Advertiser Disclosure

A travel credit card lets you take advantage of awesome rewards like nights at top-tier hotels, access to exclusive airport lounges and free flights. When searching for a solid travel card, make sure to look beyond the shiny sign-up bonus. You’ll want to pay extra attention to rewards rates and ongoing perks. Here are our picks for the best travel cards.

Best for airline miles and large bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure website

Pros

  • A large bonus
  • $0 foreign transaction fee
  • Cool factor - metal card
  • Rewards redemption bonus through Ultimate Rewards

Cons

  • Introductory annual fee of $0 the first year, then $95
  • Best for savvy travelers

Bonus Offer

Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

Introductory annual fee of $0 the first year, then $95

Intro APR Promotions

None

APR

  • APR: 16.24%-23.24% Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named a 'Best Credit Card' for Travel Rewards by MONEY Magazine
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
  • Sleek metal card design
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • $0 foreign transaction fees, plus chip-enabled for enhanced security and wider acceptance when used at a chip card reader
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs at full value - that means 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points
  • Travel confidently with premium Travel Protection Benefits, including Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Trip Delay Reimbursement and more

Use points on United, Southwest, British Airways, Korean Air, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Hyatt and more. 

Benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card:

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers one of the best sign-up bonuses in the business: Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • For ongoing rewards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card gives 2 Ultimate Rewards Points per $1 spent on travel and restaurants, and 1 point per $1 spent elsewhere.
  • High redemption value: points are worth 25% more if you redeem for travel booked through Chase’s tool. Your effective rewards rate, then, can be as high as 1.25%.
  • If you know your way around frequent traveler programs, you can transfer your points to one of the approved travel partners at a favorable 1:1 ratio. See our review for the full list of transfer partners.
  • There’s an Introductory annual fee of $0 the first year, then $95. That’s pretty reasonable for such a high-earning card.
  • It has no foreign transaction fees, making it a great choice for a travelers.

Drawbacks of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card:

  • This card lacks some of the airline-specific perks associated with most co-branded travel cards. It doesn’t offer things like free checked bags, priority boarding or lounge access. If you’re especially loyal to one airline, it might be worth comparing the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to the airline’s co-branded card before pulling the trigger.

The bottom line:

Although the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card isn’t an airline-specific card, its wide selection of 1:1 frequent flier transfer partners make it more valuable than most cards that generate points good for one airline alone. Combine that with its increased point-redemption value through Ultimate Rewards and its generous sign-up bonus, and you have an all-around winner.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card full review:

Best for flat-rate rewards (tie)

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now on Capital One's secure website

Pros

  • High rewards rate
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Flexible redemption for travel

Cons

  • Has annual fee

Bonus Offer

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $400 in travel

Annual Fee

$0 intro for first year; $59 after that

Intro APR Promotions

None

APR

  • APR: 13.24% - 23.24% (Variable)
  • Cash Advance APR: 23.24%, Variable

Card Details

  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $400 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime
  • Travel when you want with no blackout dates
  • Miles don't expire and there’s no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $59 after that

Use miles on any airline, hotel or other travel cost. They can be redeemed as a statement credit against any travel expense.

Benefits of the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card:

  • One of the most flexible travel cards out there, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card gives 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases.
  • Miles can be used as a credit against travel expenses like tickets or hotel rooms booked through your favorite site, and the miles don’t expire as long as your account is active.
  • The card’s flexible rewards program allows you to book through discount sites to fly on the airline of your choice, rather than limiting you to just one carrier. If you fly on a number of different airlines or prefer bargain-hunting, there’s no better airline card.
  • Like all Capital One credit cards, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has no foreign transaction fees, which will save you a pretty penny when you travel abroad.
  • Low annual fee: $0 intro for first year; $59 after that.
  • Card comes with a sign-up bonus: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $400 in travel.

Drawbacks of the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card:

  • Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card doesn’t offer some of the airline-specific perks attached to most co-branded cards. With this card, you’re trading more focused benefits for versatility.

The bottom line:

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is a perfect choice for spenders who seek ultimate flexibility when spending on travel. More points and perks can be had with a co-branded card, but it’s tough to beat this card’s easy redemption/earning structure.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card full review:

Best for flat-rate rewards (tie)

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Apply Now on Barclaycard's secure website

Pros

  • High rewards rate
  • 0% intro on balance transfers APR for 12 months
  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • Has annual fee

Bonus Offer

Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening.

Annual Fee

$89 - waived first year

Intro APR Promotions

0% intro on balance transfers APR for 12 months

APR

  • APR: 16.24% or 20.24%* Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.49%, Variable

Card Details

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Chip card technology, so paying for your purchases is more secure at chip-card terminals in the U.S. and abroad
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months for each Balance Transfer made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, currently 16.24% or 20.24%, depending on your creditworthiness
  • Complimentary online FICO® Credit Score access for Barclaycard Arrival cardmembers

Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. Earn 2X miles on all purchases and get 5% of your miles back every time you redeem. APR: 0% intro on balance transfers APR for 12 months, and then the ongoing APR of 16.24% or 20.24% Variable. Complimentary FICO score. No foreign-transaction fees. Annual fee is $89 - waived first year.

Benefits of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®: 

  • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases.
  • You’re not restricted to any particular airline or hotel brand. Simply make a travel purchase with the card, then redeem your miles for statement credit against the purchase.
  • The 5% miles bonus when you redeem is a great way to get started on saving for your next trip.
  • With no foreign transaction fees, this card is a winner for international travelers.
  • It’s one of the only travel cards with a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers. However, it does charges a 3% balance-transfer fee.

Drawbacks of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®: 

  • As with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, you don’t get the extra perks offered by co-branded airline or hotel cards. Instead, you get flexibility and ease of redemption.

The bottom line:

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® rewards program is nearly identical to that of the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. Redemption on the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® comes out slightly ahead, as you get 5% of your miles back when you redeem. However, you also pay a higher annual fee of $89 - waived first year.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® full review:

Best for no annual fee

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card

Apply Now on Bank of America's secure website, or call (800) 211-3740

Pros

  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Generous flat rewards rate on all purchases
  • Flexibility to book travel how you want
  • Rewards accelerator if you bank with Bank of America or Merrill Lynch

Cons

  • More restrictive than a straight cash back card
  • If you're a big spender with excellent credit and willing to pay an annual fee, there are cards with higher rewards

Bonus Offer

20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days - that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases

Annual Fee

$0.00

Intro APR Promotions

0% Introductory APR on purchases for 12 billing cycles

APR

  • APR: 15.24% - 23.24% Variable APR
  • Penalty APR: up to 29.99% APR
  • Cash Advance APR: See Terms

Card Details

  • 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
  • 20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days - that can be a $200 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 flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees
  • Now with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases, then 15.24% - 23.24% Variable APR
  • Get an additional 10% customer points bonus on every purchase when you have an active Bank of America® checking or savings account
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% - 75%. Click “Apply Now” to learn more about Preferred Rewards.

Use points on flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars or baggage fees. No blackout dates.

Benefits of the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card:

  • The BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card has an annual fee of $0.00 with no foreign transaction fees.
  • You earn 1.5 points on every $1 spent, and points can be redeemed for travel in the form of hotels, flights, rental cars and more by calling or going online and requesting a statement credit.
  • Comes with a sign-up bonus: 20,000 online bonus points if you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days - that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases.
  • If you’re a Bank of America® banking customer, you’ll have the opportunity to earn a points dividend of 25%, 50% or 75% through the Preferred Rewards program. The bonus you’ll receive depends on the type of account you have and the total amount of your assets. But even if you don’t qualify for Preferred Rewards status, just having a Bank of America® checking or savings account will give you a boost: You’ll get a 10% dividend on the points you earn.

Drawbacks of the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card:

  • Many other travel cards earn more points per dollar on spending, although with annual fees. If you spend a lot on travel, you may be able to justify using a card with an annual fee.
  • Like other cards on our list, this card does not include any airline-specific perks that you’ll usually get with a co-branded card.

The bottom line:

The value of the BankAmericard Travel Rewards® credit card is that it’s simple but packs a punch — no annual or foreign transaction fees and no confusing rewards program. If you travel often but desire a no-frills, no-hassle card that you can bring all over the world, this one’s for you.

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card full review:

Best for hotels

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Apply Now on American Express's secure website

Pros

  • High rewards rate
  • No foreign transaction fee

Cons

  • Has annual fee
  • Needs excellent credit
  • Rewards only valuable if you stay at Starwood properties frequently

Bonus Offer

Get 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.

Annual Fee

$0 for the first year, then $95

Intro APR Promotions

None

APR

  • APR: 15.49%-19.49% Variable
  • Penalty APR: Up to 29.49%, Variable
  • Cash Advance APR: 25.49%, Variable

Card Details

  • Get 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
  • Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
  • Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
  • Get free nights at over 1,200 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries with no blackout dates. Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
  • $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms and Conditions apply.
  • View Rates and Fees

Use points on Starwood hotels, as well as a number of airline partners, including American, British Airways, United and Virgin Atlantic (see full list)

Benefits of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express:

  • Its base rewards rate of 1 Starpoint per dollar spent may seem a little thin at first glance, but we value these points at about 2.3 cents on average.
  • The card comes with a generous sign-up bonus: Get 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
  • You’ll get up to 5 Starpoints for every dollar spent at SPG hotels (1 base + 2 for elite status + 2 for having the card).
  • The various hotel perks are what really move this card up the ranks. If you stay at a Sheraton, for example, your third night is free, you get credits toward elite status, and you’ll get gold status after spending $30,000+ each year.

Drawbacks of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express:

  • Since this card is issued by American Express, it’s not as widely accepted internationally as Visa or MasterCard. If you’re just looking for an all-around travel card, look to the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.
  • With Marriott’s announced purchase of Starwood, there may be some changes to the value of Starpoints that could alter the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express’s status on our list. Though no announcement has been made on how Starpoints will be affected, a potential point devaluation is worth considering before applying for this card.

The bottom line:

If you want a card that’ll let you travel in style with lots of favorable transfer partners, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is a solid choice. Just be sure to keep an eye on the Starwood-Marriott merger and how it might change how Starpoints are earned and redeemed.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express full review:

Methodology

NerdWallet’s credit cards team selects 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 win in multiple categories.

Last updated January 7, 2016.  

Kevin Cash is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: kcash@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @kevin_cash.