Here are the best travel rewards credit cards:

High-value points, airline transfers 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

2% rewards and flexible redemption

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

1.5% to 2% rewards, plus bonuses for banking customers

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

Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card

Apply Now on Bank of America's secure site
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Bonus offer: Receive 50,000 bonus points – a $500 value – after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.
  • What our experts like about it

No annual fee, 1.5% rewards, flexible redemption

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 of account opening - that can be a $200 statement credit toward travel purchases
  • What our experts like about it

2% rewards with chip-and-PIN capability

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

Luxury travel perks

The Platinum Card® from American Express
Apply Now on American Express's secure site

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Apply Now on American Express's secure site
  • Annual fee: $550
  • Bonus offer: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. Terms Apply
  • What our experts like about it

Great rewards for business travelers

Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
Apply Now on Chase's secure site

Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure site
  • Annual fee: $95
  • Bonus offer: 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®
  • What our experts like about it

Best airline card

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
Apply Now on Chase's secure site

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Apply Now on Chase's secure site
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95
  • Bonus offer: Limited time offer - ends 3/15/18. Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • What our experts like about it

Best hotel card

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

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

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. 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.

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

Our pick for

No annual fee

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 of account opening - 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

Relationship rewards

Benefits

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.

To earn the highest rewards rate, you need to have a combined balance of at least $100,000 at Bank of America®, Merrill Lynch or Merrill Edge. At that level, you earn 3.5% on travel and dining purchases and 2.625% on everything else. There is also an annual fee of $95.
Bank of America® customers with big balances can reap big rewards with this card.

Our pick for

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

Luxury travel perks

Benefits

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.

The $550 annual fee is about as high as you can get. If you don’t spend a lot on travel, the rewards are poor. And while this card is geared to world travelers, American Express isn’t as widely accepted globally as Visa and Mastercard.
The luxury benefits come at a high cost, but if you’re willing to pay to be treated like a VIP when you travel, this card will be rewarding.

Our pick for

Business travelers

Benefits

Business owners want maximum value for every penny, and the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card can help them get it. New cardholders can earn a jumbo sign-up bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. You earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel, telecommunications, shipping and advertising on social media and search engines, on up to $150,000 in combined spending each year. All other spending earns 1 point per dollar. Points are worth 1.25 cents apiece when used to book travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; they can also be transferred on a 1:1 basis to travel partners such as United, Southwest, Marriott and Hyatt.

As with most credit cards with generous rewards, the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card has an annual fee: $95. There’s a limit to how much spending earns 3 points per dollar; it’s a fairly high limit, but it’s still a limit.
If your business needs a good travel card, the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card offers great rewards in common spending categories, and the sign-up bonus is solid.

Our pick for

Airlines

Benefits

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

Cards from competing airlines offer free checked bags for more travelers. And you’re limited to redeeming rewards for flights with United and other Star Alliance partners. General travel cards have more flexibility.

 

If you fly United regularly (or could do so), this card deserves a long look.

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 Feb. 8, 2018

Ellen Cannon is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: ecannon@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ellencannon. NerdWallet writer Gregory Karp contributed to this article.