a high rewards rate, a generous sign-up bonus, top-notch perks and no annual fee. Each card delivers value through a different combination of features; it's up to you to compare cards based on the following features and choose the best travel credit card for your needs and preferences.

Annual fee

Most of the best travel cards charge an annual fee. Fees in the range of $90 to $100 are standard for travel cards. Premium cards with extensive perks will have fees of $450 or more. Weigh the value of the rewards and perks you'll get to make sure they'll make up for the fee.

Can you find good cards without an annual fee? Absolutely! There are no-fee options on our list of the best travel credit cards, and we've rounded up more here. Just be aware that if you go with a no-fee travel card, you'll earn rewards at a lower rate, your sign-up bonus will be smaller, and you won't get as many (if any) perks.

Rewards rate

Rewards can be thought of in terms of "earn rate" and "burn rate".

  • The earn rate is how many points or miles you receive per dollar spent. Some general travel cards offer flat-rate rewards, meaning you get the same rate on all purchases, all the time — 2 miles per dollar, for example, or 1.5 points per dollar. Others, including most co-branded cards, offer a base rate of maybe 1 point per dollar and then pay a higher rate in certain categories, such as airline tickets, hotel stays, general travel expenses or restaurant meals.

  • The burn rate is the value you get for those points or miles when you redeem them. The industry average is about 1 cent per point or mile.  Some cards, particularly hotel cards, have lower value per point on the "burn" side but give you more points per dollar on the earning side.

When comparing rewards rates, don't just look at the numbers. Look at the categories to which those numbers apply, and find a card that matches your spending patterns. Getting 5 points per dollar seems great — but if those 5X points come only on purchases at, say, office supply stores, and you don't spend money on office supplies, then you're getting lousy value.

Sign-up bonus

Travel cards tend to have the biggest sign-up bonuses — tens of thousands of points that you earn by hitting a certain amount of spending. But there's more to consider when comparing sign-up bonuses than just how many points or miles you earn. You must also take into account how much you have to spend to earn the bonus. While cash-back credit cards often require just $500 to $1,000 in spending over three months to unlock a bonus, travel cards commonly have thresholds of $3,000 to $5,000.

Never spend money you don't have just to earn a sign-up bonus. Carrying $3,000 in debt for a year in order to earn a $500 bonus doesn't make economic sense — the interest you'll pay could easily wipe out the value of the bonus.

Finally, keep in mind that the biggest bonuses will come on cards with annual fees.

Foreign transaction fees

A good travel card will not charge a foreign transaction fee. These fees are surcharges on purchases made outside the U.S. The industry standard is about 3%, which is enough to wipe out most if not all of the rewards you earn on a purchase. If you never leave the U.S., then this isn't much of a concern, but anyone who travels abroad should bring a no-foreign-transaction-fee card with them.

Some issuers, including Discover and Capital One, don't charge foreign transaction fees on any of their cards. Others charge them on some cards but not all.

International acceptance

Not all travel credit cards are great companions for international travel. While Visa and Mastercard are good pretty much worldwide, you may encounter limited acceptance for American Express and, especially, Discover, depending on the destination. This doesn't mean world travelers should dismiss AmEx and Discover. Just know that if you take one of these cards with you overseas, you'd be smart to bring along a backup in case you run into acceptance problems. (Having a backup card is good advice within the U.S., too, really.)

Travel protections

Consider which travel protections — car rental insurancetrip cancellation coverage, lost baggage protection — are important to you.

Perks

"Rewards" are what you get for using a credit card — the points earned with each transaction and the bonuses you unlock with your spending. "Perks" are goodies that you get just for carrying the card. There's a very close correlation between the annual fee on a card and the perks you get for carrying it. Cards with no annual fee are all about rewards and go very light on perks. Premium cards with annual fees of $450 or more are laden with perks (although sometimes their rewards aren't too special). Midtier cards (in the $100 range) tend to have solid rewards and a handful of high-value perks.

Assuming you take advantage of them, the perks often make up for the annual fee on a card quite easily. This is especially true with co-branded cards. Free checked bags can pay for an airline card several times over, and a free night is usually worth more than the fee on a hotel card. When comparing the perks of various cards, be realistic about which ones you will and won't use. Sure, that card may entitle you to a free spa package the next time you're at a five-star hotel, but how often do you stay at five-star hotels?

SHOULD YOU GET A TRAVEL CARD? PROS AND CONS

Pros: Why it's worth getting a travel card

  • The sign-up bonus gives you a big head-start on travel. Bonuses on the best travel credit cards typically run $500 or more — enough for a roundtrip ticket in many instances.

  • Perks make travel less expensive and more relaxing. You won't have to worry about cramming a week's worth of clothes into a carry-on if your travel credit card gives you a free checked bag (or automatically reimburses you for the bag fee). Hate the crush of travelers in the terminal? Escape to the airport lounge. Renting a car? Use a travel card that provides primary rental car insurance.

  • Rewards get you closer to your next trip with every purchase. Spending money on the mundane activities of daily life has a silver lining when you know that every $1,000 you spend will knock $10 or $20 off the cost of that future beach vacation or trip home to see Mom and Dad.

  • No foreign transaction fee can mean big savings. Take just any old credit card with you on vacation outside the U.S., and $1,000 worth of purchases can cost you $30 off the top due to the foreign transaction surcharge. Good travel cards don't charge this fee.

  • "Double dipping" gives you more points on travel purchases. Buy a plane ticket or book a hotel room, and you'll earn loyalty points or miles regardless of how you pay. Use the right credit card, though, and you'll earn even more points and miles on top of those.

  • Strategic redemption can multiply your value. With cash-back credit cards, 1 cent is worth 1 cent, and that's just how it goes. The points and miles on many travel credit cards have variable value based on how you redeem them — booking travel with them vs. transferring them to a partner, booking domestic vs. international flights and economy vs. business class, staying at budget hotels vs. high-end resorts, and so on.

Cons: Why a travel card might not be for you

  • The best cards charge annual fees. In many cases, the value you get from a credit card more than makes up for the annual fee. But some people are dead set against paying a fee under any circumstances. If that's you, your options in travel cards will be sharply limited, and you won't get the perks that provide a big portion of the value on many cards.

  • Sign-up bonus spending requirements can be steep. A bonus worth $500, $600 or $700 is attractive, but only if you can afford to earn it with spending you were going to do anyway. If you have to amass thousands of dollars in debt and then pay interest on it, it's not worth it.

  • Travel cards aren't ideal for infrequent travelers. In the first year with a travel card, you're probably going to come out ahead: You can earn a big sign-up bonus, and several popular cards waive the first year's annual fee, too. In subsequent years, though, you'll break even on that fee only if you use the card enough to make up for it (with the rewards you earn and redeem and the perks you use). Infrequent travelers are more likely to get more total rewards from a cash-back card with no annual fee.

  • Cash back is simpler and more flexible. Some travel cards allow you to redeem your rewards only for travel. Others give you poor value unless you redeem for travel. Still others have complicated redemption options, making it hard to get the most out of your rewards. With cash-back credit cards, you can use your rewards on anything, you know exactly how much your rewards are worth, and redemption is usually simple.

  • Rewards cards tend to charge higher interest rates.  If you regularly carry a balance from month to month, a travel credit card — or any rewards credit card — probably isn't your best choice. The interest you pay is eating up the value of your rewards. You're better off with a low-interest card that reduces the cost of carrying debt.

MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TRAVEL CARD

Maximize your rewards with the following tips:

  • Plan your credit card application around a big purchase to earn the sign-up bonus.

  • Seize every opportunity to pick up the tab, especially if your travel credit card pays bonus rewards on dining; your friends can pay you back while you collect rewards.

  • Redeem rewards for travel instead of gift cards, merchandise or (in most cases) cash back to get the best value.

  • Join the loyalty program associated with a co-branded card — a frequent-flyer or frequent-guest program.

  • Shop for essentials in your card’s online bonus mall or through its exclusive offers, if available, to get extra rewards.

OTHER CARDS TO CONSIDER

It’s worth considering whether a travel credit card is even right for you in the first place. A NerdWallet study found that cash-back credit cards often earn more money — even for many travelers.

If you carry a balance from month to month, the higher interest rates typically charged by rewards cards can cancel out any rewards earned. If you have a good credit score, you're better off with a low-interest credit card that can save you money on interest.

A good travel credit card shouldn't charge foreign transaction fees, but there are good non-travel cards that also don't charge them. See our best cards with no foreign transaction fee.

If you value transparency and flexibility in your rewards, you can't go wrong with a cash-back card — and you can still use the rewards for travel, if you want.

Finally, if you're still not sure what's right for you, take a look at our best rewards credit cards for options beyond travel and cash back.

To view rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, see this page. To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page. To view rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, see this page. To view rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page.

Last updated on November 29, 2021

Methodology

NerdWallet's Credit Cards team selects the best travel rewards credit cards based on overall consumer value, as evidenced by star ratings, as well as their suitability for specific kinds of travelers. Factors in our evaluation include each card's annual fee, foreign transaction fees, rewards earnings rates, ease of use, redemption options, domestic and international acceptance, promotional APR period, bonus offers, and cardholder perks such as automatic statement credits and airport lounge access.

Frequently asked questions