Here are the best travel credit cards:

Best for flat-rate rewards

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Apply Now on Capital One's secure site

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now on Capital One's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Bonus offer: 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
  • What our experts like about it

Best for airline miles and a large bonus

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Apply Now on Chase's secure site

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Bonus offer: 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®
  • What our experts like about it

Best for no annual fee

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
Apply Now on Bank of America's secure site

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card

Apply Now on Bank of America's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0
  • 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
  • What our experts like about it

Best for chip-and-pin

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
Apply Now on Barclaycard's secure site

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

Apply Now on Barclaycard's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $89
  • Bonus offer: Enjoy 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 toward an eligible travel purchase
  • What our experts like about it

Best for hotels

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Apply Now on American Express's secure site

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Apply Now on American Express's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Bonus offer: Earn 25,000 Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply.
  • What our experts like about it

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Our pick for

Flat-rate rewards


Benefits

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is one of the most flexible travel cards available. You earn 2 miles per $1 spent on everything, and you redeem rewards for a credit against most travel expenses. And you’re not restricted to one airline or hotel, as is the case with co-branded cards. You just book your own travel, then pay for it with your rewards. The annual fee is fairly low relative to other travel cards, and there are no foreign transaction fees, making it ideal to take abroad. 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.

You won’t find airline-specific perks with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. If you’re loyal to one particular airline, it might be worth comparing this card with that airline’s co-branded card.
When it comes to easy miles earning and redemption, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is tough to beat. Whether you want to redeem miles for hotel stays, flights, cab rides or cruises, it has you covered.
Our pick for

Airline miles and a large bonus


Benefits

Unlike cards tied to a specific airline or hotel brand, you can use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card’s rewards in many places. You earn 2 points 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.

As a general travel card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card lacks the special perks — such as free checked bags and priority boarding — that airline-specific co-branded cards offer.
If you mostly fly on one airline, a co-branded card might provide specific benefits that the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card does not. But if you want flexibility in earning and redeeming rewards, this is the best card around.
Our pick for

No annual fee


Benefits

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 - that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases.

This card’s sign-up bonus is relatively low. And if you don’t have a Bank of America® account, your maximum redemption value is 1 cent per point, which limits the earning power of this card considerably. Big spenders could earn greater rewards with other cards.
The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card is very competitive if you’re a Bank of America® customer, especially if you have a lot of money in your accounts. You’ll enjoy the flexible redemption policies and you won’t pay an annual fee. Without a Bank of America® account, though, you’ll lose out on a big part of this card’s value.
Our pick for

Chip-and-PIN


Benefits

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.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® doesn’t offer the perks of a co-branded airline or hotel card. Although you get a 5% redemption bonus, you’d have to put $30,000 a year on the card to earn a big enough bonus to make up the difference.
Chip-and-PIN capability gives the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® a leg up for use overseas. If that’s worth the difference in annual fees between this card and Capital One’s — or if you’ll use it enough to make up the difference through bonuses — go for it.
Our pick for

Hotels


Benefits

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.

If you don’t stay frequently at Starwood hotels, you’ll get limited value from this card. It also isn’t ideal for use overseas because American Express isn’t widely accepted worldwide. Marriott’s merger with Starwood could affect the SPG rewards program eventually, although as of late 2016, the value of SPG rewards hadn’t changed.
If you frequently stay at Starwood hotels, you can rack up serious SPG points with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and transfer them to your favorite frequent flier program, typically at a rate of 1:1. Overall, the card’s high earning rate and flexible redemption make it a solid choice for frequent fliers and frequent hotel guests alike.

Our 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 Aug. 2, 2017. 

Ellen Cannon is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ecannon@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ellencannon.