Best Travel Credit Cards of 2018
Grab your carry-on. The flexible points and miles on these cards let you roam whenever you want.
Airline miles and a large bonus
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 on dining and travel per $1 spent and 1 point per $1 spent 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.
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 rewards 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. You just book your own travel, then pay for it with your rewards. This card also comes with a 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.
No annual fee
The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card earns 1.5 points per $1 spent, and each point is worth 1 cent. That’s a relatively high rewards rate considering the card has an annual fee of $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. You can redeem points 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. And the card 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 of account opening - that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases.
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 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application every five years. The sign-up bonus is great, too.
While most credit cards now have an EMV chip, few offer chip-and-PIN capability. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® does. Why does it matter? Outside the U.S., self-service card readers commonly require you to authenticate credit card purchases with a PIN code. If you want to buy a train ticket at a kiosk, for example, you need chip-and-PIN.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® gives you 2 miles for every $1 spent. Simply pay for travel with your card, then redeem your miles for a statement credit. You’re not restricted to one airline or hotel, as is the case with co-branded cards. You’ll also get 5% of your miles back every time you redeem — a great way to start saving for your next trip. This card comes with a sign-up bonus, and it’s one of the only travel cards with a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers, although there’s a 3% transfer fee.
Luxury travel perks
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 sign-up bonus.
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.
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.
» IF YOU DON’T FLY UNITED: See our best airline cards for other options
The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers up to 5 Starpoints per $1 spent at participating SPG locations, 2 Starpoints per dollar at Marriott Rewards properties, and 1 Starpoint per dollar on all other purchases. Redeeming points for hotel stays provides the most dollars per point, but Starpoints can also be transferred to more than two dozen frequent flier programs. Plus, the card comes with a sign-up bonus: Earn 25,000 Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply.
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 Feb. 8, 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 rewards
- Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card: Best for no annual fee
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card: Best for relationship rewards
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®: Best for chip-and-pin
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for luxury travel perks
- Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card: Best for business travelers
- United MileagePlus® Explorer Card: Best for airlines
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Best for hotels